House of Lords
Thursday, 7 February 2008.
The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.
My Lords, the UK has provided the following support in response to floods in southern Africa: £97,000 through Save the Children and £250,000 through Oxfam for emergency water and sanitation in Mozambique; and £300,000 to support the World Food Programme’s operations in Zambia. The UK is also the largest donor to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, contributing £40 million this year. So far, US $4 million has been allocated from the CERF for priority operations in Mozambique including logistics, shelter and health.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. This is the second year running that disastrous floods have hit the region. This year’s floods are coming close to the catastrophic 2000-01 floods which killed 700 people and displaced more than 500,000 people from their homes. The construction of the Cahora Bassa dam from 1969 to 1974 was meant to provide electricity to the southern African electric grid, but was also designed to regulate the flow of the Zambezi river and, in so doing, protect the people who inhabit the flood plains from perennial droughts and floods. The devastating floods show that the Cahora Bassa dam is not doing a great job. What are the Government doing to provide aid to develop the flood control mechanism?
My Lords, it is certainly the case that the water management of the Zambezi needs to be more successfully engineered than it has been in the recent past. There have been one or two catastrophic mistakes. The House will appreciate that the issues that face Mozambique and other states in southern Africa have also been created by the most adverse weather conditions, and now we are entering the cyclone period. DfID is concerned to play its full part in humanitarian aid to deal with the emergency, but the noble Baroness is right that we need to address ourselves to the longer run issues, in particular, the resettlement of people away from the immediate flood plain.
My Lords, in his reply the Minister did not mention the UN’s disaster relief emergency fund special appeal for $7.3 million which I understand has been seriously undersubscribed. Would the Government recommend that all contributions to funds such as that should be published by the donors so that the public in their countries can see how they have responded in comparison with other donors? Can the Minister also say what measures are taken to co-ordinate the many agencies that have been involved across the region, such as the International Red Cross, the World Health Organisation, the World Food Programme and so on?
My Lords, DfID is the largest donor to the emergency fund, so we can stand tall in that respect. We make it quite clear what our contributions are: others are more coy. I hear what the noble Lord says, but he will appreciate that getting international action in terms of openness is somewhat difficult. We concentrate on playing our full part. The co-ordination of agencies and emergency relief has been rather well done. It is never satisfactory because the demands are so huge, but it has been rather well done with regard to this emergency. We have not had great anxieties on that score. The problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, indicated, is that this is the second time in two years and the third time in seven years that the area has been devastated. That is why we need both water management and to protect people from the problems.
My Lords, is this not an urgent matter? It is right for the noble Baroness to raise it at such length. Is it correct that one of the floodgates of Kariba is about to be opened next week thereby flooding something like 800 kilometres of the lower Zambezi? Hundreds of thousands of people have already been moved to resettlement camps which will now be flooded again. Mozambique is full of disaster preparedness plans. Will the Minister accept that it is governments who are inept, the people who are suffering and the organisations on the ground that are having to cope with this?
My Lords, it is clearly a subject about which one can be over wordy. I will be as brief as possible. The noble Earl is right that for hydroelectric purposes it is probable that the gates will be opened again. That helps to generate needed electricity, but of course there are consequences much further down the river which are affecting Mozambique badly. That kind of co-ordination is extremely difficult to effect and DfID has only a marginal part to play in that.
My Lords, the House will recognise that the Government have been very concerned for a number of years to give more support to Africa. Of course, Mozambique, which was not a British colony but which became free and joined the Commonwealth, does benefit from the decisions of DfID and the Government as a whole to spend more on Commonwealth countries.
Disabled People: Blue Badge Scheme
My Lords, the Department for Transport published a consultation document on 24 January 2008 on a number of proposals to improve the blue badge scheme. It includes proposals to extend the scheme to more people who genuinely need it together with better ways of administering and enforcing the scheme in order to cut down on levels of abuse.
My Lords, the Department for Transport, in its draft response to the independent review of the blue badge scheme, referred to research which suggested,
“the possible extension of the assessed eligibility criteria to include individuals with the most severe mental and behavioural disorders that require physical contact (‘attention’) to cross the road safely”.
What conditions specifically is the Department for Transport considering in addition to those that are currently included? Does it include the carers of those with severe autism?
My Lords, it may well be that the carers of those who suffer from severe autism will be included within the new scheme. For that very reason, we are conducting a more detailed consultation and working with interest groups to try to appraise the level of likely demand. We are open to suggestions. I hope we will be able to extend the scheme without extending the level of abuse, which I know is a concern for many people.
My Lords, as I understand the proposals, it is suggested that each applicant for a blue badge should be assessed by an independent assessor. The three central London boroughs of Camden, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea already have a full medical or social assessment of every applicant. Will the Minister do what he can to see that those schemes, which have been working so well for so many years, are not interfered with even if a more general scheme is introduced?
My Lords, our intention is not to interfere with those schemes but to ensure the careful development of a coherent and understandable national scheme. At the moment you qualify for a blue badge if you get the higher rate of mobility allowance or the local authority assesses that you are in need. We are concerned to ensure that there is more comprehensive coverage for a range of disabilities, such as the one cited by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and that the scheme is understandable and can be properly enforced.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some local authorities, particularly some of the inner London boroughs, have different criteria for parking with a blue badge? Anyone with a blue badge coming in from outer London may be faced with a totally different situation of which he or she may know nothing. Will my noble friend lean on the inner London boroughs so that there are uniform standards across local government so that disabled people know where they are?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a fair point. Clearly, there will be different restrictions in different areas due to the demands of different forms of traffic, and time restrictions will obviously vary if you are parking on a yellow line or double yellow lines in a bus lane or close to one, but he is right that we need to ensure that people have a common understanding of the system as it works across the country.
My Lords, at the same time as the Statement in January, the Government announced £500,000 for a blue badge centre of excellence scheme. Can the Minister explain exactly what that is and why the Government announced it before they had finished their consultation?
My Lords, it was a very sensible announcement designed to enable the Government to draw on good and effective practice in local government. I do not know whether the noble Lord’s local authority is best practice or not. If it is, we want to learn from it. It is for such reasons that we announced that £500,000 of funding, to ensure that we develop that good practice.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the needs of various disabled people are very different? For instance, some do not need so much space if they are walking, whereas those who have wheelchairs and are heavily disabled, and their carers, need more space. Could there not be a two-tier system?
My Lords, I would not want to rule it out. I understand what the noble Baroness is saying, and perhaps it is one of the issues that can be picked up as part of the consultation. From what I have heard from noble Lords this morning, there is a desire for the eligibility criteria and the scheme to operate in a way which is coherent, nationwide in understanding and works well for people with different disabilities.
My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that if the system that operates in Westminster and the other central London boroughs were to apply right across the United Kingdom, it is probable that hundreds of thousands of current blue badge holders nationally would lose their entitlement?
My Lords, that is a hard judgment to make. Although I understand what the noble Lord is saying, we are trying to ensure that the criteria work well and are understandable and that those with a genuine disability can make proper use of them. We are trying to widen the eligibility criteria so that a wider range of people with disabilities are entitled.
My Lords, most of the discussion on my noble friend’s Question has centred on people who have access to cars, but many disabled people do not. The Government have legislated at great length and at great expense to the industry to make buses accessible to disabled people, and yet, as far as I know, nothing effective has been done to make it almost illegal to park a car in a bus stop and to back that up with sufficient penalties. All the equipment on buses enabling people to get on and off easily is being vitiated because buses cannot get to the kerb.
My Lords, the enforcement of parking restrictions and restrictions on motor vehicles parking in bus spaces is a matter for the local authority and local police, and some of the campaigns have been highly effective in shifting misplaced motor vehicles. Although I congratulate the noble Lord on raising the issue, I think it is one for local government to take up with local police services.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of a fact which I do not think is treated on in last month’s impact assessment—that if someone parks improperly in a disabled space adjacent to, for instance, a supermarket, there is a well attested statistical possibility that they will have a criminal record?
My Lords, the noble Lord has drawn attention to a significant point, that those found to have committed a traffic offence of some sort or other often have a criminal record. Simply finding someone who has committed a parking or similar offence can sometimes trigger a wider investigation into their criminal background.
Climate Change: Aviation
My Lords, while the report helps to raise awareness of the issues around aviation and climate change, it does not present any new data and fails to acknowledge government action on the subject. The Government acknowledge that climate change is the single biggest issue that we face and to that end have introduced a comprehensive strategy for the sustainable development of aviation.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that his own department has recently published a survey that reveals that public attitudes to the impact of aviation on climate change are moving fast? Does he also accept that the Woodnewton report concludes:
“The debate so far has been framed so as to equate restrictions on aviation growth with stopping people from flying. In fact, even quite dramatic interventions would allow modest levels of aviation growth”?
Is it not time for the Government to take the lead in reframing the debate by moving away from their current predict-and-provide policies on airport capacity and aviation growth?
My Lords, the Government have undertaken some research into public opinion on this issue. We are taking a leading role, but I cannot agree with the noble Baroness’s conclusion. We have to invest in ensuring that the aviation industry works well because we live in a service economy and we need to ensure that our service economy works well in the future. Many jobs are dependent on it and it adds to the wealth of the nation. This is an interesting argument and debate but we have to have a broader view on it.
My Lords, no one has commented that in the past 10 years carbon emissions from aviation have nearly doubled, whereas in most other sectors they are going down. Surely there needs to be a rethink, particularly in the investment in two new runways in the south-east, which may not be necessary.
My Lords, I am not sure what the Conservative Party policy is on aviation, but I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, speaks entirely for his party. In 2006, aviation certainly accounted for something like 6.4 per cent of the UK’s reported carbon emissions, but we need to look at carbon emissions across the entire economy. If we concentrate just in one sector that would debilitate that sector and have a serious impact on the economic prospects of our country.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that enormous progress has been made by European aviation, apart from Ryanair, which goes its own eccentric way? Does he agree that because the majority of flights are by their nature international, a solution must also be international? Now that the new Government of Australia and Senators McCain, Clinton and Obama share that view, are there refreshed grounds for optimism in that direction?
My Lords, we can take the optimistic view. Our Government have taken a leading role internationally in emissions trading. We have a coherent strategy and, of course, with the Climate Change Bill, we will take that a step further. Obviously progress can only genuinely be made over time through international co-operation.
My Lords, if the Government are really serious about reducing the impact of carbon is it not time that they, first, invested some effort into an education programme on the issue; secondly, put in place means by which people can travel without using aeroplanes; and thirdly, gave some active encouragement to the British tourist industry so that people do not have to go abroad?
My Lords, the noble Lord and I enjoy our debates on the rail and bus industries, and he usually fairly expresses the view that we have invested considerably in that sector, are making great progress, and that passenger numbers on both rail and bus are rising. As for his point about an education campaign, we have launched the “Act on CO2” campaign, which is raising public awareness of the issue.
My Lords, while I have supported my noble friend Lady McIntosh in her line on this issue, I had not intended to intervene until I heard the Minister say that we should not focus on one industry. The Government need to recognise that we are not focusing on one industry. The aviation industry has special privileges in terms of taxation, the way in which it is treated in the trading scheme, and in how its planning propositions are bulldozed through, whereas other industries that are reducing their carbon content get knocked back. It is time that the Government in a coherent way—I appreciate that there is some confusion on the Conservative Benches, but there is also a confusing message from the Government—told the aviation industry that all we are asking is for it to be treated the same as every other sector.
My Lords, I think that we are doing exactly that. We have a coherent emissions trading programme. We talked to the aviation sector about operational improvements in terms of surface transport feeding into that sector. We have a comprehensive programme on research and development, and we use a range of economic instruments to encourage what might be described as good behaviour by that sector. The offsetting scheme, and the fact that we are raising public awareness, tells me that we have a coherent government strategy to tackle a major, long-term, international problem.
My Lords, do the Government accept that part of the answer to the current expansion of the aviation industry in Britain has to be a real drive to shift national transportation from air to rail? Across the Channel in Spain, France, the Netherlands and Germany, one sees large, long-term investment in high-speed rail. One also sees Schiphol, Paris Roissy, Frankfurt and elsewhere with through railway lines to link local and national rail to international air travel. None of these projects has been carried through in Britain. The previous Government were equally culpable with the present one. Do we not want a long-term investment policy to invest in high-speed rail and direct rail links to airports?
My Lords, we have a massive programme of investment into the rail network. I stand at this Dispatch Box as part of a Government who have introduced the Crossrail Bill, which is an important and significant cross-London linking element to our network. We have improved connectivity between our major cities—into London, in particular. We continue to invest in expanding capacity in the rail network. No post-war Government could boast that record. I think that we are doing an extremely good job, and for the past 10 years there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of passengers using our rail network.
My Lords, we seem to be looking at the aviation industry in a microcosm rather than at the economy as a whole. The noble Lord said that we have to increase the railway network to airports. Why? So that we can get more people to the airports and get more people to fly, which means constructing more runways, as has been done in Schiphol, Munich and Paris. We have to look at the whole rather than at just one part.
Energy: Wind Farms
My Lords, wind turbines can affect a number of Ministry of Defence activities and interests, including radar, low-flying training and seismological equipment. Recent MoD objections to planning applications for wind turbines have been necessary because of the predicted unacceptable interference with radar. In some cases, this is air traffic control radar; in others, it is air defence radar.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer, but is she not aware that there have been obstructions such as oil rigs in the North Sea for about 30 years? Offshore wind turbines, to which the MoD has not objected, have been given permission. In fact, there have been wind turbines off the coast of Belgium, which is rather closer to parts of the UK than the new offshore wind turbine sites currently proposed, for 20 years. Why has the MoD only just woken up to this? If the objections are sustained, does my noble friend not agree that it will wreck Government energy policy?
No, my Lords, the MoD fully supports the Government’s renewable energy targets and we are working actively to mitigate any of the problems that may arise. The MoD does not object to all wind farms and, indeed, gives strong advice to people in the pre-planning process who are thinking of siting a wind farm in any area. In the past three years we have objected to only 31 applications, and since 1996 we have raised no objection to 352 planning applications. We object when there is a real problem. Usually that is when there is a difficulty over the radar line of sight. The MoD has a good record of giving advice to those who want wind turbines and objecting only when there is a direct necessity to do so.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the report by officials in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which was fortunately leaked to the Guardian. It pointed out that the Government’s 2020 renewable energy target was unattainable, and that even if it could almost be attained, it would cost between £18 billion and £22 billion. Should not the noble Baroness instead be thanking the Ministry of Defence for getting the Government off this absurd and absurdly expensive hook?
My Lords, those are not absurd targets. The Government’s policy is for 10 per cent of the UK’s electricity supply to come from renewable resources by 2010, and 15 per cent by 2015, with an aspiration to rise to 20 per cent by 2020. As was evidenced by some of the comments in the previous Question, it is in all our interests to try to meet those targets. Wind energy has a role to play in that.
My Lords, will the Minister assure us that the Ministry of Defence has a coherent line when any of these objections are raised, and point out where the line in this pattern of objections is? As with many other subjects to do with any aspect of wind farms, we discover that they are responsible for everything from lowering house prices to scaring cats. Can we please have a little coherence here?
My Lords, the Ministry of Defence raises objections only when there are real reasons for doing so. For example, with radar interference, turbine blades can create clutter on the screen; they can mask radar returns from real radar; they can create holes in radar coverage. This is not a concern only within the MoD; it is shared by those responsible for civil aviation. On occasion, NATS and the CAA have objected as well. We only do it when we have to. We think that there is a strong role for wind energy in the future. We offer advice where we can, so that people do not pursue applications for planning permission if we are going to object. We have a very big take-up and have received 4,800 pre-planning proposals from people who have contacted the MoD since 1996 and who value the advice that we have been giving.
My Lords, I have not looked into navigation at sea, but the MoD works as a whole on those issues. We have some concerns, for example, on search and rescue operations, where wind turbines could cause problems. Steps are being taken to try to mitigate that and to assess the extent of that issue. It is a concern of which we are aware, but it is not thought overall that there should be a problem, although there could be in certain specific cases.
My Lords, I think that that is extending the Question a little far. But, obviously, I mentioned that one of our concerns was air defence radar. We have very good coverage of air defence radar and we would not want wind turbines or anything else to interfere with the operation of that.
My Lords, can the Minister answer what seems to me to be a fairly obvious question, bearing in mind that the Times on 4 and 5 February said that the trials which have been taking place under the auspices of the MoD were in 2004 and 2005? Did the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform consult with the MoD before he announced in December the draft plans for major expansion of offshore wind? Did he know about the 2005 trials?
My Lords, we spread information throughout government. As regards wind energy applications, there is a wind, energy and aviation interest interim guideline section for those who want to have wind farms and to develop them. The MoD interests are clearly laid out, as are some of our concerns. As well as that, we have, as a department, written to all planning authorities setting out our concerns so that all those who want to develop wind farms should be fully aware of the nature of the MoD’s concerns.
Business of the House: Debates Today
My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, that the debates on the Motions in the names of Baroness Corston and Lord Harrison set down for today shall each be limited to two and a half hours.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Northumberland (Structural Change) Order 2008
Wiltshire (Structural Change) Order 2008
County Durham (Structural Change) Order
Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008
Shropshire (Structural Change) Order 2008
Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2008
Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2008
Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2008
Liaison Committee: First Report
The report can be found at http://www.publications .parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldliaisn/33/33.pdf.
rose to move, That the First Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 33) be agreed to.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the report relates to four proposals for new committees; two of them are one-off ad hoc committees—on the working of the Abortion Act 1967 and the Barnett formula—and two are sessional or ongoing committees—on the scrutiny of treaties and on the work of the Statistics Board. It is rather unusual for me to report to the House at this time of year. In the normal course of events, we would not consider further proposals for committees of your Lordships' House until later in the year, not least because the House has recently established an ad hoc committee on intergovernmental organisations. The basic understanding is that the House will have only one ad hoc committee in existence at any one time.
However, we agreed to bring forward consideration of these proposals in view of representations that consideration of a committee on the Abortion Act would be relevant to the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The committee recognised the important issues raised by each of those proposals and we were grateful to each of the proponents for their presentations to us. We thought that the case for establishing a new committee was made out in respect of the scrutiny of the work of the new Statistics Board, as recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, and others. However, as the proposal here is for a Joint Committee of both Houses, its implementation does not rest within the power of the committee or of your Lordships' House. Our report accordingly simply sets out our support in principle for this proposal, which we hope will be taken forward by the Government. We did not support any of the other proposals.
The issue of abortion is self-evidently one on which strong opinions are held. The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, strongly pressed the case for a committee on this subject. But committee members were unanimous in their view that the proposal of a wide-ranging review of the working of the 1967 Act was not appropriate for an ad hoc committee, and that the case for such a review was not strengthened by the current passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.
We have considered the issue of scrutiny of treaties on previous occasions. The Government are currently considering reform of parliamentary scrutiny in this area and the House debated those issues last Thursday in the debate introduced by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, in which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, put forward similar arguments to those she advanced to us. We concluded that this issue should be considered further in the light of the Government’s forthcoming proposals and that, given the considerable constitutional, procedural, resource and capacity issues, we should not pre-empt that debate.
Finally, we considered the case for a review of the Barnett formula, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett himself. In view of the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, it might be helpful if at this stage I were to say a few words about why I hope the advice of the Liaison Committee will be accepted. We have some sympathy with the noble Lord over the case in principle for a review of the Barnett formula. But our view was that a review of the formula was not a suitable subject for a committee of this House. We doubted whether any review would be constrained within sensible bounds and we thought that, in principle, this sort of highly politicised subject matter falls within the area of scrutiny more obviously occupied by the Commons. We thought that if a committee of your Lordships’ House were to be established, the extent to which it would carry influence in decision-making would be questionable. As a result, we did not feel able to recommend to your Lordships the establishment of a committee on the Barnett formula. I beg to move.
Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 33) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, at end to insert “save for the recommendation in paragraph 7 relating to the Barnett formula, and that this House approves the proposal for the establishment of an ad hoc Select Committee to review the Barnett formula”.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will be brief, because my submission to the committee is set out in full in Appendix 2 of the report. It seems to me that it is a very simple proposal. My memorandum includes the latest figures from the Treasury, which show that the average public expenditure per head in Scotland is £1,500 more than in England. That does not mean that I am proposing a committee to change those figures, but simply to review them. The method of calculation was produced some 30 years ago—I was a child at the time. I want to be quite clear that this is not an anti-Scotland proposal. A review may well prove that Scotland should get those amounts, but surely, after 30 years, there should be a review. There is an urgency about this, because if something is not seen to be done soon, people in England will start to demand separation. That would be disastrous for the UK, and certainly I would not support any such idea.
My proposal is for a genuine ad hoc committee, for the obvious reason that it could not continue for years, like many supposedly ad hoc committees. The Chairman of Committees referred to paragraph 7 of the Liaison Committee report, which starts by expressing some sympathy for my proposal. What he did not mention was the point the committee made that any review could go too wide and start delving into devolution. I would certainly accept very tight terms of reference that would stick to a review of the formula.
The big issue referred to by the Chairman of Committees is that the committee said that it would not be “appropriate”—I am using the committee’s word—for this House to consider the matter. If we accepted that proposition, I do not know what we would do in this House. We deal with expenditure items all the time—it would be impossible not to. To suggest that it could be done only by the Commons seems to me to be a very serious matter for this House, and I certainly hope that your Lordships will not accept it.
Apart from anything else, I hope your Lordships will agree that this House does a better job in Select Committees precisely because we are not as party-political and are more authoritative. In any case, the House of Commons shows no indication that it wants a review of the formula. However, this is an urgent matter and I am sure that this House could produce an excellent report. The committee could be chaired by a senior Cross-Bench Peer—a former Cabinet Secretary, for example—to produce the kind of authoritative report that would have to be listened to. To suggest that only the Commons Select Committees are listened to would be virtually to tell all our Select Committees to close down now.
The Liaison Committee’s proposals do not make any sense to me. I appreciate the noble Lord’s problems because he is speaking from a neutral point of view. If he cannot accept my amendment, can he at least give us an assurance that he will put to the committee at an early stage the case for reconsideration and look at the matter again with a view to accepting my proposal? I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, at end to insert “save for the recommendation in paragraph 7 relating to the Barnett formula, and that this House approves the proposal for the establishment of an ad hoc Select Committee to review the Barnett formula”.—(Lord Barnett.)
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, in his request that this matter be looked at again. I can completely understand why he has moved the amendment. It must be a terrible burden to have one’s name attached to a formula of which one thoroughly disapproves. If for no other reason, the House should seek to release him from the chain he carries around with him.
I also share the noble Lord’s considerable concern at the reasons that have been given for not setting up an ad hoc Select Committee to look at the matter. I believe that this is a truly urgent matter. We are seeing the real prospect of the disintegration of the United Kingdom. Even the Conservative Members of the Scottish Parliament voted for the nationalist budget yesterday, which is extraordinary. In England, as we all know, and other parts of the United Kingdom, there is a feeling of unfairness with regard to the funding of Scotland relative to the rest of the United Kingdom. In voting for that budget, they voted for more favourable terms on care for the elderly, free prescriptions, tuition fees and a whole range of other things which apply in Scotland.
This issue does not seek to reopen the question of devolution but it is essential that devolution is looked at in the context of the funding and that all parts of the United Kingdom believe that the funding system is fair and is seen to be fair. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is asking that we look at this on a needs basis for funding for the whole of the United Kingdom, so that it is seen to be fair, and then the devolved Administrations can spend those resources as they choose. But so long as we continue with a scheme which is based on increasing the funding according to population while maintaining a baseline that reflected previous circumstances, and as long as we have a separatist regime in Scotland, which is determined to create conflict north and south of the border, the United Kingdom is in danger because of our failure to tackle this.
For the Liaison Committee to argue that the other place should consider this and that that would somehow be less politicised is truly bizarre. This is an important constitutional matter and if this House has a role it is surely in taking an objective view of such an important constitutional matter. If an ad hoc committee is not to be set up, the Government need to look to themselves and the forces they have set in play which have caused not a little damage to the United Kingdom and to the Government and their supporters. I strongly urge them to listen to the very wise words that the noble Lord has uttered this morning.
My Lords, Scotland and England have been referred to. If any such committee is established, I would suggest that it holds real and close consultations with the Scottish Parliament and with the National Assembly for Wales. Devolution has made a difference. Scotland can levy a precept. It can raise extra money to meet its needs. Wales does not have that ability. We rely entirely on what comes to us via the Barnett formula. If we do have consultations, we should take that into consideration.
My Lords, I have no intention of taking part in a debate on the Barnett formula today, let alone on devolution. I am concerned with matters which I regard as much more fundamental. I approach this by putting some questions to the Chairman of Committees. My first question concerns the concordat drawn up between the much missed Lord Williams of Mostyn and the leaders of the opposition, notably the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The purpose of the concordat was to agree some internal reforms to smooth the way your Lordships’ House operated and a central part of it was that your Lordships could, and indeed should and would, examine fiscal matters. That was part of the concordat. Moreover, the concordat was fully endorsed by your Lordships’ House. Was the Liaison Committee made aware of the concordat and its endorsement by your Lordships’ House?
My second question concerns a definitive statement on the Parliament Act that was made by the Clerk of the Parliaments at the same time and agreed by his opposite number at the other end. The import of that was that the Parliament Act did not limit your Lordships in their examination of fiscal matters at all. We could even vote on the Finance Bill, though no one would take any notice of it under the Parliament Act. What we could not do was amend the Finance Bill. Was the Liaison Committee made aware of this definitive statement by the Clerk of the Parliaments about what your Lordships could do on fiscal matters—notably what the Clerk of Parliaments said the position was?
That leads me to the fourth sentence in paragraph 7 of the report. The key sentence:
“We think that, in principle”,
the Commons should do it. That sentence is incompatible with the concordat, its endorsement by your Lordships’ House and the statement by the Clerk of the Parliaments, and must be withdrawn. I have to ask—largely I ask myself—where that sentence, “We think that in principle”, came from. My guess is that its origin—I would bet real money on this—was the Chancellor’s office in the Treasury. It would be nice not to have to guess and I wonder whether the Chairman of Committees knows where that sentence came from.
My Lords, I can be a good deal briefer on this than previous speakers. I was very gratified by the agreement of the Liaison Committee to recommend that my proposal for a Joint Committee of both Houses to scrutinise and monitor the Statistics Board be so thoroughly welcomed. The committee said that it was happy to welcome it. The Leader of the House agreed to relay the views of the committee to her opposite number in another place. My question is a very short one—I understand that the noble Baroness can reply to my question in this debate. What answer has she had from the right honourable lady the Leader of the House of Commons?
My Lords, the Chairman of Committees sometimes complains that he is left swinging alone when he presents the Liaison Committee report to the House. Therefore, as a member of that committee, I want to urge the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, not to press his amendment today and to urge the House to adopt the report. The two strongest arguments for following the advice of the committee that your Lordships set up to look at these matters of detail come from the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Peston.
The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is a charming lobbyist and he can get a lot of support for apparently simple, straightforward and neat propositions. But the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, illustrated perfectly well what a Pandora’s Box would be opened. My old mentor, Joe Gormley, once advised me, “Don’t build platforms for malcontents to stand on”. I suspect that this inquiry would find itself looking far and wide on this matter.
I understand and have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, hinted, he is a political ancient mariner, for ever wandering the land with the Barnett formula around his neck, looking for the noble Lords, Lord Turnbull and Lord Armstrong, to come along and provide a Turnbull formula or an Armstrong formula so that the albatross will no longer hang there. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, clearly indicated, in so doing we would be taking ourselves into an area which is not as clear and cut-and-dried as he suggests. Indeed, I suggest that if he made it at the other end of the Corridor, he would find a great deal of discomfort. I am not sure that in setting up an ad hoc committee we should not reopen a battle between Lords and Commons which some of us thought had been settled perhaps in 1911.
I believe that the committee thought deeply and considered many of the issues raised. It suggested that we already have an Economics Affairs Committee of this House to which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, could go and propose it take the issue under its wing. However, as the speeches have indicated, to set up an ad hoc committee on it would be setting hares running that we might come to regret.
