My Lords, the Government understand the value of access to leisure and tourism activities for all. By providing support for those who need it most, we are committed to a society where everyone can engage in leisure activities, including holidays, if they wish. A good example is our policy of free admission to many national museums and galleries, resulting in an increase of 124 per cent in the number of visits to museums offering free access.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Is he aware that France, Spain and Italy have integrated social tourism into their social welfare policy, providing holidays for people on low income who do not have a holiday? Could not the United Kingdom do something similar?
My Lords, we have taken rather a different view on the question of improving life for the less well off in our society to that taken by France, Italy and Spain. We prefer to ensure that increased resources are available for families to make their choices. We are conscious of the fact that France, in particular, puts a very great emphasis on holidays, even regarding them as a human right.
The concept behind social tourism is to ensure that those in society who are less well off get the opportunity to go on holiday. There are one or two organisations that provide very inexpensive holidays for the less well off. That is the concept of social tourism, and the Government are of course sympathetic to it. They even give £10 million in grants to an organisation concerned with holidays for the disabled. That is the concept.
Would the Minister consider encouraging the Government to set up a mechanism so that those who do not need or want the winter fuel allowance can divert that money to a charity of their choice, such as the Family Holiday Association, which provides holidays for the disadvantaged, to which the noble Baroness referred?
My Lords, the Family Holiday Association is certainly a deserving institution in these terms. Of course, people are encouraged to give support to a charity with that intent, but it would destroy the concept of charitable giving if the Government made it mandatory.
My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that a Child Poverty Bill is going through your Lordships' House at the moment. Is there any evidence that providing breaks to families who live in poverty helps to boost their morale, so that they are enabled to climb out of poverty?
My Lords, there is some evidence of that. Of course, the French put a greater emphasis on the advantages of holidays. There is no doubt that a break does boost morale. I apologise to the House, because I said that the grant to Tourism for All, which gives holidays to the disabled, was £10 million. I meant £10,000. We want to encourage this. We have no doubt at all that it is advantageous to families who are less well off, and there is evidence that people benefit from holidays.
My Lords, is the Minister aware, in the unexpected absence of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that the European Parliament is considering amending the scheme under which almost 100 of its highest paid officials have their children taken on holiday at half price, so that it goes to low-paid officials instead?
My Lords, I never thought that the House would miss the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. The noble Lord has stepped into the breach. We can all draw some satisfaction from the point that he makes, but I am talking here about a benign concept of holidays for the less well off and the disabled, rather than holidays for those who may be regarded as somewhat overprivileged.
In a highly interdependent global community, does my noble friend agree that just as foreign languages are imperative in preparing our young to meet the challenges of that international community, it is essential to give all possible support to youngsters during their education to take opportunities to travel abroad? Can we ensure that this does not become a prerogative of the more affluent members of society?
My Lords, my noble friend has a good point—that is why we are pleased that in the education system schools are concerned with these opportunities for holidays abroad. However, this Question focuses upon families who are less well off: the concept behind it is that family holidays should be supported and provided for. I indicate how sympathetic the Government are to that concept, without having an excessive contribution of public funds towards it.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that under the Every Child Matters agenda the Government are looking to give equal opportunity to all children? A recent report, put together by the children and families courts service, has found that one of the greatest worries for children on the separation of their parents is finance. It is not only a question of the emotional issues—finance leads to emotional issues. One of the other issues is the consequence of poor finance, which means children lose all the benefits they have known as a family. Holidays are particularly important when you are a young person going back to school after the summer holidays and sharing with others what you have experienced.
My Lords, I am grateful for that point from the noble Baroness. The Government’s drive to reduce the number of children in poverty—reduced by 500,000 over a number of years—reflects our concern that these children should not suffer too great a disadvantage. The noble Baroness is absolutely right: children who live in families where the home is broken and the parents have separated are often to be found in that category.