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House of Lords Hansard
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Lords Chamber
17 January 2001
Volume 620

House Of Lords

Wednesday, 17th January 2001.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.

Nhs Ophthalmic Care: Waiting Lists

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to cut waiting lists for ophthalmic care in the National Health Service.

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My Lords, cataract operations comprise over 80 per cent of the operations carried out in hospital ophthalmology departments. We have allocated £20 million to modernise cataract services at 60 centres and we have set a target for them to reduce the waiting time from referral to treatment to a maximum of six months by 2003.

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My Lords, by the Government's own admission some of the longest waiting lists in the NHS are for eye care, so why have they not consulted with those most able to advise them on how to deal with this matter, such as the College of Optometrists? Is the Minister aware of the level of expertise and the ready willingness to help in that college? As regards cataract operations, which the Minister has just mentioned, is the sum of £20 million allocated to deal with that problem to be ring-fenced? Concern has been expressed that the money will be allocated to local health authorities, which will spend it as they wish.

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My Lords, that money is to be spent specifically on cataract services, as it should be. I very much agree with the noble Baroness in her comment on the role of optometrists. I have addressed the annual meeting of the College of Optometrists and I pay tribute to their work. I agree that if they can take on more work, we shall be able to speed up the process and reduce the number of contacts that the patient needs to make with the health service. We shall do all we can to persuade the NHS that optometrists should be used more fully and effectively.

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My Lords, many ophthalmologists recognise the benefits of "Action on Cataracts". However, the bulk of the moneys devoted to that programme are capital moneys. Many ophthalmologists also wish to see revenue funding dedicated to ophthalmic surgery. Can the Minister indicate whether such extra revenue funding will be made available?

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My Lords, the money is very much capital based. However, the purpose behind injecting this sum of money into the health service is to provide the right incentives and encouragement for local eye services, which will meet the point made by the noble Lord on the role that optometrists can play in providing a much more effective service. The intention is that the outcome of this work will be that treatment is speeded up, waiting times are reduced and optometrists are utilised to the full. We are encouraging other local services beyond the 60 who will receive funding to look at their provision in the same light.

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My Lords, can the Minister say whether there are any other excellent eye surgery centres equivalent to Moorfields Eye Hospital, which we are so fortunate to have here in London? What is the waiting time at those centres? Are they to receive any special funding? The Minister referred several times to local funding. Is there also to be provision for specialist centres in eye treatment?

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My Lords, as the noble Baroness would expect, there are a number of highly specialist centres throughout the country. In Birmingham we have an extremely good centre that I would commend to the House. Of course, funding for specialised services is dependent on the funding mechanism that we have in place in the health service to ensure that such specialised services do receive the required funding. To that end, we have specialised national and regional commissioning arrangements to enable the appropriate funding to be made. The key issue here relates to local services, because that is where we shall make the best impact in terms of reducing waiting times.

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My Lords, the initiative to which the Minister has referred is most welcome. However, the problem lies not so much in the length of the waiting list after having seen an ophthalmologist as in the waiting time in many centres of excellenceߞnot only Birmingham, London, Oxford and Newcastle and others—for a consultation with the ophthalmologist. What steps are the Government taking to increase the consultant establishment in this specialty?

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My Lords, the advice that I have received in relation to consultant specialty is that at present we have enough consultants to meet the demands being placed on the service but we need a much greater emphasis on improving the way in which the service is organised. Improvements can be made. I have mentioned already the role of optometrists. Other improvements can be made in relation to journeys to reduce the number of times a patient has to be seen by the service. With the injection of this resource and the improved organisation and management of services, we shall be able to achieve the target that we have set.

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My Lords, the Minister referred to a period of six months between referral and surgery in the case of cataract treatment. Does this present a health hazard?

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My Lords, the question of waiting is the biggest challenge that the service faces. That is why we are right to place a great deal of emphasis on reducing waiting times, not only in relation to cataract operations but in relation to all operative procedures. Clearly we wish to get the figures down as much as possible. If we can achieve a maximum of six months by 2003, we will have done very well. We need to ensure that we get the waiting time down by as much as possible. In most cases, the sooner people are seen and treated the better it is in health terms.

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My Lords, £20 million split between 60 centres is one-third of a million pounds each. Can the Minister say how that will be spent? How many operations does he think that will accomplish?

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My Lords, the point about the £20 million is that it provides a real incentive to those 60 local services to improve the management and operation facilities available to provide treatment for patients. If we are as successful as intended, we shall then be able to achieve a through-put of patients to meet the target that we have set of a maximum of six months. The money will be spent on various facilities to enable us to improve the service that we offer. I stress that it is not only a question of money but about how we organise those services. It is about how we involve optometrists much more in the provision of services. If we can pull that off, I have no doubt that we shall achieve the target.

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My Lords, is it the Government's position that the waiting list time is dependent upon the insertion of government money or are there other factors which would entail a certain amount of waiting time, whether or not that money was found? If so, what are the Government doing about it?

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My Lords, the waiting time issue in the health service is a multi-faceted challenge. Of course resource is extremely important. It is also important that we have enough people to provide the service required. Crucially, we need to ensure that the organisation of the NHS is as effective and efficient as possible. The injection of £20 million into the service will enable us to provide additional facilities and it will act as an incentive to change the way we organise those services. I believe that by changing the way we organise those services we can achieve a faster through-put of patients and meet the six months' target.

Peers' Voting Rights

2.46 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of the Human Rights Act 1998, when they will seek to amend the law to allow Members of the House of Lords to vote in parliamentary elections.

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My Lords, we have no plans to do so. Members of your Lordships' House already have an opportunity to have their views expressed in Parliament in our debates. Members also have a very direct say and influence in the legislative process. If Members were also able to be represented in another place they would be uniquely privileged. We do not believe that this is desirable. We are satisfied that this view is in accordance with Article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns the right to free elections.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. While I appreciate his arguments, perhaps I may suggest that those normally deployed against Members of the House of Lords voting in parliamentary elections make far less sense today than they did in the days of hereditary Peers. We are all commoners now in one form or another—we do not constitute a separate class—and therefore deserve a say in how the more powerful other place is composed and constituted. Perhaps I may also suggest that the right to vote in parliamentary elections—

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My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the Government, when considering proposals for reform of your Lordships' House, will take into account not only its composition but the right of its Members to vote in parliamentary elections?

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My Lords, the noble Lord is a distinguished political theoretician. I am very interested in his views. No doubt they are shared elsewhere. This is all part of a longer and wider debate.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a very strange reading of the Human Rights Act or the European Convention on Human Rights if Members of this House, who have voluntarily chosen to be here—unlike, for example, the guests of Her Majesty's Prison Service—were suddenly to get an enforceable right to vote for Members of the other House under the European Convention on Human Rights? Would not that be a very strange reading of the convention?

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My Lords, the long and the short answer is "Yes".

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My Lords, using the arguments deployed by the Minister, why do Members of Parliament have votes?

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My Lords, I think the official response is that they are not Members of Parliament when the election takes place.

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My Lords, will my noble friend consider this proposition: that there should be no taxation without representation? As this House has no control over taxation, should we not be represented in the House that does?

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My Lords, I am happy to give the matter consideration; however, it is probably completely beyond me.

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My Lords, surely the Minister is right. There is no case for our having someone to represent us in Parliament when we have the privilege of being able to represent ourselves. Would there not be strength in the argument advanced by the noble Lord only if we were to lose our right to influence the legislative process? Can we be assured by the Government that there are no plans to alter our existing right to play a part in the legislative process?

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My Lords, I am more than happy to give that assurance. The noble Lord will recall that when certain hereditaries lost their right to be Members of this legislature, they gained the right to vote in a general election.

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My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the issue it not so much influence on the details of the legislative programme as influence on which government is elected? Surely that is a right that we ought to be entitled to exercise.

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My Lords, my noble friend is entitled to his opinions. As I said, this debate goes wider than the Question. Perhaps it will be discussed further in the future.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that to say that a question is part of another, wider debate is the kind of all-purpose answer which does not fit any bill at all. I hope that the Minister—to whom I wish to be nothing but fair—will refrain from following his own lamentable example.

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My Lords, I do believe that the matter is part of a wider debate. I do not accept the noble Lord's interpretation of my responses.

Mr Rafiu Odetayo

2.52 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress there has been with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office inquiry into how Mr Rafiu Odetayo, a black British citizen, spent a month in prison in Germany after British consular officials refused to recognise his citizenship.

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My Lords, we have asked the Germans for a full account of the reasons for Mr Odetayo's detention. We are awaiting a substantive written report from them. We have ascertained that Mr Odetayo's detention from 9th February to early March was because of an alleged physical assault by Mr Odetayo on a German police officer. We have requested authority from the State Attorney's Office for the release of the papers. We hope to have the final report soon.

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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. There are obviously significant questions for the German authorities to answer. They are, after all, like us, signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it is important to know more about the conduct of our own consular officials. Did they visit Mr Odetayo during his weeks in prison? Did they clarify his status with the German police or find out whether the German authorities had charged him?

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My Lords, initially, Mr Odetayo was not visited. He was not offered consular assistance while in detention as consular officials understood him to have been unlawfully in possession of a British passport and not to he a British citizen. When he came to the Consulate General in Frankfurt on 4th March 1999, he was able to satisfy the consular official of his eligibility to hold a British passport and was issued with a new passport without delay.

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My Lords, are consular officials advised that they should consider people to be British citizens if they claim to be so unless there is evidence to the contrary, granted that something like a majority of black British people are now full British citizens?

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My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness in relation to that matter. This may not be the appropriate moment to go through the details, but there were particular difficulties in this case. Mr Odetayo had been issued with two passports: one had been lost and then stolen; the second was valid. It seems that there may have been confusion in relation to which passport was claimed. We are trying as hard as we can to obtain clarification from the German authorities. It may be that the wrong information was given, causing confusion. I can reassure the noble Baroness that everything is done to make sure that all British citizens receive the same quality of consular care.

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My Lords, did the problem arise in any way from a confusion over citizenship law? Will the Minister give an indication as to what training consular officials receive in citizenship law?

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My Lords, nothing appears on the face of the papers I have received to date to indicate that this was the result of confusion in relation to citizenship law. The confusion seems to have related to whether Mr Odetayo held a valid British passport. Training is certainly given to our consular officials in relation to the exercise of their duties. UK-based staff are given specific training in good race relations and in how to deal properly with such matters.

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My Lords, perhaps I may clarify a point. The Minister said that the first passport was lost and stolen. If I understand her correctly, the second was presumably the one that was replaced by the final third version. Was the second passport incorrectly issued? Otherwise, why did it have to be replaced with a third?

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My Lords, the second passport was properly issued. As I have said, we are trying to clarify the facts with the German authorities. It is not clear whether the second passport was lost, stolen or retained. We are trying to make sure that a clear exposition of the facts is obtained. I am not in a position to help the House further at this point. We are obviously concerned that any confusion at all has occurred. We are trying to clarify matters so that it does not happen again and so that the German authorities are clear, as our authorities are, in regard to the proper process to be followed if anything of this sort happens again.

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My Lords, can my noble friend help me a little further? If the second passport was properly issued, why did it take a consular official a month to labour under the misapprehension that the person was not a British citizen? Although there may be no need for training in law, as my noble friend assured the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, has my noble friend identified the other area of training that the consular official in this case might have needed?

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My Lords, I apologise in advance for the fact that this is a somewhat complicated tale. If it will assist the House, I shall explain a little further. Passport number one, if I may so describe it, was submitted to consular officials because it had been damaged. It was subsequently lost and stolen. Passport number two, with a different number, was then issued. It is unclear whether the number on passport number one was the number given when the second inquiry was made. Confusion over the two numbers may have been the problem. We are trying to get to the bottom of the issue. I hope that that is clear.

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My Lords, can the Minister help the House a little further? If a passport is lost or damaged, is it not automatically cancelled?

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My Lords, usually that would happen. Passport number one was put aside to be discarded and was stolen before it was cancelled. I could entertain your Lordships for a great deal longer!

Judges: Safety In Court

2.58 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they propose to do to ensure the safety of HM's circuit and district judges and their deputies in the light of the recent attack on Judge Ann Goddard at the Central Criminal Court.

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My Lords, I spoke to Judge Goddard at her home on the evening of the deplorable attack on her. She is much admired. After only a day off, she was back sitting as a judge.

In all courts the security of the prisoner in the dock is the responsibility of the Prison Service, not the Court Service, for which I am responsible. Although there were three professional security guards in the dock, still the defendant escaped and attacked the judge. It was a court clerk who pulled him away, closely followed by a detective constable in court, both of whose conduct was exemplary. I have commissioned a departmental security inquiry which, among other things, will have to consider why the three security guards did not react effectively to the emergency. The lessons to be learnt from this failure will be explored with the Prison Service.

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My Lords, I have to confess to the House an interest in this Question. I have a daughter who is attractive and clever—qualities that she derives entirely from her mother. That fact was fully recognised by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he recently appointed her as a district judge. My interest is in her safety and the safety of her colleagues. Does the noble and learned Lord accept that district judges, sitting without a clerk or even ushers in small, non-purpose-built rooms to which the public can have direct access and which have only one door for ingress and egress, have absolutely no means of escape if there is an attack and are, therefore, highly vulnerable?

Does the noble and learned Lord also accept that these judges have to hear and decide potentially explosive cases, particularly on the civil side, with the parties nearly always appearing in person, often with little or no respect for authority, and involving such cases as domestic violence, possession actions by housing authorities due to nuisance and annoyance caused by drug abuse, and applications to commit to prison for breaches of court orders? Can the noble and learned Lord tell the House what he has in mind to stop the already serious decline in the back-up services of judges, dictated by the Treasury?

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My Lords, I can confirm that the daughter of the noble and learned Lord was appointed by me to be a district judge on her strong merits and without any regard to her parentage. There are 420 guards in courts across the country: 160 in the Crown Courts, 200 in the combined courts, and 60 in the county courts, including most family hearing centres. Most are provided through contractors. At present, £8 million a year is spent on security contracts. Recently an additional £3 million for three years—that is, £1 million per year—was allocated both to secure better services and to extend guarding facilities in family hearing centres, with the object of putting 176 new guards into these centres over the next three years.

I have observed for myself the difficulties that affect district judges, as described by the noble and learned Lord. I have asked the Court Service to consider the want, as it were, of any line of retreat for a district judge in the district judge's court in the event of an incident.

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My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor consider the installation of alarm bells, or something of that kind, so that a district judge sitting alone in his or her room who is extremely vulnerable could summon help urgently if it is needed?

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My Lords, I believe that that facility is available in some, but not all, cases. I shall certainly consider the possibility and request a report on the matter.

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My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that an expensive glass security screen has recently been installed at Cardiff Crown Court and that, according to a report in The Times this morning, it is not proving entirely satisfactory because, apparently, the defendants can no longer hear a word of the evidence?

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My Lords, there is no satisfying everyone, including defendants. However, a balance must be struck between enclosing all court rooms so that escape from them is impossible and providing an acceptable environment for defendants who have not yet been convicted of crime. Enclosed docks are provided at certain courts where high-risk trials frequently take place. It is obviously essential that the security facility should not prevent defendants hearing the proceedings.

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My Lords, although the safety and protection of judges is clearly of the greatest importance, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor resist any further centralisation of courts, especially criminal courts?

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My Lords, I would not necessarily give an affirmative answer to that question. I believe that most people expect uniform standards of security in our courts.

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My Lords, is not the trouble with alarm bells the fact that that pre-supposes that someone is available to answer them? In the courts served by many district judges, the usher, a lady, is there only on part-time duties. In the afternoon, when things usually get most heated, she is not there.

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My Lords, there are many fundamental proposals available; for example, either the former routine uniformed police presence should be reinstated or a new uniformed service should be established by the Court Service to provide security in courts. I have asked my officials to report to me within three months on the adequacy of existing arrangements, on the options for their improvement, and on the feasibility of more fundamental proposals.

Tax Simplification Bills: Joint Committee

3.7 p.m.

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

Moved, That this House do concur with the Commons in their message of 21st December, that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider tax simplification Bills, and in particular to consider whether each Bill committed to it preserves the effect of the existing law, subject to any minor changes which may be desirable;

That a Select Committee of six Lords be appointed to join with a committee appointed by the Commons as the Joint Committee on Tax Simplification Bills;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be named of the committee:
  • L. Blackwell,
  • L. Brightman,
  • B. Cohen of Pimlico,
  • L. Goodhart,
  • L. Haskel,
  • L. Howe of Aberavon;
That the committee have power to agree with the Commons in the appointment of a chairman;

That the quorum of the committee shall be two;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the minutes of evidence taken before the committee shall, if the committee thinks fit, be printed and delivered out;

That the procedure of the Joint Committee shall follow the procedure of Select Committees of the House of Commons when such procedure differs from that of Select Committees of this House, and shall include the power of the chairman to select amendments;

and that the committee do meet with a committee appointed by the Commons on Thursday 18th January at half-past ten o'clock in Committee Room 3.—( The Chairman of Committees.)