My Lords, I, too, am a member of the Liaison Committee. Unfortunately, due to a pressing alternative engagement, I was not there on that afternoon. I am not suggesting for one moment that the answer would have been any different if I had been there. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Jenkin received the recommendation he wanted in what will be an important committee. I hope that in due course the Leader of the House will be able to tell us whether another place has agreed with that recommendation. It is important.
When the Liaison Committee sits, it has to keep various questions in mind. First, is it within the competency of the House to take on the task that it is being offered? Secondly, do we have the physical resources—the rooms and the Clerks—to staff it? Thirdly, do we have the Peers to sit on these committees? We can have any number of committees: as the House can see, four suggestions were made here. If we did not have the Liaison Committee, we would have all these other committees instead and we would be doing nothing else.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. It is an immensely important subject, for the reasons he and my noble friend Lord Forsyth laid out. That leads me on to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. The noble Lord is a distinguished former chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee so he knows and understands extremely well that that committee was set up when the late Lord Williams of Mostyn was Leader of this House explicitly in recognition of the changing role of this House. The House felt that it should start looking at financial matters from which it had been excluded for 90 years. That was wholly understood by Lord Williams and by ourselves and, as the noble Lord has said, was expressly agreed by the House.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I find the sentence with the words “in principle” in paragraph 7 rather clumsy, but I do not think it was the committee that wrote that. Presumably the Chairman of Committees will explain. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we should not examine these things. If we have an interest, if we have the competence, if we have the people and the resources, we should discuss them. I also wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord McNally, did not have the answer in his grasp. Is there a reason why the Economic Affairs Committee should itself not launch a study on this?
My Lords, I read that sentence very carefully and it means that no committee in this House can look at it. It has no other meaning. If the Economic Affairs Committee were to choose that as its topic, it would fall foul of the “in principle” beginning. That is why we must ask for that sentence to be withdrawn.
My Lords, that is a very good point, which is why I invited the Chairman of Committees to explain what he thinks that sentence means. It certainly should not mean that the Economic Affairs Committee is not allowed to look at it.
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, should take on board some of the criticisms made in the committee and recast his proposal into a more easily embodied subject that the Liaison Committee could re-examine in due course, perhaps making a recommendation in his favour, subject to what other proposals are put before it.
My Lords, the Barnett formula was introduced at a critical period in the 1974-79 Government. My noble friend had a number of problems as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in dealing with Wales and Scotland and the expenditure that arose. He finally introduced an amount of 10 per cent to be given to Scotland and 5 per cent to Wales. This dealt with the problem in a very simple way. Otherwise there would have been a massive amount of discussion and deliberation about how much money these two parts of Britain would get.
The Economic Affairs Committee in the House of Lords looked at a number of things that we think are very sensible. It is looking at the economic impact of immigration; it looked at the impact of economic sanctions and at parts of the Finance Bill—these are major tasks, not trivial things that you just pass through the House of Commons. These are matters that people in this Chamber consider and take into account. An influence on decision-making comes from this House and it is quite right that it should. The major difference between Scotland and north-east England will cause greater problems in the years to come so we need to look at this. The position of my noble friend Lord Barnett is quite clear and should be accepted.
My Lords, as we are in confessional mode, I confess that I, too, am a member of the Liaison Committee and I was present that afternoon. Before I respond to the specific question from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I want to say something about what I found in that committee—it was my first appearance. It is as simple as this: we are confronted with four possibilities. Each person who wished a committee to be set up made their case and made it very well. I asked what they would judge success to be and how the spending of a considerable amount of money—about £180,000 for each committee—would appear. We had to decide which best fitted with the purpose of the ad hoc committee in general and, specifically, which would give the best value back to your Lordships’ House.
We discussed the question of the Economic Affairs Committee. I do not know why that committee does not look at the Barnett formula. It fits perfectly well within its remit; it certainly could do a good job; and it is very distinguished, as other noble Lords have said. That, in a sense, is one of the reasons because, when considering which committee should be set up, one is aware of other committees that could do the work that is being proposed. Noble Lords would expect us to take that into account in our deliberations. It was certainly a factor in the deliberations as I understood them and as I took them forward in my own mind.
I hope that the report will be accepted. I understand that my noble friend feels very strongly about this and I am sure that he will continue to make representations to the Treasury. After all, in many ways, it is for the Treasury to look at this matter.
In response specifically to the question, I wrote to my right honourable friend Harriet Harman on 18 January and I will read a tiny extract from my letter. It said:
“The Committee agrees with Lord Jenkin’s proposal and gives its support in principle to the establishment of a Joint Committee on the Statistics Board. Accordingly, as the creation of a joint committee lies within the gift of both Houses, the Committee has asked that I relay these views to you and propose that we take steps to propose the new joint committee, and to commission work on its establishment, including Terms of Reference, Membership and support in line with the other joint committees”.
I have not had a chance to meet with my right honourable friend, for no other reason than pressure of work; she has been rather busy at the other end of the Corridor in recent days. But regular meetings are in the diary and the subject will be raised with her. On the back of that discussion, I shall raise it with other Members of another place who I know have a particular interest in whether other committees might do some of that work as well. I shall report back to the noble Lord as soon as I can.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has not replied to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, reinforced by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde about the use of the words “in principle” in relation to the powers of this House. Given that there is widespread concern, would she be prepared to accept a manuscript amendment to strike out that objectionable expression?
My Lords, the “in principle” point is of profound importance in so far as it raises the question of whether the powers of this House are to be seriously restricted. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggested that something had changed in the interim since the passing of the Parliament Act 1911. As I understand it, nothing has changed so far as that particular rule is concerned. Section 2 limits exactly what this House can do in relation to a certified money Bill, but it would have been possible to discuss the finances of Scotland and Wales—although of course they were not devolved in Wales in such a manner—the very day after the 1911 Bill received the Royal Assent. There would have been nothing unlawful in it; nothing restrictive on this House.
I support the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. As far as Wales and Scotland are concerned, issues of finance go almost to the function of the devolved Assemblies. It is not only a matter of money; it is a matter of constitutional status and therefore goes well beyond any consideration of money. There is in Wales a deep-seated feeling that the Barnett formula, although it might have been perfectly just and practicable to begin with, by now brings about substantial injustices in relation to Wales. But that is another matter. The question we come back to is whether there is any constraint upon this House in discussing finance in this way. There is none.
My Lords, I support the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Higgins that there should be a manuscript amendment to take out this “in principle” point. All sides of the House are clearly agreed on that with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde pointed out, shot himself in the foot by saying that this is a matter for the Economic Affairs Committee of this House, of which I am privileged to be a member. If it is proper for the Economic Affairs Committee to discuss it then it is proper for an ad hoc committee to discuss it. There can be no constitutional difference between the two. So I hope that, at the very least, even if the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is not agreed today, the Chairman of Committees will accept a manuscript amendment along the lines of that proposed by my noble friend Lord Higgins.
My Lords, I hate to interrupt this Treasury old boys’ meeting, but I should be quite willing to see an “in principle” amendment. I leave it to the skill of the Lord President to find another form of words. Perhaps “in principle” is too strong a term, but I do not want to join a stampede by Treasury old boys into the field of economic policy that would produce a conflict between the Lords and Commons. I hope that we can learn that lesson.
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene and I do so merely as a matter of record. We are speaking as though the Barnett formula has never been addressed by a committee of your Lordships’ House and I want to put on the record that it has. The Constitution Committee’s report, Devolution: Inter-Institutional Relations in the United Kingdom, addressed the Barnett formula.
My Lords, it may now be time to attempt to reply to this tricky debate, and I apologise if I am unable to answer all the questions. First, I take responsibility for the sentence in paragraph 7 which has offended so many people; I am, after all, the chairman of this committee. I do not think that we necessarily need to produce a manuscript amendment to knock it out but I will certainly take the matter up at our next meeting and see whether we need to review our report.
As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said—I am very grateful for his support—the whole devolution debate that we have been having has emphasised how widespread this committee would have to go if it were set up.
On the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and referred to by others, the committee did not suggest that it would be improper for the House to consider matters of public spending or those involving significant party-political considerations. After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, since the discussions and concordat of the late Lord Williams of Mostyn, we now have an Economic Affairs Committee and a sub-committee on the Finance Bill. However, the function of the Liaison Committee is to advise the House on the most appropriate use of its committee resources, and therefore we considered how effective the committee’s scrutiny of each of the proposals put to us might be.
In this case, our judgment is that the subject is not likely to be a good one for us, in part because we think that public spending is an issue more suitable for the Commons—it is not forbidden for the Lords to look at it but it is more suitable for the Commons to review it—but in particular because we think that it is highly politicised, and we have heard something of the politicisation of this issue in the debate today. Therefore, it is doubtful that the conclusions, if any, of a committee of this House on the matter would be likely to prove influential. I merely relay the opinions of the Liaison Committee.
I remind your Lordships that the Liaison Committee was set up in, I think, 1992 to make recommendations to the House about the subjects on which we should and should not have committees. Therefore, I hope that the House will take its views into consideration.
Of course the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, can come back to the committee with his proposal at our next meeting, perhaps taking into account some of the speeches that have been made today. I would certainly not discourage him from bringing it back if he so wished, but I hope that the House will not agree to his amendment today.
My Lords, will the Lord Chairman please answer my two questions? First, was the Liaison Committee informed about the concordat? To my certain knowledge, there are members who had no idea about it. Secondly, was it informed about the definitive view of the Clerk of the Parliaments on the powers of this House? Again, I have a strong feeling that several of them have not the faintest idea about that either. I want a simple yes or no answer. Was it told about these things—end of story?
My Lords, I am not sure that I can agree with everything that the Chairman of Committees has just said. The Liaison Committee said that it was not appropriate, but it is. We all agree: there is a widespread view that it is appropriate.
I am grateful for many of the comments that have been made in this debate, but can I make one thing quite clear? I am not concerned about the burden of my name being attached to a formula, provided that the formula is based on need. I have said that in a debate in this House once before. If we want to have a Barnett formula, I am happy for my name to be used—we could call it mark II—provided that it is based on need. That is what the committee would examine and review. There is an idea that the committee will go so wide that it will go beyond what we want it to do, but we can easily constrain the committee. The terms of reference can be tightly put together.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for suggesting that I might take note of some of the points made. I certainly have done, and I certainly have it in mind to submit this again if the House does not support my amendment. However, I get the impression, if I may say so, that the House generally would support my measure. That is certainly a view that I have had from many Members on all sides of the House who are not here today. I have had widespread support even from those who normally support the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I will not mention names, but I can tell him that he does not command total support on his own side.
I hope that when the Liaison Committee reports back on setting up a Select Committee on the Barnett formula it is not on the very last day of the Session—even Treasury old boys can understand that. I hope that this is what the Chairman of Committees has in mind. Given what has been said in the debate and by the Chairman of Committees—and given that the Leader of the House is looking at me in the way that she is—I will resubmit this and hope that the committee will accept it next time. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Criminal Justice: Women
rose to call attention to the report by Baroness Corston entitled Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System, and the Government’s response (Cm 7261); and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to have the opportunity today to discuss my report on women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system. The background to my report was the increase in the deaths in custody of women at the beginning of this decade. In 2003, there were 14 such deaths. In 2004 there were 13. Six of those were in HM Prison and Young Offender Institution Styal over a 13-month period. Toward the end of that period, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, Stephen Shaw, was given responsibility for conducting an independent investigation into deaths in custody and he did so for the last woman who died in Styal, but he took account of the other deaths.
Concurrently, there were calls for a public inquiry and the then Home Secretary, my right honourable friend Charles Clarke, decided that a public inquiry would not reveal anything not recommended or discovered by the ombudsman. But he was particularly struck by a letter from the coroner for Cheshire, Nicholas Rheinberg, who said in conducting the inquest into the deaths:
“I saw a group of damaged individuals, committing for the most part petty crime for whom imprisonment represented a disproportionate response. That was what particularly struck me with Julie Walsh who had spent the majority of her adult life serving at regular intervals short periods of imprisonment for crimes which represented a social nuisance rather than anything that demanded the most extreme form of punishment. I was greatly saddened by the pathetic individuals who came before me as witnesses who no doubt mirrored the pathetic individuals who had died”.
This led the then Home Secretary to decide that such a review would be appropriate. I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland and my honourable friend Fiona Mactaggart MP, who were both Ministers in the Home Office at that time, and who asked me to conduct the review. I express my thanks to Jenny Hall and Nigel Hancock from the Safer Custody Group and the members of my review group for giving so generously of their time and expertise in helping me with my work.
This was a practical piece of work drawing on research dating back to 1971, all of which pointed in the same direction, and setting out a blueprint for change involving seven government departments. It is impossible to do justice today in the time available to a 100-page report making 43 recommendations and a comprehensive response from the Government. I will concentrate on a few key issues. In 2002, 12,650 women were received into custody, and 4,100 of them were sentenced. Some 8,350 were remanded, and 66 per cent of them did not even get a custodial sentence. The average stay in prison was 42 days, which was long enough to lose their homes and their children, and they generally got neither back.
The profile of women in prison is characterised by mental illness, drug and alcohol misuse, lack of educational qualifications, suicidal tendencies, no life skills and domestic and sexual abuse. In fact, I concluded that we are rightly exercised about paedophiles, but we do not seem to have much sympathy or give much attention to their victims, many of whom end up in prison. They are looked after by staff whose preliminary training was eight weeks’ training in priorities for a male prison, such as security. Over two-thirds of the women were mothers living with their children prior to prison. Indeed, 17,000 children a year are affected by their mother’s imprisonment. These women generally pose no risk to the public and are in prison time after time. They are imprisoned at a considerable distance from home because of the relatively small number of women in prison and the geographical dispersal of the prisons.
At the start of the inquiry in March 2006, I made it clear to officials with whom I worked that I started from a simple premise that has guided me ever since I became a women’s organiser 32 years ago; women and men are different but equal, and if you treat them the same, the outcome is not equality. It is my passionate belief that the Prison Service has been run on the basis that it is right to treat people the same and that equality will be the outcome. But prisons are for men. That is how they are configured and run, and that is where the training comes from. Women’s priorities are different. Let me give a couple of examples.
For most prisoners, it is assumed that the most important thing on leaving prison is work. Employability is a high priority, and I do not quarrel with that, except that for women housing is a great priority. Time and again, women said to me, “All I want is somewhere for me and my children to live, and I do not want to be stuck in the Catch-22 of having no home so I cannot get my children back, and not having my children so I cannot get a home”. Last April, the gender equality duty was passed into law by Parliament, putting an obligation on public authorities to ensure that their policies and practices do not have a differential impact on women. But I found in the Prison Service with regard to the women’s estate that there was no one in charge and no corporate memory.
The Government’s response is a curate’s egg, which is very good in parts. There is an acceptance in principle that custodial sentences for women must be reserved for serious and violent offenders who pose a threat to the public. A high-level champion for women who offend or who are at risk of offending—which I recommended—has been identified by my honourable friend Maria Eagle, a junior Minister in the Home Office. She is leading a subgroup of Ministers working independently but reporting to the interministerial group to reduce reoffending. I felt strongly that had been left with the interministerial group itself it would always have been the last item on the agenda, because that is what happens with women’s issues.
My honourable friend Maria Eagle is working with my honourable and learned friend the Solicitor-General, Vera Baird, whose professional life was almost exclusively concerned with women suffering domestic abuse and before the courts, and Barbara Follett, the Equality Minister. That is extraordinarily important because she is one of the Women’s Ministers and their second priority as Women’s Ministers is women offenders. They are joined by junior Ministers from the Department of Health and the Home Office and there is input from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
I say to the Government that the task of those Ministers that must be supported will be to ensure that the agenda is embedded throughout government so that it survives changes in Ministers and officials. As to the gender equality duty, the National Offender Management Service, NOMS, is due to publish a national service framework for women on 1 April. It has been a long time coming. When I started my review two years ago I was told that its publication was forthcoming. This is their opportunity to disprove those civil servants who say that NOMS stands for “Nightmare on Marsham Street”. The NOMS leadership must ensure that, in the understandable focus on violent and dangerous offenders, women offenders are not forgotten, and we will judge it on results.
The Government have decided not to establish a commission for women who offend or are at risk of offending, as I recommended, but intend instead to set up a new cross-departmental criminal justice women’s unit headed by a senior civil servant. I hope that this person is very senior and can command authority. My experience is that all too often such initiatives start with good intentions, then members of a group send deputies to meetings and we end up with a group of junior note-takers who have no authority. My central recommendation revolves around the Together Women project and the opportunity it provides for establishing a network of women’s centres taking a woman-centred approach for women who offend or are at risk of offending.
I visited three such centres: the Asha centre in Worcester, the Calderdale in Halifax and the 218 centre in Glasgow—funded by the Scottish Executive, incidentally—which is active in the courts and has a secure facility within its premises, often for women on remand. What I saw there was inspiring. I saw women who had been in and out of prison, and some who had not been in prison but might have ended up there, like some of those women who were murdered in Ipswich the year before last. I saw those women being able to develop self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth, three things that women prisoners do not generally have and which are the basis of good citizenship and turn people into good neighbours.
It was inspirational, and cost effective because a place at the Asha centre costs £750 per year. I was told by senior officials in the Home Office that the total cost of keeping a woman in prison is £77,000. I know which is the better value for money. I also recommended small custodial units for women to replace the current women’s prison estate over a 10-year period. All I say to my noble friend and to our colleagues in the Treasury is that it has been agreed that £1.5 billion is to be spent on prison-building. I came across rather hidebound attitudes to what was considered to be an appropriate prison building. If we are going to spend that money, I suggest that at least one small custodial unit for women should be included in that £1.5 billion and that perhaps it should be in Wales because there is no such facility for women in Wales. They have to go to Eastwood Park near Bristol, which makes family ties difficult.
I want to emphasise that women’s prisons should never be on shared sites. I say to my noble friend Lord Carter that the proposal for Titan prisons—a number of prisons on satellite sites sharing services and facilities—is an issue for a future debate, but there should never be one women’s prison on a Titan site where the other prisons are male because there will be one ethos on that site and it will be a male ethos. All experience has shown that. I do not want that to happen and for people to say afterwards, “We didn’t know that”. It is vital to have cross-government action.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has a huge job in sorting out housing, social exclusion and intentional homelessness issues. I am pleased to say that I met my noble friend Lady Andrews in November, and I am impressed at how passionate she has become about this subject. I know that her department is now sponsoring an “Adults facing Chronic Exclusion” programme. There is a great challenge for the Department of Health to implement its own women’s mental health strategy to improve detoxification services. Everywhere I went I was told that these services have improved in recent years, but much more is needed.
With regard to routine strip-searching, I was persuaded by prison governors on how inappropriate it is. It wastes staff time; it is corrosive of relationships between staff and prisoners; it is deeply humiliating and it is a terrible thing to do to women who have been sexually abused, who represent a considerable proportion of women prisoners. Having been persuaded by prison governors to put this in my report, I am pleased that pilots are going on and that routine strip-searching will change into a slightly more acceptable mode. I hope that the pilots will lead to strip-searches in future being carried out on an intelligence-led basis.
One thing that the Government did not accept in my report, to which I draw your Lordships’ attention, is the right to life in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. When the state takes somebody into custody it has an absolute obligation to preserve life. I feel strongly that when that obligation is breached and a person dies, the family should be given equality of arms at law and offered public funding to enable them to be represented at inquests. In their response, the Government said that legal representation was not a requirement. I found that breathtaking. If that is the case, why are the Government always represented by senior counsel and barristers? I feel very strongly that that should be addressed. I met bereaved families and was humbled and moved at their plight. Why should they have to spend their money because the Government are at fault?
I received a letter from a magistrate on an issue that I want to raise towards the end of my comments. He wrote:
“Regarding your report on women in prison, I think it is important that magistrates are challenged in their training about their attitudes to women offenders—especially from the conviction aspect.
I found as an operating magistrate for nearly 20 years that frequently a submerged view was that the fact that a woman was guilty was worse than if a man had committed the same crime and consequently there was a marked tendency to be harsher in administering punishment. I’m of the view that this is, unfortunately, some sort of inbred, cultural phenomenon. I didn’t find evidence that it was a deliberate position—or even a conscious one”.
I think he is right. We have to ensure that in the training of sentencers a different attitude is taken. One of the women who took her life was in prison for a first offence of wounding with intent. She had been given a life sentence. I cannot imagine that that sentence would have been given to a man.
What I am suggesting is popular. Towards the end of last year SmartJustice commissioned a survey by ICM, which showed that 86 per cent of people support community alternatives to prison—centres where women are sent to address the causes of their crimes while doing compulsory community work. The Government can rest assured that that flies in the face of some of the stuff that we read in the press, and that taking a more sensible, civilised and cost-effective approach to these women can turn them into better citizens and enable them to fulfil their family obligations. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on securing this debate, and inevitably also on chairing such an excellent commission. It is rather a shame that this debate comes quite so soon after our discussion last week, and that we could not have delayed it for a few months until the Government’s action plan is ready. However, it could be argued that it is an issue that can never be discussed too much. On that basis we must count our blessings and take every opportunity that we can.
As the noble Baroness knows, in last week’s debate there was a great deal of support for her proposals, but equally it became clear to me—and a number of others—that, as welcome as are all those champions who have, as the noble Baroness outlined, now been appointed to look after the interests of the Corston report and its proposals, the delay in the Government’s response underlines the need for a specifically independent women’s justice board to ensure that sufficient action, resources and trained staff for the plan’s rollout are available. To use the words of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, we need somebody in charge to make things happen.
I want to spend my few moments emphasising just why the proposals of the noble Baroness are so important—not only for women and families, but for the whole community. Increasingly, I see them as relevant to quite a number of male offenders. I stress this because I was concerned by something that the Minister said last week, and I hope that he can give noble Lords a more positive answer today. He implied that the Government’s commitment to implementing the gender equality duty within the UK penal system meant that, if different prison arrangements were made for one sex only, that could be seen as sexual discrimination and would therefore be illegal. If there is any doubt about this, we should call in the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who is the expert on that legislation and could, I hope, give a much clearer definition.
The Corston recommendations were made with the aim of redressing rather than entrenching inequalities. It is abundantly clear how women prisoners are currently at a disadvantage in the system. As the noble Baroness rightly said, it was designed for men a long time ago, rather along military lines, and, almost inevitably at that time, it was designed by men. Currently with prison overcrowding, we all know that a number of women’s prisons have been taken over to accommodate the increasing numbers of male prisoners. Many more women offenders with children are placed further from their homes. Prison Reform Trust statistics tell us that the average distance women have to travel is 58 miles and that 60 per cent of women prisoners are placed in institutions outside their home regions. This understandably makes visiting even more difficult. As the noble Baroness said, many women in prison lose their homes and reclaiming some sort of home on their release is a major priority. One study reported that half of the women surveyed had had no visits at all. It appears that male partners are rather less active in taking children to visit their mothers.
Even though the Corston report’s recommendations are specifically aimed at women, as noble Lords heard last week—because of their complex needs, and their role as the primary carers of children—they are increasingly relevant to male prisoners. Only very few dangerous, violent women offenders must be in secure settings. The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, has already stressed this. The Corston proposals for non-violent women offenders, which she has described, will include better co-ordination of resettlement pathways, a greater emphasis on community orders and the rollout of interdisciplinary centres that can tackle complex problems, including mental health problems and substance—meaning drugs and alcohol—abuse. We know this from what has already been spelled out by the Government.
The case for this kind of approach becomes overwhelming when one considers the potential savings to the public. A recent study by the Prison Reform Trust, in conjunction with the New Economics Foundation, estimates that, including the value of crimes prevented, the lifetime cost-savings of early intervention, with focused support, for the 2,000 non-violent women offenders would come to £19.5 million, or around £10,000 per female offender. Extra government resources and support from business and the third sector are essential for the primary targets—those areas of prevention, rehabilitation and resettlement—if we are to make any real progress. I notice, too, that the policy update refers to some 70 partners in business, who are already helping. Thus, £13.9 million is to be given, over the next three years, to funding six intensive alternatives to custody projects. We really must congratulate the Government on that, even though we would press for more.
It is an infinitely more constructive use of funds than earmarking £2.3 billion for prison building, including plans for three Titan prisons. With all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, this proposal has been almost universally condemned. I am rather tempted to think of the fate of the Titanic, and hope that the British criminal justice system is not going in the same direction. Surely, if prison is necessary, funds should be directed towards schemes that rehabilitate inmates and help them to lead useful and fulfilling lives on their release. Instead—and I quickly refer to the horrors, if people would read them, outlined on page 4 of the Corston report—women are self-harming and continuing to self-harm, and babies are being taken away. All these things have been going on.
The alternative, and a recent example of good practice, is the Inside Job project, set up by Media for Development, which operates in Wandsworth and Downview. It has also had excellent success in a number of juvenile units across the UK. The production company provides inmates with the experience of a work environment, encouraging and developing communication skills, which they often lack, along with self-confidence, and enabling participants to obtain a BTEC award in media production. One participant, imprisoned at Downview following a domestic dispute and separated from her children, described how the project turned her life around:
“I can’t describe to you how different I feel since I studied for my BTEC and started working at Inside Job Productions. The feeling that people trust me and are prepared to give me responsibility means so much. I feel more confident than I have in years and I am looking forward to the future for the first time I can remember”.
The Corston report points us in the right direction. Please let us follow it quickly.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on securing today’s debate and for her comprehensive and visionary Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System. I declare an interest as the author of Securing the Future and a member of the board overseeing the implementation of that report.
The report of the noble Baroness highlights, often graphically, the particular issues involved in the imprisonment of women. She reviews the dramatic rise in the prison population, and the issues, which have been described, of abuse, substance abuse, mental illness and low educational attainment. We find ourselves in the same situation as a country such as Canada, where the female prison population is 5 per cent of the size of the male prison population. Interestingly, in France it is only 3.7 per cent of a much smaller population. What really shocked me was the revelation that 18,000 children are affected every year when their mothers are sent to prison. That is totally shocking. It would seem that the lower French incarceration rate for women reflects the unwillingness of the French judiciary to separate mothers and children. This is something I support, and which we should look at.
Many issues are dealt with in this excellent report, but I would like to concentrate on four: namely, sentencing; the environment in which women are held; the programmes and support they receive, both inside and beyond the walls; and, finally, some of the conflicting priorities of stakeholders. On sentencing, many of us agree that there are simply too many women in prison. It is that simple. The only way to alleviate this is to send fewer women to prison, and to send to prison for shorter periods those whom we do send. This is easily said and frequently called for, but we are rather lacking in mechanisms to bring it about. I certainly agree with diversionary schemes, which have a key role to play, but proportionate and consistent sentences are essential. I hope that Lord Justice Gage in his Sentencing Commission review will be able to consider the needs of women specifically. The noble Baroness refers a separate sentencing framework for women; women’s issues are so distinct that I hope this is looked at.
The right sentencing framework and, if we can get it, a consensus between the Government and the judiciary should, in the long term, provide us with what I hope will be an appropriate and lower prison population for women. There will be those people whom we have to imprison, and we have to make sure that we get the right physical environment. The key issue, which has been referred to, is proximity to home; 58 miles is a long way and we should be better at moving people close to home. We are, however, doing somewhat better than the state of Hawaii, which sends its women to Tennessee, 4,000 miles away. The very thought of it leaves us cold.
We also have to concentrate on making sure, in the short term, that the prison capacity we have is up to scratch. I was particularly struck by a comment of Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, when she went to Bulwood Hall. She described it as being cramped, shabby and lacking in privacy. There is something going on here. The shortcomings in the prison estate are not new. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, when he was chief inspector, noted the same thing, I remember. We have made some progress. The women’s unit at Peterborough is a move in the right direction, but what we really need are these smaller units, close to home. We have to be realistic. Ten years is probably the right length of time, but we have to set about it now. I wonder if the Minister would consider setting up a competition to stimulate new design, so that we can call across the board for what people can think of by way of design and operational plans for those people we have to incarcerate. I hope that the judging panel will have a majority of women on it. I was very taken with the point about men designing buildings for women. We want women to say what women need, and to make sure that they oversee that.