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My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for not raising this matter with him beforehand. It shows a lamentable lack of preparation on my part. Can the noble Lord kindly explain to the House the arrangements for the quorum of this Joint Committee? The Motion states that the quorum shall consist of two. However, two is an extremely small number. Although it may be correct proportionally in accordance with precedent, I wonder whether two is an adequate quorum in this case. In the circumstances, and more importantly, I wonder whether the forum should be two, consisting of one Member from each House?

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My Lords, before the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees replies, perhaps I may make one point. The Motion before us is unusual. I wonder whether the noble Lord can confirm that my recollection of this in the Procedure Committee is correct. Most unusually for a Joint Committee of both Houses, this allows for a majority of Members of another place. The reason behind that was due, first, to the request of Members of the House of Commons that that should be so; and, secondly—perhaps more importantly from our point of view—to the fact that this Joint Committee will deal with tax powers. It should not, therefore, be seen as any precedent for the House of Commons being able to have a majority on joint committees of both Houses on any other matter.

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My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity—the first available to me—to welcome the noble Lord as the new Chairman of Committees. I hope that he will perform a long and distinguished service in that job. Although I agree that Members of your Lordships' House are more than appropriate for looking at tax simplification matters, I am not madly happy about joint committees with the other place because, generally, Members of the other place tend to be less objective than Members of this House.

I should like to take up another point that arises from the Motion moved by the noble Lord. I refer to the line that says that,
"the procedure of the Joint Committee shall follow the procedure of Select Committees of the House of Commons".
I assume that to mean that, for example, unlike in your Lordships' House, the committee will be able to call witnesses who would be obliged to attend, whereas at present witnesses appear only if they volunteer to do so; in other words, they can refuse to come forward.

If the noble Lord has not already done so, will he look into the question of whether your Lordships should have the same powers as apply in another place, so that we can ensure that witnesses are obliged to attend when our Select Committees wish them to do so?

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My Lords, I am happy to respond to the points which have been made. I hope that the debate does not last as long as the equivalent debate in another place on Monday. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that we are discussing a special committee set up to deal with tax simplification. It does not change tax legislation; it is an attempt to make it more easily understood by non-experts. That seems to me to be a sensible arrangement.

As regards witnesses, the committee is to follow the procedure of the House of Commons largely for the same reason that I shall mention with regard to a Commons majority. However, I shall have to consider the noble Lord's suggestion that committees of your Lordships' House should have the same powers as the other place with regard to compelling people's attendance.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that I understand that the quorum of two comprises two Members from each House. However, I freely admit that that is not clear on the face of the Motion. However, I shall check that my understanding is correct. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the committee is considered a rather special one.

I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, with regard to the procedures we are discussing following Commons procedures. As your Lordships know, noble Lords discuss only the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. Finance is very much the province of the other place. The usual channels and everyone else agreed that in this case the Commons should have one more member on the committee and that its procedure should follow that of a Commons committee. That is in no way a precedent for any other Joint Committee.

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My Lords, before the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees sits down, has he observed that paragraph 9.41 of the Companion to the Standing Orders states:

"The procedure in a joint committee is that of select committees of the House of Lords"?
I understand that that will not be the case as regards the committee we are discussing, but does that mean that the Standing Orders will have to be changed as a result?

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My Lords, I cannot instantly recall the line that the noble Lord mentioned. However, it is not my understanding that the Standing Orders will have to be changed. The Motion will allow for the change to be made as regards the joint committee we are discussing.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and a message was sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

Marriage And Family Values

3.13 p.m.

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rose to call attention to marriage and traditional family values; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it is my hope that today's debate will make a positive contribution to the national debate on marriage which is now taking place. I start by saying how pleased I am that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is to reply to the debate. I thank him for his letter giving me notice of his two important statements yesterday.

Today, we have on the one hand of this national debate the powerful voice of Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in support of marriage and the traditional family and, on the other, the right honourable Member in another place, Tessa Jowell, the Minister for women, who has said that marriage should not be regarded as the best way to live and bring up children, but simply as one of a series of equally valid alternative lifestyles—a view I understand, if the press is correct, that is shared by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the honourable Member Margaret Hodge, though not by some other members of the Government.

I believe that this view is shared also by the Liberal Democrats, judging by their contribution to the debates during the Learning and Skills Bill earlier last summer on what should be included in the guidelines on sex education in schools. The House voted in favour of accepting the importance of marriage as a major building block of society but considered other lifestyles equally valid. I am glad that my right honourable friend William Hague has pledged his support for marriage and the traditional family. I shall say more on that later.

If the anxious parent looks to the law to help and support marriage, there is little comfort. Each piece of legislation narrows the distinction between marriage and co-habiting in all its forms. Brenda Hoggett QC, (now Mrs. Justice Hale), when a member of the Faculty of Law of Manchester University, wrote:
"Family law no longer makes any attempt to buttress the stability of marriage or any other union. It has adopted principles for the protection of children and dependent spouses which could be made equally applicable to the unmarried. In such circumstances the piecemeal erosion of the distinctions between marriage and non-marital co-habitation may be expected to continue. Logically we have already reached a point at which rather than discussing which remedies should be extended to the unmarried, we should be considering whether the legal institution of marriage continues to serve any useful purpose".
Can the anxious parent get more help from the Church? I am, of course, very pleased that two right reverend Prelates are to take part in the debate today. As a member of the Church of England, I am, however, disappointed to find divisions in the Church, perhaps best summed up by the vote on Section 28 when four bishops voted for repeal and four voted against. The trumpet has certainly sounded an uncertain tune.

So the issue today is whether marriage, which I define as a ceremony taking place between a man and a woman making a public commitment to live together for life, is the best way for society as a whole. Or do we continue on the path of marginalising marriage by making it just one of many ways to live? As a general election draws nearer, we shall hear more of this question. Does it matter? And, if so, why does it matter? I should like to try to answer those questions.

Let me base my answers on facts. The number of marriages each year is declining. In 1980 there were approximately 370,000 marriages, of which 241,000 were for the first time. By 1999 this number had fallen to 263,500 marriages, of which 155,000 were for the first time. In 20 years the number of marriages has declined between 25 and 30 per cent.

There are some who think that by 2020 the number of married people in the country will be in the minority for the first time in some 3,000 years and that we shall be one of the first countries in history not to have marriage as a basis of its society. The fall in the number of marriages has been accompanied by a fall in birth rates. There were 16 live births for each thousand of the population in 1979 and by 1999 this had fallen to 11 per thousand—something of which we are just becoming aware as the population ages and there are not enough young people to fill important vacancies. This will have serious consequences for the future. We already know that the skills shortage in some areas has resulted in the need to increase the number of immigrants. So although most people marry and 60 per cent of marriages last a lifetime, 40 per cent end in divorce and the UK has the highest divorce rate in the European Union.

While there has been a decline in marriage there has been an increase in couples living together. The latest evidence from the report Seven Years in the Lives of British Families, produced by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, found that 70 per cent of young people interviewed in the 1990s opted to cohabit. But the facts show that only a third of cohabiting relationships last. So cohabiting couples are even more likely to break up.

Cohabiting cannot therefore be considered as "marriage without the vows", as some would say. The same point is made by Patricia Morgan, in her book, Marriage Lite. This profound social change means that some 39 per cent of all children in England and Wales are born outside marriage into unstable relationships, and as the report to which I referred goes on to say,
"more British children will spend significant parts of their childhood in families with only one parent".
That parent is almost always the mother. So one major and important change in society today is the absence of fathers in the home. The effects of this have been grossly under-estimated. Children need two parents, prepared to give a lifelong commitment to support their children. It is tragic when you hear some women say, as I have done, that men today are almost irrelevant.

One curious effect of cohabitation is that couples who cohabit before marriage are 50 per cent more likely to divorce than those who do not. Both the fall in the number of marriages each year and the increase in cohabitation are accompanied by a high divorce rate. In 1961, there were 32,000 divorces. In 1971, the first year of operation of the 1969 Divorce Reform Act, the number had risen to 110,000. Between 1988 and 1998 the average annual divorce rate was 179,000. The numbers have fallen recently, but that is only because there are fewer marriages. The effect of all this is felt most heavily by the children. One in four children will see their parents divorce before the child is 16. Many adults have in fact offloaded their unhappiness on to their children and, although much is done to try to keep and support children, it is the children who suffer. This is a hard and uncomfortable fact that society often refuses to acknowledge.

Does all this matter? In 1994 it was estimated that family breakdown was costing £5 billion in benefits and other expenditure. A recent report has put the cost at £16 billion, and it is not difficult to see how that figure was arrived at. It compares with the £4 million annual support to marriage and relationships promised by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor yesterday.

Then we have the breakdown of discipline in schools. Most teachers will tell you that discipline is more difficult today. It is not unusual to hear of four and five year-olds arriving at school "completely out of control". One reason for that is the absence of supportive parents. Here one can see the effect of the absence of fathers.

In their Green Paper, Supporting Families, the Government acknowledged that,
"rising crime and drug abuse are indirect symptoms of problems in the family".
And in their publication, published last week, Fighting Violent Crime Together; An Action Plan, the Government again point to a strong link between crime and broken marriages, stating,
"Numerous studies have shown parental separation to be a good predictor of both juvenile and adult offending".
Lest all these views are thought to come simply from Conservatives, let me quote from A. H. Halsey, Professor of Social Policy at Nuffield College, Oxford, and co-author of English Ethical Socialism, who has written:
"Children of parents who do not follow on the traditional norm (i.e., taking on personal, active and long term responsibility for the social upbringing of the children they generate) are thereby disadvantaged in many major aspects of their chances of leading a successful life. On the evidence available, such children tend to die earlier, to have more illness, to do less well at school, to exist at a lower level of nutrition, comfort and conviviality, to suffer more unemployment, to be more prone to deviance and crime and, finally, to repeat the cycle of unstable parenting from which they themselves have suffered".
The same message comes from a report produced in 1998 and reviewed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Add to this the very worrying situation of the increase in teenage pregnancies—there are 90,000 teenage conceptions a year, around 8,000 to girls under 16; and that figure has been steady for the past 10 years—and we begin to see the effect of the breakdown of marriage and the traditional family. Almost the saddest fact is that now 20 per cent of the population are single people. If we add those who are divorced or separated, the figure rises to 36 per cent. As they grow older, they will become an increased charge on the NHS and social services because, unlike married couples, they will have no one immediately at hand to look after them, and no one with whom to share the costs.

So the answer to my first question is quite clearly that the breakdown of traditional marriage and the traditional family does matter to society and its effects are felt today in every aspect of policy. The question now is what to do. One thing is quite clear. We cannot change all this quickly, even if there were a will to do so. Just as it has taken us 35 years to get where we are, it will in my view take at least as long to put right some of the problems I have enumerated. But there are things that we could do immediately.

I am very glad that my right honourable friend William Hague has pledged to re-introduce the tax allowances for married couples. This is especially important for married couples with children. It sends an immediate signal that a future government believe in supporting marriage by giving back to married couples the money they have earned at a time of greatly increased expense, particularly after the birth of a baby. I hope that a future Conservative government would look through the whole benefits system to see that marriage is supported. There is a real difference between supporting marriage and keeping couples together, and supporting children and single parents which seems to be the present policy.

A second step could be to overhaul the sex education policy currently being conducted in our schools. It has clearly failed in its objective of preventing teenage pregnancies. The more sex education there has been the more teenage pregnancies there have been. The new policy of allowing chemists to supply the morning-after pill—which we shall debate shortly—is, I believe, unlikely to bring down the rate of teenage pregnancy, if that is its purpose, and will have undesirable side-effects. We should, instead, be supporting parents. We should not encourage school nurses, or doctors, to give advice to girls and boys under the age of 16 without the knowledge of their parents. That seems to me to undermine family life in an important way. We could take a good look at what is happening in the United States. A number of states have introduced an abstinence policy of simply teaching in school the benefits of saying "no" and that sex is for marriage, which, where it has been applied, has in fact had the effect of bringing down the number of teenage pregnancies. This policy has the support of Senator Hillary Clinton, who wrote in her book, It takes a village:
"After many years of working with and listening to American adolescents, I don't believe they are ready for sex or its potential consequences—parenthood, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases—and I think we need to do everything in our power to discourage sexual activity and encourage abstinence".
Thirdly, the law should acknowledge the importance of the married state; and each piece of legislation should be considered in this light.

To conclude, I believe that the facts in support of marriage speak for themselves. However, I recognise that I am talking about an ideal. It may well be that in the course of today's debate—I am pleased to see so many speakers—some will refer to the back to basics campaign of my right honourable friend John Major. That policy was right in my view: it failed because it did not make clear that what was proposed was an ideal. I accept that marriage is difficult. Most relationships are. And not all will succeed. But, to use an analogy, Beethoven remains a great composer, even when some play his music badly.

Marriage has stood the test of time. It stands as a bulwark against the power of the state. For all the reasons I have given it helps to sustain education, a society with less crime, and stability. And whatever may be argued, 82 per cent of young people aged between 16 and 17, when asked, have said that they plan to marry. It seems to me right to put the ideal in front of the young and not to argue, as the Minister, Tessa Jowell, has, that it would be "unkind" or "exclusive" to speak the truth on these matters. My own view is that it is unhelpful, not to say irresponsible, not to speak the truth to young people and to society on issues which are of such great importance to them and their future.

Of course there are exceptions. There are single women who bring up their children successfully and I congratulate them. However, the overwhelming facts are as I have set out.

I started by referring to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. In the press statement he sent to me, he, too, referred to marriage and relationships funding. Perhaps he will say what he means by "relationships" in that context. He also sent me a statement setting out the Government's intention to repeal Part II of the Family Law Act 1996. When that measure was before the House, I argued against it from Second Reading through to Third Reading. If I may say so, I think that I have been shown to be right. I hope that the Government will heed what I have said today. I believe that it is a message for the whole country. I beg to move for Papers.

3.31 p.m.

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My Lords, I very much welcome this debate. I have a great deal of respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Young, as she knows, although I have inevitably disagreed with her stance in recent debates.

This debate gives us the opportunity to air our views on the condition of human relations in our society at the beginning of the 21st century. We all want strong, enduring families and, in most cases, despite the rise in divorce, that is what we have.

Some useful facts may help us, because the tenor of the debate so far might allow us to think that marriage is finished and families are fragmented in the United Kingdom today. The reality is different. More than 80 per cent of children in the United Kingdom grow up with two adults who are their parents—so no great revolution there. More people live in so-called "traditional" family households than in any other type of family, according to the Office for National Statistics. Fathers spend more quality time with their children today than was the case in the 1950s. I in no way decry the magnificent contribution that lone parents make to our society, but the fact is that lone-parent households account for only 7 per cent of all UK households. That is nearly the figure for the support enjoyed by the Conservative Party according to some opinion polls.

If the bald facts do not convince noble Lords, perhaps I may rehearse some recent history. In 1999, my noble friend the Leader of the House and the Minister for Women, Lady Jay, conducted a unique consultation exercise with the women of this country. The consultation asked three questions: What do you think is the single most important issue facing this country today? What do you think is the single most important issue facing women today? What in your view should the Government do to help women? The response rate was staggering for a government questionnaire, with 28,000 completed responses. What issues were women in our country today most exercised about? They were exercised about balancing paid work and family life, getting women's voices heard better, combating violence against women. the gap between men's and women's pay, women's health issues and the teenage years for girls. C'oncerns about the condition of marriage and traditional family values were not at the forefront of that huge postbag of responses. Those 28,000 British women had other priorities and issues that they wanted the Government to deal with to improve their lives. I am sure that they were all doing their best to hold relationships together, to look after their children and to get on with their lives.

From the comments so far, noble Lords might be forgiven for thinking that the Government had no interest in supporting strong families in this country. I offer a few examples to refute that impression: the Supporting Families initiative, which is the first of its kind; the marriage packs, which are also the first of their kind and give advice for those setting out on marriage; the first-ever National Childcare Strategy; and, of course, the enormous resources, running to hundreds of millions of pounds across departments of government, that are assisting families every day.

I believe that strong societies make strong families—a proposition that might be tricky for anyone who was once a member of a government who denied that society existed. Nothing corrupts family life as much as poverty. I therefore conclude by saying what I believe makes good families: the New Deal; the minimum wage; falling unemployment; rising incomes; support for young professionals to find homes; better managed estates; a commitment to skills and carers; schools that parents support; an active respect for the voices of women; and streamlined access to adoption. All those policies make good families and they are all being delivered by the Government in a massive investment in the health of family life in this country.

3.36 p.m.