Thinking about what we do in the prisons, we have all seen bad buildings and good regimes, and good buildings and bad regimes. One does not guarantee the other. What we have to get right is what happens inside the prisons. We have made some progress. I suspect that there is less bullying. Many of the chief inspector’s reports point to increased feelings of security. These are some of the achievements of recent years, but, as ever, there is more to be done.
Beyond the issue of decency, it is important to equip women through rehabilitation to re-enter society when they leave prison, even if that is after 42 days. Above all, the key is to give women the ability to raise their self-esteem, so that when they leave prison, they can cope with the temptations of substance abuse and peer pressure. Various programmes that are in place are beginning to give us evidence that that is happening. The programme referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, is a start in the right direction. We have two pilots, but that is not enough. We need to go faster and to make sure that we are doing these things. I strongly feel that we need to get a move on.
Then we need to know the efficacy of each programme and to understand what does and does not work. Sometimes, we could do better. Some years ago, I was very taken by an observation made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. She said that Her Majesty’s Prison Service had done everything right “once”. The secret is how to get scalability of those programmes and make sure that a broad range of women benefit from them. We should not pursue just filling course places, but also focus on outcomes.
It is difficult for the Government to reconcile the needs of stakeholders, which are very pressing and rather difficult. Most of us probably would agree that there are four functions of prisons; namely, to punish, to prevent reoffending by incapacitation; to deter; and to rehabilitate. We do not have the time today to argue about the efficacy of any of that, although there is some doubt about the validity of those arguments in each case. But we have to recognise that there is some popular pressure to up-tariff, to give longer sentences and to have more people in prison. There is clearly some political debate between the parties on this. We have to weigh the rights of victims, prisoners and, above all, their families. One of the most significant points probably is the maintaining of the independence of the judiciary to make sure that the public have confidence in the sentencing structure and give it their support.
On top of that, there is the matter of money and the competing needs of other government departments’ spending plans and getting enough money into the system, because there is never enough. Getting that balance right probably is the greatest challenge facing government and being able to do the right thing. Most governments want to do the right thing; the difficulty is turning it into action. On these proposed reforms, I support very much the need for someone to be in charge. There must be a point of responsibility.
When we look at what we want out of getting the balance right, the great win is returning women to the community with a strong chance of not reoffending. Last year, I was talking to a female Congressman in the United States. She explained that she had to persuade her electors to vote on money for prisons. It was a matter of direct contact. She made a very good point when she said that when she campaigned, she gave people a simple message. Referring to prisoners in general, she said, “Whatever we do, one day, these people will come out of prison. When they come out, what do you want them to do? Do you want them to do something useful; or do you want them to deal drugs to your children, rob you or burgle you?”. We have a great responsibility to make sure that, particularly in the context of today’s debate, women leave prison equipped in the right way. We should be optimistic. In her report, the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, sensed that there is a will for change and that the Government have accepted it. Let us make sure that the will turns into reality. In the end, wills are measured in deeds.
Good things are happening in England and in the rest of the world. Earlier this year I spent a day as the guest of Sheriff Wade in Henrico County, Virginia. I spent several hours in a small unit of 30 women, which was set in a larger prison. The women’s stories would not have been unfamiliar to readers of the Corston report, including stories about drug use, prostitution and causing death by dangerous driving when drunk. But, unusually, this facility was largely run by the women. I sat in a circle with the women and listened to how they support each other and how the unit works. The outcomes were most impressive. As regards the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, it was a cheaper solution and was a very good service. If anyone is going to the east coast of the United States, I counsel them to look at this unit—it can be done. The cost was US$67 a day, which is £12,000 a year. It costs a bit less than the £49,000 a year in Holloway and the £36,000 a year at Styal. We should find better ways.
In all my years working in and around the prison system, that day was one of the best. The women were sitting around in their blue uniforms and most of them were aged under 35. One of them, who had been in prison many times, said, “For the first time, I will be leaving prison feeling better about myself and I will not be back”, and I believed her.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness speaks, I hope that she will forgive me, as will other Members of the House, if I remind noble Lords that, if we are to hear properly from the Minister, it is important to realise that when the number 9 appears on the clock, that means that the noble Lord has taken a little too long, because that is the tenth minute. I am sorry to have to remind the House of that, but we are quite tight for time.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, for introducing her report entitled, Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System, which, with its detail, must have taken a great deal of work, energy and time to put together. The noble Baroness met and interviewed many people. It was most interesting to hear about that today.
I shall concentrate on chapter 7 of the review, which deals with the health of those vulnerable women. In the report, there are many challenges to address and I can think of no better Minister to do that than the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. He has years of experience in health. Now, as a Minister of Justice, he could not be better placed to tackle and improve these most difficult matters.
We are discussing a topic that should be considered a priority for many reasons. There is a crisis in the prison system. The prison population is rising at about 400 a week. No one wants that, but it just seems to go on happening. Some of those prisoners will be women. On Tuesday, a meeting of the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs was told that, because of the crisis, prisoners will be locked up from Friday lunchtime for the weekend, which means that activities will be cut as well. If that happens, it will be a disaster for vulnerable female prisoners who often suffer depression and are at risk of suicide.
I hope that the Minister will look at women in prison as being different from those in the male establishment. They are different and have different pressures. In 1997, I was asked to chair a committee which produced a report on young people, alcohol and crime for the Home Office. We had 50 recommendations. The same problems that we found then seem to be worse today. Chapter 7 of the Corston report mentions the problems of substance abuse. The number of young female binge drinkers has become widespread and alcohol abuse should be high on the agenda of public health. The alcohol strategy for prisons was long awaited, but when it came it was disappointing.
Drug treatment in women’s prisons has improved and there are some very committed people working in this field. Again, in Chapter 7, the problem of mental health in women prisons seems to be a serious problem. But even more difficult are the problems of dual diagnosis. I do not think that enough has been said about this in the report. Unless those people who have a mental illness and an addiction to alcohol and drugs are treated in a holistic way, they may fall through the net of treatment. There needs to be trained staff who can treat this dual condition.
During a visit to Holloway prison, some time ago, I met two nurses who said that they did not have the correct training in mental health, and they pointed out some young women who, they said, should not have been there as they were mentally ill. I ask the Minister what is to be done about this. These vulnerable women will have to be reintegrated into the community at some stage. With different PCTs involved, what systems are in place to do this? When I was on the Yorkshire Regional Health Authority and many of the hospitals for mentally ill patients were closing, I remember saying, “Unless there are adequate facilities to deal with them in the community some will land up in prison”, and that is what has happened. It is not a satisfactory situation. The report says that many women coming into prison have poor general health and many are not registered with a GP, and that:
“Registration with a GP should be an integral part of the resettlement process”.
I agree with that.
There are some interesting characteristics of the female prison population. Women tend to commit less crime and their offences are generally less serious. In 2004, 36 per cent of sentenced women had committed drugs offences and 17 per cent were convicted of violence against the person, as well as theft, handling and robbery. Just over 19 per cent of the women in prison are foreign nationals compared to about 12 per cent in the male estate. Of the female estate, 30 per cent are from ethnic minorities in comparison to around 24 per cent of the male estate. Women tend to have a different type of drug use from men, with higher levels of hard drug use. Women are normally the primary carers of elderly relatives and children. Around 55 per cent of women in prison have a child under 16, 33 per cent a child under five and 20 per cent are lone parents. Because of the relatively small number of women’s prisons and their geographical location, women tend to serve their sentences further from their homes than do male prisoners. That can place additional pressures on important links with the family. Up to 80 per cent of women in prison have diagnosable mental health problems, with 66 per cent having symptoms of neurotic disorders; in the community, it is less than 20 per cent. Up to 50 per cent of women in prison report having experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Self-inflicted deaths are not easy to predict. The incidence of self-injury among women in prison is significantly high, given that they make up roughly 6 per cent of the prison population. Approximately 30 per cent of female prisoners self-injure, compared to 6 per cent of males. The proportion of young offenders who self-injure is higher. Those are some of the reasons that female prisoners should not be locked up from Friday lunchtimes. They also present a much lower security risk than men.
I agree with all the recommendations at the end of Chapter 7. The report stresses what makes these women particularly vulnerable; many will have experienced childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, emotional and violent abuse, substance addiction and self-harm. The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, has also stressed several times that the NHS should provide healthcare services to police custodial suites in busy areas. That will require a 24-hour presence and, ideally, a registered healthcare worker. I hope that the report will not only be discussed but that action to improve matters around those women with particular vulnerabilities will happen soon.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Corston for producing this excellent, profound, humane and much-needed report. I am also grateful to her for emphasising in her speech the need for government departments to work together on the issues. The report has produced some positive responses from government and I know that those speaking in the debate will be following the promised progress.
I wish to speak about women who offend who also have drug-related problems. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. In this regard, I was pleased to see in the government response to Recommendation 31 that a detailed action plan for the development of the national service framework for women will be drawn up, and that it will include arrangements to ensure appropriate linkages and co-ordination with other commissioning frameworks, such as health, communities, drug services, local services and local authorities. Women, and particularly women in trouble with the law, need, more than most, collaboration between support services, particularly if they are drug users, have suffered abuse, have mental health problems and poor educational achievement, as many have.
Progress is being made. There is good news on drug courts; four more have been set up and there will be a pilot study to examine the concept of a mental health court. Over the past few years, there has been a tenfold increase in investment in drugs work in prison. By the end of April, 29 prisons will have introduced the integrated drug treatment system. That will be extended to a further 20 prisons over the next 12 months, with the Department of Health. Primary care trusts now provide prison health services, including treatment services. That is relatively new, but we hope that prison healthcare in general will improve. My noble friend Lord Carter called for us to get on with reform, and I agree.
In relation to drug abuse, my organisation, the National Treatment Agency, will be responding to the report of my noble friend Lady Corston on a regular basis. I will mention that further in a moment. First, I shall state a few facts on women and drug use. The report points out that drug addiction plays a huge part in all offending and that that seems to be disproportionately the case with women. Around 70 per cent of women coming into custody require clinical detoxification, compared with 50 per cent of men. Some women have a £200 a day crack and heroin habit and many are alcoholics. That is on top of mental health problems. More than one in five women in prison are foreign nationals and 80 per cent of them are convicted of drugs offences. I ask the Minister how many of those foreign nationals are drug mules exploited by traffickers to carry drugs between countries.
In 2006-07, female prisoners undertook 527 intensive drug treatment programme starts and had 384 completions. That is a completion rate of 73 per cent, which is very high. National Treatment Agency research on the impact of treatment consistently shows that in drug treatment in terms of retention, completion and self-reported satisfaction, women do better than men. Black women do particularly well. The National Treatment Agency is undertaking work to develop the women offender health strategy, a work stream within the Improving Health, Supporting Justice strategy that is currently out for consultation. We are doing that analysis to review how effectively the drug intervention programme is engaging women offenders. The evidence that we have so far suggests that women are experiencing a slightly better rate of engagement and retention than men. We hope to undertake a more detailed analysis of that.
As with all drug treatment programmes, continuity of care—what we call the treatment pathway—is vital if people are to succeed in controlling a substance misuse habit. Issues around support for families, education and employment opportunities, housing and social care are essential to support treatment outcomes. For women, that issue needs particular attention. My noble friend Lady Corston and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, pointed out that the dispersal issue militates against women performing well. Due to the smaller number of female prisons, prisoners are often held a long way from their homes and families. That makes resettlement and maintaining contact harder, especially if they are substance misusers.
I have had correspondence with the Nottinghamshire County Council drug action team, which points out that, in Nottinghamshire, the criminal justice intervention team has a women’s worker in the aftercare team, who has a significant role in arranging advocacy for her clients. Through this and other good practice, the council states that the number of women going into prison is falling, with an increase for those in the women’s treatment service receiving community treatment services. There is good practice around. I ask the Minister how this good practice is being shared so that there is a continuous learning cycle.
In Chapter 6 of my noble friend’s report, she points out the need for holistic women-centred approaches and the need to make better use of community provision. The government response has been positive about this with regional offender managers now having to consider the needs of women in their regions as part of the service level agreement negotiations with probation boards. Substance misuse must be a feature. Again, we must look to developing good practice, monitoring progress and sharing what good practice emerges.
There are intensive drug rehabilitation programmes for women: for example, a cognitive behaviour therapy programme in Low Newton offering 24 sessions over eight weeks; a short-duration programme aimed at women on remand, or on short sentences, in five establishments; a 12-step abstinence programme delivered in one establishment; a therapeutic community programme in Drake Hall; and a programme called choices, attitudes, relations and emotions—CARE—is being piloted in another. This programme is concerned with women in custody convicted of violent and/or substance misuse related offences. Again, it will be important to monitor these interventions and learn from any good practice which emerges.
All those in prison should have access to appropriate and well-designed drug treatment programmes and good follow-up. Otherwise, we will have the continuing problem of the revolving door, with people leaving prison but being back very quickly, or dead from a substance misuse overdose. There is much being established in relation to women in the criminal justice system and many approaches to substance misuse are being tried out. I wonder if my noble friend, to whom we are indebted for this debate today, will consider bringing this issue back in a year’s time so that we can assess progress. I sense there will be all-party consensus and concern, so let us look at this issue again. In the mean time I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a joy and a privilege to congratulate the noble Baroness on the debate, on the excellence of her address to this House on the matter and particularly on her report. I believe it to be a report of monumental significance and I congratulate her on the assiduity and thoroughness of its research, the warm and sensitive humanity that permeates it throughout and the boldness and courage of its recommendations. There was a report about a century ago by Herbert Gladstone, the Home Secretary of the day, which changed the whole ethos of society in relation to prisons generally. Future historians may well say that this was a most significant watershed, in so far as the incarceration of women is concerned.
I should like to confine my remarks to the question of sentencing. There are so many other matters that I agree with—indeed, I agree with almost every word that has been spoken, and spoken with such authority and conviction, by all who have taken part in this debate. On sentencing, one of the most intriguing and unsatisfactory of phenomena has been this sharp rise in the percentage of women who appear before the courts who have been sentenced to imprisonment. Between 1992 and 2000—and I suspect that the figures are no better post-2000, but perhaps the Minister can confirm that—the percentage of women who appeared before the courts and were sent to prison went up by 500 per cent. During that time, the increase in relation to men was of a very different scale. I think it is extremely significant that during the same years, the percentage of women who were made the subject of remand in custody, pending trial or pending sentence, increased by 196 per cent, as is mentioned in the report. In the case of men, the increase was 52 per cent.
Is this due to an increased predilection over the past 15 years on the part of women to criminality, or is it due to other factors? Is it due to some ethos which proclaims that incarcerating women is more proper and popular than it was some years ago? I fear that the psychology of the situation is responsible for that increase more than anything else.
The thrust of the report is to appeal for equality. I am sure that everything that has been argued for in the report is an appeal for equality, rather than for precedence or some special privilege for women. I am sorry that I was unable to attend the excellent debate on Thursday initiated by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham.
In reading the Hansard report, there seems to be attributed to the Minister a statement in relation to gender equality considerations, which suggests that he would shy away from considering many of the robust recommendations in case that line is breached. I suspect that that does not do the Minister justice and I look forward to his dealing with the matter rather more fully when he comes to wind up. The justice of the situation demands not a common policy in relation to women, but a different policy. That is the only way in which equality can be brought about.
My own experience as a judge and as counsel before that, is that whereas men go to prison for a number of obvious reasons—you can see the causal connection between the attitude of that person to life and the offence committed—the situation is very different for the vast majority of women. I felt, as did so many of my colleagues, that there was a cohort of misery and despair that women fitted into. The reason for the criminality was not the desire to commit criminal offences—it was that they were led in one way or another through strange and miserable paths to that situation. Often the pressures stem from the responsibility of family life, sometimes there is coercion from a partner and very often there is a mental disturbance, drug or solvent abuse, and so forth. Unless one accepts this to be the basis—and this is the reality of the situation—we will never get anywhere near doing justice to women in relation to criminal offences.
In seeking to tackle that situation and therefore to remove the massive imbalance that already exists, I appreciate that in so far as reform of the criminal law is concerned, very little can actually be done. The last thing I would advocate would be passing a comprehensive Act of Parliament dealing with hundreds of criminal situations—
My Lords, I am most obliged to the Minister. We should not go through hundreds of criminal offences and give an alternative sentence in each case that would be applicable to women rather than men. That is not the situation at all. There are serious offences committed by women and they must go to prison for them. When women commit dreadfully violent offences; or when women commit offences in relation to the peddling of drugs and invest, as regards hard drugs, in the death and ruination of other people; or when women commit cold-blooded offences that prey upon the vulnerable, then of course prison is the proper disposal. But in the vast majority of cases, that is not the situation that leads women to prison. They are there for petty offences.
A very experienced, able and imaginative governor, Derek Warner, some 25 years ago, said that Her Majesty’s prisons should not be dustbins for the inadequate. Nor, if I may say so, should they be a repository for those persons who are more often sinned against than sinning.
The question therefore remains: what does one do? Recommendation 18 in the report advocates that custodial sentences for women must be reserved for serious and violent offenders who pose a threat to the public. That has been accepted by the Government. In passing, I congratulate them on accepting 39 and a half of the 43 recommendations. How you get a half a recommendation, I do not know. You can get a half in golf, but I am not sure how that is worked out. Be that as it may, here is a recommendation that is quite epoch-making and is accepted in principle by the Government.
The Government then go on to say that they advocate action to maximise the use of the community order. Perhaps I may issue a word of warning here. Many of the women in prison are there for trivial offences because they were the subject of a community service order which they breached more than once, which led to their imprisonment. I am sure that that word of warning will be accepted in the spirit in which it is given.
Then there is mention of advice being given to the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Time is very much against me, so perhaps I may put it in note form in the following way. It is not advice that is needed, but under Section 168 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 instructions can be given by the Secretary of State to the Sentencing Guidelines Council. It is the most powerful body, chaired by the Lord Chief Justice. The guidelines that it issues have the force of law under Section 172 of that Act. It is not an unlawful sentence if it breaches those guidelines, but there is every possibility that the Court of Appeal will intervene.
My Lords, I join all those who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, for giving us this opportunity to discuss her excellent report, on which I warmly congratulate her. As I said last week, over the past 12 years I have been particularly concerned about the position of women in prison. The position was brought to my notice literally within two minutes of taking over as Chief Inspector of Prisons when I was alerted to the problems in Holloway. On inspecting it 10 days later, I discovered that women in labour were routinely being chained, and all sorts of other things that I simply could not equate with the word “civilised” as it is understood in any country.
During my years of inspection I was continually alarmed by the fact that the Prison Service resolutely refused to make anyone responsible for women in prison. The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, referred to the fact that no one is in charge and there is no collective memory. When I found that some other prisons were totally and utterly unacceptable—Wormwood Scrubs, Feltham and Wandsworth to name but three—we adopted the procedure that the Prison Service area manager had to produce an action plan which contained a list of our recommendations on what should happen. We named the person who was responsible for doing something about it and stated by when it should be done. That programme was copied to the Home Secretary and to me and it was updated at six-monthly intervals. After about two years I would go in as chief inspector to see what had happened under the plan.
A follow-up inspection was essential to ensure that progress had been made and was continuing to be made. In my debate last week I called for a women’s justice board—a word which the noble Baroness rejected in favour of “commission”, which seems to be the in-word. However, she was asking for exactly the same thing as I have recommended: an action body that has responsibility for ensuring that the recommendations are brought to pass. I have looked back and read the recommendations in my 1997 report Women in Prison, and I find that many of the recommendations are the same. Not only did we recommend small units around the country; we actually gave as an example one such unit in America and described how it worked. But nothing happened.
The statistics I produced included the number of women who had been abused, and people were shocked. I concluded that to handle these women properly, the Prison Service should begin with the understanding that every woman might have been abused and to behave accordingly, not the other way round. That applied particularly to male prison officers. When I went, for example, to a women’s unit at Risley prison, I was concerned that it was completely and utterly excluded from everything that could be described as progress or decent humane treatment. It was an island of misery and deprivation which again shamed the Prison Service. I was extremely glad that the women were moved—a move prompted by an extremely concerned member of the board of visitors telephoning me at five o’clock in the evening to say that the arrangement could not go on. I was there with my inspectors by nine o’clock in the morning because I was so concerned to get things moving.
I mention that because when I hear from Ministers—who are excellent and of course have something to say—that the action is being devolved to a Civil Service unit, my heart sinks. That is no comment on civil servants, and certainly not on the civil servant I remember doing wonderful work as senior probation officer in charge of the unit in Holloway; there is no question of that. But the arrangement will not work as regards taking action, as we have learnt time and again.
When I have seen things happening in the women’s estate, I have often wondered what would have happened had there been a director of women’s prisons who was able to make objections. Would Bullwood Hall have stopped being a women’s prison, when it was in many ways a centre of excellence for dealing with juvenile and young women and there was no other prison like it? Would Brockhill have been re-rolled when it was the only women’s prison in the West Midlands with a mother and baby unit? Would Cookham Wood have been re-rolled the other day when, if anyone had bothered to go there and look round, they would have found marvellous programmes, the result of considerable investment by the voluntary sector? It now feels a very demotivated place because all its efforts have been wasted and the programmes are gone. The trouble with not having a director is that the good practice identified somewhere is not turned into the common practice everywhere. Inconsistency is therefore added to the other problems because no one is ensuring that what happens to women in Lancashire is happening—or not happening, as the case may be—to women elsewhere.
I was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, mentioned training. I have always thought that this training provision is absolutely miserable. I remember asking the staff at Holloway about training during my first inspection. They had not received appropriate training in working with women. Three weeks ago I had to go to Trinidad as an expert witness in an extradition case, and I asked about training. I discovered that in Trinidad women have six months’ training before going to work in women’s prisons—a three-month course followed by three months of supervised on-the-job training. If Trinidad can get that right, why can we not? And we complain about these things.
This excellent report is one in a long line. I did mine in 1997. In 2000, there was the Prison Reform Trust report. I published a follow-up, A Call to Action, in 2001. We had the Fawcett Society report in 2004. When this report was announced to us by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, I rather cynically wondered whether, because she is such a senior figure in the Government, there might at last be some hope of somebody taking some notice of it. I am sure she recognises the volume of support that exists for all that she has said, because people have been saying it over and over again. It is therefore disappointing to find that, yet again, the Government seem not to be listening to the one thing that is absolutely needed; namely, to have someone take real action to get it done. I also welcome the number of noble Lords who have suggested that we must have a further debate to follow up on the action plan and to make certain that we maintain the momentum, even if nobody else does. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her report and I hope it will lead to the action we all desire.
My Lords, I, too, join with other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend on her extremely thought-provoking report and on securing this debate which allows us to discuss it.
A glance at last week’s debate led by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and at the speakers list for today reveals the strength and depth of expertise in your Lordships’ House on this subject. I speak with no comparable authority so I shall restrict my remarks to one matter which, in the great scheme of things, may seem marginal, but I believe it has its place and should be considered along with other strategies for improving the lot of women in the criminal justice system. It is the contribution that the arts can make in the range of rehabilitation programmes referred to by, among others, my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles.
My noble friend refers in her report to the vulnerabilities that most women offenders have in common. She describes them as follows:
“First, domestic circumstances and problems such as domestic violence, child-care issues, being a single-parent; second, personal circumstances such as mental illness, low self-esteem, eating disorders, substance misuse; and third, socio-economic factors such as poverty, isolation and unemployment”.
We have heard a great deal this afternoon that goes to the truth of that analysis. My noble friend continues:
“When women are experiencing a combination of factors from each of these three types of vulnerabilities, it is likely to lead to a crisis point that ultimately results in prison. It is these underlying issues that must be addressed by helping women to develop resilience, life skills and emotional literacy”.
She also observes of women prisoners whom she met personally:
“They were noisy and at first sight confident and brash but this belied their frailty and vulnerability and masked their lack of self-confidence and esteem”.
The development of resilience, life skills and emotional literacy is hard enough for any of us to achieve, even those of us who live privileged lives untouched by the horrors endured by many women who wind up in prison. Life is challenging, but there are experiences that can help us manage difficulties and give us some perspective on and insight into human relationships. My noble friend’s report shows that damaged or damaging relationships often lie behind behaviour that leads women into contact with the criminal justice system. Some of the most effective experiences can be delivered through engaging the imagination and creativity which debilitating life events can often stifle.
While I was preparing for this debate I came across an article published a year ago in the Guardian called “Can opera save our prisons?”. I imagine the tendency in your Lordships’ House would be to assume that the answer to that question is no. The article was written by a former prisoner, Rosie Johnston, who was reporting on the wonderful work of Pimlico Opera, which has been presenting musical theatre in prisons since 1987 using mixed casts of inmates and professional performers, and of Music in Prisons, funded by the Irene Taylor Trust, which runs intensive courses in prisons up and down the UK during which prisoners, male and female, work with professional musicians who, for example, help them to write songs which are then performed in front of an audience of guests, other inmates and sometimes family members.
Rosie Johnston emphasises the importance of this kind of work when she says of her own experience in prison:
“Days stacked up; units of boredom ticked off on a calendar. I went on a DIY course on which I was told how to switch on an electric light. I would have put up with a lot for an opportunity like Pimlico Opera”.
The founder of Pimlico Opera, Wasfi Kani, a highly respected figure in UK music and herself brought up in difficult circumstances, says:
“If things had gone slightly differently for me, I could have ended up inside. I'm still doing the prison projects because I've seen people change”.
In the section of my noble friend’s report on education, training and skills, she observes:
“Respect for one another, forming and maintaining relationships, developing self-confidence, simply being able to get along with other people without conflict must come before numeracy and literacy skills”.
That is perhaps a controversial observation but it is an honest one. As Rosie Johnston points out, many prisoners find conventional courses hard, fail to complete them and become demoralised. Consider, therefore, the fact that Music in Prisons was set up in response to arts programmes being phased out of prisons in favour of key-skills education. Music in Prisons recognises that completing a project is vital to self-confidence and notes that prisoners who cannot engage with mainstream prison education courses will often do well on Music in Prison courses. Music in Prison’s work in Holloway with a group of prolific self-harmers, for example, resulted in no incidence of self-harming among course participants while the course was running and a low incidence for some weeks thereafter.
I could give many more examples of the excellent work being done for women offenders through the arts, but I shall just mention the theatre company, Clean Break, whose achievements I have extolled before in your Lordships’ House. Clean Break has been working for years with women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system, both in prisons and outside. It has warmly welcomed the Corston review, seeing it as,
“a unique opportunity to effect real change in the way vulnerable women offenders and women at risk of offending are dealt with by society”.
I think we can all agree with that view. Some of what my noble friend's report has revealed does our society no credit. We should not tolerate the physical conditions she describes, nor should we fail to make available proper resources to address the special difficulties that women offenders often have to face. I believe that organisations such as Music in Prisons, Pimlico Opera and Clean Break demonstrate the importance of including the arts in our thinking about how we create a more humane, enlightened system of delivering justice. My question to the Minister is a simple one: will he ensure that the Inter-Ministerial Group on Reducing Re-offending takes seriously the potential value of arts programmes to offender management and works with all relevant departments, NDPBs and the voluntary sector to ensure that funding for them is sustained?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on her often shocking analysis of the treatment of women by our system of criminal justice, especially our prison system. That analysis was powerfully and movingly underlined by the speeches of many noble Lords in the debate on women’s justice initiated last week by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. The debate today has been commendable for its focus on what we need to do rather than simply bemoaning what is wrong, important as that is. I cannot add anything to the analysis without repetition, but thinking about what could usefully be added has turned my thoughts in the direction of institutional reform and the way that we develop policy. That will inevitably take me somewhat wider than the Corston review. I hope that that will not detract from my words of welcome for the report; rather, I hope it may be seen as a tribute to the report that it has stimulated me to think about wider issues.
My starting point, as I reflect on the discussions of criminal justice which we have had since I entered the House, is that the system is not working—indeed, that it could be said to be in crisis. There is evidence of this over a range of fronts and much disquiet among your Lordships, of which the Minister will be aware. I could cite rates and levels of imprisonment, at eastern rather than comparable western European levels prison overcrowding; reoffending levels and levels of suicide in prison; and the treatment of young people by our penal system, which has attracted criticism for falling below international standards and has led some of your Lordships to question whether it entitles us to be regarded any longer as a civilised country. And that is just for starters.