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My Lords, like many, I hesitated many times before putting my name down to speak in this debate. When, at the 11th hour, I did so, I promised that I would make my general position plain before raising the few points that there is time for.

My first point is that, although I have been married gratefully and happily for 33 years, there has been a great deal of luck, and on my part failing, integral to that. Secondly, I view permanent parenting relationships as the bedrock of a good society and undoubtedly best for children. I observe that that occurs increasingly outside marriage. The idealism, hard work, forgiveness and celebration that are integral to a good marriage often are—and certainly should be—no less so for good partnership.

Having made that clear, perhaps I could distort one of Thomas Jefferson's most famous sayings: if I lived in a world where the choice was between good family life and good government, I would choose the former. Ultimately, government exists within a context of free behaviour. If the fabric of society collapses, it will collapse government, too.

Having said that, my considered view is that marriage has two clear advantages over partnership. The first is that by making a private, lifelong commitment in public, usually in the company of one's nearest and dearest friends and relations, one enlists their lifelong support. If one has any belief in the mystical as well as practical power of human sympathy, as I certainly do, that will significantly help the relationship through the inevitable trials and tribulations that will beset the best of marriages.

Secondly, exchanging purely private protestations of mutual love and living together, even over a long period, is not the same as making a solemn and binding public promise, with the premeditation and ceremony that sharpen and deepen the awareness and commitment of those making it. In saying that, I mean no disparagement to those in partnership. Like many here, I have children in that position. One does not have to look far to find women, in particular, who, even after long partnership, are not entirely sure as to what their partner feels and intends in the long term.

The role of the state in all this is limited. Good families and right values are the organic creation of the individuals, families and communities that make up society and the way in which they live and exist. However, the state gets dragged willy-nilly into all that, as it has to pay for the breakdown of relationships, within or without marriage, when there are children.

It is surely counter-productive for marriage to be penalised, if that is the word, in the sense that only when there is marriage is there a forcible, fair split of income and capital assets between the parties when the relationship breaks down. Any man today who walks away from a long-term partnership where there has been no marriage is not obliged to pay a penny piece to the woman concerned, however rich he is and however poor she is. That seems to me to be an extraordinary inversion, given what I suspect is the more general view that marriage is the better option.

With those words, and with time being as it is, I shall sit down.

3.40 p.m.

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My Lords, when I have got over the shock of being placed in a maiden speaker's position, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Young on initiating this important debate at this time of year. Christmas is probably the most suitable time in the world to think about families. It is the season of the holy family, when all the world is silent, concentrating on that great event in a far-off stable. It is the time when the light comes into the world or, indeed, for pagans, the mid-winter solstice, when the days which had been growing ever shorter suddenly became longer. The darkness was decreasing. There would be spring again: the sun and the light would come back.

Of course, for all of us it is a lovely time—a time when we gather together and when families come home. And every family naturally has its own tiny moments of tension: "You know you put your spectacles in your bag. And if you've turned the whole bag upside down then it must have been someone else's bag". "Why did you give them a set of drums, a tin whistle, a wodge of potty putty—yes, that's what you've just been sitting on in your new dress". "It was your dog that was sick, not mine; and it was certainly your dog that ate the chocolate in the bottom of my stocking". "Whose turn is it to unload the dishwasher?" "Well, of course I threw it out; it was past its sell-by. How was I to know that it was tomorrow's lunch?" Those are all remarks that most of us have heard at one time or another in our families. They are just human remarks, and they have nothing to do with the power, the strength and the involvement that we all gain from our families.

This year, with four of our six children married, we were lucky enough to have a full muster, not all at once but at intervals, from the two just-walking babies to my noble kinsman and clan chief at 94, whose own marriage lasted for over 60 years while ours is still in its infancy at 48. We made our own magic with a children's party for 50 children, candles and a gingerbread castle, which took my daughter from Washington four days to make (from a special recipe culled from the President-Elect's mother) with some help from all of us. It took the children just four minutes flat to demolish it. A puppet lady showed the children how to make a magic rainbow, and Father Christmas himself was piped down the stairs through garlands of cypress and ivy and twinkling gold bells. The children parted like the Red Sea as he made his way to the Christmas tree and unloaded his sack with presents for all, which we were all wrapping up and sorting out until one in the morning the night before. A tree, green and glowing, was loaded with decorations gleaned through the years from the first green and red glass balls from Queen Victoria's reign over 100 years ago to some silver paste and glitter angels and stars made by my grandchildren this year. And, finally, Father Christmas was piped back up to his turret chimney through a floating cloud of coloured balloons.

I hope that your Lordships will not think me selfish in sharing those family reminiscences. It is because I should love to have had your Lordships with me, too, shouting for Father Christmas and dancing in the new century.

We went to a lot of nativity plays. One of our granddaughters was a mouse who travelled to Bethlehem to see what had happened. But the sheep told her that she could not go in because she had no present; so did the hens, waving rather tired and obviously empty cardboard egg containers; so did the shepherds. each bearing a woolly toy lamb; and so did the tiny kings. However, the mouse discovered a small hole high in the wall. When she peered down at the Baby Jesus, both Mary and Joseph thanked her for keeping the cold night draughts from his face. Retailing her story to her friend the owl, who was in fact her brother, he asked her, "What did you give the Baby Jesus?" "I gave myself', she said, "for as long as I was needed".

That, I believe, is what we do in families: we give ourselves for as long as we are needed. And, like dogs, it is not only for Christmas, but for life. A family is like the grain of mustard seed in the Bible: it is a small warm area of love which in its essence reaches out and infects everyone.

3.45 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her courage and determination in introducing this debate. However, very gently and with due courtesy but robust admiration, I dispute the metaphor in her opening speech about trumpet blasts and the Church of England, believing that single-instrument orchestras are not always the most pleasing nor the most truly harmonious. Be that as it may, it is said with the most enormous respect and affection.

Last July I had the huge privilege of conducting the funeral of the late Robert Runcie in St Albans Abbey. The abbey was packed to overflowing and crowds gathered outside. Towards the end of the service I led the family mourners to the graveside and said the prayers. For me and for everyone there, it was intensely moving.

However, I had a problem that day—a family problem. Our son and daughter-in-law were clue to be married by me in St Albans Abbey only 15 minutes after the funeral ended. Noble Lords may picture the scene. Hundreds and hundreds of mourners who had come to pay their respects to a deeply loved man were pouring out of the west doors of the abbey. As they came out of the doors, so towards them across the abbey orchard walked a stunningly beautiful bride on the arm of her father. As they saw her approach, the crowds of mourners spontaneously burst into applause. For me, it was absolute magic.

I tell the story in order to make a simple point. The funeral of Lord Runcie was not value-free; the wedding of our son and daughter-in-law was not value-free either. Those kinds of service are not mistakes and are not aberrations; at the extremes of human life they are symbolic of what makes life worth while. They are examples of situations where private and public parts of our lives meet. Both the funeral and the wedding overflowed with values about mercy, hope, love, thanksgiving and new beginnings—values which ultimately are rooted in God.

Therefore, it seems to me literally non-sense to suggest that any of us lives in a value-free society; and if some values are more important than others—for example, giving thanks for a great life or sharing in a new marriage—then do we not as a nation have a moral duty to support those institutions which are of profound significance and which give eternal values human shape and human meaning? But how can we do so?

In preparing for this debate, one set of statistics leapt out at me. Just over 50 per cent of all divorcing couples have children under the age of 16. Of course, it is impossible to quantify confusion and sorrow. However, if it were possible, I believe that the confusion and sorrow endured by many of those children would be staggeringly large. As a society, we cannot be value-free about those children.

Of course, I recognise that not all marriages are good and I recognise that relationships break down. But surely we have a moral duty to ensure that marriages survive. Exhortation is not enough. We need to engineer our society legally, educationally, and financially so that fewer of our children are caught up in the anguish of family breakdown.

I offer a suggestion which is probably naïve, but I shall try. Should we not try to ensure that either parent, be they man or woman, with a child under the age of five receives a living wage to enable him or her to bring up that child without being forced back to work? It is patently wrong to interfere with private choice. However, I believe that a living wage for a parent for a limited period of time and for a limited number of children would do much to prevent the financial, time-management and emotional stresses and strains which can tear at the heart of young families.

I realise that I am almost out of time, but, briefly, I want to make two more points. First, the Churches, in common with other faith communities, already provide huge support in preparing couples for marriage and in the counsel and care of those whose marriages come to grief. Please may we be assured by the Minister that religious communities will not be discriminated against if governmental money is made available for grants and offers of support?

As an earnest of our concern, I am also able to say, on behalf of those Bishops who are unable to be present because they are currently at a three-line-whip meeting in York, that we should very much welcome the opportunity to meet the Lord Chancellor and his officials in the hope that we can make a proper contribution towards taking forward this important debate, which involves issues surrounding marriage preparation and reconciliation, and the whole area of family law.

3.51 p.m.

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My Lords, first, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for his moving speech. I want to move on from what he said about children. I agree with his premise and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for whom I have both respect and affection.

We must be careful in promoting our own beliefs and backgrounds neither to stigmatise nor to penalise others who decide to take other paths, or, especially, their children. When 40 per cent of all marriages fail, and many failed marriages are, as the noble Baroness pointed out. between parents who have children under the age of 16, it would be totally wrong not to do all we can to give those children the same opportunities as others. Equally, if the parents of children decide, for whatever reason, not to marry, or if they are single parents, it would be wrong not to give them the same financial benefits as married couples, because the people who would suffer would be their children, who are in no way at fault.

I arrived at those views from a slightly different route from that of the right reverend Prelate because I come from a traditional Jewish family. My father, Barnett—Lord Janner—whom many of your Lordships knew, and my mother and my sister, Lady Morris of Kenwood, and I lived as a nuclear Jewish family. That gave us children a wonderful chance. My late wife, Myra, and I tried to offer the same to our three children, and I now hugely enjoy our six grandchildren. But the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has already pointed out that we cannot impose on our children whatever way of life we may choose for them. We bring them up as best we can, just as our parents did their best for us. Some of our parents succeeded and some failed. We must do what we can. That is great if it works; but, if it does not, we must help our children who choose other routes in this decent, diverse society. We must certainly do so if they are leading happy, constructive and helpful lives and look after other people.

The right reverend Prelate reminded me of another member of my family, my wife's uncle, Sir Israel Brodie, with whom I spent a lot of time when he was terminally ill in St Thomas's Hospital. I remember one day sitting with him when he said to me, "Greville, remember that none of us is here for very long. We must live our lives as fulfilled as we can and help others to do the same". That is my approach.

Most noble Lords come from traditional families—certainly I do. We believe in marriage and, yes, we believe in virtue—I recall the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Young—and in all that is best in the world. But we must recognise reality, and reality is changing. The reality is diversity and the fact that some of our children live in ways that are different from the way in which we have decided to live our lives. The reality is that we must help them and, above all, their children. For that reason, I wholeheartedly support the key paragraph in the Government's consultation document, Supporting Families. It states:
"This Government believes that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships. This does not mean trying to make people marry or criticising or penalising people who choose not to. We do not believe the Government should interfere in people's lives that way".
I pause to say that even if we believe that, there is no way that we could successfully do so.
"We do share the belief of the majority of people that marriage provides the most reliable framework for raising children".
Yes, let us bolster that framework, but not at the expense of others who live differently and, above all, not at the expense of their children.

3.55 p.m.

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My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Young for having introduced this debate. If I may say so, her speech was full of facts and statistics that were of enormous interest. If I may also say so, I admired the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. It said much more than the words he used. It was a remarkable speech.

Most nations, cultures and societies throughout the world, wherever they may be and however advanced or primitive they may be, acknowledge that their own society depends for its continuation, self-conduct and happiness on marriage in some form or shape. That is not necessarily a Christian view or a religious view, although it may be both, but it is a recognition of the fact that if good order is to be maintained, marriage is the bedrock upon which all else is built and from which all else flows. It is, of course, from parents that children learn to carry on whatever it is that their parents pass on to them. That may be in the form of manners, behaviours or attitudes.

There is a feeling in our society today, especially over the past 10 years or so, that the matter should be "loosened up". Some argue that the fact that so many marriages, regrettably, end in divorce, and the fact that parties get remarried and frequently provide a happy home, suggest that marriage should cease to be put on a pinnacle because so many people seem to fail to attain it or hang on to it. And, goes the argument, if we do create the idea that marriage is the desirable way in which to live and bring up families—I think that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, was saying—we are somehow condemning those who have not attained this ideal as failures or as being irresponsible. Most of us—in fact, all of us—have to bear responsibility for what we do in our lives and for the results of what we do. That is not to say that one does not have to give equal help to children who come from marriages that have not succeeded.

The speech made by the Minister of State in the Department for Education and Employment to which my noble friend referred was pretty amazing. Ms Jowell said:
"The Government should not promote marriage as the ideal context for bringing up children … We would never want to advocate a family policy that made some children feel that they were first class children and others feel that they were second class … Children thrive in a stable environment, being brought up by parents who love them. I think in the 21st century families come in all shapes and sizes".
The latter point may be a fact, but I am horrified that a Minister should say that marriage is not on a pinnacle.

The fact is that life is a pretty hairy race and the best laid plans and intentions go astray. That is surely no reason not to aim for the best. Whatever we do, whether in our social, domestic or business life. we must strive for the best. If we strive for the best, we frequently only get second best, but if we are content to strive for second best, we will, of course, get only third best. Gradually, one corkscrews downwards.

Children want and ought to be brought up in a happy home with their parents. That must be the ideal. The fact that two people can live together in harmony and happiness, and can bring up children, even though they may not be married, is creditable. However, I find it hard to say to youth, and I find it fearful that the Government should say to youth, that because that has happened in some circumstances, living in a stable relationship without marriage should therefore be put on a par, and in equity, with those who live in a stable relationship in marriage. What do children gather from that? They gather that anything goes. We all, in what we do, whether socially, domestically, politically or in our business life, affect others. I hope that what we do encourages others. That also applies to the media, who are responsible for publishing a lot of things which people absorb and believe to be the norm.

4 p.m.

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My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate, and do so having worked with the Ministerial Group on the Family since 1997 and having contributed to the preparation of the 1998 consultation paper, Supporting Families.

I have to say in passing that I do not recognise some of the fantasy stories in the media about warring Ministers. Supporting Families was a good example of Ministers working co-operatively across departmental boundaries to produce a coherent set of ideas on family policy that recognise the reality of today's world.

Today's reality is that the number of first marriages in England and Wales has halved since the peak of 1970. In 1998 there were 267,000 or so marriages, putting those among the lowest recorded figures for the 20th century. More couples are choosing to live together without marrying at all. In 1979—a significant date for many in this House—11 per cent of all unmarried women aged 18 to 49 were cohabiting. By 1998 that had increased to 29 per cent. That happened during a period when there was still a married couple's tax allowance, on which the noble Baroness and her party leader seem now to he placing great reliance.

If one wanted to make a narrow political point—I do not—one could say that successive Conservative governments presided over that terrible moral decline. But I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Mr Major could do little about it. Those statistics are the results of millions of individual decisions by people who live in this country. I just wish that many current-day supporters in the media and elsewhere would accept that the present Government are in exactly the same position.

We live in a world in which more first marriages are preceded by cohabitation than not compared with 2 per cent in the late 1960s. The Government Actuary's projections suggest that the number of cohabiting couples could double over the next two decades. Even where more people marry, four out of 10 marriages are likely to end in divorce. Four out of 10 births now occur outside marriage, although the majority take place with the parents living at the same address.

The reality is that our fellow citizens are choosing in their millions to ignore the advice of family traditionalists in the decisions they make about the way they want to live their lives. I have always thought that a prime duty of government is to analyse the evidence in formulating policy. The Government—any government—simply cannot ignore those facts in producing a family policy. However, the Government do not seem to have been operating in a value-free way. They made clear that in framing family policy they attach great importance to stable relationships; they believe people have the right to live without fear of violence and that the needs of children are paramount.

My noble friend Lord Janner made exactly those points in his quotations. Every discussion in which I have participated with Ministers since 1998 suggests that the Government have kept very much to the position of supporting families. There is no doubt that divorce and separation impact adversely on children, but so do other factors. Most children, in practice, survive the divorce or separation of their parents and adapt successfully to change in their lives. That is because other influences, such as poverty, education, parenting skills and exposure to domestic violence also impact on their lives.

Child poverty is a good example of something that has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Over that period one in three British children lived in households with incomes below 60 per cent of the median. The best route out of poverty for many of those children is for their parents to be employed. Sound economic policy, low unemployment, reforming the tax and benefit systems to reward working families and a national minimum wage are key elements to a successful family policy. I believe that those are the policies the Government have been successfully pursuing and will have more impact on successful family policy than a lot of empty rhetoric about marriage and about trying to go back to the future.