The impression of disarray has been compounded by the Government’s response, which seems sometimes to be bordering on panic. Prison overcrowding is met with hand-to-mouth responses, such as early release. The only response bordering on strategy has been to build more prisons, and large ones at that, which can only intensify the problems of institutionalisation. Like building more roads to deal with traffic congestion, it is ultimately self-defeating. It is already beginning to look as though, even before they are built, those 8,000 extra places will not be enough.
The Government, to their credit, are anxious to give the system a degree of coherence. But their instrument for doing so is NOMS, which appears to have been ill starred from its inception. It has already had to be reorganised, and the Minister still cannot tell us about its management structure. As we discussed the other day in the debate on Second Reading, the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill provides further evidence of policy-making on the hoof.
It is not, however, my intention to be adversarial. I am sure that the Minister is an excellent Minister with the best of intentions—indeed, with the right intentions, as we have seen in recent days as he has made clear his commitment to the welfare of the child, with an emphasis on rehabilitation, resettlement and community sentences—but he has an impossible task in wrestling with a system that is in many ways out of control. At all events, the closest we have come to a strategy is an attack on the symptoms rather than the underlying causes. As I say, though, I do not wish to be adversarial—quite the reverse. Debates where we bash the Government—however forensically and analytically—and Question Times, where we have a bit of sport, simply cause the Minister to put up the shutters and dig in. That may not be the best way of developing a more rational criminal justice policy.
What has all this to do with the Corston report? As I listened to the debate last week on the need for a women’s justice board, it was clear to me that the treatment of women in the criminal justice system is a problem. But it is only a part of the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, called for a women’s justice board, and that prompted the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, to throw out the suggestion of a black Britons’ justice board. It seemed to me that this could not be the way to go, with a justice board for every particular problem area in the penal system. Such a piecemeal approach does not seem to make a great deal of sense.
It seems clear to me that we need institutional reform in our approach both to policy-making and to managing the penal system. I certainly do not claim to have all the answers here or a neat solution which I can commend to Ministers with a lively sense of a job well done. I had an academic involvement with the penal system at an earlier stage of my career, but that was over 20 years ago, and since entering this House I have been all too well aware of just how out of date my knowledge has become and how much work I have to do to get back up to speed. But I ask the Minister and the Government to think seriously about the point I am making.
A number of possible approaches have been or could be suggested. There is the model of a royal commission. A number of people have been thinking along the lines of establishing a royal commission on the prison system, but I am inclined to think that a fundamental principle of anything we do in this area should be that it is comprehensive, holistic, overarching—however you want to put it—and with a view to giving coherence to our efforts in the field of criminal justice.
A royal commission would have pros and cons. On the positive side, it would be able to undertake a fundamental and comprehensive review of an area of policy that has proved intractable for successive Governments. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, has helpfully reminded us of the Gladstone report’s impact in the late 19th century. A royal commission could also be much more inclusive than the present system of policy-making seems to be. Would it not be better if the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, were working with the Government on the solution to these problems instead of beating them about the head from the Back Benches? It is important for the Government to be part of any mechanism adopted if there is to be any hope of their owning the solution. It is all too easy for the Government simply to ignore recommendations from bodies that are wholly outside government.
On the other hand, royal commissions are not always effective in setting a clear direction and enabling a fresh start with decisive action. As the late Lord Wilson used to say, royal commissions at their worst sit for years and take minutes.
If we persisted down the justice board route, rather than flirt with a multiplicity of justice boards for different aspects of the criminal justice system, perhaps the idea of a single overarching justice board with subsets for different areas could be investigated. Mention was made in last week’s debate of a tsar. There could be more than one tsar to cover different aspects of the penal system. The important point is that any arrangements set up should include a capacity for decisive executive action to get things done.
If the Minister is prepared to give some consideration to my suggestion that we should try to find a better way of doing things, he should bear five principles in mind. The first is that anything that is set up needs to be holistic and overarching with a view to designing, building in and underpinning coherence. Secondly, it should be inclusive. Thirdly, it should have some independence from government, with a view to bringing the best brains and experience to bear on the problem but consistent with significant government ownership. Fourthly, it should be able not only to advise but to make policy. Fifthly, it should have the capacity to make things happen.
My Lords, at the outset of my remarks I wish to make two observations about what has been said so far in the debate. First, I was delighted that my good and noble friend Lady McIntosh of Hudnall made the point about music and opera. I never miss a Pimlico opera in prison if I can avoid it; it has a tremendous impact. What I like about the approach of Pimlico Opera is that it is aware there could be an awful anti-climax when a performance is over and it continues to do workshops and so on with prisoners. It makes a tremendous contribution to rehabilitation, the restoration of personality and so on.
My Lords, I will not give way, if the noble Lord will forgive me, because time is very short.
My second observation is that while I normally totally agree—almost to an embarrassing degree— with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I do not agree with one remark that she made. I think it is terribly important and urgent to have a debate such as this when a report has been published. We have to build up the momentum of concern so that the level of government response takes into account that the report has a great deal of good will and specific support among parliamentarians of all parties.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Corston. I had the privilege of serving under her when she was the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, where she did a tremendous amount to build up the reputation, impact and significance of that committee. She wrote her report with the clarity and firmness that I found was typical of her in the chair and which were informed by deep research and knowledge. Alongside this were her principles, conviction, sensitivity and values. I do not think that there are many parliamentarians who come up to those standards. What I also like about the report is that it is constructive and positive in saying what should be done—it is not just saying what is wrong.
When we in the Joint Committee on Human Rights were compiling a report on deaths in custody—another deeply disturbing issue—I learned a tremendous amount. The first thing was that there were very many extremely good, compassionate and concerned members of staff in the Prison Service, and I am glad that my noble friend has emphasised that point. But it was interesting that those staff sometimes became almost aggressive to us as parliamentarians—saying, in effect, “What on earth is this system that you expect us to operate? It is completely ill designed for the purpose of achieving rehabilitation and positive citizenship”. Let me give a couple of examples. I was absolutely shocked in Holloway to hear that when the courts closed, male prisons closed their doors and the transport system gave priority to getting the men into prison, so that the women could arrive at Holloway at a very late hour, after the meals were over. It was not just the awful impact on the women prisoners—staff have families and social needs as well, and they would have to stay on to handle the situation. What is more, sometimes it was only then that somebody discovered that there were children at home. I could hardly believe it.
The other example is that I took on one side a senior male uniformed officer in the prison and said, “Let us forget that I am here with the committee. I am a parliamentarian. What, above all, would you like me to think about when I go back to Parliament?”. He said, “Training”. I said, “But one thing that impresses me is that you are getting more training”. He made an incredibly significant point when he said, “Precisely. That has led us to understand how ill equipped we are for the job that we really want to do”. So the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is absolutely right—we cannot overemphasise the importance of training.
The other point made by staff is that prisons are full of people who should not be there at all. We will not go over ground that we have been debating in the criminal justice Bill—my noble friend has been very patient and heard the debate over and again. But I passionately believe that, ideally, we should start again from scratch and design a prison system that is fit for purpose. I believe that, at the moment, we are spending vast amounts of public money on trying to patch up and make work a system that is not designed for the purpose that we now understand and for the objectives that we are trying to achieve. This certainly applies to women’s prisons, and the fact that tremendous things are achieved is a double tribute to the staff who operated within the system. But I cannot overemphasise the sense of frustration that they sometimes feel.
What we are talking about, as the noble Baroness has stressed, is vulnerability. You only have to look at the beginning of the report, page 3, to see listed there the fact that:
“Coercion by men can form a route into criminal activity for some women … Drug addiction plays a huge part in all offending and is disproportionately the case with women … Mental health problems are far more prevalent among women in prison than in the male prison population”.
I pick those points to illustrate the precise nature of the observations made by my noble friend in her report.
I have a daughter who leads a team of counsellors for women with mental health problems in deprived communities. Almost every time that I meet my daughter, I have to put up with a tirade of indignation at the shortage of resources for this work. She and her colleagues can see that this sort of work helps to keep women together and to prevent the development of situations that result in prison. As a society, we have to wake up and put our money where our analysis is. If we believe in prevention, we have to finance prevention. We cannot go on with a health service in which mental health is regarded as a tail-end Charlie, fobbed off with professions of concern. It needs large resources and real priority.
I conclude by drawing noble Lords’ attention to the excellent observation by INQUEST on the report. It stresses my points about the difficulty that women have in accessing support before they end up in prison, the difficulty that families have in assisting the care and support of vulnerable women while they are in prison, and the lack of support for women after deaths in custody. I think that this is a highly relevant, effective and important report. I believe that the Government cannot give it enough priority. I conclude with the observation that I made on one of my amendments last night—that all of us have a responsibility, because we cannot expect the Prison Service to provide by proxy the fulfilment of ideals that are singularly absent in the way that we conduct ourselves in society. We have made a society based on greed and egocentric individualism, in which compassion and care have been marginalised, and then we expect the Prison Service somehow to put that right. We cannot isolate our concern here from the general situation within society and the general values of society.
My Lords, I also thank warmly the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, for this report and comment that these women and girls, who have been so voiceless and so victimised, need this sort of attention and care. I am deeply grateful for this report and the opportunity today to look at their situation. A running theme of this debate is that many of these women and girls have been victims throughout their lives. My reflection on this is that unfortunately, and too often, we join in this victimisation—and we should consider how unconstructive that is. A woman who has been brought up in care and separated from her mother eventually ends up in custody. Instead of being encouraged to take responsibility for her actions, what she sees is that, “The state is now taking my children away from me”. That does not encourage her to think, “What harm am I causing myself?”. Rather she will say, “Just as in my previous life I have been the object for others to do things to, now the state is taking my children away”.
What struck me about the words used by the Minister of State, Beverley Hughes, when she launched the Care Matters: Time for Change White Paper on looking after children, was the repetition of “stability, stability, stability”. That is what all of us want for children in care—stability in their lives. One paper associated with this report concerned continuity in care. That was the theme—we want more continuity. It is a theme of the Children and Young Persons Bill going through the House at the moment. We have heard some of the facts, but perhaps I may draw your Lordships’ attention to a report from the Children’s Commissioner for England—his organisation is called 11 Million. The report states:
“For 85 per cent of mothers, prison was the first time they had been separated from their children for any significant length of time. Only 9 per cent of the children are cared for by their fathers while their mothers are in prison. Just 4 per cent of women prisoners’ children remain in their own home once their mother has been sentenced”.
As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Carter, around 18,000 children each year are separated from their mothers by imprisonment. Therefore, on the one hand, we have a Minister heading a department saying that children often very similar to those I have just been discussing need stability, stability, stability and continuity of care and, on the other hand, we are taking 18,000 children out of the care of their parents and causing them to lose their homes at the same time. What sense does that make?
A little while ago, the parliamentary All-Party Group on Penal Affairs heard from a young woman in care. She was in a children’s home at the age of 13. One day, out of the blue, she was told that she would have to remove herself from that home as she was being placed elsewhere. The staff had been advised not to tell her that this was happening because they knew that it would be problematic. She said that that was when her years of crime began, adding: “I fought those people when they sought to take me out of that home”. Therefore, we need to rethink our approach in this area, where we are introducing so much instability into the lives of children who are often the most vulnerable.
I want to comment on what has been said about the need for someone to drive this policy forward so that we do not have another report landing on our desks in 10 years’ time. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the work of Louise Casey at the Rough Sleepers Unit a few years ago. She achieved the specific target set for her by the Government of reducing by two-thirds over three years the number of rough sleepers on the streets. I remember her pep talks in which she described vividly and passionately the need to support these people. She was often controversial. She urged people not to give money to beggars on the streets because they would only be supporting their habit and encouraging them to stay there. That was unpopular with many charities but she drove things through. She was passionate and experienced. She had been a deputy director of Shelter and had worked indirectly with homeless people, supporting their housing. She also described having been a restless teenager herself and having considered rough-sleeping, so there may be some insight from her appointment and success into who might be most effective. She was also directly answerable to the Prime Minister, so there was clearly the political will to see it through.
In her report, the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, speaks of the Asha, Calderdale and 218 centres. She says of the women there:
“These women were shining example of ‘victims’ turned ‘survivors’”.
I was struck that, instead of further punishing these women—although punishment is sometimes necessary—and victimising them further, the centres were empowering them. The noble Baroness comments:
“One of the women I met there told me that she had experienced prison many times; it had taught her nothing and she said she was simply able always to blame others for her predicament”.
It does not surprise me that the evidence on these centres shows that they are helpful in reducing reoffending because people take responsibility for their actions and feel empowered. The noble Baroness goes on to say:
“Asha, however, had challenged her behaviour and for the first time in her life she was accepting responsibility for her own actions and thinking about their consequences. Another women at Asha with a similar background told me that no one in prison had ever told her that her criminal behaviour was wrong and she had never faced up to this before coming to Asha … Asha’s founder believes that women can be destroyed by prison, which separates them from their children. Most women want to be good mothers and sometimes this is the only positive thing in their lives. To take it away when it is all that matters to them can cause huge damage”.
I recall research from the Home Office which indicated that, generally speaking, if offenders can be connected with their families and sustain relationships, that is very important in reducing reoffending.
I quote once more from the report:
“Bringing women together at centres like Asha and Calderdale helps them to understand that others have encountered similar problems, feel less isolated and start to find solutions”.
That takes us back very much to a debate that we had on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill concerning alcohol treatment. We discussed the importance of former alcoholics speaking to young people who needed their help in refraining from alcohol misuse. That can be a very helpful approach. When vulnerable individuals meet people who have struggled with the same issues that they are experiencing and have come through the other side, that can be inspiring and effective.
Perhaps I may comment briefly on sentencing, which has been a theme of the debate, although it is difficult to speak briefly on this subject. I encourage the Minister to bear in mind what Socrates said on this, as recorded in Crito by Plato:
“When a man is in training and taking it seriously, does he pay attention to all praise and criticism and opinion indiscriminately, or only when it comes from the one qualified person, the actual doctor or trainer?”.
“Only when it comes from the one qualified person”.
I know that these issues are very difficult but I think that the Government might do more, and might have done more in the past, looking at the research and evidence of what works and acting on it. I know that that is difficult politically but there needs to be a strong consensus between all parties on what is the civilised thing to do. I welcome the call made by my noble friend Lord Low for some sort of national debate. That echoes what the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, said recently in her report. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on her most excellent report. In the past couple of days during debates on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, we have had a lot of talk about human rights and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. During that time, I have declined to associate myself with the usual gang of suspects, one of whom is here today in the form of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who has served on that committee. I, too, served on it for a short while and, when I knew that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, had been charged with this task, it was evident that she would perform it with not just the diligence but the radicalism, combined with good sense, that she brought to the committee during the time I served on it. Therefore, it was a pleasure to read her excellent work. However—the Minister knows that there is always a “however”—it is a shame that the Government have taken as long as they have to move to its implementation.
Since I started shadowing the Ministry of Justice and dealing with prisons, I have discovered that change is the order of the day. The problem is that change seems to be taking place in the absence of strategic leadership and with a decided lack of vision. We heard yesterday on the radio that apparently more than 50 reviews have been ordered since the current Prime Minister took over a few months ago. It would not be entirely surprising if that happened within the first year or two of a new Government. The problem is that it is happening 10 years after they took office, so we must draw our own conclusions.
However, on the issue in hand today, perhaps we need to reinvent the wheel—or to improve its alignment to the rest of the cart quite comprehensively. As I said, we welcomed the report for taking an in-the-round look at what needs to be done and we agree with a good number of the recommendations of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston. We particularly like her emphasis on tackling the underlying issues to do with vulnerabilities, such as personal circumstances, familial pressure points and socio-economic factors. However, we have a few reservations. One is that we regret that she sees as a linchpin of her strategy the need for interdepartmental committees rather than a more clearly delineated, stand-alone body with sufficient powers, budgets and staff to make things happen. As it is, the interdepartmental group will consist of seven Ministers or so, on whom this additional remit will be tacked on to their existing functions. A point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, last week in his debate on this issue, as well as today, is that it will be impossible for these people to do the jobs they are consigned to do well in addition to what they are now charged to do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, has tried to reassure us that her honourable friends are up to the job. We have no doubt that they are; the trouble is that they already have a surfeit of jobs. You would have thought that their main jobs, as Solicitor-General, Minister for Equality or Minister for Women, would be sufficiently important in scope and brief for them to need to concentrate on those. It does not sit with the importance that this area deserves to be tacked on the way it is to other roles.
We particularly welcome the recommendation for the immediate creation of a commission for women who offend or who are at risk of offending. This, in our view, is critical to that logic of strategic leadership which is needed urgently to knock heads and to make the seven different departments with interests in this area come together. We would prefer, as per the original proposals, to see the commission for women established as a non-departmental public body or within the aegis of the Ministry of Justice, as we now discover it is going to be. We do not wish to be particularly prescriptive about this but suffice it to say it should be located wherever it is able to provide the strongest and most effective direction. We are therefore disappointed that the Government have only gone as far as to accept this recommendation in principle.
We now await a cross-departmental criminal justice women’s unit, which will be working with other departments. It will, we are told, monitor progress and then report to the IMG. We fear that this unit will soon become encumbered in minutiae. It will be subsumed to different political priorities and will have as its strategic role a subordinate role—we assume—to the direction of travel prioritised by the “prison and penal aspects of policy” brigade rather than the part of the remit which deals with women at risk of offending, which we thought was one of the great innovations in the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston.
I am aware that we also have the IMG for reducing reoffending, but the organisational chart in the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on page 79 does not provide for a link to this group. This underpins why we see the commission for women as the place for strategic direction and leadership.
Let me turn to the more recent changes for, as we see it, they will have an impact on where and how the recommendations of this report will go forward. We heard last week that the flagship body set up only three years ago, the National Offender Management Service, is now to be dismantled. NOMS, as we recall, was to offer management through prison and probation systems to successful release back into the community. We are told that NOMS will be stripped down and a sort of NOMS-lite will be the more focused body but:
“The concept of end-to-end management for all prisoners will be abandoned as the Government looks to impose cuts across the prison and probation services”.
That is from the Observer of 27 January.
This will be the third shake-up of prisons and probation services in seven years. We also have the result of the review by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles. While we have seen his report, we are not entirely clear as to how many of his proposals will go forward in the way that he envisaged. We seem to be getting increasingly fragmented responses through IMGs and action plans while one theme remains constant: that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons continues to highlight the mess that exists in our prison policy. Coming to the fact that we have had two separate debates on women’s justice and prisons in the last two weeks, plus the changes we have seen to NOMS and to prisons and probation services, could we get an indication from the Minister that we will get regular appraisals from the IMGs as to how the changes are bedding down?
I am coming to the end of my time but let me briefly say that it is clear from the debates last week and today that there is much good will and concern to address these issues. We heard the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to look at some of these things and I will draw his attention to this debate. We were intrigued by the views of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, on prison design. The physical environment is undoubtedly key to issues to do with humanity’s most basic precepts. I wonder if the architectural competition committee that he envisages could also include prison staff and prisoners, as both would be the most frequent users of the system. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, welcomed the national service framework for women. Is its implementation programme still on target to roll out from June 2008?
The debate today has been replete with innovative suggestions to promote life skills such as the emphasis of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on the arts in rehabilitation. These would be the ideal interventions to be funded by the National Lottery. I will support her plea to the Minister.
Let me finish with the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, on the need for a royal commission. We are always pleased on these Benches for those on other Benches to be reminded of what true reform can look like, and Gladstone would have much to tell us on this issue today. Given the number of piecemeal studies and proposals for change, if this lot of reforms do not work, maybe we should move to a comprehensive look at crime and punishment through a royal commission. The problem is that the royal commission and anything it achieves will have come nearly a generation too late for those currently incarcerated. That will have been our collective failure as a society.
My Lords, I add my voice to that of all others in offering my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on producing her report all of almost a year ago. I also congratulate her on her patience in waiting for some six months for first the Home Office and then the Ministry of Justice to respond to that report with what I think she described as something of a curate’s egg, even if 39 and a half of her 43 recommendations seem to have been accepted.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, described that response as implementation by the Government. I have a sneaking feeling that “implementation” might be a rather optimistic word to use about what was in fact just the Government’s response.
I also, yet again, offer my commiserations to the Minister, who has had another very busy week with two days on the criminal justice Bill, a number of Questions to be answered at the Dispatch Box, a similar debate to this last week as well as the debate on war-making powers, and so on. It raises one question: if perhaps the Ministry of Justice did slightly less—this is possibly wishful thinking—it might do it slightly better. Yet again, I will make my plea to the Minister that he could start by scrapping the criminal justice Bill and going away to give it some proper thought before bringing it back to this House.
I have a number of questions for the noble Lord. I did not manage to get all my questions out last week but there are one or two I certainly want to repeat this week. Last week I mentioned the timely nature of the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in that it came so soon after the launch of the annual report of Her Majesty’s inspector. I asked the Minister when the Secretary of State would be responding to that and whether we will get a chance in due course to debate that matter in this House. I repeat that question and I think all Members of the House would like to hear an answer.
Secondly, I must return to Titan prisons and the recommendation in the noble Baroness’s report, which quite rightly goes in the opposite direction when she writes about the need for more smaller, local prisons. The Government seem to have been strangely silent on that point, although I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, whose original report suggested Titan prisons, was in agreement with her in not going down the route of Titan prisons for women’s prisons but looking for smaller prisons. I also noted the point she made that even if there were to be Titan prisons, they must not be mixed. That would be a complete disaster in provision for women.
The argument that the noble Lord put forward on Titan prisons—as I understand him, and no doubt he will correct me if I have got it wrong—is that they are not really Titan prisons but a number of smaller prisons on the same site. That misses the point in terms of the recommendation made by the noble Baroness that we need more smaller units. It is not so much the size of the unit, but the fact that we need something local for women prisoners if we are to help them maintain contact with their families. This point was made by a number of noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, made it and emphasised the fact that on average each female prisoner is some 58 miles—I cannot remember if that was the precise figure—away from home. The noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Massey, also stressed this point. I am sure the Minister will accept that what is needed are more local units so that prisoners can be closer to home. I hope he will accept that that is why so many noble Lords have been objecting to Titan prisons. It is not their mere size that is objected to; it is the fact that, by definition, they cannot be local.
I have one or two other points that I would like to put to the Minister, but I am very wary of the time and will make sure that I sit down to give him his 20 minutes to respond. First, I shall ask about overcrowding. Many of the social factors that influence criminal behaviour are broadly similar for men and women. They include mental health problems, drug addiction, education, housing and employment, yet the Government have been exacerbating overcrowding to such an extent that it is almost impossible to rectify any of those issues while women are in prison. Indeed, manifest failures in prison security mean that many offenders are getting on drugs while they are in prison. Do the Government not recognise that tackling overcrowding and reforming prison regimes are vital for reducing offending? The same could be said about the high levels of self-harm by female prisoners that various noble Lords have mentioned. Would the Minister not accept that there is a relationship between overcrowding and the number of women in prison who self-harm or commit suicide?
Turning to bail and remand—I will keep my remarks brief so that the Minister can give a full response—the Minister will be aware that the Prison Reform Trust estimates that six out of 10 women imprisoned on remand are acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence. Given that, and the recent high-profile examples of offending on bail, would the Minister accept that the Government’s policy on bail and remand is not being directed at the right people? I ask him to look carefully at that figure of six out of 10 women on remand who do not go on to prison.
I have other questions and still have some three minutes to go, but bearing in mind that we started at quarter to the hour, I think, I should stop now to allow the Minister to make the full response he always makes to the House and to allow the noble Baroness to respond briefly to his remarks.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for allowing me to get my full 20 minutes. I am most appreciative. I am delighted that this morning we have had an opportunity to hear from my noble friend Lady Corston. It is not surprising that her report has been so rightfully praised from almost every quarter. It is excellent, and she made an excellent speech to open this debate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that we should hope that this is a pivotal moment in the development of the right policy and practice for women in custody. Our determination must be to see that that happens.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, made his usual kind remarks about the Ministry of Justice. The Bill is well formed and is now enjoying scrutiny in your Lordships’ House. However, I cannot give him a date when we will respond to the ombudsman’s report. We are bound to respond, as we will, and then I would welcome a debate in your Lordships’ House, but time is not in the Government’s hands in this House, as noble Lords know well.
Today we heard compelling reasons about why we need to implement my noble friend’s report in the way that we are doing. Vulnerabilities characterise so many women in prison: mental health problems, drug misuse, sexual and domestic abuse, concerns about children’s welfare and the number of children affected by their mother being in prison. Those points are very strong indeed. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about the impact on children and gave us much food for thought.
That brings us to the question of sentencing policy. Just as I have been saying about the policy of the Government in relation to children in custody, I want to make it clear that we believe that custody should be reserved for offenders who need to be there because of the seriousness of their offending or the risk they present to others. That remains and will continue to be our philosophy. That means that a lot of emphasis must go into community provision. I agree with the points made by a number of noble Lords about the importance of prevention of reoffending programmes, rehabilitation, resettlement and accommodation. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, spoke about the contribution peers can make to help that process. That was a point my noble friend Lord Bach made in relation to the alcohol programmes when there was some confusion two days ago.
The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, presented to us a very serious question about sentencing. The figures I have here show that although women still comprise less than 6 per cent of the prison population, in the 10-year period between 1995 and 2005, the increase in the prison population was 126 per cent for women compared to 46 per cent for men. He suggested that there were some psychological factors at play. There is no doubt that the courts have been sentencing women more severely and making greater use of custody for less serious offences. There are some signs that since 2005 that has stabilised. We have not seen another large increase since then.
That clearly brings us to sentencing guidance, about which the noble Lord made some important points. Sentencers have to follow the law and guidelines, which already make it clear that prison is to be used only when an offence is so serious as to merit a custodial term. I also take on board the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and others, about the number of women on bail or on remand. That is a factor that we also need to look at very carefully.
In our response to my noble friend's report, the Government undertook to re-emphasise to courts the whole question of sentencing guidelines and the availability of the community sentencing structure as an alternative. However, I will make sure that my colleagues responsible for this in the department have a clear read-out of the comments made today.
I know that noble Lords think that the Government did not respond to my noble friend’s report as quickly as we should have done. I usually stand here and noble Lords accuse the Government of being too quick to respond to issues and too quick to bring in legislation. In this area, it was important to look carefully at the implications of my noble friend’s report. The fact that we are agreeing 39 and a half recommendations shows that we have been able to respond in as positive a way as possible.
We had a debate last week on governance arrangements. Some noble Lords feel that an interministerial group is not the best way to approach what we all want—which is concerted action to ensure that my noble friend’s report is implemented with vigour and determination. But my experience is that where you have a clear aim and a lot of Ministers are involved, that is a good way to get the kind of ministerial leadership that is required. If you have ministerial leadership and commitment, you can get things done. I understand the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, that if you are also Solicitor-General or Minister for Children you have other responsibilities and you may not give the matter your full attention. But the obverse of that is that you have senior Ministers carrying out important roles. They are the very people you want round a table to make sure that the right decisions are made and that those decisions are carried through. Anybody who knows my honourable friend Maria Eagle will know that she is a very determined character. Her office is next door to mine so I know how determined she is. I have every confidence that she will give the leadership that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, so rightfully demanded.
I know that there are questions about the status of the senior civil servant who will lead the joint unit. That is an important question. It is important that that person has the authority to drive through the changes that are required. My belief and contention is that, with the support of the champion Minister, that determination will be shown in evidence as we develop this. That leads us to the question of NOMS, which we have debated in the past 24 hours. I want to make it clear that this is not a question of watering down the integrated approach to end-to-end offender management. It is an adjustment made necessary by the changes we have made in the machinery of government with the creation of the Ministry of Justice. The kind of split that we now have between operational management, which will be the responsibility of NOMS, and the strategic leadership in a separate directorate in the department is just what you need to get the challenge and leverage to make the changes in policy and action that we all want to see.
The noble Lord, Lord Low, made some interesting points about the reform of the machinery of government and had some interesting ideas about a national debate. I am convinced, as I am about the custody of children, that the more informed debate we have, the more enlightened our policies will be in these areas.
I now turn to the question of equality and the law, because I hope that I did not confuse noble Lords last week. I was responding to the question of whether there should be a women's justice board. I said that it would replicate the Youth Justice Board. My point was that there is no separate framework in law for women as there is for young people. There would be a problem in establishing a separate sentencing framework in law for women offenders. That is where the reference to the gender equality duty is relevant, because it would not allow any system to be established that could create inequalities in the treatment of men and women—through, for example, a separate sentencing system. The noble Lord put the point very well.
However, I was not saying that there are not inequalities for women, because as my noble friend identified, the criminal justice system was designed primarily for men. That is where the gender equality duty comes in. We must do something about that and that is what my noble friend’s report is about. I am glad that noble Lords raised the matter and I have had the opportunity to set the matter straight.
Some interesting comments were made about the need to spread good practice. That is an important task for the interministerial subgroup and the officials who will then report to it. If we can spread the good work that is taking place more effectively, we could start to make a big difference at an early stage.
Much can be done to improve community provision. My noble friend mentioned a number of exciting community project works that are being undertaken, such as the Asha Centre in Worcester and the 218 project in Glasgow. My noble friend recommended that these initiatives should be developed and replicated elsewhere, and that is what we wish to encourage. We have a cross-department initiative to examine how the services and support delivered by existing community women’s services could be developed further for women offenders and women at risk of offending.
I now turn to our general policy on population and my noble friend's recommendation about small custodial units. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked about overcrowding. Of course, the report of my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles enables us to deal with this in a comprehensive way, both in terms of supply-side and demand-side management. We will soon be debating provisions—I will not bet on it but I hope not too far away—in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. I gently point out to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that his colleague in the other place, Mr David Davis, said in the Daily Telegraph yesterday that he thought that we should be locking up many more under-18s. I would like to put on the record that that would not help the prison population.
It is dangerous for me to try to link my noble friends Lord Carter of Coles and Lady Corston because they are both sitting behind me. If I get this wrong they will tell me in no uncertain terms. However, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, put that to me and I must answer it. It is clear to say that my noble friend Lord Carter recommended that the Government should continue to develop a strategy that deals with the specific needs of women and suggested that future consideration should be given to reconfiguring some of the smaller prison sites to accommodate female offenders, allowing for a different approach appropriate to their needs.
There is no question but that we believe that the women’s estate must be reconfigured, as my noble friend Lady Corston said. We have set up a short project, which is led at director level, to consider the future of the women’s custodial estate and to explore how the recommendation on small, local custodial units could be taken forward. My noble friend made some very important recommendations. It is a significant change. We will have to look at it carefully, and we will do so in parallel to taking forward my noble friend Lord Carter’s recommendations. I agree with him about the importance of good design. This is an opportunity for us to try to inculcate good design into a future programme. I like the idea of a competition, which I will certainly pass on to my friends.
On strip searches, I say to my noble friend Lady Corston that she knows that we accept that full searching causes distress to many women, particularly those with mental health problems and those who have been sexually abused. We are piloting a new kind of women’s full search. The initial stage of the piloting is expected to be completed in May 2008 and then we will establish whether we can make further progress.
Some very interesting comments have been made about mental health issues, such as dual diagnosis. There is no question that the input of the primary care trust is positive but that much more needs to happen. I take the point that when people leave custody, ensuring continuity of health provision is one way in which one can make resettlement work as effectively as possible. My noble friend Lord Bradley is reviewing a number of these important matters in relation to mental health, and I know that my noble friend Lady Corston will have an input into that work.
I thank my noble friend Lady Massey for her work with the National Treatment Agency. I accept that while considerable improvements have been made to gender-specific drug services in prisons, there is more that we can do, and it must remain a high priority. With regard to drug mules, my understanding is that the proportion of women prisoners under immediate custodial sentences who are foreign nationals is 15 per cent, and 56 per cent of foreign national females are serving sentences for drug exportation and importation, with the largest number coming from Nigeria. Of course, this group of women have considerably different resettlement needs from other prisoners, and more is being done to respond specifically to those needs and to help to equip those women when they return to their home country.
I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that I was very glad to hear of the work of Pimlico Opera, Clean Break and Music in Prisons. I do not have firsthand experience of that work, but—
My Lords, those decisions fall to the Arts Council and not to the Government. I am very much aware of the arts in the health service programmes, which have been hugely positive. I thought that there was much in what my noble friend said, and I will bring that to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.
To give my noble friend a couple of minutes to respond to the debate, I will draw my remarks to a conclusion. My noble friend’s report is one of the most important reports to be published in this area for some years. It contains many recommendations, some of which would lead to fundamental changes in the way in which women are dealt with in the criminal justice system. There is no question whatever that in the past women have been marginalised in a system that has been largely designed for male prisoners. We know in terms of the outcomes for those women that we have to do better and the Government are pledged to do just that.
My Lords, earlier this week, a former colleague from another place asked me how I was getting on here, and he said, “The truth is that you have better debates than us”. Today exemplifies that statement. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. I opened my remarks by saying that it was impossible for me to summarise everything that was in my report. It was wonderful to note how many noble Lords today have done that for me and have raised so many different issues to which I drew attention.
I have been heartened by the response of Ministers to my report. My noble friend Lord Hunt will know that it is not my way to get on my feet and make remarks in the Chamber. Over my parliamentary life I have found that it is far better to talk to people one to one to persuade them, because to get on one’s feet can sometimes paint them into a corner, and I have never done that. It has been marvellous to have had voicemail messages, letters and phone calls over the weekend, saying, “Can we talk to you about this?”, “How do you think we should do that?”, “What is the best way of achieving something else?”. In my experience, there has never been such cross-departmental interest, with Ministers from the Department of Health, DCLG, the Home Office all coming to me and saying, “Please can we talk to you about how we make this work?”.
Someone not long ago said to me, “If you are not careful, you are going to be known as the champion for women in prison”. I actually cannot think of a better epitaph, because not many people have been that concerned about women in prison. Lots of people who work in prisons and who work in organisations that deal with women in prison who will read today’s report and be gratified that so many of us are interested. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
Police: Flanagan Review
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, I would like to make a Statement in response to Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s independent review of policing in England and Wales. Copies of the final report have been placed in the Library of the House. I start by thanking Sir Ronnie for his report. He has worked hard meeting and talking to people up and down the country. I particularly appreciate the work that he has done to include the voices and views of frontline officers. His recommendations are independent and are challenging to all of us, across the political spectrum, and to the police themselves.
“In asking Sir Ronnie to carry out this review, we were determined to find the best ways to ensure that the investment that this Government have made in extra police officers and police community support officers has an impact where it counts, with visible teams in every neighbourhood and with officers able to focus on what will really make a difference in continuing to reduce crime levels. The report is wide ranging. It deserves further reflection and discussion. It raises important questions about how working practices can be reformed, so that police officers can get the most out of their job and communities can get the best out of the police.
“In the area of reducing bureaucracy, I believe that we can make quick progress, and this where I will focus today. As the Association of Chief Police Officers recognises in its submission to the review, ‘Current levels of unnecessary bureaucracy are created both within as well as outside the police service’. Sir Ronnie is clear that freeing up police officers to do the job they came into policing to do requires more than simply removing paperwork, important though that is. It is not just about cutting requirements from the centre, important though that is. It requires new thinking on performance management from top to bottom of the police service, new attitudes to risk, new ways of working across the criminal justice system and new technology to support the work of policing. I accept that challenge. We are already making progress in response to Sir Ronnie’s interim report from September.
“First, from this April, new public service agreements and targets will provide greater flexibility to focus on what matters locally, on serious violence and on anti-social behaviour, and to streamline the process that gets suspected criminals to court. Secondly, we are consulting on reforms to the working of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that will reduce police bureaucracy and allow experienced officers to focus on their core roles by making better use of police staff. Thirdly, working with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice and the Attorney-General, I am piloting a range of improvements to the way the police work with the courts and the wider criminal justice system. These include virtual courts and new streamlined processes to reduce police and administrative time in preparing prosecution files.
“Fourthly, we are investing in new technology to make crime-fighting more effective and to save officers’ time—including video identity parades, livescan electronic fingerprinting, body-worn cameras, and the £50 million capital fund that will deliver 10,000 mobile data receivers by September. I want to end the days of officers having to enter details more than once, on systems that do not talk to each other. Sir Ronnie’s final report shows how we can go further, and identifies further savings to the equivalent of 2,500 to 3,500 officers a year. I accept his recommendations to achieve this.
“I commend Sir Ronnie for his careful and measured consideration of how to reduce the bureaucracy surrounding stop and account. I agree with his proposal that we should scrap the lengthy form that officers use to record data when they carry out this critical activity. But I do not underestimate the need to build community confidence in policing. We must be able to monitor the proportionality of stops. So I welcome the proposal that we use airwave police radio technology to record any encounter, and that the simple card officers will give out to those stopped will have a phone number that they can call.
“We will immediately pilot this new approach to stop and account in three areas and I expect the changes to be national later this year. As the House will know, stop and account is a very different issue from stop and search, for which Sir Ronnie says, ‘a more formal and comprehensive process is both proportionate and appropriate’. I therefore welcome the work already being done by the Metropolitan Police and the Metropolitan Police Authority, in co-operation with community representatives, to produce a shorter form, which they are introducing later this month. Separately, the use of handheld devices to allow officers to input information directly and create a central record of a stop and search is cutting the average time from 25 minutes to six minutes. In view of the considerable benefits identified, I am calling on all chief constables to streamline their forms and process in the way Sir Ronnie has advocated. Both stop and search and stop and account can be powerful tools in tackling crime. So from April we will extend police powers to tackle gang-related gun and knife crime—enabling officers to stop and search in designated areas where an act of serious violence has taken place, as well as in anticipation of serious violence.
“We can now go further in other areas of recording. Sir Ronnie proposes that we endorse a radical new approach being trialled in Staffordshire and other forces, where police are freeing up more time to deal with victims of crime by using a standard one-page form. Officers are able to use their discretion in how much further information they record, proportionate to the severity of the crime. I will ensure that this approach can be introduced nationally as soon as possible.
“In today’s report Sir Ronnie celebrates the development and delivery of neighbourhood policing. Thanks to the hard work of forces and police authorities throughout England and Wales, there will be a team for every neighbourhood in April. More than 3,600 teams are now in place, and 16,000 police community support officers have been recruited. Up and down the country, at public meetings and in street briefings, local communities are helping to influence their team’s priorities. And throughout March, people will be hearing more about who their local teams are and how they can contact them.
“I have asked Sir Ronnie to report back to me in six months on the progress we and the police are making to reduce bureaucracy. This spring, I will publish a Green Paper with proposals for greater flexibility for frontline officers and staff, greater reductions in bureaucracy, strengthened local accountability arrangements and a reformed performance management framework.
“Sir Ronnie’s report sets out a powerful challenge for how we can adapt to meet the demands of 21st-century policing: freeing police officers from unnecessary red tape; giving them the skills and the tools for the valuable job they do; delivering neighbourhood policing in every area; and ensuring a better police service, for officers, victims and communities alike. Working together, it is a challenge that I am sure the police service and Government will rise to. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Home Secretary in the other place. We welcome this thoughtful and incisive report, which has appeared after considerable delay and which takes up many of the challenges that have been made about the police service and the Government’s micromanagement of it. Sir Ronnie has come up with recommendations based on common-sense views on how policing ought to serve its local communities as well as tackling serious crime and security threats. He shows how changes can be made quickly, and without the need to resort to yet more legislation.
This is a thorough and fascinating report, raising as it does many issues which have been central to the concerns over policing in this country, which has moved from a robust “bobby on the beat”-based organisation to one which has gradually, under this Government, been throttled by red tape, health and safety straitjackets, and implausible targets, pinning police officers to their desks when they should have been out in the streets. Everyone but the Government seems to have known this but it has taken already five reviews of police in nine years, with 150 recommendations, for precious little change to be made. So first, may I ask the Minister, what will change with this report? Do the Government intend to implement all the recommendations made by Sir Ronnie, against the strict timetables he has laid down?
When will the Green Paper promised by the Home Secretary be published? It is nearly spring now and that is when we are promised it, but none of the issues raised by Sir Ronnie regarding the bureaucracy is new or unknown. What the Green Paper canvasses about flexibility for front-line staff, strengthening local accountability and producing a greater reduction in bureaucracy as well as reforming the performance management framework can be implemented immediately with the minimum of fuss, and without legislation, by simply binning the forms, particularly those for stop and search and stop and account, and reducing the number and complexity of targets. Green Papers almost always herald legislation. Does the Minister anticipate that we will see a Bill, if it is necessary, this Session, or will important changes which require parliamentary time have to wait for the Queen’s Speech, and thus roll on into infinity?
The Government have a real job to do to convince the police and the public that they are determined to relieve the police of the desk-binding paperwork that has jeopardised proper policing for so long. They also have to convince the public that they are determined to get on top of gun, knife and drug crime, and teenage gangs. Gun killings are up by 20 per cent on last year, blade killings by 18 per cent and youth on youth crime is soaring. Two-thirds of the victims of murders in London since January 2007 were black or Asian, so the stop-and-search restrictions and reporting, which were introduced to protect ethnic minorities, have not succeeded in doing so. Will the Minister confirm that police officers will not only be empowered to stop and search for a limited period, without reasonable suspicion, when a serious crime has been committed or is anticipated but will be free to decide the areas where this is necessary? The Home Secretary’s Statement limits this to what are called “designated areas”, so will the Minister tell us: what does that mean; and designated by whom?
The Statement refers to reforms to be considered in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, but it is silent on those that need to be made to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which regulates police surveillance operations, and to reforms on health and safety regulations, which have resulted in the police having a risk-averse culture. Will the Minister say whether consideration can be given to amending these Acts to respond to some of the issues raised by Sir Ronnie’s report?
The report covers many more aspects of the police service than mentioned in the Statement, including more civilianisation, which had already been introduced by the Conservative Government some 15 years ago; the greater use of technology; the allocation of resources; and improvements in the management of the service. The public want to see police when they are burgled, have their cars vandalised, have their shops broken into, are harassed in the street and are frightened by yobs. They will believe that this report has been worth while when they see the changes that Sir Ronnie advises should be made, resulting in the police dealing with crime and not just logging reports without taking further action.
I believe, too, that police officers themselves want to do and be seen to do the job for which they have signed up, and to be assured of the public’s recognition of their professionalism. I hope that that will not be the last we see of this report. I look forward to this House having more opportunities to discuss the way forward. It is an important document and I hope that we will not lose sight of it.
My Lords, from these Benches we, too, welcome the thrust of this report. We fully support the need to reduce bureaucracy, and of course we support neighbourhood policing and attempts to create an efficient and accountable police force. It is, however, a shame that it has taken some 11 years to get to where we are. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, mentioned, there have been many reviews on the road to this report.
Several issues were only touched on in the brief Statement, and we understand that, but I want to draw out two or three of them. First, on the general need for reform and the hope that we can now make progress, does the Secretary of State recognise that police workforce reforms have perhaps been set back by the folly over the pay settlement? That political controversy, born of a very small pay settlement, could have been avoided and would therefore have created the conditions today for better interaction between those wanting to see reform at the top—the strategic responsibilities—and the police force that has to deliver those reforms. We regret that those relations have broken down.
In the report itself much has been made of the use of technology. We hear of virtual courts, video ID parades, and 10,000 mobile data services by September. We will look closely at the details of these measures, but our concern will be that, in addition to streamlining and reducing workloads, they will impact on civil liberties, data privacy and security? One would have thought that the imbroglio on ID cards, the recent epidemic of data theft and the loss and sheer human incompetence that may well result in data being corrupted, would have made the Government slightly less enthusiastic about resorting to technology so readily. Given that Britain is becoming increasingly concerned about surveillance we expect to examine the Government’s proposals extremely carefully in this regard.
My other point relates to community confidence and the safeguards that have been introduced—we understand the good reason behind them—but I wonder whether the Government have thought through the confidence of ethnic minorities, which will be a key issue. The safeguards were introduced for good reason—most of them in the aftermath of the Macpherson report, when we had serious ethnic minority confidence issues to deal with. We would not wish to see the expense of those safeguards being sacrificed and a further erosion in relations between minorities and the police.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, mentioned designated areas, but the text in the Statement on this is rather vague. There is a crucial issue here. At what level and on whom will the responsibility for designation lie? Our concern is that the designation can apply in anticipation of crime being committed. Anticipation is a matter of fairly fine judgment that needs to be borne in mind in the light of the particular circumstances. We have found with other measures that have been introduced in the past couple of years that the level at which these steps are taken is not immediately transparent, and tracing the flow of where responsibility lies becomes extremely obscure. Depending on how widespread these designated areas are, and the powers that accompany them, we would wish to see responsibility transparently evident.
We will examine the report more closely but I should be grateful if in the mean time the noble Lord would address some of those issues.
My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses for their generally supportive view of this report, which is thorough and extremely valuable. As a backdrop, I should say that as someone who lives in Hackney and who does not recognise some of the views on Hackney in newspapers, and so on, perceptions are very important. On the introduction to Flanagan’s review, it is important to put all this in a context. He states:
“Over the last decade, policing in England and Wales has seen major increases in both funding and performance”,
“central spending on policing has risen by nearly £5 billion”.
He says that this,
“has resulted in a 25% growth in the overall police workforce and a 10% increase in the number of police officers”.
“These additional resources have undoubtedly contributed to a significant improvement in performance, with crime falling by a third since 1997 and public confidence in the police, which had been falling consistently since 1982, rising since 2003-04”.
I quote that because the perception of what is said in the media is sometimes very different from reality, and it is worth bearing that in mind. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, talked about common sense. She is correct. All my experience of things such as the application of health and safety and the application of—for want of a better word—bureaucracy is that if there is good leadership and people are willing to take a certain amount of risk at the top of their organisation, these can be applied with much less impact. Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report shows very clearly that a considerable amount can be done straight away, without needing any legislation or anything else at all.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked about what work is going on. Certainly, work has gone on since the interim report. I mentioned in the Statement that there are a number of areas where we are already putting things right and moving to correct some of these areas that enhance bureaucracy and have stopped people getting out on the streets. Quite correctly, as we can all identify, the population wishes the police force to be out on the streets to look after us. I go back to the point that there has been, generally, an increase in police numbers and a feeling among the public since 2002-03 that they are doing better. Part of that is to do with the local and community police forces, which have been a huge success and are covered in some depth within this document.
I was asked, specifically, about the date of the Green Paper. All I can say by way of a date is spring. It is our intention to move quickly on this. As my colleague, the Home Secretary, said in the other place, we are taking action straight away on stop and account. There is a classic example of the ridiculously long document that really is not needed. Did central Government say that this document, in all that length, had to be produced? I do not believe that we did. We said that certain things had to be recorded and we all understand why those things have to be recorded. Some stem from the Stephen Lawrence trial and the work that was done after that. It is interesting that Sir William Macpherson, who was in charge of that inquiry, is very content with the Sir Ronnie’s views in this report about what needs to be recorded. It is quite clear that simply being able to call on the new Airwave radio net to say that you have stopped someone, recorded their name and ethnicity, and given them a card to say how you can be contacted, is a far better way of doing things, Police forces can achieve this themselves if they look at what is required. Some of it takes a certain amount of leadership. Yes, there is stuff from central government as well, but we must all apply ourselves to this.
The Green Paper will be published this spring but I cannot give a precise date. We want to move quickly on the things that are recommended here. We will consider the full range of recommendations on legislation. We cannot act on some of them straight away; clearly, we need to consider those. We will bring forward any legislation that is appropriate. I am aware, and share the concern of the House, that there is too much legislation in lots of areas. I would like to see that rationalised. We have to look very carefully at it. We clearly have to look at this and review. As regards the designated areas, raised by both noble Baronesses, I will get back to them in writing; I am afraid that I do not know the details of that.
We have accepted straight away what Sir Ronnie says about increased civilianisation, and about technology and management. These things have to be done very carefully. There has been a lot of civilianisation already. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, this started under the Conservative Party and it makes a lot of sense. There is no doubt that a fully trained policeman is very expensive. I know, from my experience, that it has happened in the armed services, because a fully trained soldier, sailor or airman is very expensive and we have done a lot of civilianisation. It makes sense to do this, but it has to be done very sensitively. To have 2,500 to 3,500 extra officers available to deploy on the streets is quite dramatic and will make a difference, even across the whole country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, mentioned the pay settlement. The Government recognise very clearly the vital and hard work that police officers do. This is highly complex in terms of their overall package and how we are going to stage pay reviews. We are looking at doing so over a period of three years. One can always look at a specific area and say that they deserve more. There are issues to do with overtime, what work is done, and all of these things. It is unfortunate that some of the police feel that the Government do not appreciate the work that they do. We very clearly do; there is no doubt whatever about that. When one is in public service, at times this comes around. I remember in the late 1970s that that was exactly the feeling we had in the armed services. We felt that we were not paid enough money and that nobody liked us. It was rubbish; clearly people still thought highly of us, but that is the way these things go sometimes. We have to make sure that we get in place a package that makes sense for the police, that is good for them and their families, and that the nation can afford.
I know that there is a great deal of concern about surveillance in a number of quarters. From my experience, there is no doubt that people feel safer when CCTV cameras cover an area. It is unfortunate, but they do. Equally, I am afraid that people are not very nice. You may hear, for example, a group of lads say, “Camera” to each other, because they know that they are being watched. We have to balance those things carefully. None of us wants masses of surveillance. We would love not to have any of it. But I am afraid that that is not the world we are in. Therefore, we have to do a careful balancing act. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, is absolutely right—we do not like that and we have to look at it very carefully.
She was also correct about reliance on technology. My goodness me, my life has been scarred with relying on technology and one cannot always do that. I prefer to rely on people, but technology can save money and enable you to do things more quickly, and we have to try to get that right. We have got better at it, but it is right to raise the issue and we need to look at it.
Overall, I am grateful for all those points that were raised and we should be very grateful for this report. We have a very good track record, which, when I read this and saw what had been achieved, was much better than I had realised from reading the media. Perhaps I have been reading the wrong papers. It is really rather a good story.
My Lords, I join the Minister in thanking Sir Ronnie Flanagan for this important report. However, it should be put in the context of the past 10 or more years. On looking at the 1990s and the early year or two of this century, public confidence in the police was declining, mostly because their response to the public was not as good as it should have been, whether in terms of answering conventional telephone calls, dealing with 999 calls or perhaps, above all, in the clear-up rates for crimes.
In recent years, that has changed around, most notably, on clear-up rates, but also in the police response to the public on the telephone generally, which is very important. I no longer get the complaints that were almost endemic in the 1990s. This is an important continuation of that process and I very much welcome what my noble friend said about the message to the media. It is very easy to knock the police, particularly when a dramatic event goes wrong. But, overall, the improvement in the clear-up rate and the amount of crime, and their response to, and their behaviour and interaction with, the public is so much better than it was that we should be congratulating them and moving forward on the basis of this report.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Soley who is absolutely right. The advances that the police service has made in the way in which it reacts with the public, particularly ethnic groups, has been dramatic. Within the Metropolitan Police, there has been a complete turnaround, which is quite amazing. All of us are very pleased about that and welcome it. I thank him for raising that point.
My Lords, twice at the beginning of the Statement, the Minister told us that Sir Ronnie’s report was independent. By that, I assume he means independent of government. I wonder whether the Minister could help this House to resolve a conundrum. I understand that when Sir Ronnie sent his report in draft to the Home Office, it included a graph which showed that public confidence in the police was declining. When the report was published, after Home Office Ministers indicated that they had not had any involvement in its substance, that graph was missing and was replaced by a graph which showed that public confidence in the police was rising. Can he explain to the House how that happened?
My Lords, I assume that the noble Lord is talking about a leaked report or a leaked draft. I treat those things with complete disdain. It is extremely damaging that anyone should pay any attention to leaked things, particularly something that is leaked from a report that will come out in public anyway. It is not as if it is whistle-blowing; it is something else. Therefore, I have not read it myself and I have paid no attention to it. I take the report, which has been signed by Sir Ronnie, at face value with the Statement I made earlier.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord West, for his Statement; I agree with many of the comments that he made about the improvements in the police force and, in particular, confidence. I want to comment on the minority ethnic population, mainly as chair of the advisory panel on the community’s response to stop and search. There is widespread concern about the disproportionality of stop and search within minority ethnic communities. My committee, which was established to advise the Home Secretary on stop and search, has made comments on reducing bureaucracy and on increasing the accountability of the police for disproportionality, some of which have been mentioned in the report by Sir Ronnie Flanagan.
A number of things not mentioned in the report would significantly reduce disproportionality. Perhaps the Minister would comment on the introduction of the practice-orientated package, particularly by the Metropolitan Police, which does not have a good enough record on disproportionality; the improvement of intelligent use of stop and search, and a clear definition of what intelligence is—that is, the involvement of the community in the engagement of stop and search; and an increase in the availability of information, particularly to young people, on their rights when they are stopped and searched. We found through much research and consultation, particularly with BME communities, that these measures, if applied just to the Met would reduce the disproportionality of stop and search tremendously.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those points. These are crucial issues. We arrived at some of the bureaucracy to ensure that we were able to monitor and look at ethnicity and other issues. The proposals around stop and account will still allow that to be done and it is necessary that it is done. Interestingly, the records on stop and account show that a far larger number of white than black or other ethnic people were stopped. The figures on stop and search are rather different, and it is an area of concern. I do not know the detail of the package that the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, is talking about and I will get back to him in writing. It is a very important issue. The intelligence on stop and search depends a great deal on the local community—that is why I am so pleased with the way that local community policing has gone, because that is the way to get to the root of these issues. I will write to the noble Lord on the other point.
My Lords, I hope that the Government are still in listening mode on these matters because I have a suggestion that I would like the Minister to take away and consider. The police clearly need help because of the constraints on the costs of employing enough police. We have in this country something like 100,000 postmen. I suggest that each of them be equipped with a radio and that their vehicles be equipped with CCTV and they be used as additional eyes and ears for the police. If they do not want to co-operate, they do not have to but if they volunteer to join the scheme, they would get a little bonus of £100 or £200 for every time they spotted or stopped a crime.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for those thoughts. I will need to sit and think quite hard about the suggestion before I say anything about it. The Postman Pat force may have some attractions but I will need to think about it.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on commissioning a wide-ranging report on the police service, as opposed to simply looking at the populist things that appear in the press and other quarters. I have not had the opportunity of reading the report, so if I am wasting time, I apologise in advance. I will just mention two things; the first is about the community support officers. The village where I live contributed financially to get the first community support officer, in the days when it was a substantially controversial issue. We were well satisfied. I suspect that, if it can be done, some increase in their authority would go down extremely well with the public. There are limitations on it and there is scope for improvement, providing it does not tread too far upon the responsibilities of the police. That brings me to my second point.
If I have experience in anything, it is probably in trying to analyse and define duties, and the devil is always in the detail. The classic example is that there were woodworkers and there were metalworkers. Then somebody had the bright idea that we should bond wood and metal and we had a real problem. I suspect that we are seeing whether there are police duties that can be devolved or shared in some way. Civilianisation is a classic example. I recall from my days on the Audit Commission coming across police car pools run by policemen that could very well be run by civilians. There is clarity about that division, which cannot be denied, but in day-to-day duties, it is very often difficult. One does not want to create a situation in which a policeman says, “I’ll do this” and somebody else says, “It’s my responsibility”. I hope that in looking at duties, great care is taken to ensure that it is practical as opposed to theoretically desirable.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Christopher raises some interesting points. As regards the police community support officers—we now have about 16,000—we have to be careful about increasing authority for them. However, the Home Secretary, with ACPO and the APA, has actually commissioned a review of the PCSOs and whether authority can be increased will be considered. One has to be quite careful, because they are not fully designated police officers.