4.5 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for giving the House the opportunity to air its views about marriage and the family at the start of our new year.

It seems to me that the key question here is: are we going to move forward or is this about moving backwards? So my starting point is to ask what we mean by "traditional family values". Are they the traditional family values of the 19th century and before, when a woman and her children effectively belonged to the husband? Are they the traditional family values which include arranged marriages? Are they the tradition of women being expected to give up their job when they marry to enable them to care for their husband? Or are they the traditions of the Church of England which, by and large, does not allow divorced people to remarry under its roof? Or perhaps they are the tradition of multiple pregnancies and back-street abortions from a time when women had no control over their fertility. Or are they the traditions of the Thatcher years and the Conservative government who decided that there was no such thing as "society"?

To take one example of the previous government's record on the family, they removed income support for unemployed 16 year-olds, which placed many poor families under terrible strain, was responsible in some cases for creating family breakdowns and, indeed, put some youngsters on to the streets without home or money.

This debate should be about looking forwards instead of looking backwards to traditional values which I fail to find, except perhaps in the nostalgia of which we are all guilty from time to time, and a state of mind in which the party opposite exists a lot of the time.

Should we not recognise that, at the beginning of the 21st century, marriage and the family are complex and diverse? Complicated relationships and sometimes not always successful marriages exist in the highest families in our land, and for all of us—including noble Lords opposite and my family also. This Government recognise those complexities in their programme. They recognise the importance and value of supporting families and the children in them.

Substantial thought and resources are going into supporting British families. The Government's starting point is that the vast majority of parents, and indeed step-parents, are loving, devoted and ambitious for their children, and that they need support to do their job.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, needs to inject several things into her laudable aim of supporting the family. She needs to inject a bit of reality about the world as it is. The party opposite needs to inject more honesty about people's relationships into its policies, and a great deal more compassion. Reality, honesty and compassion—all the things which make for a good marriage if we think about it.

4.8 p.m.

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My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Young for instigating this debate and I take this opportunity to thank her for her dedicated support for the preservation of the traditional family.

Such a debate is not only timely but also, with an election approaching, it is one of the most important issues facing the electorate. I say that because I believe that society is judged on how it addresses family matters and the way that that impacts on much wider issues such as the economy, crime, education and health, to mention but a few.

In my view, the people of this country have lost something very precious; that is, leadership on what is a responsible attitude to raising a family. For many years the major political parties supported marriage as the essential building block of a stable society. Today, that alliance appears to have broken down and this Government have drifted away from endorsing that message. It is only the Conservative Party that is wholeheartedly committed to the traditional family and has policies to support it.

The Government, quite rightly, state that families exist in many differing forms, and of course they do. For me, the first and the best is where a man and a woman marry and set up a home together. For those who are lucky enough to have children, I believe that it is even more important for those children to have the chance to grow and develop mentally and physically in as loving and caring an atmosphere as possible, with both parents on hand, but I recognise that that is not always easy.

I grew up in a lone-parent family. My father died and my mother was left to cope. I loved my father dearly and enjoyed that special bond that exists between father and daughter, so I know what I missed when he died. My mother was brilliant. In spite of all the difficulties she faced in war-torn Britain, she made a wonderful home for my brother and me. I owe much to her and the single-minded way she set about being the breadwinner and home-maker. I am glad that she had the pleasure of seeing my brother become a High Court judge and my entry into your Lordships' House. She made us a real family in which we supported each other. I consider that I was lucky to have my parents' example. I am sure that I have not done as well as they did, but I have tried.

I find it disturbing that marriage is declining, divorces are increasing, and more and more people are cohabiting. Most depressing of all, 22 per cent of children were born outside marriage in 1997 compared with only 2 per cent 20 years earlier. As a consequence of those and other factors, the number of lone-parent families has almost quadrupled.

I was deeply concerned when the Government withdrew the married couples' allowance except for pensioners. I am delighted that my party has pledged to restore it. The attitude of the Government over Section 28 continues to worry me as, once again, it undermines marriage. Perhaps I may add that as a past branch chairman of the NSPCC, I was horrified by the attitude of the society over Section 28. I hope that it will not continue to spend 46 per cent of its income on campaigning and only 37 per cent on the wonderful front-line work it does for abused children.

We eagerly await the White Paper on the family. Recent press speculation suggests that the Prime Minister has been lobbied by colleagues not to follow their former assertions that,
"marriage is still the surest foundation for rearing children".
It is suggested that that is because many of his colleagues fear press intrusion into their private lives. If that is so, I am deeply saddened. As my noble friend Lord Ferrers said, surely it is right to strive for the best, whatever the press may say. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to assure us that the Government do believe that marriage, and only marriage, is best.

4.14 p.m.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for this opportunity to discuss the well-being of our families. I am convinced that marriage is a very important means for improving the welfare of children. The process of marriage aids couples to be clear in their intentions to one another and to consider the full implications of starting a family and the responsibilities entailed, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, so clearly communicated.

For that reason, I applaud the practical measures to strengthen families put forward in the Government's paper Supporting Families. I recognise that marriage is not a part of the experience of many families. It is unacceptable to stigmatise those families and their children—a point the Government have often made. In such a situation I am not clear what more can be done to promote marriage. I note, however, the power of a good example. Could governments not set the right example of long-term commitment; that commitment which marriage encourages and which I believe we would all want to be the goal of those who want to be parents, married or otherwise?

Your Lordships may be aware of the fate of Anna Climbie, a young girl who died of hypothermia following prolonged neglect and malnutrition last year. One of her abusers said,
"You could beat her and she would not cry at all. She could take the beatings and pain like anything".
The social worker and woman police constable in the case were described as blindingly incompetent. Several opportunities to remove Anna from torture were missed. However, I should like to draw attention to an article in The Times on Saturday, January 13th this year which noted that Haringey Social Services had suffered a 24 per cent budget cut and was run by inexperienced staff. Indeed, the social workers unit was at half strength, with 33 per cent of its management posts vacant. The article goes on to state that the WPC worked for another struggling unit, Haringey Child Protection, which covered one of London's most deprived boroughs yet lacked key staff. The woman police constable had not had full training and had no CID experience.

Is it not right to deduce that one of the important factors in Anna's death was the under-investment in police and social services? I think that my noble friend Lord Northbourne will probably confirm that social workers are often frustrated in their work by impossible caseloads. Chronic under-investment has resulted in staff shortages.

There are now 6,900 households in bed-andbreakfast accommodation in London. a number which has risen steeply in recent years. There are more households in temporary accommodation now than at any time since the late 1970s. We invest a lower percentage of our gross domestic product in public services than most of our European neighbours. We also have the highest divorce rate in 'western Europe, as has been said, and the highest rate of teenage pregnancies. The United States invests about 9 per cent less of its gross domestic product in public services than ourselves and has far higher divorce and teenage pregnancy rates. Its infant mortality rate is 7.8 per thousand live births. The rate in this country is 5.9 per thousand. In France and Germany it is 4.8 per thousand and in Norway it is four per thousand.

If governments of whatever complexion think in the long-term best interests of their citizens and provide prudent, sustained, sufficient investment in good public services, they will be setting an example which should pervade all society, including, of course, our families. They would also be providing services which help families to thrive. If one is to behave ethically, it is helpful to be in an environment where one does not think of the immediate gratification of urgent needs, particularly in the most disadvantaged families.

4.18 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for initiating this important debate. Traditional family values seem to have become inextricably linked with marriage. In the environment in which I was raised they are two very different things. The Indian concept of Vasudeva Kathumbkam, meaning "the world is one family", informs our relationships with everyone. It extends beyond one's relatives to include friends, neighbours and work colleagues. I believe in and support that concept. One of the reasons why Asians have been so successful in this country is strong family ties.

Unfortunately, that definition of family values is being rapidly eroded everywhere, even in Indian communities. In my view, we should make more effort to restore those values. Marriage is only one part of family values. Marriage means a relationship between husband and wife, and it should certainly be encouraged. However, we know that this relationship is under strain. What is also true is that not all children born to married parents are planned or wanted. Far too many children are born almost by accident. In those circumstances, we cannot keep saying that a stable male/female partnership is the only suitable way to bring up children.

The Family Service Unit, an NGO of which I am president, has centres throughout the country and it deals with these issues almost on a daily basis. It is doing tremendous work. It shares the belief that marriage provides a reliable and stable framework for most families for the successful raising of children. However, there is the need for a clear distinction to be made between positive relationships and formal marital status in families.

In FSU's experience, formal status such as marriage can be misused in power struggles, including domestic violence between parents, to the detriment of children and mothers. One has to recognise and respect the diversity of family life in Britain in the 21st century, where only one-fifth of households are made up of a married couple with dependent children and where nearly one-quarter of our children—around 3 million—live in single-parent families.

In FSU's long experience, many kinds of families can provide a loving and secure environment. What is important is that children are brought up within consistent boundaries, receiving love, care and attention. One in four of our children are brought up in poverty. Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of family breakdown, but its effects are damaging to everyone.

Surely, therefore, resources would be better employed in eliminating child poverty than trying to decide what culturally specific type of family is best equipped for the task of parenting. Most of all, we must ensure that no child grows up feeling excluded because he or she is unwanted.

4.22 p.m.

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My Lords, first, I must declare an interest, having enjoyed contented married life with my husband for more than 50 years. Our children have equally contented 15-year marriages. "Contented" does not always mean placid or perfect. During the bad patches, it is important to remember that the other donkey's grass is not necessarily greener, despite appearances; nor does it mean that we have never had a cross word. Utopia does not exist, and of course there will be cases where, sadly, separation becomes inevitable. But it is vital that parents should act responsibly and stay together whenever possible.

People celebrating their diamond wedding—today it is that of John and Mary Mills—say, "There should always be plenty of give and take", or, "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath". Proverbs may be old-fashioned but they always contain a good deal of truth.

Returning to cross words, or even rows, it is good for children to see their parents disagree, lose their tempers but make it up and be good friends the next day. No one is always right.

Last week, we went to the pantomime, "Peter Pan", with our youngest granddaughter at Southend. It was a packed house and an excellent performance. After Captain Hook had been trounced by Peter Pan and the crocodile, Peter Pan, Wendy and all the Lost Boys who had no parents arrived back on the roofs of London by the Darling's house. Peter invited Wendy back to the Never-Never Land but she refused. She wanted to stay with her parents and grow up.

Mrs Darling invited all the Lost Boys to stay with her family too and they all said, "Yes, please", much to the great sadness of Peter Pan. Mrs Darling said, "All children need two parents; a mother and a father", which is what attracted the Lost Boys.

Some people say that such statements devalue single-parent families. Having coped with a single-parent family in our own extended family, I know that that is not true. The Lost Boys recognised that if they had the chance of two parents they should grasp it and grow up in the most desirable situation. There is a lot of truth in old-fashioned fairy stories, too.

Children cannot choose their parents. Parents choose to have children and after that they owe those children the responsibility of bringing them up to the best of their ability together, difficult though that may be at times. Many of our problems in society would be reduced considerably if that sense of responsibility were more universally put into action, as my noble friend Lady Young emphasised.

4.25 p.m.

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My Lords, this is an important debate because it touches on the very health, stability and cohesiveness of our society. As we have been reminded, we have the highest divorce rate in Europe, with children often the main casualties. Statistics, which are about real people, show us that children of a broken marriage often follow the same pattern as their parents.

The family can be the place where the world acquires a human face and where order and values for living can be acquired and tested. It is the crucible of our humanity. Recently, though, I was chatting to a group of young prisoners and asking them what kind of support they were receiving from their families and what help they were likely to receive when they had completed their sentences. "No support", was the immediate answer of a number of the prisoners.

Strengthening the place of marriage and the family as the bulwark of society is a major concern of many people today. Yet while successive governments have recognised the huge social problems created by marital and familial breakdown, the response has often been ambivalent, and a discernible timidity evident in giving too strong an emphasis to the prior importance of marriage and family life lest other relationships should not be given appropriate support. An obvious example, already referred to, is the Government's persistent refusal to restore tax concessions for married couples as a symbol that society values marriage. Yet this would be another positive step following the Government's 1999 consultation document, Supporting Families, which has resulted in an information pack soon to be distributed by the National Family and Parenting Institute and made available to all couples who want to get married.

In the House of Bishops' teaching document, which is currently being discussed in many parts of the Church of England, the house summarised its understanding of marriage as,
"a pattern that God has given in Creation, deeply rooted in our social instincts … life-long marriage … the bedrock of a rapidly changing society … sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively … marriage is a school of patience and forgiveness … by it a new unit of society is created … So that the weakening of marriage has serious implications for the mutual belonging and care that is exercised within the community at large".
I could go on, but the document costs only £1 and is well worth reading.

I recognise that verbal support for marriage and the family is easily given but not so easily delivered. Practical support for people, rather than gesture politics and brandishing slogans, is urgently needed.

Unfortunately, concern for marriage and the family often comes too late. We have already been reminded that the cost of picking up the pieces of broken relationships is huge. In comparison, this year only £4 million has been made available for marriage and relationship support. I long to see that funding substantially increased to give support to the groups and organisations that try to cope with the many demands upon them for the help that they provide. I have in mind the growth in the numbers of parenting groups and students who explore marriage projects, community family projects and so on.

The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has written:
"It took us a long time for us to realise that by cutting down rain forests, using cars with highly leaded fuels and building factories with toxic emissions we were gradually destroying the ecosystem within which we live and breath. We know now. It has been much harder for us to realise that by destabilising marriage and accepting casual sex, serial relationships, divorce and single parenthood as norms, we are rapidly eroding the social structures on which humanity depends, but it is no less true".
I conclude by identifying with the statement made recently by the Archbishop of Westminster. He made a plea to Ministers in relation to the forthcoming White Paper on the family that they should not be,
"afraid to put marriage and family life at its very heart, and it will then be supported by the vast majority of people in this country".

4.32 p.m.

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My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for introducing this fascinating debate. I found it hard to prepare for it because I was not entirely sure of the thrust of the debate. The debate has produced a number of familiar matters as well as some surprises. I do not represent any special interest group. I regret that I do not have a strong religious faith but, like others, I am convinced that marriage should be supported. Marriage is still an essential part of good social organisation and is also a way for two people to make a public commitment to each other. Clearly, the public nature of that commitment is an important part of its significance.

I intend no disrespect to the institution of marriage when I say that one of its primary purposes was., and to some extent remains, the acquisition and protection of property. We should remember that historically it has been an economic partnership as well as everything else. However, in the nature of this debate I do not want to concentrate so much on marriage as on family values. I refer in particular to the appeal of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to tradition. I have a problem with the notion of tradition as it applies to social policy. By definition, it is retrospective and, in the general sense, conservative. I should like to speak for those who, like myself, have not had a traditional family background and have experienced at first hand the damage that can be done by rigid adherence to social convention masquerading as family values.

I agree with a good deal of the remarks made on this subject by my noble friend Lord Janner, who is not now in his place. I do not look back with any nostalgia to the atmosphere of shame and secrecy that surrounded marriage breakdown when I grew up. It had a profoundly traumatising effect on my family and many others. When I compare it with the experience of my own children, I feel only relief that they were born when they were. For all the pain of their parents' divorce, which I regret, they at least have maintained a close relationship with both parents and their half-siblings. I never knew mine. I think back with horror to my discovery, when searching through the records of a mental hospital, that one of my mother's relatives had been incarcerated for the whole of her adult life because she had become pregnant when unmarried. No doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Young, would tell me that upholding tradition and family values should not imply cruelty of that kind but, not uncommonly, it did. I do not regret the passing of such a world.

The family values in which I believe, and am glad to see reflected in the Government's development of social and educational policy, are based on tolerance and respect for the great diversity of human relationships and the many ways in which people can support each other and create a healthy environment in which children can grow up. We must not jettison ideas and values just because they are not new. We must reflect upon the past and pay proper attention to lessons that can be learnt from it, but we must no: be sentimental and selective about it. We must live in the world as it is, and not as we should like it to be.

4.36 p.m.

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My Lords, one of the most worrying features of the decline in marriage and the traditional family unit is its effect on the more deprived people in our society. So often in this debate we forget that the most profound effects are felt not by the more sophisticated but by the least sophisticated in our society. For six years I served on the Parole Board. One of my duties was to interview prisoners and write an assessment of their suitability for parole. I saw hundreds of prisoners who for the most part were serving five to seven years in some of the major prisons in this country. Almost without exception, their backgrounds followed similar patterns. They had been born to unmarried couples whose relationships had collapsed. Their mothers had then been involved in a series of relationships. They never experienced a stable family situation and their careers had been truancy from school and drugs, followed by minor and then major crime. Often at 16 they had conceived a child themselves who repeated that history. I do not believe that it is fanciful to view the collapse of the family as a factor in that lifestyle.

I respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Janner, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I do not suggest for a moment that all single parents produce criminals, but thousands of people have had their lives altered in this way. I accept that sometimes in the past the structures of society have been oppressive, but we should also pay attention to the contemporary situation with the emphasis on individual rights rather than social structures which have been the cement of society in past ages. It is possible that emphasis on individual rights rather than social cohesion causes even more trouble than some of the oppressive patterns of the past. It is believed that it would be wrong for the Government to stress the importance of marriage as against other relationships. The fact is that, as noble Lords know, governments have a duty to influence society by what they say and the laws they implement.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has, like me, read Dicey's Lectures on the Relationship Between Law and Public Opinion in England during the 19th Century and knows the effect of law. A recent article in the Financial Times summed up modern reality in terms of Burger King's advertisement, "Have It Your Way". People now insist on doing their own thing and not being limited by family structures or external rules of the past. In this they defy history. We are moving into a new environment for which we have no maps and guidance. If we see marriage as only one form of relationship that is no better than others, cultural relativism of that kind is most destructive to the less sophisticated members of our society. Some of the casualties are the prisoners I interviewed, and we must bear part of the responsibility for the society that has produced people like that. I share the experience of the right reverend Prelate. Those people told me that they could expect no support from their dysfunctional families when they left prison.

Stability, order and the example of lifetime commitment are good things. They are not always realised, but that is not enough to throw it all out. Like the noble Lord, Lord Janner, a Pauline who respects toleration, I believe in toleration. I believe in not attacking, but that does not mean rejecting the values that have supported his Jewish society and my society for many generations.

4.40 p.m.

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My Lords, I must first declare an interest in that I have had the good fortune to be blissfully happily married for 52 years.

Those of us who joined the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in opposing the Family Law Act 1996 which introduced no fault divorce will not be surprised that it has been found defective in practice and will welcome the decision announced yesterday by the Lord Chancellor to repeal the greater part of it.

I believe strongly in the importance of lifelong marriage and close family ties in building the sort of society we need in this country. I know that there are many who, for one reason or the other, have the misfortune to be denied that. Many of them, single mothers especially, struggle to bring up children, difficult though this is for one person. But for society at large I believe we should hold up the ideal of a happily married two-parent family, and for all married couples divorce while they have young and dependent children should normally be unthinkable.

It is for individuals to work out their own lives. Neither the Government nor anyone else can dictate to them how they should behave. But the Government can do something to help and encourage a way of life that contributes to a good society, and, above all, an environment in which our children can grow up loved and cherished and feeling protected and secure. I am dismayed that the Government are doing so little to promote that. Although I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Lord Chancellor about funding marriage and relationship support, I still think that the signals that the Government send out do not suggest that encouraging marriage is one of their priorities. For example, they have abolished the married persons allowance, and the present tax and benefit systems provide little incentive to those who may contemplate marriage.

We know that the Prime Minister is a family man who, from his own experience, must wish to encourage marriage as the basis of a good society. But it is reported that he and those of his colleagues who share his views, like Mr Boateng, have been overridden by others, including, apparently, the Leader of this House, who have, it is suggested, persuaded him that it is a mistake to promote marriage and that it is better to talk about stable relationships, which of course cover a multitude of sins. I hope that the reports are wrong and that the Prime Minister will stick to his guns.

Nowadays a great number of women go out to work and leave their children with nannies if they are very rich, and in day nurseries if they are not. They often have impressive careers and their talents are fully used as they were not in the past. But there may be a price to pay, for even the best paid helper cannot wholly replace a natural mother in looking after a child.

With modern technology it is increasingly practicable to work full or part-time from home. So more and more women may in future be able to care for their own children and do a good job at the same time.

We all know that there are many things wrong with our society. We have the highest rate of divorce in Europe. There are the great and growing number of teenage pregnancies and more and more reports of abuse of children by live-in partners and of young people driven out of their homes to live rough on the streets or join violent teenage gangs.

Unhappily, sooner or later, nearly all children are exposed to offers of drugs, suggestive magazines and opportunities for promiscuity. State schools are now apparently adopting the lamentable expedient of giving the "morning after" pill to 11 or 12 year old girls without informing their parents. These various temptations are all too likely to result in nothing but unhappiness and damaged health. Children are most likely to resist them if they have been brought up in a happy home and are constantly reminded of the need to choose right rather than wrong.

The Government can perhaps help by restoring more single-sex schools where there is less pressure to impress the other sex, and by making sure that those who have illegitimate babies are not promptly rewarded by being propelled to the top of the housing list.

Generally, we need to take a stand against the decline in standards and the collapse of morals. Children are usually quick to know what is expected of them and if high standards are expected they often respond in a remarkable way. We do not want them to wallow in the mud but to set their sights on the stars. I believe it will help a great deal if we point the way to a happy, lifelong marriage as the best way of meeting the trials and tribulations of life and so ensure that our children are given the best possible start.

4.45 p.m.

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My Lords, I rise to offer strong support for the defence of lifelong marriage expressed so ably by the previous speaker and, of course, by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in a memorable speech. In half a century I cannot remember a better speech, although I suppose that people who were in your Lordships' House 50 or 100 years ago will say that Lord Keynes reached that standard when he defended the American loans. Anyway, it was a memorable speech.

I am glad to be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who is my spiritual boss in the sense that he presides over the prayer group that I attend. I know that he will stop me before someone else does if I go beyond the four minutes. I rise to ask a simple question of everyone, Christian or non-Christian. If they were asked whether they would prefer their children to have happy lifelong marriages or deviate in some way—perhaps daughters being left as lone mothers or sons becoming homosexual or having all kinds of fun and games in other ways—I am sure that the answer would be that they would rather see their children in lifelong happy marriages.

We have some wonderful examples of marital devotion. The most obvious one is the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. We are told that he sits beside his beautiful wife Audrey, who is not too well these days, and never leaves her side. That is real devotion. The Prime Minister is an excellent example of marriage.

Now I become a little timid. I have to mention the fact that—surprise, surprise—I have been married for 69 years. I do not boast of that too much. The last time I said that to someone, he said, "That is nothing. My parents have been married for 75 years". So it is no good boasting about these things. Nevertheless, I have been happily married for 69 years. If people ask how I won the attention of the most popular girl of her time, I can only say that it was divine providence. So providence and luck come in. Therefore, one cannot attribute everything to virtue when one only has merit. But that is all I say. I can only hope for everyone here that their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren—I have quite a few in each category—will have long happy lifelong marriages.

The difficulty with defending marriage most strongly is that there are many good people who have not had my good fortune. Some very dear to me have found fulfilment in their second marriages. In particular there is one man whom I admire. known to everyone in this country—I shall not mention his name now—who has been involved in a happy partnership for some years. No one can say that I am a better man than he. Of course I do not say that. There are others too—homosexuals—who lead very good lives. So we must not condemn others; we must sympathise with them. I am only saying that I strongly believe that marriage is best and that everyone really thinks the same, whatever they may say at the moment.

4.49 p.m.

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My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle, I declare an interest as the father of four children. But sadly it is of a different kind because their mother and I separated after 13 years, which was eight years after the youngest child was born. We divorced and I remarried six years later. But I can see no reason why that should prevent me from supporting the contention of my noble friend Lady Young that marriage is the best environment in which to raise children.

I had a nasty motor accident when I was in my early thirties. That has certainly not stopped me advising young people to drive carefully. I see an analogy there. To argue against my noble friend because I had failed to provide my own children with the best would be to fly in the face of truth. The Government are not bringing that truth unequivocally to the notice of intending parents.

Every generation has a duty to pass to the next what it has learnt. The more valuable the lesson, the more urgent the duty. When we bring up children we are preparing them for the world in which they are going to live as adults. That world is morally, as well as physically, more dangerous now than the world of the 1950s into, or before, which the whole of the present Cabinet was born. It is certainly more materialist. During a period which historians will doubtless describe as stable, there has been a series of four revolutions of enormous importance to children.

The credit revolution was launched by the introduction of credit cards, with the profoundly revealing slogan "Taking the waiting out of wanting". I commend that slogan to your Lordships' prolonged thought as to its effect. The communications revolution which accompanied it elevated children under the age of 10 to the status of a powerful market sector targeted on television advertising. It has also removed from all but diligent parents, and even from some of them, the control of their children's access to wholly inappropriate media channels and programmes. The sexual revolution, regarded as some kind of liberation in the 1960s, has been rendered incalculably more dangerous by the advent of AIDS. The drugs revolution has brought prohibited and sometimes lethal substances within their unsupervised reach. All this in a world in which moral standards themselves are seen by some as at best optional and by others as irrelevant.

Each of these revolutions produced a new threat to children. None of them was in place when the whole of the Cabinet or any of my contemporaries were brought up. The world is more dangerous for children now than it was then and you would think that we collectively, and the Government above all, would be doing our utmost to provide them with the best possible protection. That, both research and scripture assure us, is provided by the caring and protective circle of a stable marriage. The lamentable fact is that in the year 2000 fewer children received that protection than received it in 1950, before the revolutions.

What has brought all this about? Why is our society changing in this way? However you try to focus the lines that lead you to that cause, somewhere very near it you find an enormous rise in selfishness and a decline in the teaching of the virtues of unselfishness and courage. I was brought up during the war when those virtues were essential to the survival of the country. It is not surprising that they were instilled rigorously in me. That is perhaps why I still soldier on in your Lordships' Chamber. The fact is that the generality of our society no longer looks up to people for unselfish acts or self-control. Without those, no marriage will survive.

4.53 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for the opportunity to participate in today's debate and I look forward to debating with the noble Lord, Lord Moran, the use of technology in your Lordships' House to allow this mother of school-age children to spend more time with her children.

Like many noble Lords, I am a huge fan of marriage, believing that it can provide a strong and stable framework for adults and children alike, but I am a far greater fan of the family values that we attribute to it. For me, these values are based around the nurturing and care of all members of the family, especially the children; providing stability and education for all, especially the children; and raising the children to take seriously their responsibilities to themselves and others, especially their own children and children in their care. Those values should be paramount. But they need not be found, and indeed are not always found, within the structure of marriage. Families come in different shapes and sizes; and whether one believes that is to be celebrated or lamented, it is reality.

What matters in all families is that the children are brought up securely, safely and responsibly. The shape or size of the family does not seem to me to be terribly important if at the end of childhood there is a responsible, mature and happy individual. Congratulations would then seem to be in order.

I am not, though, complacent about family life. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, recounted the story of Anna Climbie, placed in the care of her great aunt. The newspapers recalled the roll of dishonour of high profile cases of children neglected or murdered by those who should have loved and cared for them. Those are extreme and relatively rare cases. But they reawaken in us real concern that some children are at the mercy of those who have no understanding of or regard for their welfare.

I wonder whether we do enough as a society to prepare people for the variety of family models in which they may well live in their lifetimes and the different expectations that will be placed on them. It feels to me on occasion that our emphasis on the image of a single model of marriage rather than on the underlying values can sometimes get in the way, leaving people totally unprepared for the situations in which they may find themselves. As the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, said, there are no maps.

Upon my marriage, I became a full-time step-parent and have been so for the past 13 years. The only model I or my stepchildren had was of the wicked stepmother in "Cinderella" or "Snow White", until, that is, some very helpful Hollywood studio brought out a film entitled "My Stepmother is an Alien", to the great delight of my children, I hasten to add. More seriously, in the 13 years that I have played this role, I have never been visited to see whether the children were being brought up okay. On many occasions I would have welcomed the kind of support that is best personified by health visitors who help new mothers to understand their offspring and to discover how to be a parent. I would have liked help with how to organise an eight year-old's birthday party from a knowledge base of zero. More importantly, I would have liked someone to talk to me about the not so good times in that role.

Taken to extremes, if we do not provide good role models, support systems and understanding about what is expected of them, then we set people up to fail; and failure in family life can be only bad news for our children. That is why I support the teaching of parenting and of citizenship in schools and why I support so many of the Government's measures. As we reflect on our traditional family values, perhaps it is time to look at how we educate and support people to play a variety of family roles; how we offer support to adults who increasingly find themselves operating in families that are complicated to explain, never mind participate in; how we provide support to children put into different family groupings and ensure that they are being cared for properly; and what role our health and social services can play, and what role government can play, in supporting these new families. In doing so, I believe that we would be promoting the best of family values, to keep our children safe.

4.57 p.m.

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My Lords, I rise only to apologise for not being in my place when my turn came to speak in the debate. Owing to a misunderstanding over the telephone, I was convinced that this debate was the second debate. Therefore, I shall not speak this afternoon. In the unlikely event that any noble Lords are interested in my views, they will have to contain their impatience until next week, when we have a debate, in which I have an interest, on the subject of the problems of sons without fathers.

4.58 p.m.

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My Lords, when I saw the reference to "traditional family values" in the Motion for today's debate I was reminded of a sentence in my grandmother's diary for 1864. She wrote:

"The Miss Berries are rather old fashioned. They swear a little".
That makes the point that tradition is a little more cyclical and a little less linear in its progress than perhaps we sometimes imagine.

On the subject of tradition, the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady McIntosh, have spoken for me, but I think it is proper that it falls to me, and not to them, to say how much the stability of marriage in past times has rested on the economic dependence of women. It has rested on the fact that they have not had the choice of leaving. I remember an 18th century epitaph:
"Here lies Mary, the wife of John Ford,

We hope her soul has gone to the Lord.

But if for the other she quitted this life,

She had better be there than be John Ford's wife".
If the greater frequency of divorce means that that situation is not so often repeated, I for one cannot bring myself to regret it. I do not believe that there are any more unhappy marriages now than there were in the 17th century. I cannot sustain that opinion but, equally, I believe that no one can refute it. A marriage may end in divorce, but sometimes it is better to be divorced than to be in a bad marriage. I agree with St Augustine that the corruption of the best is the worst. That proposition applies as much to marriage as it does to many other things.

We have here a very longstanding difference between the party of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my own party. It goes back at least three centuries. Her party was dedicated to the promotion and encouragement of uniformity. From the beginning, my party was dedicated to the management of diversity. This applied originally to issues of religion. The Tory Party identified itself as the party of the Church. It is a fact that we had no fewer churchmcn on our Benches than did that party, as the career of Gladstone may well illustrate. But we were not in favour of monopoly. It is that objection to the monopoly, not a lesser loyalty to the Church, which still applies today. Professor John Curtice has found that my party contains among its activists more regular churchgoers than does any other party in the country. As one who is an unbeliever and does not regret the fact, perhaps I may say that I am delighted by that fact. I respect the liberty of their consciences for the same reason that they respect the liberty of mine. There is a common respect for pluralism and diversity, which is what holds us together. Worse things could hold us together.

What has happened in our lifetimes is one of the revolutions that the noble Lord, Lord Elton. did not mention; namely, the advent of reliable contraception. That has changed the underlying basis of sexual morals as totally as printing has changed education, or gunpowder and nuclear weapons have changed warfare. It will never be the same again. One may regret that, or one may—as I do?—welcome it. Either way, things will never be the same again and nothing can be done about that.

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My Lords, I know that this is a short debate and so I shall be brief. Recently I have received literature which exposes the fact that supposedly reliable contraception in the form of condoms is, statistically, not at all reliable.

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My Lords, at this stage I do not wish to enter into a semantic debate about the precise statistical meaning of "reliability". They are certainly a very great deal more reliable, and are a great deal more relied on, than anything that went before them.

The rethinking that this development demands is one which is to be done by private individuals. It is not a matter for the state. It is a matter for the individual conscience. Long ago we learnt that the state cannot create faith. Equally, the state cannot create love. Once we accept that, I think that we must accept that this is a matter for the private conscience.

My right honourable friend Mr Kennedy recently remarked that family life and the way we raise our children are private matters. If we understand the purposes of the state, that is clear enough. The purposes of the state are to keep the peace; to give people the opportunity to fulfil their potential in the way they choose; and to give them liberty wherein they do no harm to others. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, claims that it was a government's duty to influence people towards behaviour of which a government approved. I simply do not agree with that. It is hard enough for government to do their own job without trying to do ours for us.

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My Lords—

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My Lords, I am sorry, but this is a timed debate and I really cannot accept any more interventions. I have never refused an intervention before and I am sorry to have to do it now.

I think that the noble Lord was about to refer to children. It is a legitimate point. John Stuart Mill once remarked that just because we allow others power over themselves, therefore we are the more willing to restrict the power they may have over others. To protect children against cruelty or to defend their right to education is perfectly proper for the state. But here I come to the other limit of the state, not just that it is ultra vires, but to the limits of the state's competence. The state cannot know exactly what is happening inside an individual family. It cannot take our moral decisions for us for exactly the same reasons that it cannot reach clinical decisions in medicine or make academic judgments in education.