With regard to civilianisation, I go back to what I said earlier. There is considerable merit in doing this in some areas, because there is no doubt that there are jobs that, just for historical and other reasons, are being done by highly trained police officers which actually do not need police officers who have been trained with all those full powers. I came across a similar thing in the Armed Forces where soldiers, sailors and airmen did things that could be equally well done by civilians. Civilians are much cheaper when it comes to doing these things, so it makes sense for us to get value for money. It will also enable us to get more of the scarce uniformed and fully trained officers on the street. I say scarce, but there are actually 140,000 of them—we have spent £5 billion extra on police numbers.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on commenting on the distance that has been travelled between the police and the community, particularly the minority ethnic communities, in the better relationship that now exists. It has been a long journey. We were at a low ebb following William Macpherson’s inquiry into to the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The work which has been done subsequently—the investment put into improving community relations—has relied not only on the police and police-community relations but on the increase in the number of black and minority ethnic police officers on the street. That visibility has become quite important. There was also an acknowledgment on the part of the police service about the fact that they were getting it wrong; that they were racist; there was institutional racism; they were picking up black and other minority ethnic young people in particular, because of their colour and ethnicity.
That acknowledgment helped with the process of building confidence between the police and the community, enabling the community to be more confident about sharing information. The danger that we face now, while acknowledging the need to reduce bureaucracy and apply police resources on the front line to tackle crime, is that we must not allow the opportunity to build on that confidence to be wasted if, through the reduction of bureaucracy, we see a greater inclination towards stop and search and stop and account increasing disproportionately. I realise that that is not the intention, but it is worth stating once again and acknowledging that the investment in time and resources which have gone into building that relationship is a fragile one.
The increased black and minority ethnic police presence is an important part of that process. There is no doubt in my mind that opinions have shifted within the minority communities because they are the victims of crime and they want to see more stop and search. However, I also have no doubt that if there were more black and ethnic minority police officers, they would be inclined to be more ruthless in stopping and searching some of the people on the streets like themselves because they would feel less vulnerable to accusations of racism. That is one factor to bear in mind. We must not lose sight of the fact that we should be very careful in how that is reintroduced to ensure that accountability is maintained.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Those issues are extremely important. I agree wholeheartedly that the relationship between the police and communities is so much better than it was at the time of Stephen Lawrence. Everyone in this House welcomes that, because we all believe that that is correct. The number of ethnic officers has risen dramatically and that is a very good thing as well. The noble Lord is absolutely right that the police do realise that racism was endemic in the police at that stage. That has changed. It is a marvellous change. It is not until one watches a television programme such as “Life on Mars” that one realises what an incredible change has actually taken place in our police service.
The noble Lord is right to raise the dangers in not doing sufficient recording and in allowing stop and search to spread. As I say, we have put in place for the stop and search and stop and account sufficient measures to ensure that there must be a record of ethnicity on who has been stopped. Therefore, there is a check on these things, which must be handled delicately. We must bear all these points in mind.
My Lords, perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, on recruitment. The Minister said that ethnic minority recruitment has increased dramatically. That may be so, but it was from a dramatically low base. Like the noble Lord, Lord Christopher, I have not had the opportunity to study the report, but it is extremely important that we continue to encourage young men and women from the ethnic minorities to enter our police force.
I was talking to a youngish Muslim lady from Birmingham. Almost by chance, she said something that left a chill in me. She said that her 18 year-old son was very ambitious to join the police force; but then she paused and said, “Of course, he daren’t say that at the mosque”. That is worrying. We must get young Muslims and blacks into our police force. We must make our police forces reflect much more the communities that they seek to police.
My Lords, I have to agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, says. It is correct that the police must reflect the nation. They are there to protect and to look after the nation, and they must do that. I support that wholeheartedly.
I find it worrying to hear that someone dare not say he wanted to join the police force because of the mosque. It shows some of the peer pressure and the importance of the prevent strategy, as part of the counterterrorist strategy into which it links. It deals with the use of language and a raft of other things. Someone from that background is therefore able to serve in the police force because we have shared values and it is important that they are there protecting them. That is a message that we need to get across. I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord says, and we must make sure that the police reflect our society.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Government on this report. Interestingly, last night I was at a meeting with our local police force discussing, of all things, asset management and where the police stations were going to be. The comments of the public were interesting. There is no doubt what they want: police men and women and community support officers on the beat. They are in no doubt that they want bureaucracy reduced. In that respect, I welcome the report.
The one thing police men and women hate more than anything else is the time wasting that has resulted from the excessive form-filling, and the inability to get on with the job of catching criminals and policing the neighbourhood. I also agree with the Minister that, if we want to retain the confidence of the communities, we need transparency and accountability. It is not bureaucracy that protects communities, but transparency and accountability, and a confidence in communities in feeling that this new approach—which I believe to be the right approach—will benefit all the community.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Young that transparency in almost every area in public life is a very good thing. For example, corruption cannot exist when there is transparency. Yes, people should be accountable.
I have to say that our police do the most fantastic job and there are some wonderful young men and women there. However, they do not want to be filling out forms that they feel are of no use. I hope that this report will stop that happening and that we will be able to get more of them doing what they should be doing. I am sure that we will. That is a positive aspect.
From today’s debate, I have found it reassuring that all Members of this House see that as important. We might have different perspectives on how to achieve some of those things, but we all believe that it is important. Equally, there is good support for our police service across the House, too.
Museums and Galleries
rose to call attention to the policy to grant free entry to national museums, any subsequent assessment of the policy and any further policies the Government have to broaden the profile of those coming to museums and galleries; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, sometimes Governments get policies spectacularly right. The decision to restore free entry to our national museums in 2001 was one such example. The move may be likened in the field of the arts to the Labour Government’s striking move to grant independence to the Bank of England. This leitmotiv policy, buttressed by lottery, millennium and increased revenue funding in the arts, led the Museums Association to say that it is one of the things that has enriched Britain in the past 10 years. We owe particular thanks to, among others in your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, the then Secretary of State, who hopes to join us later this afternoon.
The figures speak for themselves: the number of museum visits has doubled, the number of overseas visitors trebled, and the number for art galleries has scarcely lagged behind. The profile of those who have come into our museums since 2001 is as telling. There has been an increase of 79 per cent in children’s visits, 54 per cent for black and ethnic minorities, and 21 per cent for C2s, Ds and Es. There are some who say that the policy has principally favoured the middle classes—but I rejoice if their numbers, too, are swelled. Why not? Later on I will look at those who are still under-represented and at the almost three in five of our citizens who still walk past our museums and never take a second look.
Why is it important to fill our museums and art galleries? Not just because they are magnificent repositories of our history and culture, not just because they calibrate our pulsating engagement with the wider world, not just because they instil an appreciation of all the arts, nor simply because they support an industry that employs many people and stimulates revenues from the plentiful overseas visitors—nor just because museums such as the V&A and the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery have aided the second phase of our industrial revolution by fostering the study of innovation and design—but principally because museums open the Pandora’s box of the mind and blow the winds of the imagination that swirl around and enrich every one of us, whether child, student, parent or pensioner, for the rest of our lives.
But free entry brings some problems in its wake. Some privately run museums have experienced consequential drops in visitor numbers, especially when cash-tight schools inevitably divert to free museums. Other museums which lie near to free national museums are likewise embarrassed. My own local Ellesmere Port boat museum, now part of the National Waterways Museum, has suffered from its proximity to Merseyside’s outstanding national museums, currently revelling in free entry and in their year as European Capital of Culture. The boat museum feels doubly aggrieved. It is a national museum but does not enjoy free entry. It also reaches a unique audience—the very people the Government otherwise espouse as part of broadening the museums’ visitor profile. The boat museum interprets Britain’s industrial past and yet promotes the modern leisure uses of our former working canals. The unique and unparalleled National Football Museum at Preston likewise deserves free-entry status. It may be the first museum that a visitor ever visits but its pre-eminent collections and interpretations ensure that it will not be their last. I invite my noble friend to say what the Government might do to help, perhaps by granting private museums a free week’s entry as they propose to do with theatres, or through direct aid for educational visits.
The most testing consequence of the successful free-entry policy has been the need for increased running and maintenance resources arising from the press of increased numbers and from the increased and very welcome lift in activities prompted by free entry. Not only has the independent charity, the Art Fund, alluded to the challenge; so, too, has the Commons 2002 DCMS report. In wholeheartedly upholding the policy, it nevertheless thunders that,
“since the Government have called the tune, it must keep paying the piper”.
I ask my noble friend to respond.
Whatever else, museums need certainty about continuity of funding. The wonderful stimulus given to the museum world by free entry has also, meritably, seen an explosion of ideas on income generation, the undertaking of imaginative reinterpretations of permanent collections, an increased number of exhibitions, and investment in both staff and infrastructure. Compare our museums with those in France, where wonderful collections are hampered by ancient entry fees and poor interpretation. It is no wonder that the French are now studying the free-entry arrangements in the United Kingdom.
Another germane but troubling development is the charge now being imposed on visitors to our great historical churches and cathedrals. As congregations fall these museums too must command better support from the public purse, as well as a rethink of their flanking role at the heart of established communities.
We must build on free entry and renew our efforts to entice the almost three in five of our citizens who do not see museums as part of their daily lives. Groups typically under-represented include people from the black and minority ethnic groups; people from social groups C2, D and E; those among the disabled who are hampered in fully appreciating our museums; the geographically isolated, typically found in rural areas or regions such as the East Midlands which are under-endowed with museums; and business people whose work never persuades them to ponder that a museum might help their small businesses. I was recently heartened to discover that the British Library now has an active programme to help small businesses fill the gaps in the marketplace by the provision of knowledge and ideas. How logical that is, once someone has thought of it. Curators, too, get a buzz from such cross-fertilisation of ideas. After all, many small museums are akin to small businesses.
Children should perhaps command our greatest focus because they are the museum-goers of the future and will repay heavy investment now. The welter of hands-on technologies that now bestrew our museum spaces stand in sharp contrast to my early experience of some of the wonderful museums in Oxford, where the prevalent philosophy was more hands off than hands on. It was easier to play ducks and drakes on the River Isis outside than penetrate the wonders of the Pitt Rivers within.
Surely Roy Clare, head of the MLA, is right in saying that retelling the human stories underpinning the artefacts displayed in our museums should always be paramount. An exhibition at Greenwich of the beautiful amulets worn by plantation slaves still needed the human story behind it to be explained, thereby drawing in a new audience interested in learning about Britain’s engagement with the slave trade. All our museums’ collections should highlight the human as well as the academic.
Sometimes, it is something simple that draws people in. We who are museum literate seldom pause outside a museum to assess how welcoming or forbidding are its portals, but we need to be sensitive to the mental barriers that keep people out. Let me offer an example of imagination and the taking of risk. A visit to Christchurch Mansions in Ipswich revealed an exhibition of paintings from the permanent collection chosen by Ipswich Town footballers, with a short appreciation by the players of their favoured picture accompanying it. Not only had the exhibition brought in the footballers, playing on unfamiliar away ground; it also brought in young fans ever anxious to pick up tidbits about their favourite forward. It also brought in the parents who—and how familiar a tale is this?—had never entered the museum on their doorstep.
The disabled, too, are not infrequently rebuffed. But here, too, an imaginative response can transform matters. I am very happy to support Vocaleyes, a charity which helps the visually handicapped to enjoy the theatre by supplementing the dialogue heard on stage with judicious contemporaneous description of the action. Now, Visualeyes is doing something similar in our art galleries and museums, enhancing the experience for the visually handicapped. Nor is the description service confined to the museums’ paintings or artefacts, which themselves may provide a tactile experience for the visitor. Visualeyes also provides a tape, to be listened to before the proposed visit, describing the physical layout of the museum and even the nearby restaurants or bars—all designed to enhance the visitor experience.
I conclude with a series of suggestions and questions. Could my noble friend give more details about the proposed 2008 government paper on developing a national museums strategy? What areas will it cover, and what are its objectives? What proposals might come forward on collecting accurate data on those who come to our museums—and on the many who do not come, to find out why they stay away? How will such research be done without creating paperwork for museums that wish to focus on curatorial duties and welcoming the public? To what extent will the 2012 Olympics be embraced by such a review?
What more can HMG do to encourage our curators to perform the double role of looking after valued museum artefacts and interpreting them for the visiting public while always emphasising the human story that lies behind nearly all such artefacts? Surely such an approach is indispensable if we are to cast the net wider in search of those who might interest themselves in our outstanding collections. Does my noble friend agree that museum boards and staff need to redouble their efforts to persuade a sometimes reluctant public that museums are not just the preserve of the privileged, white middle classes? To that end, should not the governing boards of museums and galleries themselves more accurately reflect the UK’s mixed profile? And with respect to staff, should we not do more to encourage both existing staff and new recruits to curating to expand their professional horizons, perhaps by exchanges between national, regional and local museums—and, indeed, with those abroad, especially in Europe and America? A practical start might be more Clore fellowships, which are currently oversubscribed by 16 to one.
There is also a case for improving salary levels and pay structures in the profession. Unlike nurses, the staff may not save lives, but they certainly improve them. Will my noble friend devise strategies to secure a better balance between national, regional and local museums and galleries? At the moment there is a postcode lottery whereby a Londoner is privileged to the disadvantage of country dwellers and those who live in towns short of museums. An active programme of travelling exhibitions, plus outreach London galleries such as the wonderful Tate Liverpool, would mitigate that disparity. It is also true that interesting and varied travelling exhibitions have enormous potential for encouraging new audiences as well as repeat visits.
One beneficial though perhaps counter-intuitive aspect of the free-entry policy has been the spur to entrepreneurialism within national museums. For instance, the Tate now generates 60 per cent of its own income. How does my noble friend propose that we build on this entrepreneurial—indeed, risk-taking—approach and cascade down good ideas to other, slumbering museums and galleries? What do the Government consider are the possibilities of using digital technology and the internet to bring in new visitors? This is clearly a point of entry for many young people who are more adept at surfing online than standing in line outside unwelcoming museums.
Will the Government provide more cash for museums, perhaps linked to rewarding risk-taking, to match their general thrust of building stable communities? After all, the best local and national museums reflect established and developing communities. Greater use of these public places for meetings unrelated to the arts would be another way to bring people into museums. Why not, for instance, use galleries to perform citizens’ ceremonies for those who have pledged to adopt Britain as their home country?
The generation of income for our galleries and museums leads me to the fertile field of encouraging donors—the subject of an excellent address last week by Minister of State, Margaret Hodge. Only 4 per cent of charitable giving is steered towards the arts, and two-thirds of that stays in London-based institutions. We need to do more to bring the worlds of business and the arts together. But how about explaining to boardrooms that concern for the arts can be their business? Government can promote this by dusting off the Goodison report and devising a conducive tax regime. They should be more forthcoming in acknowledging beneficial giving through the honours system or, indeed, by encouraging museums to use donors’ names to adorn the institutions they have supported, as has football entrepreneur, John Madejski, at the Royal Academy.
In conclusion, the Government have blazed a magnificent trail in their enlightened policy of according free entry to our national museums. As the Prime Minister tellingly said, our party is best when it is at its boldest. Let us build on this magnificent start. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, to whom we are greatly indebted for introducing this debate, I approach the subject of museums with a particular knowledge of Liverpool. As well as having been the Member of the European Parliament for Liverpool following the first direct elections in 1979, and in that capacity having helped to secure regional funding for the then very small maritime museum on the dockside, I subsequently became a trustee of the then National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, now known as the National Museums Liverpool, and I continue to serve on its development trust. Again like the noble Lord, Lord Harrison—perhaps not today but on previous occasions—I rejoice in the fact that Liverpool has been designated European Capital of Culture this year. That designation has greatly helped to give a focus and a deadline and additional funding for some of our long-term projects in relation to the museums and galleries.
In that respect, I point in particular to the transatlantic slavery gallery within the Merseyside Maritime Museum, to which the noble Lord referred. It was reopened and extended in August last year with perfect timing to coincide with International Slavery Remembrance Day and the special recognition of the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in this country. I also point to the World Museum Liverpool. Anyone who has been there and watched the faces of children going around the exhibits, which are interactive and very attractive to young people, will have seen what a terrific success it is. In addition, there is the Museum of Liverpool Life, which is still being worked on.
Museums can be magic. I believe that they are a vital part of our educational process and, indeed, of our cultural life, particularly in the current dialogue on intercultural activity. The fantastic improvements in display and attractiveness and in the use of technical methods to put messages across are absolutely mind-boggling. Whenever and wherever I travel in the world, whether for business or pleasure, one of the first things I do is to find out how to access the local museum so that I can begin to feel more at home and more in sympathy with the environment in which I find myself.
Perhaps I may go back to the many debates and Parliamentary Questions that we had in your Lordships’ House in the 1990s on the subject of free admission to museums, when we sought more government support and funding. Then, Liverpool had, and I think still has, the only national museum outside London, and admission was free, except for special exhibitions. However, in part because of the VAT issue—your Lordships may remember that it meant that, without charging for admissions, museums could not reclaim on their VAT expenditure—we were very much out of pocket. Very reluctantly, as trustees, we decided to make a modest charge in order to be able to reclaim that substantial VAT figure. We made the best possible use of season tickets, family tickets and multiple tickets as well as making special arrangements for schools and special interest groups. Interestingly, once the charges were administered, at the beginning attendance at some of the smaller and less well known locations went up. There are eight different parts to the museums and galleries in Liverpool and people obviously thought they would get the best value possible out of the admission ticket they had paid for. Eventually numbers flattened out.
I was delighted when the Government decided in 2001 to give additional financial support to enable National Museums Liverpool as well as the other national museums in London to revert to a free-entry policy. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, before him, was very much involved in this successful process.
Widening access by skilful marketing and ever more attractive display techniques has, as well as the free entry, led to dramatic increases in numbers, especially of schoolchildren. The fact that the national curriculum encourages schoolchildren to attend museums as part of their coursework has been an additional advantage because, once someone is used to going to a museum, they will increasingly go to a museum somewhere else which may not be on their doorstep. By the same token, the in some cases costly requirements of access for disabled people are often not thought about when considering the running costs of museums and galleries but are vital, especially where the museum’s collection is housed in an old and historic building.
Turning to wider horizons, to see how people cope in other countries, I think that it is vital that museums’ policy should have an international flavour because co-operation between museums, exchanges of exhibits and so on can very much improve displays in any museum. It also encourages us to remember that we have a common cultural heritage in certain parts of the world; I refer in particular to other European countries. Can the Minister give us any comparative data on national museums in other countries? Tourists such as myself sometimes have to pay very high admission charges there, whereas tourists in this country visiting our national museums have free access in the same way as everybody else. I do not know whether any study has been done on this but I know that, in the Council of Europe, there is a move to encourage free admission to museums on the basis of the valuable contribution they can make to international understanding and good will as well as to education in general.
I, too, will be very interested to hear about the Government’s strategy for the future of museums because of the importance they have in our society. Raising the profile of museums and their collections can also be greatly helped by the international award system. I would like to mention in particular the European Museum Prize because, as a member of the parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe, and as vice-chairman of that institution’s culture and education committee, I have been very involved in the award of that prize. Your Lordships may be aware that that prize is awarded annually. This year’s winner is interesting; it is the Arctic museum in the most northern part of Norway—north of the Arctic Circle—which seems appropriate in this International Polar Year, given all the issues of climate change on which we are focusing. This country has won the European prize from time to time. The National Conservation Centre in Liverpool won about seven years ago. It is brilliant not only at providing the much needed skills and services for conservation and preservation, but at giving access to the public to see how its conservation work is carried out without interfering with the conservation work that individuals are carrying out.
Just over a year ago, the Churchill Museum in the Cabinet War Rooms was awarded the European prize. Everyone who has been there will realise that it was an obvious candidate for the prize not only because of its subject—the war in Europe—but also because of the way the new technology and other displays make it so easy to follow and to go into any aspect of that period in depth. That brings me back to the subject of this debate: free access. When I went to the Churchill Museum with a few overseas friends whom I had invited to see that splendid museum, I was horrified to find how high the entry fees were and to be told at the end of the information on the headphones that the Cabinet War Rooms, which are part of the Imperial War Museum, receives not a penny of government funding. The Cabinet War Rooms is obviously coping very well with the situation because its numbers are going up. I look forward to hearing the Government’s future strategy for museums and would like to know whether they have any plans to encourage museums for which there is no question of direct government finance to help and support sponsors or benefactors who would be prepared to provide funding. If we are agreed that the cost of admission affects the number of people who feel able to go into some of those museums then something must be done, certainly about the Churchill Museum. I look forward to hearing from other speakers in this debate and, especially, from the Minister about what further plans the Government have and in what other ways they intend to support museums other than the national museums.
My Lords, I join in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for the opportunity to debate this matter. Gone are the days when museums and galleries were empty, echoing places where solitary contemplation of arts and artefacts was the name of the game. Indeed, I sometimes wish for a bit more solitude. According to a survey published last year, which involved asking 500 people where they would take someone they were trying to impress on a first date, 65 per cent chose a museum or gallery. I am not sure how scientific a survey that was, but it is the case that when visiting a museum or gallery one is now part of a crowd.
The statistics support the experience. Visits are up by 87 per cent since 2001, thanks to the Government’s policy of free admission to DCMS-sponsored museums. Here we also have to acknowledge the part played by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, as well as that played by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. Capital investment due to lottery funding and the Renaissance in the Regions programme, which has transformed regional museums and galleries, has meant that many more people are able to benefit from the enlightenment as well as the pleasure that these institutions offer. Of course, this in turn benefits society in furthering people's understanding of the communities, of the nation that they inhabit and the world as a whole.
Britain has historically recognised this. The British Museum was the first museum in the world. Created in 1753, it was free of charge and its intent and aim was to foster knowledge and understanding—to explain that instead of dwelling on what makes us different we should see how we overlap. The British Museum continues to achieve that. A year or so ago, the building of Durga attracted large numbers of Bengalis, both Hindu and Muslim, from throughout the country—different parts of the community in the United Kingdom understanding how they fit together.
Thanks to Renaissance in the Regions, this is not just happening in London. I was told about the reaction of a visitor to the reopened, redesigned Weston Park Museum in Sheffield recently. The email stated that,
“the people responsible at the Museum have tried to be as inclusive as possible with all the different communities in Sheffield and the outcome is fantastic as no group feels excluded from visiting. Sheffield is a very mixed race city and the museum has got it ‘spot on’!”.
The bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade last year led to events and exhibitions in museums and galleries throughout the country which involved working and engaging with new audiences. But despite these achievements, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, there is still a problem with what he referred to as the “profile” of those who enjoy our museums and galleries. Certain groups still feel excluded. As Sir Brian McMaster said in his recent report:
“One of the biggest barriers to audience engagement is the notion held by many that the arts are simply not for them. The ‘it's not for me’ syndrome is endemic and conspires to exclude people from experiences that could transform their lives”.
A breakdown of those who visit the museums and galleries in increased numbers shows that many are tourists and many are schoolchildren on repeat visits—both to be welcomed. Less happily, numbers from lower income groups and ethnic communities are going down.
We on these Benches have always felt that the Government’s system of targets—of attaching funding to the meeting of certain quotas—was not the way to involve wider sections of society. The Government insisted that it was, but their own figures show that this approach has failed. We have long advocated a system where excellence is rewarded rather than the fulfilment of targets. Therefore, we welcome Sir Brian McMaster's recommendations for a move from measurement to judgment and the return of artists and practitioners to the heart of both funding and governance decisions.
Then there is the problem highlighted by a recent MLA audit of a lack of diversity among the workforce in the cultural sector. Ensuring that those who work for an organisation represent all the sectors of the community it serves must surely lead to connecting with a wider, more diverse audience. That extends to those who sit on the boards of all museums and galleries. To quote Sir Brian McMaster again:
“Artists, practitioners, organisations and funders must have diversity at their core”.
The Government could and should be acting to effect change in this area.
I cannot make a speech at the moment without referring to the Cultural Olympiad, which will run alongside the Olympic Games and aims to encompass thousands of local and regional cultural events as part of our nationwide celebration. This will be a unique opportunity for museums and galleries across the UK to expand audiences, inspire the young and broaden the profile of those who visit them; but it needs money. We have suggestions about where extra money can be found for lottery good causes, and consequently for the Olympiad. One is a gross profits tax for the lottery, and the other is a crackdown on lottery-style games, so-called “grey” games which, through imitation, dupe people into spending their money on games other than the National Lottery. We believe that those proposals could raise significant amounts.
We applaud free admission as a hugely successful element of the Government’s cultural policy; but it comes at a price. For those who now provide free access as well as for those who still charge—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to them—free entry is possible only through additional public funding. The compensation received by those museums and galleries that used to charge for entry is inadequate. On top of their loss of income from admissions, they face increased running costs due to a greater number of visitors, which is the Catch-22 of success. Grant-in-aid to English national museums and galleries will increase from £302 million this year to £332 million in 2010-11, which is an increase only slightly above inflation. The fact is that costs have risen at a rate higher than inflation. That does not just mean a problem with infrastructure and salaries, but with the fundamental issue of acquisitions.
Despite the fact that DCMS’s document Understanding the Future states that collections,
“need to remain dynamic resources”,
acquisition budgets have fallen dramatically. The Art Fund museum survey 2006 found that 60 per cent of museums were unable to allocate any money at all to collecting. Its survey of international collecting showed that UK national museums lag behind both America and Europe when it comes to the money that is available to buy new works of art. British collections are currently world class, but their position is under threat. Museums in the UK are struggling in particular to build contemporary collections of objects representing the world of the past 30 years. That brings me back to the diversity point and the need to engage new audiences.
As Mark Jones, director of the V&A, said:
“Museums need to be a creative resource. We cannot do that if we are not able to acquire recent work. The British population is changing, and museums reflect back to society what it is. It would be a great shame if museums drifted away and ceased to reflect the society that surrounds them”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, is it not time to reconsider the tax incentives suggested in the Goodison report that would allow donors to offset the gross value of gifts of works of art against income tax? Would that not encourage the philanthropy that the Minister of State, Margaret Hodge, has recently been calling for?
Twice in this speech, I have mentioned the Renaissance programme for the regions, and we on these Benches congratulate the Government on its success. Investment in Renaissance has seen visits by priority groups to regional museums increase by 30.6 per cent since 2002. Is that not reason enough to commit to fully funding it across the regions and to introducing mainstream funding as enjoyed by the national institutions, so that long-term planning can be put into effect?
Tony Travers from the LSE, author of the report Museums and Galleries in Britain, which analyses their economic, social and creative impact, estimates that their economic contribution is in the region of £1.5 billion a year,
“adding up to a significant sector, not a peripheral pastime”.
He believes that they are a crucial part of our future economic prosperity:
“Museums and galleries offer both a major internationally traded service … but also underpin the creativity upon which future high value added economic activity is likely to be based. The storehouses represented by these institutions will encourage people in this country to use their creativity and talent to develop new services, products and even manufactured goods. Nations without such repositories of inspiration have less chance of success”.
Our museums and galleries are worth investing in. Across the country they are contributing to regeneration and social cohesion. They are playing a role in the creative and cultural economy through employment and inspiration and the opportunities they give to learn and exercise the imagination.
My Lords, I shall not dilate on the splendours that have been achieved by making possible free entry to the national museums and university museums and galleries—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, spoke handsomely about that. We are greatly indebted to him for tabling the debate and for his imaginative speech. I would like to draw the House’s attention to a policy that is less widely appreciated and celebrated: Renaissance in the Regions. I was glad to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, had to say about it.
My noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury, as Secretary of State, and I as Minister responsible for museums in the period 1998 to 2001 were painfully aware that museums in the regions and local authority museums in particular were poor relations of the national museums that DCMS funded and where we were able to make possible free entry. My noble friend Lord Smith invited my noble friend Lord Evans to investigate the problem and make recommendations to us and he produced his report in 2001. The noble Lord found much heroic good practice, but the scene he examined was one of widespread depression, poorly funded museums and falling numbers of visitors. In many museums displays were stale, the routines of documentation and conservation were lagging, museums were working in isolation from one another, their staff lived off miserable salaries and had poor career opportunities. Many museums in the regions were lacking vision and self-belief as sources of inspiration, places of learning and community spaces.