I hear the statistics about the effects of divorce on children. I know something of this from my own experience. But the question is: what do those statistics show? They may show no more than that, all other things being equal, children fare better with happy parents than with unhappy parents. If we compare the children of divorced parents with the children of happily married parents, we are not comparing like with like. What we need to do to achieve a statistical comparison is to compare the children of divorced parents with the children of unhappy parents who have remained married. I know from my teaching experience that that can do a great deal of harm. The statistical basis for such comparison would be extremely difficult. Until we can achieve it, a certain amount of hesitation ought to be in order.

We have heard much in this debate about the married couples' tax allowance. So far as I am concerned, marriages are made in heaven and divorces are made in hell. In neither case can the state do much about it. For the state to attempt to persuade people to live in one particular way is ultra vires. What is more, I speak as one who has been 38 years married and never for a moment regretted it. However, when I compare my own relationship with that of my two sisters-in-law, who have lived as unmarried partners, the reason why I cannot assert a superiority is that I cannot perceive a difference.

Were we to be talking about a marriage in church, I would understand that. It is clearly a different type of animal. But marriage in a register office is a social recognition. A civil partnership—in which my party is pioneering the way—is also a social recognition of a partnership. Between one form of social recognition and another, I really cannot see any significant difference. I enjoy marriage, but I believe that if it is as good as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said, it is perfectly capable of surviving without the benefit of a tariff barrier.

I shall conclude on the question of the morning-after pill. I am glad that the Government have done what they have. Anyone who argues that it is right to inflict an unwanted pregnancy on an underage girl is putting forward a cruelty which, in my mind, does not deserve the name of morality.

5.8 p.m.

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My Lords, once again, I join other Members of the House to congratulate my noble friend Lady Young on setting out so clearly the case for marriage and the family. Recently my noble friend has been deservedly recognised by a number of awards for her stand on moral issues affecting the family and children, on which I congratulate her most warmly. However, what is so remarkable about my noble friend is the dignified, courageous and resolute way she has withstood much aggressive criticism, intimidation and even ridicule.

It has been suggested by some that those who hold fast to the belief that marriage is the key building block of society and of its importance in family life and in the bringing up of children in some way reflect a generational gap and that they do not speak for the young. I do not accept that. Many surveys have shown that young people support marriage. In any case, most of us are mothers—some are grandparents—and we are thus very much in touch with young people. My noble friend Lady Young should not be daunted by such criticisms. I say thank God for her wise counsel on such fundamental issues. As I have listened to a number of references to fathers, I am reminded of Lady Macleod, a great Member of this House who is no longer with us. She devoted her life to charity, and especially to the organisation Children Need Fathers. Her valuable contributions to our debates echoed in my mind today as the debate progressed.

When making judgments about others, I prefer to compare what they say with what they do. In a consultation document, Supporting Families, the Government said,
"marriage is still the surest foundation for raising families".
The noble Lord, Lord Janner, referred to the same quotation. My understanding—which is why I mention it—is that the emphasis on marriage contained within that phrase will not appear in the final document.

Noble Lords should contrast that statement with the number of policies which have been given priority by the Government in recent times. One really must challenge the sincerity of the Government on these issues. There has been, for example, the abolition of the married couples' allowance. The Government have imposed the lowering of the age of consent for homosexuality and have removed the protection for girls from buggery at the age of 16—both measures being imposed by the use of the Parliament Act before the Bill had completed its passage through both Houses. It was a constitutional outrage.

The Government are making available the morning-after pill over the counter at pharmacies and are allowing girls as young as 11 to receive the morning-after pill free on demand at school and without informing their parents. If I were a parent of an 11 year-old now, I would be mortified at the idea of that confidentiality withholding such information from me as a parent. What kind of message is it that confirms that you can do what you like as long as you either wear a condom or take the morning-after pill?

The Government, no doubt, will continue with their efforts to repeal the ban on promoting homosexuality to children in school. The Government have also produced guidelines to schools advocating role-playing by children involving gay, lesbian, transvestite and other complex sexuality situations.

Then we have the refusal by the Government to accept bringing under the abuse of trust sections of the Sexual Offences Act thousands of mentors created by the Learning and Skills Act, who will be working closely in one-to-one relationships with vulnerable children.

I could go on. It is a very strange list of priorities which does little to support marriage and the family. The Government cannot continue to wring their hands over the growing number of insecure children, the growing crime levels among young people, the costs of family breakdown, the levels of teenage pregnancy and the growing number of children requiring care, and yet duck the issue of recognising marriage as a more stable alternative to other relationships.

It is no secret that members of the Government, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and Ms Tessa Jowell, have argued strongly to play down the promotion of marriage in public policy. They see it as no more or less significant than any other family relationship, unlike some of their other colleagues, such as Mr David Blunkett, Mr Jack Straw and Mr Paul Boateng, who take a more pro-marriage viewpoint.

From what we all read and hear, the noble Baroness and her supporters, including the Prime Minister, have won that battle. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will clarify the specific status of marriage in the forthcoming White Paper.

It has also been said that, because the present Cabinet Ministers' lives do not bear public scrutiny, to follow the scientific research and accept—not pontificate or direct—that marriage is the best form of relationship for a country economically and socially and for bringing up children, would expose Cabinet Members to public ridicule and the charge of hypocrisy. But human frailty or disadvantage serves only to strengthen, not weaken, the message.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. He made the distinction that marriage—which involves a very public commitment made in the company of friends and family, bringing with it obligations and duties—is not equal to other forms of relationships. I agree with him that that does not disparage other forms of relationships.

The breakdown of family life impacts on all aspects of our lives. There are all too many children who do not enjoy a happy and loving home life; all too many children who live within very transient parental relationships; and all too many children who have no framework within which to grow and develop, and who have no basic rules by which to live a fruitful and fulfilling lifestyle. Putting marriage and the family at the heart of policy should not be abandoned because of the private lives of Cabinet Ministers. The interests of children—and subsequently the quality of life enjoyed by our children as they grow to become parents—will be better served if public policy supports marriage and the family.

It takes courage to ignore personal ridicule in favour of doing the right thing by our children. Let us hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will announce today that marriage and the family will be restored as the surest foundation for raising families, as was set out in the Government's own consultation document. I support my noble friend.

5.15 p.m.

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My Lords, support for families is at the core of this Government's policies. Strong and stable families are essential to the wellbeing of our society. They provide the young with that fair start in life which should be the birthright of every child.

However, the state can do only so much. It cannot make people happy, but it can provide the circumstances which make happiness more obtainable. In particular—my noble friend Lady Crawley drew attention to this—it can ensure that families are freed from the ache of daily poverty and social exclusion. That is why we passed the minimum wage, a measure which has done so much to underpin the cohesion of family life. It recognised the damage which could be done to families by poverty wages.

Let it be remembered that the benefits of the minimum wage gave most help to the unskilled and part-time workforce, who are predominantly women. This is no accident. We have always recognised that, especially in poor families, it is the woman who is the financial mainstay. It is she who manages the family budget and juggles the finances to ensure the children do not suffer.

It was disappointing, therefore, to find that the party opposite fought this measure through the House, clause by clause and line by line. Those opposite who speak of family values could try to explain how their opposition to the minimum wage enhanced the position of families in our society. Of course, they have changed their mind since—and we welcome all sinners come to repentance—but I am still quite sure that the British people will remember the role that they played in opposing the legislation, and act accordingly when the time comes.

It is because we believe that financial security is the bedrock of family stability that the Chancellor has brought forward a range of measures targeted at those in greatest need. Its aim is to end the scourge of child poverty, which is at its most acute in households where no one works. Tax and benefit measures have lifted 1 million children out of poverty in the life of this Parliament. Increases in child benefit, the working families' tax credit and the New Deal for lone parents have one common aim—to free our people from poverty and to give our children a better future than their parents. It is a pity that, once again, the party opposite opposed these measures. Its record, I am sure, will not go unnoticed by the British people when the time comes.

However, not all children have the inestimable blessing of a happy home. For some, family life is disfigured by cruelty and neglect. These most vulnerable children deserve society's greatest concern. They are entitled to look to the Government for help and, in extreme cases, for rescue. The Government believe that the best people to care for children are their parents. The state, it has been said, cannot improve on nature. Provided that its welfare is secure, a child is happiest in its own home. But for those children where parental abuse or neglect is such that arrangements for their upbringing have to be made outside the family, the Government believe that being brought up in an adopted family is, in many cases, far preferable to life in a children's home, however caring, or long-term fostering.

That is why we intend to bring forward measures to cut through the bureaucratic clutter of rules that stop children having a decent home with adoptive parents. Our new proposals aim to cut out the nonsense about "non-smoking, ethnically identical" parents and to concentrate on the needs of a child to be integrated into a loving and stable home as quickly as possible. We aim to cut to 12 months the waiting time before a child is found an adoption placement. Although this is a vast improvement on the present position, it is a maximum not a minimum time-frame; for it must always be remembered that each of us has only one childhood which, once lost, can never be retrieved.

Our new proposal will deliver a 40 per cent increase in permanent placements nationally by 2005. New national standards will ensure that prospective adopters are treated fairly across the country and are not helpless in the face of the passing whims of social workers. The question should always be "Is it in this child's interests to be adopted by this family, and not remain in the care of the state?", rather than, "Is this family ideal in every way?". Very few of us would pass that test.

Our proposals recognise that some children have special difficulties: not all are the endearing babes in arms of romantic fiction. Our proposals for post-adoption services will help support them into a new home. Other children want to maintain a legal link with their parents. For these we propose a new concept of "special guardianship" which would provide the security of a permanent home while still retaining some links with the birth family. This will be of especial value in our ethnic communities, where religious objections to adoption, as we know, are sincerely held and must be respected.

The Government believe that every child has the right to a secure upbringing. Most families can provide that for themselves, but there is a special duty on society to take particular care of children who do not have that advantage. These are our most vulnerable dependants. If they move from pillar to post in short-term care, with 20 per cent having three or more foster placements in a year, then is it any wonder that they become disaffected and alienated? Is it any wonder if they drift into unemployment and crime? Is it any wonder that they in their turn prove unsatisfactory parents and that the whole cycle is repeated in the next generation? We must work to break this cycle of deprivation now. The Government's new adoption proposals will ensure that the welfare of these children is put first and that they are given the chance of a good upbringing to equip them for the responsibilities of citizenship.

I listened, as ever, with care but with growing wonder to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. If only I could be as sure of anything as she is about everything, how simple life would be! But the picture she paints of her ideal society is one which few would recognise outside the plot of a 1950s Ealing film. Of course it is true that there is more divorce, that there are more teenage pregnancies and more lone parents than when I was growing up. But it needs to be remembered that the rosy picture of the dutiful and subservient housewife and the stern but kindly paterfamilias, living in a semi in leafy suburbia with two well-mannered and obedient children, often masked the brutal reality of a loveless marriage, based on the financial dependence of the neglected wife in a home ruled by fear and where hypocrisy played a prominent role. I strongly believe that the society of today, with all its many faults, is a gentler, more civilised and more tolerant community in which to bring up children than ever itwas when I was a boy.

The key to our progress has been our growing tolerance—tolerance not only of those with whom we have no quarrel, but of those whose lifestyles we find uncongenial. After all, we are all minorities in one way or another. Lawyers are certainly minorities, and perhaps not much loved ones at that!

Let me make one thing plain. A loving marriage between two parties of the opposite sex provides, for the overwhelming majority in our country, the best assurance of a happy personal life and provides the surest foundation upon which to rear a successful family. But I know of no words of Christ which in any way condemn any loving relationship. His harshest judgment was on the self-righteous.

The noble Baroness has told the House what she is against and what she condemns. On the whole, I incline to the view that those of us in positions of privilege in this House should pause long before criticising those of whose lifestyles we disapprove.

The Government will spare no effort in their quest for the best means of supporting families. I have, in a spirit of mediation and good will, looked far and wide at the views of others. I have found valuable help in a document entitled Clear Blue Water—Common Sense in the Conservative Party. It was launched last year by Nigel Evans MP, a Front Bench spokesman and vice-chairman of the Conservative Party. It says this:
"Conservatives should seek equality before the law".
I entirely agree. We all should.
"Conservatives should therefore support: an equal age of consent; the abolition of Clause 28; and the right of Gay marriage".
These words caused me puzzlement, but perhaps the noble Baroness is in a better position than I to enlighten the House. Is this still the Conservative position? I look forward to hearing her reply.

I yield to no one in my defence of the family, but our country is changing and this House, if it is to lead the nation, must respond to those changes. In the time of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, homosexuality was regarded as an absolute bar to becoming a judge. I always thought this blinkered and prejudiced policy indefensible in the modern world and was delighted when my predecessor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, abrogated it. I have carried this reform forward. Now, a man or woman who wants to become a judge is judged solely on his or her merits irrespective of sexual orientation, ethnic origin, gender or disability provided that he or she is able to fulfil the duties of the office, again on merit. Surely that is the way ahead. Surely it is the best way to get the best judges and the best system of justice.

What we must recognise in this House is that the concept of what is or is not a family is changing. More and more people are living together without marrying; more and more children are being born to lone parents—

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My Lords, may I interrupt the noble and learned Lord? Does he accept any government responsibility whatever for the moral condition of the country?

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My Lords, I take the view that government must, so far as they can, create and follow policies which are conducive to conditions of economic well-being. I believe, of course, in the criminal law, but I do not believe that in the matter of these most fundamental human relations it is the function of government to sermonise.

It is the genius of the common law that it recognises these facts of life and adapts to meet them. Your Lordships' House, sitting judicially, recently considered the concept of a family in relation to a same sex partner's rights of occupation under the Rent Acts. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, in holding that such a partner did have such rights, said:
"Far from being cataclysmic it is … in accordance with contemporary notions of social justice".
He continued:
"It seems also to be suggested that such a result in this statute [Rent Act 1977] undermines the traditional (whether religious or social) concept of marriage and the family.
"It does nothing of the sort. It merely recognises that, for the purposes of this Act, two people of the same sex can be regarded as having established membership of a family, one of the most significant of human relationships which both gives benefits and imposes obligations".
One of the achievements of this Government that gives me greatest pride is the Human Rights Act, which, at long last, has incorporated into our own law those principles of decency and mutual respect that animated the British framers of the European convention 50 years ago. It gave Europe, the cradle of civilisation, a new start out of the ashes of the Second World War. At the heart of the convention is Article 8, which secures to all our citizens respect for family life and which prohibits interference by the state with that right except to the extent that it is lawful, proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.

It remains to be seen how the courts will give effect to this living organism. In many instances our own common law marches hand in hand with the convention. But in others it will be the convention that will inspire the judges to fashion the law to the challenges of this millennium. I cannot predict how precisely this infant will grow, but grow it will. I am confident that our judges will give it good succour and that in adulthood it will bring pride to its progenitors.

The role of the state is to encourage, not to compel; to provide practical help, not to preach. I can assure noble Lords that the Government are certainly not neutral. We have made clear our support for the institution of marriage and for the family. This is well in keeping with the principles of my party. Labour has always supported the family. It was the government of Clement Attlee who began the legislative protection of children with the Children Act 1948. In 1975, we brought forward the Children Act of that year and we gave strong support to the Children Act 1989, which will surely prove to be an enduring monument to the work of my predecessor the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. This proud record is entirely in keeping with our determination to use the resources of our country not for the benefit of the few but for the needs of the many. It is a task to which we have set our hand and from which we shall not flinch until we accomplish it.

I do not know when the general election will come. It may be sooner; it may be later. I could not possibly comment. I can, I think, share this secret with the House. It will certainly come within 18 months. But whether this year or next the support by this Government for families in all its different facets will play a central role in the choice that we place before the British people. I am confident that they will make the right choice.

5.32 p.m.

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My Lords, I should like to begin my concluding remarks by thanking all those who have taken part in the debate, especially my noble friend Lady Blatch, who has always been such a great support to me.

In my opening remarks, I said that I hoped this would be a contribution to the national debate about the future of marriage and I believe that it has been. It has drawn a clear distinction between those of us who actually believe that marriage is the centre of society—indeed, its decline is having terrible consequences—and those who clearly do not hold that view.

There are many points to which I should like to reply, but convention on this occasion does not call for anything other than a few words. However, I should like to draw attention to what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said about the late Lord Jakobovits, who exercised such a powerful influence in this House, and his analogy about cutting down the forests: you do not realise the damage you are doing until you have cut down a great deal of the forest. That is precisely what is happening in society. We do not realise what we are doing as, bit by bit, we are dismantling it.

The noble Lord, Lord Janner, who is not now in his place, and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Thornton, made the point that we should not impose our ideas on our children; or, indeed, on anyone else. But they impose their ideas all the time. Let us look, for example, at smoking, at drugs, or at racism, if we are going to talk about anything even more serious. They impose their ideas there because they clearly know what they think. It is very sad that they do not impose their ideas in this respect when so many young people are at risk, not only from AIDS but also from sexually transmitted diseases—issues to which I did not refer but which evidence shows to be on the increase.