The renaissance in the regions strategy enabled funding to be distributed through some 41 museums and museum services in nine regions. Leading museums were identified as hub museums in each region and became centres of a system of collaborative museums. What has happened as a result? There has been a 55 per cent increase in visits to those museums, a 19 per cent increase in the number of schools making visits to museums and 30 per cent of school visits have occurred in the 20 per cent of most deprived wards. Over 30 per cent of visitors—if your Lordships will forgive me for using this jargon—have been drawn from the C2/DE socio-economic groups, and black and ethnic minority groups and disabled people. By 2006-07 13 and three-quarter million visits had been made to the hub museums—more than 800,000 children had been on school visits to them and a not inconsiderable number of those children brought their families back on subsequent visits.
Research has shown the value of museum education to improving literacy and performance in schools. Renaissance in the Regions money has paid for family learning programmes, outreach to schools, work with children’s centres and the under-fives, recruiting additional staff for curatorial, conservation, education and marketing work, training and development of staff, some development of collections, some refurbishment of galleries and new displays in them, special exhibitions including touring exhibitions, networks to share specialist knowledge and expertise, research and interpretative skills and some digitisation.
Three and three-quarter million pounds has been made available for non-hub museums and within them some 4,000 staff have been supported in their professional development. New partnerships have developed between the national and the non-national museums. To give one example, shortly a bust of the Emperor Hadrian is to be loaned by the British Museum, first to Tullie House museum at the western end of Hadrian’s Wall and later to Segedunum in the Tyne and Wear museums at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall. It is wonderfully appropriate, but such an event could have been only a dream 10 years ago.
The hub partnerships have become increasingly confident and effective as regional centres of excellence. This has been a remarkable achievement by the MLA and the regional museums. I also congratulate the DCMS on being able to ring-fence the budget for Renaissance in the Regions and protect it against inflation in the latest Comprehensive Spending Review. By 2010-11 the budget for the programme will be £48.7 million, and by then nearly £300 million will have been spent through it since it began in 2002-03.
Wonderfully helpful as it has been, however, Renaissance in the Regions is no substitute for an adequately funded local authority museum service.
I shall pause for a moment to mention an important national scheme, which falls under the MLA’s budget but which is not part of Renaissance in the Regions. I am referring to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a national voluntary scheme to ensure the recording of archaeological finds made by members of the public, particularly by metal detectorists. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, will speak shortly. I dare say that he will have something to say on this subject, and I believe that the House will accept as authoritative what he has to say on archaeology.
Before 1997 a kind of anarchy prevailed. Amateur archaeologists and metal detectorists roamed the country in search of trophies and there was no system for reporting and recording. I pay tribute to Dr Roger Bland of the British Museum, the progenitor of this scheme, who was seconded to the DCMS and advised on the establishment of the scheme. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is led academically and administratively by the British Museum and employs 39 finds liaison officers across the country. By 2006 a code of practice for responsible metal detecting had been agreed between detectorists, archaeologists and landowners. As of now, more than 317,000 objects have been recorded in the largest such database in the world. There is worldwide scholarly interest in this scheme.
Finds liaison officers do not confine themselves to recording finds. They reach out to engage a wider public. Forty-six per cent of visitors to Fabulous Finds Days in 2005 had never visited the museum before, and 47 per cent of them were C2/DEs. The journal British Archaeology has described the scheme as,
“perhaps the most successful project to engage a wider public with the practice of archaeology anywhere in the world”
and the Minister, Margaret Hodge, has described it as,
“an incredibly successful scheme”.
The scheme, however, is in serious difficulty. It was somehow overlooked by the DCMS in the Comprehensive Spending Review. The MLA’s budget for those programmes that are not part of Renaissance in the Regions is due to decline sharply. The Portable Antiquities Scheme’s budget is to be frozen in 2008-09, with the consequence that three posts are expected to be lost. The years 2009-10 and 2010-11 are an abyss.
Roy Clare, the excellent chief executive of the MLA, is trying his best to find a way to salvage the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and has proposed a review. There is a view within the MLA that perhaps some synergy could be found between Renaissance in the Regions and the Portable Antiquities Scheme in its outreach and educational work. But nobody supposes that its core functions should sensibly form part of Renaissance in the Regions.
The British Museum is willing to take the Portable Antiquities Scheme on to its budget and accept full responsibility for it, but it needs a sufficient dowry to preserve the integrity of the scheme and its proper effectiveness. That seems to be the right solution and I hope that the DCMS, the MLA and the British Museum will arrive at a satisfactory agreement.
I would otherwise just note that Early Day Motion 566, which expresses anxiety about the predicament of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, has now been signed by 196 Members of Parliament. While EDMs are perhaps not the most accurately calibrated gauge of parliamentary opinion, that is unquestionably a significant expression of view, which I hope the Government will heed. I hope that they will heed our voices here too.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme issue illustrates a wider systemic difficulty. Nationally we have an incoherent, fragmented and still grievously underfunded system of support for our museums. The national museums themselves are not without their difficulties, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hooper and Lady Bonham-Carter, have already said. Funding for museums comes from central government, the lottery, local government, some from Europe, museums’ own earned income and fundraising, trusts and foundations, corporate giving and individual philanthropy. It is good that there should be a plurality of sources of funding, but we need a concordat about respective responsibilities.
The welfare state model of funding for culture, the assumption that everything important will be paid for by the taxpayer, will no longer work—if, indeed, it ever did. The respective responsibilities of all who can produce funding need to be negotiated, established, promulgated and maintained. That is a challenge for the Secretary of State for Culture. The Treasury and the DCMS need to agree definitively what is the role of central government and then perform it, predictably and reliably. We should have a debate on the appropriate role for local government. We certainly cannot drift on like this. I would like to see a statutory duty on local government, such that every citizen will live in an area where a local authority has an obligation to maintain a museum service. That is the case where public libraries are concerned, but the experience of public libraries also teaches us that it is not much use willing the end if you do not will the means. Without adequate funding, the promise is hollow.
Should there, then, be a discrete cultural component of revenue support grant? Perhaps. Alternatively, should the same money form a fund to be distributed by the MLA in response to bids by local authorities? If that were to be the case, the MLA would become a true funding council. The question of whether to fund free entry for local authority museums would be one for the Government to face and answer one way or another. The difficulty about making the MLA a true funding council is that the national museums have never wanted it to be, and the DCMS has so far agreed with them. The MLA is a funding council in respect of Renaissance in the Regions, and its role could be expanded. This question needs considering. At present, speculation is rife that in three years’ time there will no longer be an MLA. What would happen to its functions? The Government should either sack it or back it; I think it should back it.
The concordat should clarify the responsibilities of the private and voluntary sectors. If grant in aid is going to fall short—and of course it is—the Treasury must allow incentives for private giving. That has now been recognised by the Government in France.
We are all particularly indebted to Sir Nicholas Goodison for his incisive and visionary thinking in this field, and to the Art Fund for its tenacious campaigning along similar lines. The Government say that they have implemented 29 of Sir Nicholas’s recommendations and are keeping the rest under review. Sir Nicholas has indicated his priority recommendations. He believes that we should support lifetime giving of works of art and culture, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, mentioned. He believes that the most effective stimulus to new giving would be the ability to offset the gross value of the gift of a cultural object of pre-eminent quality against income before payment of tax. He also tells us that there should be urgent reforms to gift aid; there should be reform of the complex and restrictive regulations on so-called benefits offered to donors; and there should be reforms to allow larger donors of cash gifts tax relief on the entire amount, not just the upper rate.
With improved incentives to charitable giving at what would be very little cost to the Exchequer, certainly in the field of the arts, and a new consensus on the complementarity of public expenditure, lottery expenditure and philanthropy, we should encourage local authorities to convert their museums into charitable trusts limited by guarantee. More local authorities should be emboldened to follow the example set by Sheffield and York. Yet local authorities are hesitant. Transferring their museums into trusts does not mean disowning or privatising them. Local authorities would still appoint trustees.
The gain would be local museums liberated from bureaucracy and the endless demands for cost-cutting, such that by the time the overheads have been paid for—and overheads are often shrinking because staff are dwindling—there is no money left for activity. We would have local museums with new boards of trustees, including people with leadership and business skills, newly energised, confident and increasingly self-sustaining. I hope that local authorities will see this as a positive move. Meanwhile, the Government, through Renaissance in the Regions, should give grants to assist local museums to be more professional in fund raising.
The HLF will remain a great force and a major partner in the Olympics period. I understand that it has already provided £1.2 billion to 1,800 museum projects, including £141 million for acquisitions and £860 for construction and refurbishment of buildings. It will still in the future have £180 million a year to give and an important part of that could go to museums, which is a wonderful prospect.
Neil MacGregor speaks of a national collection. There are more than 2,500 museums and galleries in the United Kingdom. Without prejudice to this glorious diversity, the challenge for DCMS leadership is to draw the disparate realms—the realms of the national museums, the local museums, university museums, the armed services museums, and the independent museums, and the realms of the National Museums Directors’ Conference, the Museums Association, the Universities Museums Group, the Association of Independent Museums, and indeed English Heritage and the National Trust—into a more coherent system with proper funding opportunities for all and accepted patterns of mutual support and responsibility. The Government have promised us a strategic document on the future of museums. I hope that in it they will set out a truly a national vision for our museums.
My Lords, it is a matter for real satisfaction that the debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, is, in one sense, a celebration of what our national museums and galleries have achieved and of the Government’s success in encouraging that achievement by supporting the policy of free admission. Let us not forget that that policy was unflinchingly pioneered by the trustees of the British Museum over many years and was vigorously advocated by the Art Fund. Here, I must declare an interest as a trustee of the Art Fund.
Britain’s standing in the world of culture, the visual arts and material culture is undoubtedly very high indeed. It has been enhanced by the achievements of our millennium celebrations; by the construction of the British Museum’s great court with its wonderful dome, and all the facilities and access, which have been made easier in the British Museum; by the National Portrait Gallery extension; and, not least, by the great success of Tate Modern, as well as Tate Britain. When we are talking about broadening access, what a pleasure it is to go to the Tate Modern, in particular, on any day and see the hoards of young and youngish people—not just school parties or tourists, but people mainly of a young age range—and the notable ethnic mix really using that facility.
It is astonishing that contemporary art, which used to be a rather arcane field, perhaps difficult of access, has become one of immediate access to a very large segment of our population. The success of the Turner Prize is perhaps an element of that, which of course has been facilitated and sponsored by the Tate. So it is no surprise or coincidence that British sculpture holds an unequivocally high position in the world today. That is not for just the agreeably wild shores of Brit art, but also for sculpture of a more traditional—in today’s terms—nature, as expounded or as demonstrated by some of our really great figures of an older generation, such as William Turnbull or Sir Anthony Caro.
Another more problematic area, quite apart from the issue of bringing a wider segment of Britain’s population into museums, is in the field of acquisitions. If we are to maintain our standards, we have to ensure that our museums continue to make important acquisitions. I have four questions for the Minister. It is true that the committee on the export of works of art does a good job in putting a stop on, or advising the Secretary of State to delay, the export of works of art of importance. It is a great satisfaction that Turner’s “Blue Rigi” was secured for the nation through a national campaign last year.
My first question is: are we doing enough in the field of contemporary art in particular? I had the wonderful experience of going to the Royal Academy of Arts this morning, paying my admission fee—I have no objection to that—and seeing the extraordinary collection mainly of two Russian collectors, Shchukin and Morozov. In one room, you can see paintings today by Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin, and, in the next room, by Cézanne, which were accumulated in the first decade of last century. They exceed by far the totality of this country’s holdings of paintings by those artists over that period. It is lamentable that our national collection in modern art of the first 50 years of the 20th century is weak and threatens to be weak also in contemporary art of the 21st century. The Art Fund has developed a scheme, Art Fund International, where it has set aside £5 million to aid galleries in this country to acquire contemporary art and the beneficiaries will be Birmingham and Walsall, Bristol, Eastbourne, Glasgow and Middlesbrough. That is a step in the right direction that I hope noble Lords will approve. But are we doing enough to secure contemporary art? I am interested to hear what the Minister will say.
My second question echoes that posed by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport: what about the tax regime? As the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, said, should we not have a tax regime that genuinely favours the acquisition of major works of art by our national and regional galleries and museums? Can the Minister really argue that we have one? I am interested to see whether he tries, but I will be very interested if he will tell us that the Government are taking seriously Sir Nicholas Goodison’s proposals and other such proposals, which certainly need to be implemented, if we are not to continue to fall behind in our national acquisitions.
My third question, and I feel fairly optimistic about the Minister’s answer, is whether the due diligence guidelines are being followed. Combating Illicit Trade: Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material is one of the real achievements of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I would like to hear how these matters are being monitored. We have escaped the scandal and the shame of some museums in the United States, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which were so lax in their due diligence guidelines that they found themselves collecting looted art and have been obliged to return that art—antiquities, mainly—to the countries of origin, including Italy and Greece. I am happy to say that we have escaped that situation but I would like to be assured that we are going to continue to escape it. I believe that our national museums and galleries are run with an integrity that far exceeds that of some major international institutions overseas. I would refer in pejorative terms to the Getty except that it has now adopted due diligence guidelines that meet high standards, but the other institutions I mentioned have not done so. It is important that national museums behave with probity and integrity, as I believe ours do.
My other concern is the fastest growing area of acquisitions in recent years—namely, portable British antiquities. I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, made a major point of this issue. One of the great achievements in British archaeology and in the museums of Britain since the passage of the Treasure Act 1996 has been the implementation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the appointment of the 39 finds liaison officers. In 2007, 97 per cent of treasure finds were recorded by a finds liaison officer, of which about 50 per cent were acquired by museums. This is probably the major source of museums acquisitions in any area at the moment. It is a matter for pride that it is being done in a systematic way that respects the archaeological heritage of this country. It is notable also that it has been done in a modern way, with online access to finds. There were 82 million hits in 2006 on that online resource. Also—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, already made this point—it has a broadening effect. Those people participating in the Portable Antiquities Scheme are from a wider social base than those who visit museums. I heard him say that 46 per cent of visitors to the nationwide series of “Fabulous Finds” days organised by the Portable Antiquities Scheme had not been to the museum where they were being hosted before.
That is exactly what we want. It is the point that a number of noble Lords have made. We want to bring more and more people into our museums so that they are not just a middle-class preserve. It is striking also that 47 per cent of finds recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme have been recorded by finders in social classes C2, D and E. That compares with 32 per cent of visitors in those classes to museums. Somehow, the Portable Antiquities Scheme is being more effective in broadening access to the whole system than are the museums themselves. This is warmly to be welcomed.
It is a matter of real concern that the success of this scheme is under threat on financial grounds. Economies have to be made, but I note that there is an Early Day Motion in another place on this topic. It is a real concern that there is a risk of a cut of three out of the 49 posts of this service, which has been so recently set up and which we can all regard as one of the most conspicuous successes of the present Government and their Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I pay tribute to noble Lords opposite, including the noble Lord, Lord Smith, who were part of the move to bring these things about. The whole system of archaeology in this country has improved in recent years with the accession of the United Kingdom to UNESCO and with the passing of the relevant legislation, the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act.
My fourth and final question to the Minister is: how can the Portable Antiquities Scheme be protected?
In conclusion, I congratulate the Government unreservedly on the free admissions scheme, but ask how they propose to ensure that means are found to maintain this success. There is a real concern that the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, may not be fully sustained in the outcome. A success like this needs continuing nurturing and input. It would be an irony, on one of the few issues where I as a speaker from these Benches can unreservedly congratulate the Government, if this success were undermined by negligence on the Government’s own behalf.
My Lords, in making what will be a brief contribution to the debate I should like to acknowledge our debt to my fellow traveller on the train from Crewe to London for initiating this debate.
We have all spoken of museums as the link with our history and heritage. It is most important that we have wide access and that no one is unable to attend a museum or art gallery because of financial restraints. In museums we can learn about what has helped to mould us and about the influences that have made us what we are today. I cannot go back into history, to the time of my grandparents, but I can visit, say, the National Slate Museum at Llanberis. I can see the conditions in which people worked in those very difficult times—and I could go on and emotionally describe how hard it was for people then and their families. I cannot go back to that time but I can go to that museum. I can also go to the Big Pit in South Wales and get some idea of what mining then was like.
My grandfather came from a small village in the Conwy valley called Capel Garmon, which no doubt all noble Lords will have heard of. He would walk from about five o’clock in the morning, or a bit earlier, down to the railway station at Betws-y-Coed, and from there he would catch the train to Blaenau Ffestiniog. He would then walk for possibly another 45 minutes to the rock to be there at seven o’clock, when work would start by the light of candles. In the evening, he would make the return journey. What a difficult life—a life which gave little time for family or relaxation. It was a difficult life that we never want to see again.
I sometimes visit cemeteries in north Wales, particularly in the quarrying areas, and I have seen the graves of the young people. The young men died possibly as a result of accidents or pneumoconiosis or other such diseases. The graves of the young women and children belong to another era—one that we must not be allowed to forget. That era brought about the social changes that have improved life for so many of us today.
On the wider stage, we can go to Liverpool and visit the International Museum of Slavery. We would be horrified by how heartless and cruel our forefathers were even to contemplate the transportation of millions of people from Africa to North and South America. We can go there and say, “This must not happen again”.
When I am in Jerusalem, I go, as I am sure other noble Lords do, to Yad Vashem, the memorial to the 6 million Jews slaughtered in Hitler’s Holocaust. I am horrified by what I see there. I cannot walk round the exhibits without feeling totally overcome with shame. Like other noble Lords, I visit the memorial there to the little children who were the victims of that particularly cruel regime in Europe. It is important to visit them so that we can be reminded of exactly how depraved people can be—how they can act in a way which is totally unbelievable in any civilised society. Yet, for most of us in this Chamber, those things happened during our time.
If people learnt history they might be wise enough to avoid the mistakes of history. We might thereby have a wiser generation who have a greater gentleness than did generations past. That is why it is so important that there should be no bar to museum access. It is important that we try to tell everyone—especially the lads and the lasses, the youngsters on our streets who are accused of causing so much harm—about the consequences of the culture of cruelty.
As has been mentioned, museums in England have been free since December 2001. In Wales we were eight months ahead of you. In April, under the leadership of the then Minister for Culture, Jenny Randerson, a very good friend of mine, we had free admission to our museums and art galleries. We wondered whether it would work. Although we thought that there might be some additional people, in the first year, 2002, there was an 87 per cent increase, similar to that first year in England. The National Slate Museum in Llanberis, for example, had 53,000 visitors the previous year but 144,000 in 2002. Free admission made it possible for everybody to go. We thought that there would be an increase but it was far more than we ever imagined. In 2001-02, a total of 764,599 people attended the nine museums. We thought that the figure would increase to 800,000. Instead it soared to 1,430,000, and the increase has continued. I am told that last year—just this morning I spoke to the Minister concerned about it—there were 1,535,000 visitors.
It is important for local people—for local youngsters—to have access to what it was that made them and what made society as it is today. It is also great for those involved in the tourism industry to be able to recommend attractions such as the slate museum here, the wool museum there—or St Fagans, the Museum of Welsh Life, on the outskirts of Cardiff. Noble Lords will already know about that. So I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for introducing this debate and for giving us the opportunity to speak in a wide-ranging way about how essential it is that our museum access continues to be free of charge.
My Lords, I am delighted to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Harrison on securing this very important debate. My enthusiasm for the Labour Government may not be completely unqualified but the abolition of admission charges to our national museums and galleries is one policy that has my complete support. It is fascinating to hear how it also has the support of everyone who has spoken in this debate. I am sure that when the history of this Administration comes to be written, this will be seen as one of their finest legacies. I am so pleased that my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury is here listening, and I hope he will contribute to the debate in a moment. I have two unpaid interests that I should declare. Last year I was appointed to the board of trustees of both the National Football Museum in Preston and the National Museum of Science and Industry, which covers the Science Museum, the National Media Museum in Bradford, the collection at Wroughton in Wiltshire, the National Railway Museum in York and Locomotion, its outpost in Shildon.
The figures quoted for the increase in visitor numbers at the national museums since the abolition of charges are absolutely startling. In a letter published in the Guardian last June, the directors of a number of museums quoted a figure of 30 million more visits, an 87 per cent increase, to museums that had previously charged for admission. In the case of the National Football Museum, the introduction of free access in March 2003 has led to an increase in visitor numbers of 177 per cent; that is, over 100,000 visitors each year. Free admission has also led to huge increases in the numbers of children and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds visiting most of the museums. Locomotion, the National Railway Museum’s site at Shildon, and the National Football Museum in Preston score particularly highly in these regards. In 2005-06, the latest year for which figures are available, 64 per cent of the visitors at Locomotion were from social classes C2, D and E, compared with an average for DCMS-sponsored museums of around 19 per cent. At the National Football Museum the figure was 42 per cent. Since the introduction of free access, a significant number of people from the Asian community of Deepdale, the area in Preston in which the museum is housed, are now frequent visitors and users of its education and outreach programmes.
Free entry has undoubtedly been a success, and, as I said, there is a settled political consensus that it will continue. I note for example that when Ed Vaizey MP, shadow Minister for Culture, was interviewed by the Parliamentary Monitor in July 2007, he said:
“We support free entrance to our national museums”.
My noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport has reminded me that his predecessor, Hugo Swire MP, was removed somewhat summarily when he was unwise enough to question the policy of free admission.
Against that background, this is a good moment for the Government to think more deeply about what the national museums are for and what they want from them. A great achievement of the present Government in respect of the national museums and galleries was starting a proper dialogue with them about their purpose. Such dialogue did not exist before 1997 but it is now reflected in the outcome targets identified in the funding agreements, all of which, for each national museum, can be read on the DCMS website. There has been a good debate between the museums and the DCMS over these targets and the Government are now recognising that museums are about much more than the numbers of people coming through the door, important though that is. Museums now agree targets that, for example, relate to the Government’s desire to broaden audiences to include those who have typically felt excluded from the type of experience they offer and to the extent to which the museums are delivering tailored education programmes to young people and to broader audiences.
On attracting the socially excluded, some museums have delivered splendidly. These museums tend to be those which cover science, technology, industry, transport and, of course, sport and football. However, I am sorry to say that the big national art museums have a long way to go before they make a real difference to their middle-to-working class visitor ratios because they are still very much bastions of the middle class. That some museums have shown their ability to attract a broader audience is very good news. It fits in, too, with another concern of the Government: that we should inspire young people with an interest in the world of science and technology.
But it is puzzling that, having measured performance against these government concerns, funding does not seem to follow success. The previous Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, James Purnell, and the new one, Andy Burnham, in his former role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, deserve warm congratulations on ensuring that the three-year funding settlement for the national museums has sustained spending power in real terms in what is undoubtedly a difficult funding environment. But why is there not some recognition of the museums that have demonstrated their ability to deliver government agendas? If we are really serious about getting a broader audience to our national museums, we should be focusing funding on those which succeed and show the potential to succeed further.
The success of the National Football Museum has been achieved with core revenue funding from the DCMS which, until this year’s settlement, had not increased by one penny since 1 April 2003. One consequence is that it and other smaller museums, such as Locomotion at Shildon and, before its recent closure for refurbishment, the People’s History Museum in Manchester, can afford only a tiny marketing budget. As a result many people are still unaware of the museums’ existence and that they are free to all visitors.
I shall stay with the National Football Museum for a moment. The trustees welcome the decision by the principal football organisations to set up, under the Football Foundation, a review of the contributions they make to the museum with the intention of placing the museum on a much more secure long-term financial footing. I know that the Government believe that football should come up with substantially more money, and I think there is now evidence that the game is willing to accept that responsibility. But it would be good to hear from my noble friend that the Government are considering additional funding for smaller museums to enable them to draw attention to their free access and to contribute further to the success of government policy.
I wonder whether the Minister would agree that there is a gulf in policy between setting objectives that envisage lively and well-managed museums able to deliver the breadth of government education agendas to an increasingly diverse audience of young people nationwide and a funding regime that sustains the status quo; namely, well-funded art museums in London serving an audience that, frankly, does not reflect the nation as a whole. I know that the DCMS is sensitive about comparisons such as these, but can it be right that grant in aid per C2DE visitor to one of the principal art museums in London is around 11 times that for the National Railway Museum? In other words, it costs the Government 11 times as much to get a C2DE visitor into the former as it does to get one into the NRM, yet we know that the National Railway Museum can deliver experiences and education programmes of at least equal value to young people.
My message to the Government is that they must not rest on their laurels over free entry because, having delivered extra visitors, the opportunity to deliver on their priorities and objectives is not being met to anything like its potential. One key reason is that the grant in aid for the national museums—once the compensation for free entry has been deducted—has not kept pace with inflation, and certainly not with their hugely increased usage following free entry. The cost of education programmes, events and activities through which the museums deliver for the nation rises proportionately with the number of visitors. So although they have more visitors, they are unable to provide the quality of service that those visitors deserve, and the positive programmes that could engage those broader audiences are not being delivered to anything like their full potential.
In practice, while absolute numbers of C2DE visitors have risen with free entry, so have those of ABC1s, and at many museums the proportionate mix has not changed much. We know that the national museums cannot sit back and rely on grant in aid. Sponsorship, grant aid from charitable trusts and lottery funds are hard to get, but the vast bulk of the capital investment that goes into the nationals comes from these sources. As a consequence, they deliver tremendous value for money to the taxpayer. There has been a welcome increase in government capital funding in the new funding agreement, but it is starting from a very low base. The vast bulk of this new money—£50 million—is going to the Tate for its expansion. The Tate is a wonderful museum, but it is taking a large share of the total, whereas the share for other national museums is much more limited. For example, the National Museum of Science and Industry has got only £13 million over three years for all purposes—expansion, renewal and building maintenance. There are no funds for anything like an acquisition programme.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, referred in his speech to tourism. I hope that the DCMS will have the vision to appreciate the real potential offered here by the national museums and galleries. The DCMS is good at setting objectives for museums, but I find it strange that while it also has strategic responsibility for tourism in the UK, it does not seem able to join that up with using its power as the owner of heritage attractions to help build the country's tourism business. We know that tourism depends to a very significant degree on our heritage. The department is responsible for a huge portfolio of that heritage, including—particularly relevant to today's debate—national museums. Yet it is difficult to see that there is a national plan for using this resource to help deliver the economic benefits of tourism, particularly tourism from overseas.
My final point is: should there not be some plans for investment in the national museums—other than the Tate, and particularly outside London—to encourage overseas tourism? I should like to see more vision and more joined-up thinking from the department. I should also like to see the department working with the regional development agencies to deliver investments which sustain and enhance our reputation as the home to world-class museums and galleries. We have a huge amount to be proud of in our national museums and art galleries. I just feel that we could be doing more to exploit that potential and achieve more income and more visitors from overseas.
My Lords, I do not think that I even need four minutes. I just wish to ask the Government two questions, but I shall declare my interests and say where I am coming from. I am a past chairman of the Area Museums Service for South East England and I was the chairman of Norfolk Museums Service when it was set up. I have been a member of ICOM for 40 years, so I have very rarely paid to go into a national museum anywhere in the world. Now the advertising: I am a director of Fakenham Museum of Gas and Local History, which is the only complete gasworks left in this country.
I congratulate the Government on introducing free entry to national museums—it is absolutely wonderful. I am very much in favour of all museums being free. I was also involved with libraries in Norfolk and I could not understand why anyone could borrow, without paying, any book from any library, with the possible exception of reference books, which could not be taken outside, and yet they had to pay to go into every museum.
Local government museums do not seem to have followed the example of national museums. What are the Government doing to persuade them and local authorities that entrance to all museums should be free?
When the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, introduced the debate, he said that he did not want cathedrals to charge for entry. My involvement with Norwich Cathedral means that I know why it has to charge. It is because there simply is not enough money to maintain buildings such as that. The cathedrals in this country have major collections, as well as being major architectural gems.
Many of the main collections of art, antiquities and architecture in this country are still in private hands. Have the Government given any thought to asking for free entry for the public to such establishments in return for more generous grants for repairs and maintenance?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on initiating today’s debate. We have had some extremely informative and expert speeches, and I certainly do not envy the Minister the task of winding up.
We have heard how the decision in 2001 to introduce free admission to the permanent collections of the DCMS-sponsored museums and galleries in England that charged for entry has been a resounding success. It is good that we have the architects of that policy in the House with us today. We on these Benches supported that step very strongly and I applaud it today. I declare an interest as an avid and regular visitor with my son to many of these superb museums.
I was particularly moved by the speech of my noble friend Lord Roberts, who spoke about the personal impact and importance that a visit to a museum can have. We have also heard what has resulted from the free admissions scheme. Figures published by the DCMS last June showed that there were nearly 7 million extra visits to England’s national museums and galleries which had formerly charged compared with the year before entry charges were scrapped. The most impressive increases in London were in the South Kensington museums. In the regions there were huge rises in Liverpool, the Natural History Museum at Tring and the National Railway Museum in York. It was therefore no surprise that the directors of the 22 nationally funded museums all wrote strongly in support of free admission in a letter to the Guardian last June. This was in response to some ill advised speculation by the now Olympic spokesman of the Conservative party referred to earlier, Hugo Swire. Needless to say, he was overruled fairly fast by his leadership and contradicted by the Conservatives’ own arts task force.
The CMS Select Committee report in December 2002 on the free admission scheme did conclude—this is where a number of noble Lords who, as well as applauding the original decision, were so wise in their caution about the future—that the compensation package agreed for the department was based on what seemed to be a modest, even conservative estimate in the likely rise in visitors. For example, in the case of the Natural History Museum, compensation was set to reflect a 20 per cent rise in visitor numbers. It therefore did not take sufficient account of an increase in visitor figures. It is also always the danger that the Government are compensating for the money lost from admission charges but not providing money to cope with the extra visitors that free admissions have brought.
The cost to the Government in specific grant in aid to the 22 museums increased from £4.2 million in 1999-2000 to £35 million in 2003-04. A separate amount is not paid currently but funding for free admission is taken into account in the allocation of all funds to all DCMS-sponsored museums. It seems that the current figure is £40 million. Certainly that was the figure stated when the Government published the figures last year. That figure surely does not keep pace with inflation. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
The DCMS press release last October announcing the result of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review said,
“A generous funding settlement for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which will allow continued investment in the arts and cultural sectors has been announced today by the Government.
It will enable the Department to:
maintain funding for real terms growth for arts, museums and galleries, including maintaining free access to national museums and contributing to the cultural Olympiad”.
On the other hand, the Treasury described it in the Pre-Budget Report for the DCMS as containing,
“funding for the arts and museums and galleries at least in line with inflation. This will ensure continued free access to national museums, maintaining visitor numbers, and enable an even wider range of people to benefit from these high-quality cultural experiences”.
Which is it, real growth or an increase in line with inflation?
I can understand the DCMS euphoria. After all, there were fears that museums faced a cut of 7 per cent. Where they right, however, to be quite so buoyant? The last phrase is also extremely important in the context:
“enable an even wider range of people to benefit from these high-quality cultural experiences”.
We know that in general the free admissions policy has been a success. As I said, we applaud it from these Benches. But there is the question that many noble Lords have raised today of whether the policy has really led to a sufficiently diverse visitor base in these national museums. Although it is widely regarded that free entry has provided additional access—indeed the director’s letter states that an extra 16 million children have visited museums since they were granted free entry in 1998 and the number of visits from people from lower socio-economic groups has risen by 6.5 million in 2004-05—the public sector agreement targets for increasing the take-up by a wider and more diverse range of visitors into museums by 2 per cent are not being met, as was revealed in a recent parliamentary Answer to my honourable friend Don Foster on 4 February. The DCMS’s own Taking Part survey, the results of which were published last December, demonstrates this.
We would far prefer not to have these targets, but given that they exist, what resources from the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review are being used to ensure that they will be met in future?
Then we come to whether free admissions are sustainable in future. There will always be a danger that the policy’s success in attracting visitors will make the compensation paid by the Government inadequate to cover it. That means that the cost of funding free admissions eats into the budgets available for mounting exhibitions, buying new treasures and targeting those sections of the population yet to embrace museum-going, as my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter said. I hope the new strategy referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and others will address that, and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. On these Benches, we do not believe that the enjoyment of culture should be limited to those who can afford to pay for it. Free admission is vital for promoting and allowing access.
Then there is the effect of free entry on other sources of income for museums, since they need to find alternative ways of raising the extra money. With free admission, trading income has increased significantly, and it is good to see that private sector sponsorship has increased significantly. I recently went to a presentation by Colin Tweedie of Arts and Business, who stated that private contributions to the museums sector now amount to £85.55 million per annum, a rise of 37 per cent since the previous year, which is one of the biggest rises in any of the arts sectors. He said that the growth of museums and galleries, which is obviously one of the great successes in the past 20 years, has been the absolute storming of the private sector’s relationship with museums and galleries. That is quite some testimony. However, as my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter said, with the right incentives for giving we could do even better.
I have just a few further issues to raise with the Minister. First, Renaissance in the Regions has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. Visits to hub museums have increased enormously since 2002-03, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, described. The targets to increase the number of contacts between school-age children and regional museums and to generate additional visits by new users, predominantly from social classes C2, D and E and ethnic minorities, have been exceeded with ease, as the CMS Select Committee said in its Caring for our Collections report in June 2007. As the Select Committee said, I hope that the national museums will continue to build relationships with non-hub local and specialist museums and that, in order to meet their targets, they will take a leaf out of the outreach success of the Renaissance hubs.
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, raised an important question about the future role of the MLA. In the context of the Renaissance in the Regions scheme, it needs to be pointed out that even hub museums that are of major national significance are not as well funded as those directly funded by the DCMS. A good example is the Ashmolean Museum. It is one of four university museums in Oxford that make up the Oxford University museums hub. The Ashmolean is a major draw for tourism in Oxford. It contains the University of Oxford’s collections of art and archaeology, which are the largest and most important in any museum outside London. As they have collections of national significance, such museums cannot help comparing their financial situation with that of museums funded by DCMS. It is very clear that they are trying to run equally ambitious enterprises on a fraction of the funding available to national museums which, in some cases, have neither such rich collections nor as many visitors. The comparisons demonstrate that in the funding that a museum such as the Ashmolean receives per visitor compared to many non-London museums. Museums such as the Ashmolean are modestly funded for the comparable job that they do. For them, an ideal long-term solution would be funding from the DIUS to cover the university work that they do—carrying out and supporting teaching and research as well as the conservation of the university’s collections—and funding from the DCMS to help them to realise their plans for access and outreach that would enable them to expand on the opportunities provided by Renaissance funding.
I now turn to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, although I feel that the noble Lords, Lord Renfrew and Lord Howarth, have already dealt with that in considerable detail. There are great concerns, which are shared by my noble friend Lord Redesdale, who has also taken considerable interest in the fate of the PAS. Whether it was an afterthought or whether it was a deliberate cut of 25 per cent in real terms over three years, I hope that Ministers in the DCMS are vigorously looking at the matter. I understand that a review is being carried out and I very much hope that the solution mentioned by noble Lords of the British Museum taking over the scheme will be realised, but it cannot do that without adequate funding. It is a vital scheme. We have heard about the access benefits and the success that it has had in attracting new visitors. We must ensure that that so recently instituted scheme is preserved.
On these Benches, we strongly support free admission and giving the widest access possible to our museums and galleries, but we need to be vigilant in making sure that there are proper resources to make that possible. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for initiating this interesting debate. It had one or two problems at the start. I would like to say how sad I am that we cannot hear contributions from such distinguished colleagues as the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Finsbury and Lord Lloyd-Webber. However, rules are rules and I understand that this one is strict. Perhaps it should be reviewed elsewhere: it certainly seems to be overharsh.
On 6 June 1683, the private collection of a certain Elias Ashmole was opened to the public. That day marked the beginning of a great civic tradition—that of the public museum. The tradition continues but it is increasingly at risk. At this point I would like to add something about the short speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walpole. He is sadly quite right about the plight of so many cathedrals which, as well as their proper role, are in effect also extremely important museums.
With museums unable to make important acquisitions and arts and heritage funding being siphoned off for the Olympics, I have serious concerns about the continuation of this tradition and the future of our great British institutions. I do not need to rehearse the important stature that national museums occupy in public life. These institutions set aside things of public value. They preserve our national heritage and ensure that works of art, artefacts and natural phenomena continue to enrich our understanding of the past, present and future. Access to a rich cultural heritage is a pillar of any civilised society.
At first glance, museums seem to be thriving: 80 million people visited museums last year. Recent research suggests that 43 per cent of people living in England have made at least one visit to a museum. The increased funding by the DCMS has had an obvious impact on museum attendance and is certainly to be welcomed. Yet, on closer inspection, it is not quite as rosy as the Government would have us believe. The DCMS has a direct relationship with only a small number of registered museums in the UK—the national museums and those funded by the Renaissance in the Regions programme. That constitutes only 22 museums throughout the country.
National museums seem to be always centre stage but other categories of museum do not receive direct government funding, and they have been mentioned this afternoon. Local authorities and independent charities fund museums throughout the country. Do the Government map the level of their support? What has been done recently to encourage support for the museums and galleries that do not receive direct funding?
While attendance is up, there is a danger that it might not be for long. Acquiring new pieces for their collections is vital to many museums. In evidence given to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Sir Nicholas Goodison, the former chairman of the National Art Collections Fund, said that a new acquisition generates tremendous excitement and,
“enormously enhances the educational possibilities, the local pride in the collections and so on”.
This was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Renfrew. Yet as important as that is that it is being disregarded by the Government in light of the many resources being diverted away from lottery funding. Many museums see the current funding for acquisitions as reaching a crisis. In 2006, the Art Fund, an independent charity of which my noble friend Lord Renfrew is a most respected trustee, published a detailed survey of the collecting activity of museums. He found that while museums believe that collections must be continually renewed for a museum to survive and prosper, nearly all said that inadequate core funding was currently a barrier to collecting.
The UK’s leading art museums lag behind other world-class museums when it comes to acquiring new pieces and collecting. David Barrie, the director of the Art Fund, characterised the situation as,
“getting worse, and is probably worse than ever”.
Does the Minister accept that assessment? What is he doing to reverse the diversion of lottery funding away from the arts, which was one of the lottery’s core aims?
It is unacceptable that while the Government may trot off figures about increasing attendance, a closer look reveals that the situation is much bleaker than imagined. Inadequate funding for acquisitions means static collections and flagging interest. Additionally, the higher number of visitors bring with them higher costs for maintenance, thus further depleting resources that could be used for collecting. Does the Minister consider it important to support museum acquisitions? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers to several questions that were asked by my noble friend Lord Renfrew. What studies have the Government made of the tax provisions of other countries that promote private support? Does the Minister agree that a key part of encouraging people to visit museums is for them to have high-quality exhibits? Does he share my concern that the difficulties in acquiring works of art will eventually impact on visitor numbers? We support the Portable Antiquities Scheme and we think that it is an excellent organisation, but if the funding is frozen for the next three years, which seems to be the case, it will wither away, particularly if it has to lose some of its staff.
The funding problem looks worse when we consider the money that has been diverted to the Olympics. The Government’s raid on lottery funding means that arts and heritage now receive £200 million less in annual lottery funding than in 1997-98. When the first budget for the Olympics was announced, the published breakdown of where the money was coming from revealed £410 million that would be taken from the current National Lottery good causes. The revised budget published in March last year revealed that an additional £675 million would be transferred from the lottery after 2009. This means that the arts are now contributing a staggering £160 million to the 2012 Olympics, £90 million of which is to help with meeting the overspending that has trebled the Olympic budget since London won the bid.
Thankfully, the Government have conceded that there would be no further raids on good causes to fund the Games. The result is still shamefully inconsistent. As Graham Sheffield, chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society put it, the Government are,
“one minute praising the arts sector to the skies, the next, nicking hundreds of millions of pounds from the arts to balance the books on its inadequate budgeting for the Olympics”.
However, we welcome the Government’s announcement today, whether it is real or in line with inflation.
The sales of Olympic land, which will be used to reimburse good causes for these diverted funds, is fine and I hope that it happens, but it is likely to take up to 10 years. Will there be any money to tide over the lack of money going towards museums? Do the Government expect it magically to bring arts and heritage back up to speed after a decade of slashed resources?
Surely the opposite approach is needed. The London Olympic Games will put a spotlight on the city and provide an occasion, the cultural Olympics, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for the best of the nation’s cultural heritage to be showcased to the world. Does the Minister understand the widespread concern that the diversion of funds from the arts will compromise this? Is this a missed opportunity? Indeed, missed opportunity seems to be the overarching theme of the Government’s approach to funding for the arts. The state alone cannot fund all our great museums. We need to harness a wider range of resources. City profits have been increasing but corporate donations have not risen to match. The richest 20 per cent in the UK give a mere 0.7 per cent of their income and the poorest give four times as much. What have the Government done to encourage philanthropy?
In 2004, Sir Nicholas Goodison recommended tax relief on lifetime donations of works of art to national museums. According to Giving USA 2004, the private donations in the United States in 2003 were something like $13 billion. What is the Government’s current thinking on these proposals? My noble friend Lady Hooper asked some extremely penetrating questions on the subject and I look forward to the answers. We support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter. According to a recent survey by the Museums, Libraries, and Archives Council, at least half of those museums surveyed would like more volunteers. What steps are the Government taking to encourage people to volunteer to help in museums and galleries? Even small donations help museums but is enough being done to encourage them? Is there any scope for increasing the visibility of donation boxes? Some of them are in excellent places and highly visible in museums but I have also seen some tucked away round the back. They should all be very visible at the exit.
Indeed, do the Government have any plans to assist museums in promoting donations on a more immediate scale? These are of course just a few ideas but will the Minister agree that they are so far missed opportunities? The essential point is that though there might be instances where museums are receiving more money from the Government and numbers are going up, this is by no means the whole picture. If we are to continue the great tradition of public museums in this country, a more dynamic and more robust approach is needed to safeguard our national heritage. Though there might be instances of success, museum funding seems flawed. I mentioned at the beginning the opening of a museum some 300 years ago. Of course I was referring to the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford, as also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, which has been there for 300 years. I am delighted that it recently received £15 million in lottery money to partially fund a redevelopment. Let us hope that this will be enough to preserve at least this great museum and enable it to continue being the leading focus of culture and heritage in Oxford and for many miles around. I shall also mention the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, and the Walker in Liverpool, which has already been mentioned, and—dare I say—a little museum I know well called the Higgins museum in Bedford, which is full of amazing objects. They are all valuable and they all need much greater support.
My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Harrison for providing this opportunity to debate a really important topic. His experience in this field is widely known, but that is true of all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. It has been of great interest for the Government to hear the considered and expert views on this subject.
I shall start by praising the Government for what they have done. While no doubt legitimate criticisms, large and small, have been made during the debate, it is easy to forget that by providing free admission to our national museums and galleries in 2001, the Government effectively absolutely transformed the position. Some will say that it is one of the great cultural achievements of this Government. I would go further and say that it is one of the great achievements of this Government in any field.
We are blessed in this House to have the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, who I am glad is present this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, who is here too, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who played an important part and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, who played an important role later on. They all played important roles in this successful policy change. That it has been a success is best indicated by the ultimate test of whether a policy is a success, which is when the official Opposition come round to adopting it—here they have done so. There was a little wobble or two last year with the loss of a shadow Minister or two, but they have come round to supporting it. Despite the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Luke, I understand that the official Opposition would not change the policy of free admission if they were ever so fortunate to come back to power again.
Since the Government introduced universal free admission to our national museums and galleries in 2001, almost 37 million additional visits have been made to museums—an increase of 40 per cent. Visits to the nine museums that used to charge have doubled. These figures alone demonstrate the success of the policy.
I shall spend a minute or two reminding the House of the history of free admission. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, reminded us, some of our great national collections, such as the British Museum, have always been free. But during the 19th and early 20th century, a number of museums introduced some form of charging. For example, the National Gallery—assumed by many to have always been free—introduced charges on certain days of the week to reduce the number of visits to enable artists to study works more closely and make copies of them. Post-war cultural policy saw the reintroduction of free entry to all national collections. However, in the 1970s, the then Conservative Government reintroduced charging through the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Act. That policy came into effect in 1974, but thankfully was scrapped within three months by the incoming Labour Government.
Unfortunately when the Conservatives came back into power in 1979, they demonstrated their determination to abolish the principle of free access by permitting national museums to charge. This policy, along with real terms cuts in grant-in-aid, led to nine national museums introducing charges during the 1980s and 1990s, including the three south Kensington museums, which saw a drop of around 2 million visits per year as a consequence. By 1997, visitors to national museums had fallen to fewer than 24 million. Ever increasing charges meant that some of our museums were in danger of becoming bastions just for the elite. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Luke, will forgive me if I will not take any lessons from the Conservatives on this issue of the great tradition of our public museums.
When we came into power we pledged to scrap admission charges, which we did. In 1999, we introduced free entry for children; in 2000, free admission for those aged 60 and over; and in December 2001, free entry for all. Additional grant-in-aid was provided to the nine charging museums to compensate for the loss of income. Not only that, but we amended the legislation on VAT to allow national museums to recover the tax. This was worth £22 million in 2005-06.
The lottery has had a major impact over the years. Since 1994, the museums and galleries sector has received more than £1 billion from the Heritage Lottery Fund, one-third of its total budget. Research suggests that the combination of government compensation for admission charges and lottery funding has had the biggest impact in terms of visitor numbers. The continued success of the lottery means that the more than £700 million in new funding will be available from the Heritage Lottery Fund between 2009 and 2012. Many of our national museums will, we trust, also be playing a key part, with our support, in delivering a successful Cultural Olympiad.
We should not forget that this Government have also invested significantly in regional museums through the Renaissance in the Regions programme. Nearly £150 million has been invested in England’s regional museums since 2002, to raise standards, broaden access and provide a comprehensive service to schools. This programme is having a huge impact, as many noble Lords have told the House. School visits are up by 18 per cent and the number of children taking part in activities at museums has increased by more than 120 per cent.
Headline increases in visits do not tell the whole story. The increase in visits to some of the national museums that used to charge is spectacular. At the museum of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, the National Museum of Liverpool, visits are up by 188 per cent; visits to the V&A are up by 151 per cent, and to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester by 133 per cent. Two of those museums are outside London.
Not only are more visits being made, but the visitor profile is more diverse. It is not the case, as some contend, that free admission has benefited only the middle classes. Data supplied by the sponsored museums and galleries show that child visits have increased by 79 per cent to 8.4 million last year. Visits by people from lower socio-economic groups have increased by 21 per cent, from 5.4 million to 6.5 million. Visits by people from black and minority-ethnic groups have increased by 78 per cent.
Many museums have also enhanced and expanded their education and outreach services. The number of adult learners involved in organised educational activities has increased from 6 million to more than 9.5 million each year, and the number of those involved in outreach activities has almost doubled to 6 million each year.
There has been a whole series of questions quite legitimately asked of the Government as a result of this all-too-short debate. I will not have time to attempt to answer all of them. If I do not answer questions that have been asked, I promise to write to noble Lords with replies. Copies will, of course, be put in the Library. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not deal with everything. I cannot; we would still be here on Monday morning.
During the Comprehensive Spending Review, we recognised that safeguarding free admission was a top priority, not only for us, but for the boards of our national museums and the public. A convincing case was made for funding and, as a result, despite what everyone knows to have been a very tight spending round, we have been able to offer our museums inflation-proof increases in running cost grants and, in many cases, significant increases in capital. We have also provided additional funding for new facilities which will enhance the museums’ offer, bringing in even more visitors. This includes help towards the running costs of the new Museum of Liverpool, which will be a world-class museum of social history when it opens in two years’ time, and the costs of the V&A’s new education centre. As has already been mentioned, £50 million has gone towards the new extension to Tate Modern, now the most visited modern art gallery in the world, and perhaps one of the greatest successes of all that we have talked about today. We have also provided an inflation-proof settlement for the renaissance programme to ensure that this continues to provide vital support to our regional museums.
My noble friend Lord Harrison referred to the Waterways Trust. He made an eloquent plea to consider the position of the three museums of the Waterways Trust. We recognise the importance of our industrial heritage and the excellent work of the custodians of the trust’s unique collection. The trust receives financial support from government by way of a £100,000 grant for the Renaissance Designation Challenge Fund and £40,000 from the DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund. The Heritage Lottery Fund has provided £900,000 towards the redevelopment of the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum, which I know is close to my noble friend’s heart. However, I must make clear that the Government have no plans to expand their family of sponsored museums by providing direct core funding to the Waterways Trust or to other museums. In fact, we are reducing our sponsored museums family by one in April when the responsibility of the DCMS, along with funding, for the Museum of London transfers to the GLA.
Despite a good spending review outcome for DCMS, the budget is—noble Lords have drawn attention to this—extremely tight and priority has to be given to safeguarding those museums we already sponsor and the renaissance programme. I know that that is a disappointment not just to my noble friend, but also to others who have support for other museums. We encourage them to continue their dialogue with the department and with the MLA, which is working with the trust to help strengthen and develop its business model and secure additional funding from a range of sources. I understand that the Minister for Culture, Margaret Hodge, has also offered a further meeting to discuss the museum’s future.
Dealing as best I can with some of the points that have been made, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, asked whether I could provide any more details on the national strategy for museums. My noble friend Lord Howarth also asked about that. I cannot give much more detail, but the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council has been charged with developing this strategy and will publish it in the next few months. My noble friends Lord Harrison and Lord Faulkner of Worcester and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, asked about devising strategies to obtain a better balance of funding between national, regional and local museums. It is inevitable that there will be some imbalance of funding for national museums, because most are based in London. However, 80 per cent of the renaissance programme funding goes to regional museums that are outside London and the south-east.
My noble friend Lord Harrison asked whether museum boards and staff need to redouble efforts to persuade a sometimes sceptical public that museums are not the preserve of the privileged white middle class. The answer of course is yes. Museums have increased their effort to attract a wider range of visitors to the traditional museum, which can be seen in the fact that visits by people from BME backgrounds have increased, as have visits from different socio-economic groups.
But should not the governing boards of museums reflect more accurately the profile of the country as a whole? I answer my noble friend Lord Harrison by saying, yes, we agree wholeheartedly that museums have made some progress on increasing board diversity, but there is much more still to do. My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked about the comparative costs of attracting lower socio-economic groups. It is difficult to make direct comparisons between museums. There are many factors that determine visitor make-up, including local demographics. The costs associated with running museums vary considerably because of the nature of the collections and the building costs.
My noble friend Lord Howarth recommended statutory obligations on local authorities; I hope that is in due course rather than straightaway. We have no plans to impose statutory obligations on local authorities in respect of cultural provision. However, cultural provision is considered as part of local authority performance assessment, so local authorities are assessed on what they do in the cultural field. The noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, made the point that setting targets does not work and she welcomed the focus on excellence. The DCMS has abolished targets for the new funding agreements with sponsored museums and—I hope that she will be pleased with my reply—we will focus on judgments of excellence, as Sir Brian McMaster has recommended.
My noble friends Lord Harrison and Lord Howarth, the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, and the noble Lords, Lord Renfrew and Lord Luke, asked about encouraging philanthropy and the use of tax incentives, which goes to the issue around contemporary art too. We are actively exploring ways of encouraging greater philanthropy in the sector. As noble Lords will know, the Tate, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery have benefited this year from major bequests and donations. There are a number of successful tax concessions in place, including acceptance in lieu and conditional exemption. Under acceptance in lieu, 38 objects valued at £25 million went to our national collections in 2006. We need to encourage more take-up of the concessions that I have referred to. The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded over £150 million for acquisitions and more than £56 million for archive and library acquisitions across the country. It created a £3 million fund per annum from last year to support museums and galleries in that area. However, there is a problem.
The Government are extremely grateful to Sir Nicholas for his recommendations in the Goodison report, which has been referred to. As I understand it, the majority of them have already been implemented. We share his view and objective of encouraging greater philanthropic giving to cultural institutions. We want better use made of existing incentives. To that end, the Treasury is undertaking a consultation with the charitable sector on measures to increase the take-up of Gift Aid. In addition, the Government keep all taxes under review and we will continue to try to identify ways to increase the uptake of existing forms of tax-efficient giving. I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, about the importance of acquiring contemporary art. Given the current inflated art market, public money alone cannot be expected to secure major acquisitions. We are working hard to encourage private donations, and he will know about the recent successes.
I have heard the strong feeling from various parts of the House about the Portable Antiquities Scheme, as has the right honourable Margaret Hodge in another place. Of course, the MLA intends to maintain current levels of support for the PAS in 2008-09. I understand how that is not enough for those who support this excellent scheme. The MLA is reviewing the scheme and will consider options for future funding in the context of wider priorities for museum collections and public participation. If it brings comfort to those who want to see the scheme continue to succeed—that is a universal feeling around the House—the DCMS, the MLA and the British Museum are in discussions about the issue, as we speak. I have taken on board the strong feelings expressed in the debate.
What are we doing to encourage free access to local authority museums? The answer is that this is a matter for local authorities, but two-thirds of Renaissance museums, many of which are funded by local authorities, are free, including the one which I know best in Leicester, which is an excellent museum. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred to the poor imbalance of funding between Renaissance museums against national museums. I need to point out that Renaissance itself was not devised as a funding programme for all museums. The programme has been developed on the principle that investment should benefit audiences rather than institutions, hence the focus on investment into larger museums serving major centres of population. Are we considering the future funding of smaller museums? We will consider that as part of the McMaster Review and the next spending review.
I must move to my conclusion quickly. Has free admission worked? The answer from around the House is yes. We do not think that will be changed, whichever Government are in power. Many more people are visiting and from a broader cross-section. The National Museums Director has already been quoted during the debate. In his recently published and widely welcomed report on excellence in the arts, Sir Brian McMaster acknowledges the success of free admission. In fact, he is so convinced of the success of the policy at broadening cultural engagement that he has recommended that the principle of free entry should be extended to the arts for an annual free tickets week. We think this is a very exciting proposal and are considering how we might make this a reality in the hope that that idea has great support in the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, talked about museums teaching us about history. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, talked about museums being magic. They are a fantastic asset to our country. We have a huge amount to be proud of. It is the responsibility of the Government to make sure that museums continue to be the great success that they have been until now. I apologise to noble Lords for not being able to answer more of their questions, but as I said earlier I shall reply in writing.
My Lords, I note that the Minister has overrun his allotted time and that we still have some eight to ten minutes left of the time scheduled for this debate. First, I should like to express particular thanks to Alex Brocklehurst and all his fellow workers at the research desk in the House of Lords Library who provided such a wonderful brief for today’s debate. I hope that that continues to happen. I should like to thank all those who have spoken in the debate, but, in particular, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, who made his way back here after having a commitment earlier today. He has listened to the whole of the debate and came in half-way through my own opening contribution.
I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, for the kerfuffle that she witnessed on the front here. I was trying to establish what the rules were concerning those speaking in the gap. Perhaps the Whips would like to address me about whether some form of decision was taken by the usual channels to try to prevent the legitimate opportunity that we as members of this Chamber should have in our ability to speak in the gap.
I should also like to take up what the noble Lord, Lord Luke, has said. I regret that we have not heard from the architect of this policy, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, or indeed from the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, who might have contributed well to our debate.
It strikes me that we are in a museum ourselves. Some of the people outside this Chamber think that there are relics who lie within it. I would say that anyone who had got the tenor of the debate today would learn that we are revitalising ourselves by the expertise that was showed in the debate and the wonderful ideas that were spawned by having this debate. Is it not a further irony that we encourage museums not to remain as merely conservers and preservers of traditions and collections, but to modernise? We ask them to communicate to a world outside, to those who might listen. How like the workings of the House of Lords, where we wish to communicate with the world outside. However, it seems that some of our regulations are there to impede us in this vital task for the nation.
I hope that those who listened to the debate might take back these words and ask themselves, “Is it really worthwhile that this House should frustrate itself in communicating to the nation?”. We heard one example, but at least one other Member of your Lordships’ House wanted to speak in the gap and was prevented from giving us the wisdom that they have acquired over many years on a policy that is an outstanding example of why this Government are worth supporting.
I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
House adjourned at 6.01 pm