I turn now to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, whose speeches I always enjoy so much. I only wish that I could think of a suitable reply as regards what the Conservatives were doing in the 17th century, but, alas, such a response does not leap to mind. However, on an issue upon which we have crossed swords before, the noble Earl said that family life is a private matter. Yes, it is. But each piece of law that we pass affects families, and then it becomes a public matter. At that point one has to say what one thinks. As I have said before, I believe that every law sends a signal; and we have sent out a lot of very bad signals recently.

Finally, I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his response. He will not expect me to agree with a great deal of his speech. However, I very much support what the Government are doing on the matter of adoption. This is an issue in which I have always been interested. I am very glad that adoption is being made easier, because I believe that to be very important. I greatly welcome that move.

I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord thinks that I am too certain in my views. However, he may be pleased to know that, in preparing for this speech, I have not required either the services of a focus group or of a spin-doctor. Curiously enough, just occasionally, though not very often, I am capable of thinking for myself. Some of us who have principles about life—and I am not ashamed to say this— do feel that if one is in public life one should stand up for what one thinks to be right and true.

I may be wrong in my views, and I do not pretend to have a monopoly on truth. But while listening to many of the speeches opposed to mine, I heard no arguments against the statistics and facts that I presented to the House. It is no argument to say that because everyone is doing something it is necessarily the right way to go forward. I believe that we are treading a very difficult road. The people for whom I worry are not those of my generation; I worry about the future generations.

I conclude by thanking once again all those who have contributed to this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Hm Prison Blantyre House

5.38 p.m.

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rose to call attention to the record of HM Prison Blantyre House as a resettlement prison, and to the circumstances in which a search of the prison was conducted on 5th and 6th May by officers from other prisons and the prison's governor removed from the prison; and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, my great pleasure in succeeding in the ballot was slightly tempered by the recognition that my debate would follow a most distinguished debate. I can only say that I am most grateful to those noble Lords who, for the moment at least, are remaining in the Chamber.

I believe that I should perhaps begin with a declaration of interest. For many years now I have lived in the neighbourhood of Her Majesty's Prison Blantyre House, in the Weald of Kent. It is a prison that has, in my experience, long held the confidence and even the pride of the local community. That is quite significant because it is a prison where a regime has pertained for many years in which a high proportion of prisoners, after being assessed as suitable, have been released into the community as part of the resettlement for work process. This community is not likely to take kindly to perceived navety in the handling of its local prisoners. Therefore, it is quite significant that the community has had confidence in that regime.

But what was the cardinal feature of that regime? I should describe it as a feature of trust: the governor trusted the prisoners; the community trusted the governor; and the prisoners, in large majority, betrayed the trust of neither. That has led to what Sir David Ramsbotham has described in a report on the prison as an amazing success rate among those who have been released from that prison. On the Home Office's own figures, the recidivism rate has been consistently about 35 per cent better than that of other prisons. I believe that the position can be stated even more favourably than that because the Select Committee of the House of Commons which looked into Blantyre House reported that of those who had left that prison in 1996, 8 per cent had reoffended within two years. The figure for all other prisons was in the region of 57 per cent. That is an enormous disparity.

For that reason one can truthfully say that Blantyre House had become the flagship resettlement prison in England. Confidence was not limited to what I might call "us laity". It was shared by authorities no less eminent than the present Director-General of the Prison Service, Mr Martin Narey, and the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the redoubtable Sir David Ramsbotham. I quote a few lines from the published opinions of each.

When Mr Narey visited the prison in May 1998 as director of regimes he wrote in the governor's visitors' book:
"If any establishment is delivering the Government's manifesto commitment on constructive regimes it is Blantyre House. Its offending behaviour programmes, education and general atmosphere—with singularly impressive staff/prisoner relationships—are likely to make a real difference".
I point out that the governor at that time was Mr Eoin McLennan-Murray. He had been in charge since June 1996 and he was still in charge on 5th May 2000 when he was relieved of his post and ejected from the prison premises at two hours' notice, as I shall describe. He was reallocated to Swaleside Prison in the post of deputy governor. But in the mean time Mr Narey had paid another visit in 1999, by now as director-general. On leaving the prison on that occasion he added o the previous praise in the governor's visitors' book,
"Blantyre House performs a valued role as a resettlement prison within the Service. Its general ethos supports its special function, and I am committed to protecting this".
Sir David Ramsbotham and his team had visited Blantyre in 1997 and then again in January 2000. In his resulting report, which nevertheless made some criticisms, Sir David stated:
"Our inspection wholeheartedly endorsed all the comments in the governor's Visitors' Book, and in our previous Inspection reports, and recognised by the Minister".
His preface ended as follows:
"Therefore, I conclude by praising the consistent, innovative and courageous approach of the governor and staff at HMP Blantyre House to their very difficult and challenging task, on behalf of the public. It has established a reputation for excellence as a resettlement prison, a most difficult role".
That was signed within two months of the governor's summary removal which was immediately followed the same afternoon by the installation of a new governor, who was ordered by the area manager forthwith to request a major search of the prison. He did so, perhaps not surprisingly. It was soon commenced by 84 prison officers from other prisons, including 28 specialists in restraint and control techniques, who were already detailed off and briefed for the purpose.

The committee was told that planning had begun eight days before, and well before the incoming governor was told of his appointment. The outgoing governor was kept in the dark about the planned search and about his imminent removal. So was the board of visitors. In the course of the search—there was no resistance of any sort—damage was done to property. The outside officers smashed internal doors and other fittings, including the two doors to the chaplain's office in the chapel, and the doors to the health centre, to the full repair value of £6,100. As to all that was discovered, Mr Narey's own memorandum to the Select Committee, five months later, stated that,
"The search found some cannabis, three ecstasy tablets, and some pornography. It also revealed inadequate arrangements for locking up tools and mobile phones, authorised for outside work, but which should not have been kept within the prison".
In his oral evidence to the committee, Mr Narey described the cannabis found as, "a very small amount". No prisoner had tested positive for drugs, although all had been tested. No criminal proceedings or even disciplinary proceedings have resulted against any prisoner.

If anything is unsurprising in this episode, it is that the ethos of mutual trust that characterised the regime at Blantyre House has been shattered by it. The prisons Minister, Mr Boateng, frankly admitted that to the committee. Trust had been the bedrock of the prison's success, yet it was destroyed just as crudely and immediately as the prison's physical fittings. The difference, of course, is that trust will take far longer to restore.

The very active and supportive board of visitors reacted with anger and dismay, while the Chief Inspector in his evidence to the Select Committee in October described the search as a ghastly mistake, admittedly, as he said, with hindsight. I know that it has given rise to suspicions, which in the light of Mr Narey's contrary evidence I must myself reject, that the object of the search, as evidenced by its manner, was to provide retrospective justification for the removal of the governor.

I suggest that it is not only the right of this House to examine the circumstances in which this extraordinary and disastrous action took place, it is also your Lordships' very proper concern. This is by reason of the implications it may be thought to have for the responsibilities of the other resettlement prisons, Kirklevington Grange and Latchmere House, to say nothing of any new policy in place at Blantyre House itself. May I ask the Minister—I have given him notice of the questions I wish to ask—what, for example, is now envisaged for education at Blantyre House. and especially for its budget, for art, and for photography there?

The Prison Service explanation of what happened, endorsed by Ministers, is that the search derived from developing intelligence of a grave and sensitive nature, and that the protection of the public made it necessary. On this, the committee, in its swingeing report, found as follows:
"We are completely unconvinced that the search was a proportionate response to the intelligence which has been used to justify it. We do not believe that the reasons given to us in public justify the exceptional search or the way it was carried out. Nor do we find the evidence (as to intelligence) given to us in private persuasive".
I suspect that your Lordships will find this worrying.

As to the removal of the governor, I was told in a Written Answer on 23rd May that his career move—I am not making this up—to a different type of prison had been planned for some time. The director-general decided that this move should take place to coincide with the security operation, so that the programme of action required to take the establishment forward could be driven through from the outset by the new governor. Be that as it may, Mr McLennan-Murray was only told of the actual date of his "career move" on 5th May itself. The incoming governor had been told of his own career move just two days earlier.

Your Lordships may consider that that kind of career planning and management is rather remarkable, and I am glad to see that in the Minister's response to the Select Committee, which he published on Monday evening, at least part of it is described, albeit with hindsight, as he said, as "undesirable".

It is here that one may find significance in the tense relationship that had long existed between the area manager, Mr Murtagh, and the governor. Mr Narey had known it to be tense—as he said to the committee—ever since he became director-general in early 1999. The board of visitors had been so worried by it that about a year before the search they had written about it to Mr Narey, and also to the chief inspector. That seems to have been the principal reason why each paid a further visit to the prison, at the conclusion of which each made the supportive comments that he did.

I ask the Minister whether it is not the case that the visitors in their letter had complained of this, and of the governor being bullied? When the chief inspector and his team visited the prison in January 2000, the board of visitors told him that there was little trust between the area manager and the governor. It was, they said, undermining confidence, but it was this confidence that was required to be able to run such a prison.

Sir David Ramsbotham in his evidence to the committee said,
"The governor had a very clear view of his mission, which had been endorsed by successive Directors General … I do not think that was actually shared by the Area Manager. I get the feeling that the Area Manager, for reasons best known to himself, did not actually support what the governor was doing or why. I think that is thoroughly unfortunate".
Not surprisingly, in its report, the committee stated:
"We conclude that the relationship between the Area Manager and the governor had deteriorated to such an extent that the Prison Service should have addressed it much earlier by moving one of them or by altering the chain of command or both".
So it would be helpful to know whether those perceptions from those quarters are accepted. Why did Mr Boateng's response this week to the report not deal with the relationship?

The management of a resettlement prison of course calls for judgment and courage. The security of the public has to be balanced against the objective of breaking the mould of criminal behaviour through a judicious degree of trust and programmes of activity tailored to individual prisoner's needs. It is the risk-taking in that process which calls for judgment. It is the uncertainty of the outcome which demands courage. Management will always be at risk of being damned if they do and damned if they don't; and not least by Ministers of whatever political colour who are themselves under the lash for presiding over some embarrassing event or another. But surely it is essential that where you have the priceless commodity of trust well established, you must draw on it rather than intemperately jettisoning it when your judgement tells you that changes in the regime are needed. Moreover, you must not let tense relationships in the hierarchy of management persist.

What happened at Blantyre House last year derived, I believe, at least in part from conflicting approaches to its resettlement role. The earlier manager seems to have placed primary importance on fulfilling the security requirements that are appropriate to any ordinary category C prison. Any resettlement programmes had to be subordinated to that. Mr Narey told the committee that in his opinion the staff had inadequate security consciousness.

On the other hand, the governor believed that in giving far greater prominence to a successful resettlement ethos he was delivering what Blantyre House was for. His decision to persevere with this was not unaffected by his having been refused by the area manager any of the extra resources he had said he would need to bring security nearer to normal category C standards. In the way of the world, his successor has, of course, now been given these. I should be glad if the Minister would confirm this contrasting treatment and explain it.

I have some further questions of which I have also given notice. Do the Government accept that there is as yet no formulated policy for resettlement in the Prison Service and that there urgently needs to be one? When will one be formulated and will there be a senior, experienced officer directing it? Is it satisfactory that such a post should be combined with that of a retitled director of regimes? What is the Government's policy towards boards of visitors and what weight will be given in future to warnings from them that relationships are causing them anxiety for the welfare of their prisons? Lastly, what is the Prison Service's own assessment of the damage that this episode has done to confidence in the other two prisons in England delivering resettlement programmes and known as resettlement prisons?

I welcome the decision to recategorise Blantyre House as a semi-open prison. When will that take effect, and will the board of visitors be consulted as to the implications?

This is a sorry story. It must not be allowed to arise again. The Government's answers to these questions can help to determine whether or not it will. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.53 p.m.

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My Lords, it is abundantly clear from the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on HM Prison Blantyre House that some very serious errors of judgment were made in the way in which the situation was handled. I want to single out one event in particular which has caused considerable disquiet: the way in which the chapel itself was broken into by the raiding party. That was completely out of order for two reasons.

First, a chapel—not least one which had made separate provision for Muslim prisoners—is not just "a. n. other" room. It is a place where the sacred is honoured, a place for prayer, the sacraments and worship. It is a place where people in need can think their deepest and most private thoughts. It is not sacred just because it represents the presence of Almighty God, although of course it does so; it is also sacred because it represents the deepest levels of our humanity. To trample so wantonly and brutally over a sacred place is to trespass upon the holy and upon the human. If chapels in prisons are not honoured, then nothing and no one else will be. A society which loses a sense of awe in the presence of the sacred—and whether one perceives "sacredness" in religious, aesthetic or human terms is not relevant to my argument—is a society which threatens to become ugly, depraved and deeply fractured.

I believe that it was also out of order that neither the chaplain, nor his colleagues, nor the board of visitors, were present when the raid on the chapel occurred. Not to have involved them was a serious abuse of power. I seek from the Minister an assurance that when considering raids in the future the Prison Service will be absolutely clear about what may or may not happen in relation to chapels in prisons, and will seek advice from the Bishop to Prisons or the Chaplain-General on the drawing up of guidelines to ensure that such an appalling act of desecration never happens again in our country.

5.57 p.m.

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My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate, I, too, thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for raising this matter. The background and the actions taken in respect of HM Prison Blantyre House are well recorded in the Select Committee's report. I, too, was glad to read the Government's response published in a timely manner for today's debate; namely, as recently as yesterday. One wonders whether it would have appeared so promptly had my noble and learned friend not been planning his debate. Be that as it may, the Government's response is no less welcome for that.

I speak not because I know very much about prisons—sadly, or happily depending upon one's point of view, I do not—but because I am chairman of the Engineering and Marine Training Authority. We have been working in prisons for a number of years promoting engineering training, in particular in resettlement prisons. Our work has not recently included Blantyre House but a number of other prisons. In recent times we have awarded something like 1,000 National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in basic, and some not-so-basic, engineering skills to prisoners preparing to leave prison. We attach high importance to that work. We hope and believe that the Prison Service does too. There have been some genuine difficulties. I do not make too much of them. For example, sometimes it has been difficult to track prisoners moving from one prison to another with regard to the pursuit of their studies and qualifications. But we have worked with the prison authorities to overcome those difficulties. I hope that the work can continue.

However, it is very difficult for us to pursue our task—I know that many others seek to do similar things—if, even in the model prisons like Blantyre House, there is the risk of the kind of disruption which occurred last year and to which my noble and learned friend referred. There has been no justification for the huge disruption to the resettlement process at Blantyre House by any ministerial pronouncement, any items discovered on the occasion of the raid or any statement to the Select Committee.

My organisation pledges its determination to provide as much training as can be absorbed by the prison system for those who are preparing to return to the outside world. Perhaps some of them will not be returning for a long time. They could also benefit from some of the training that we provide. I hope that our work will not in future be disrupted as it was at Blantyre House on the occasion in question.

6 p.m.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating the debate. It is important for the reasons already outlined—the events of 5th and 6th May and the matters of grave concern raised in the report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. It is also important because of the wider questions raised about the role of Blantyre House as a resettlement prison.

I have read the report of the House of Commons committee thoroughly, together with a number of other documents, including the annual reports from the prison's excellent board of visitors. What emerges from those reports is extraordinary. For someone such as me, whose daily work is about imprisonment: and how it is done around the world, the story of Blantyre House is remarkable. We read an analysis of a prison that is almost unique in the world. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if I attempt to set out the particular elements of the work of Blantyre House that make it such an extraordinary place.

First, it ran a regime based on trust. I am not sure that it is widely understood what an achievement that is. The normal structure of a prison is of two sides—us and them. Members of staff and prisoners have, first, to be loyal to their side. If not, the consequences are serious and may be dangerous. That is a basic, universal law of prison life. At Blantyre House, it was challenged and, in many ways, overcome. The prison chaplain told the Home Affairs Committee that the prisoners,
"come into a culture where through working together there was trust, there was responsibility, there was respect".
Secondly, there was a basic rule at Blantyre House: no violence, either physical or verbal. Noble Lords will know that violence is deeply endemic in the culture of prisons in all countries, even here. To establish a prison where violence is not acceptable is remarkable.

Thirdly, the prison built an outstanding relationship with the community around it. Fourthly, the prison worked to make prisoners think not just of themselves and how to change themselves, but of other people less fortunate than themselves. There were projects in which the prisoners worked for old and disabled people. They did an annual day out for 1,000 handicapped people and their carers. That also happens in other resettlement prisons. Kirklevington Grange in Cleveland supports 20 local charitable projects and requires the prisoners there to do at least 15 days' community work.

Looking at those achievements, an experienced person knowing a lot about prisons might say that it was too good to be true and that the prisoners there must have been first offenders or perhaps Financial Times readers who had committed financial crimes. Not at all. The prisoners at Blantyre House in 1998–99 had, on average, served two previous prison sentences and had an average of nine previous convictions. Cynical people might then say that the regime must have been based on the personal charisma of one person and would collapse when that person moved on. That is not so either. The ethos has continued even though governors have moved on. The programme is based on a well thought-out set of stages, with the prisoners having to pass each one before moving to the next. It is a rigorous and testing programme.

It may be said, rightly, that prisons are not there to try out nice theories. That is not the test. The objective of the work is to help people to change and to come out of prison with a new view of life, a new view of what is a worthwhile life and a different approach to other people and their property.

Deprivation of liberty is the punishment for a crime, but once people are imprisoned there is an imperative in a civilised society to try to do things in prison that give them every reason to rethink their lives and stop committing crime. We have substantial evidence that the Blantyre House approach worked. The rate of positive drug tests was 0.7 per cent, against a Prison Service rate of 14.2 per cent. The figure for absconding—prisoners running away or not returning when they should—was two in the past two years out of 16,000 temporary releases. Reconviction rates have been mentioned. Noble Lords will be aware that that is a minefield. Claims are made and it is important to ask whether like is being compared with like. But taking all the complexities into account, the 8 per cent reoffending rate is well below the rate of 22 per cent that would be predicted for the sort of prisoners taken by Blantyre House.

Other aspects of the running of this mould-breaking prison should also make us feel that our Prison Service has much to be proud of. The oversight system—the board of visitors—which is such an admirable feature of our arrangements in this country, works very well. The board takes a deep interest in the prison and the prisoners. It is vigilant in protecting the work of the prison. It ensures that race relations work is properly done. It monitors the work placements and at the same time checks that security is adequate and public protection is in the forefront.

We are talking about a prison with much to be proud of, where we could be described as world leaders. It is very difficult to combine good security, concern for the protection of the public, intelligent assessment and responsible analysis of risk with recognition of what rehabilitation really means. It requires a dedication to looking at the prisoner as a person and a citizen with a capacity to help as well as to harm, to give as well as to take, to show loyalty and trust as well as betrayal and hatred and a determination to help prisoners to stop seeing themselves as the victim and to understand who are the real victims. That is highly skilled work. Sadly, much stands in the way of enabling the really good governors and staff in our prison system to do that.

Mike Newell, the chairman of the Prison Governors Association, wrote an article in the magazine of the Association of Members of Boards of Visitors about the climate in the Prison Service. He described it as a climate of,
"fear, blame and a sense of impending doom".
He asks why the sickness rate for governors nearly doubled in the past year. He asks why more governors than ever before have been removed or have left their posts. And he says that the cause is the performance culture with an obsession for ever-improving results. He says that figures have overtaken people and that we accentuate the negative. He talks about bullying of governors by their bosses, the area managers. Governors feel that they are not trusted by Prison Service headquarters. He talks about the narrow imperatives of the performance measures; for example, governors are judged by how far they reduce the number of people who test positive under the mandatory drug-testing scheme in prison, even if all the prisoners who abstained in prison are released and return to drug-taking straightaway.

All those speaking in the debate today do so, I am sure, out of a deep concern for the Prison Service, its staff and its director-general and with enormous support for the task that it has to do in balancing custody and care, public protection and rehabilitation. However, we all know that nearly all prisoners will leave prison at some point and that many will do so after a relatively short time. The work of prisons makes sense only if it is geared to the outside world, to the life that prisoners will lead when they leave prison and to their capacity to lead a responsible life in the community.

Therefore, I am sure that everyone in this House will welcome some of the changes announced in the Government's reply to the Home Affairs Committee. I am sure that we all welcome the statement that the director-general expects staff to act with complete integrity. Presumably, integrity excludes the type of bullying mentioned by Mr Newell in his article. We must welcome the redesignation of the regimes directorate as the resettlement directorate because it shows a recognition that for most prisoners the prison regime should be oriented towards returning to the community. We must welcome the decision that a key performance indicator about resettlement will be operational from the year 2002.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister, who I know is committed personally very much to resettlement and rehabilitation, whether he can assure us that the Prison Service values the work of the resettlement prisons, understands the complexity of the task of resettling those who have committed serious offences and intends to support, encourage and build on the work of those who try to carry it out. I should also like to know whether the Prison Service has responded to the concerns of the prison governors expressed by Mr Newell and what action is in hand to rebuild good working relationships. I should like to receive reassurance that the Government support fully the independence of the boards of visitors.

Finally, in view of the Prison Service statement which says that it will look after prisoners with humanity and the director-general's statement at the February 2000 Prison Service conference that prisoners should be treated with dignity, I ask the Minister whether he intends to produce guidelines setting out the minimum standards of humanity and dignity to be observed when prisoners and prisons are being searched.

6.14 p.m.

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My Lords, I begin by endorsing with enthusiasm everything that the noble Baroness has just said. I start from the premise that the purpose of the Prison Service is to reduce the level of crime in this country. I make the following observations: first, it is supposed to do so by deterrence and by the rehabilitation of the prison population; secondly, the figures show that it is manifestly failing; and, thirdly, rehabilitation has always seemed to take a very low place in the planning of the Prison Service.

When I was the Minister with responsibility for the Prison Service, I remember how it was necessary to keep repeating the mantra that prisoners went to prison as punishment, not for punishment. They were not there to be beaten up; they were there to be improved. I am not saying that beating up was a common occurrence, but in my day the ethos of the Prison Service was not that of an organisation bent on returning people into society in an improved condition from that in which they had been taken from it.

The increasingly important imperative of reducing crime in this country means that the rehabilitative function is of enormous importance. When one looks at the Select Committee's figures, one sees that by any yardstick Blantyre House was exemplary. Paragraph 109 on page 32 shows that the time spent in purposeful activity per prisoner was very nearly double the Prison Service target, half as much again as the Blantyre House target and double the Prison Service actual. The successful temporary release rate was above the Prison Service actual figure and above its own targets.

The noble Baroness has already pointed out that the percentage of positive tests for drug use was one-twentieth of that in the Prison Service as a whole. That makes one wonder what in the intelligence led the authorities to believe that a crash search of the extraordinary nature recorded was necessary. That search took place in a prison in which staff absence due to sickness, which in any industry is a good indication of morale, was well below the Prison Service target and 25 per cent below the Prison Service actual average. That provides a picture of a thriving organisation, but the next thing that we hear is that the governor has been removed at two hours' notice.

I must pick up that point from my noble friend. It is ludicrous and an insult to expect people to accept that a career move can be made with two hours' notice. However, that is what we are told happened. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, the damage was done in a manner of far more significance to the culture of that prison than is generally recognised, even among those speaking in this debate. The inmates witnessed the spectacle of the people whom they had grown to know, respect and trust as the prison staff being removed. They saw a set of unknown people come in to replace them, smashing down the doors when they could not find the keys and going away just before dawn with the not particularly significant fruits of their search.

Therefore, what was the context in which the prison conducted its work? I am disturbed to read in a report written by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in March 2000 following an inspection:
"We spoke to a group of 12 ex-prisoners who had been released from between nine weeks and two years and returned to the prison for the afternoon to speak to us. This was the first time that this inspection team had had the opportunity to discuss a prison with its ex-residents. They told us the following. Prisoners at Blantyre House were treated with respect as individuals".
That is good.
"They owed a particular debt to the governor, who had put his job on the line for them".
That is impressive.
"Not all the staff supported the governor. The area manager tried to obstruct the governor".
That is reflected in paragraph 79 of the Select Committee's report, which states:
"We conclude that the relationship between the Area Manager and the Governor had deteriorated to such an extent that the Prison Service should have addressed it much earlier by moving one of them or by altering the chain of command or both".
That is the central paragraph in the report. It is extraordinary that that matter was not addressed in the Government's reply, which we have all been able to obtain, although we did so very late indeed. It would have been useful if we could have had it more than 24 hours before this debate.

The invasion was triggered by intelligence. Well, that is a word that we use in the forces and in security when we wish to say that we have very important information that must not be compromised, that nobody else should have and that should be acted on. I respect the fact that sources must be protected, and I understand that we cannot be told the exact detail of the intelligence, or who provided it. However, what was the route—I think that the Minister can tell us this—by which it came from those who gathered it to the Prison Service directorate? Was it through the area manager's office, one would like to know? It was the catalyst for what happened, and what happened is seen by everyone as a disaster.

An important recommendation of the Select Committee is that there should be a proper programme for resettlement and proper recognition of that in the management structure of the Prison Service. The document containing the Government's response currently eludes me, although I know I have it somewhere. The Government said that they recognise that the situation should be changed and that they will do what they have been asked to do, namely., to put one person in charge of resettlement. However, it transpires that they will simply give the directorate for regimes a different title, by calling it the directorate for resettlement. That is the thinnest coat of whitewash that I have ever seen. If nothing better than that can be done, it would be better to do nothing and at least be honest about the situation. I feel strongly about this issue. Having spent three years in the seat of the present Minister with responsibility for prisons, I sympathise with him. I understand that things go on out there, and that one hears about them only too late to do anything effective other than to try to prevent their repetition. The right honourable gentleman in question should ensure that no such event happens again. If he addressed some of the concerns that were expressed by your Lordships, some of whom have very intimate experience of the institutions that we are talking about, that would be greatly to the public good.

Having sorted out why the situation arose, why there was a breach between the area manager and the governor, why nothing was done about the situation, and what precipitated this unfortunate episode, the most important thing, above all, is to ensure that we restore rehabilitation or resettlement as the prime objective of the Prison Service and that that is not done at the last minute and in relation to the few people whom one thinks are possibly remedial. The appointment to a resettlement prison should be regarded as a plum job in the service, and the best people should fill it. They should be backed up to the hilt by the rest of the Prison Service. Until that is done, we shall still be in a mess.

6.24 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for bringing to the notice of your Lordships today the extraordinary treatment of Blantyre House by the Prison Service.

The report on Blantyre House by the Select Committee on Home Affairs in another place shows how important it is to have a democratic, independent body uncovering matters that so easily could be covered up and left to stagnate. The introduction of that report states that Blantyre House prison had a "reputation for excellence" in the resettlement of offenders. It has been described by successive heads of the Prison Service, chief inspectors of prisons and the Minister with responsibility for prisons in those terms.

On 5th May 2000, however, the governor, who had been praised for "doing an outstanding job", was removed abruptly from his post and an overnight search ensued, carried out by prison officers from other prisons.

At the end of this debate, I hope that the Minister will tell us how recommendation 21 of the report will be achieved. That recommendation states:
"Blantyre House will need a clear policy framework, significant resources and the commitment of senior management to rebuild the spirit of trust necessary to return to its role as an effective resettlement prison".
I hope that the noble Lord will be able to add to the Government's reply which has been placed in the Library of your Lordships' House and that he will assure your Lordships that the matter will not happen again. It was a most unfortunate circumstance.

The Minister will, I hope, agree with me that when such a serious error of judgment is made about one prison, there will be ripples of insecurity throughout prisons across the country and among senior staff. That cannot be good for morale or for the people who undertake difficult jobs and need support from the Prison Service.

Why did not the board of visitors stay for the duration of the search? Were its members sent home before the sacrilege took place in the chapel?

While I was visiting a category B prison in Kent, to sit in on a drug rehabilitation session and to see how the prison was trying to cope with a drugs situation, I met one of the prisoners, who was a drugs counsellor in the prison. As sometimes happens, he kept in touch with me and, from time to time, gave me reports on how he was progressing. He graduated to Blantyre House and wrote to me from there. He stated:
"Things have really worked out well for me during my 6 years of imprisonment. I have managed to overcome my own addiction problems and re-train to a level where I am able to help others with similar problems, and to my shock people now not only listen to and ask for my opinion, but are willing to pay me for it. It makes a big difference to how I feel inside being able to support my wife and children again".
While in prison, that prisoner gained a diploma of higher education in addiction studies from the University of Leeds.

That is rehabilitation. It involves making people who came to prisons with a chaotic life-style that had turned them to a life of crime realise that they can mend their ways and work hard, and that there is a useful life waiting for them when they are released. The Prison Service should be proud of such success stories.

On 28th January 2000, I had another letter from the same man. He had been released from Blantyre House and was living and working in the community. I shall quote from the letter:
"I am afraid I am writing to you as I may need to ask for your assistance for a worthy cause. As you know I spent the last 3 years of my sentence at Blantyre House Prison. It is a small prison that holds about 120 prisoners, including 25 life-serving prisoners approaching their release dates. Blantyre House is unique within the prison system in that its main focus is on rehabilitation and reintegration back into society as opposed to retribution.
Unfortunately, Blantyre is under threat of closure or at the very least the dismantling of its regime to something more austere and I fear that the Governor whom I respect and admire is fighting a losing battle to keep Blantyre as it is. The governor at Blantyre does need, and in my opinion deserves the support of those with influence".
That did not happen. I received that letter in January. The raid took place in May, wasting public money and leaving staff, prisoners and supporters of the prison in a state of shock and disbelief. The Government said that the planning started in April. That does not add up.

6.30 p.m.

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My Lords, I too add my grateful thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for instigating this debate. The debate earlier this afternoon concerned marriage and traditional family values. This debate also is about values—the values that a civilised society attaches to its dealings with those who offend and find themselves in our prison institutions.

I should say also that I am delighted that we have so many contributions from noble Lords identifying precisely why they consider things to have gone wrong. I have been a member of a board of visitors for some years and have been involved not only at local level, but also in terms of advising the Prison Service from time to time on a number of issues confronted by it. I can say, like many others here, that I take credit from time to time for the fact that I receive Christmas cards from some former offenders who now lead useful lives.

What happened at Blantyre House prison must concern all those interested not only in the welfare of prisoners, but also, and more importantly, in the progressive policies which help resettle inmates to a law-abiding life. So overcrowded are our prisons that confinement rather than rehabilitation seems to be the primary aim. I know of just a handful of establishments where we can put our hand on our heart and say that they are good prisons. Blantyre House is one of them. Therefore what happened there on 5th May 2000 must shame us all.

In one single evening we demonstrated all that is unacceptable in the running of our prison establishments. Perhaps the Minister could indicate when we last had to send 84 prison officers from other prisons to search an establishment like Blantyre House. I can recollect no such incident in the 25 or 30 years I have been connected with the penal service in this country.

Let me say first that on many occasions I have praised Martin Narey, the Director-General of Prisons, for the way he has tackled difficult issues since taking up his appointment. I am still of the opinion that he is in the mould of progressive director-generals who have run our prisons in the past. We also have some of the best chief inspectors of prisons. Judge Stephen Tumim was no pushover and neither is Sir David Ramsbotham. That is why, the Minister will recollect, we opposed so strongly any idea of diluting the functions of the Prison Inspectorate by merging it with another department. I am glad that that is out of the way and the Minister saw the logic of our argument.

The incident of 5th May will go down as one of the worst examples of ill-informed, misjudged and damaging actions which are a blot on the good name of the Prison Service. I need not repeat in detail what has already been said by many noble Lords in today's debate. The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee set out in detail what happened on that night. I have not been able to read the Government's response to that report as I only received a copy a few moments ago.

The main question—there are rnany—is: who is ultimately responsible for what happened in Blantyre House? Where does the buck stop? I would hate to go back to the situation of conflict which arose between the then Home Secretary Michael Howard and the then Director-General of Prisons, Derek Lewis. Passing the buck does not help. It would be helpful to know who knew what about the operation at Blantyre House and why the matter was handled in the way it was.

The work of Blantyre House prison in steering longterm prisoners away from a life of crime has been a beacon of enlightenment in the prison system for over a decade. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was able to give examples of the successes of the work undertaken in that institution. Prisoners released from Blantyre have a reconviction rate of 8 per cent, compared with the average of 57 per cent for the prison system as a whole. As the Home Affairs Committee pointed out in paragraph 111 of its report,
"It is possible to argue that part of Blantyre House's success with re-offending is based on the fact that those most likely to respond positively to its regime applied for and were selected to go there. This may account for it having a better than average record on re-offending, but it hardly accounts for that rate being one-seventh of the average".
So there was something unique about Blantyre House.

In 1999–2000 Blantyre House prisoners were involved in an average of 43.6 hours of purposeful activity a week as against a Prison Service average of 23.2. Again, that is a positive way in which to deal with those in our prison institutions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, pointed out, only 0.7 per cent of drug tests on Blantyre House prisoners were positive compared with an average of 14.2 per cent for the Prison Service as a whole. And, most importantly, there were no assaults and no escapes from Blantyre House during that year.

On seeing that record, one must ask what was the purpose of that raid. I sat for some years as a magistrate and when the police wanted a warrant to search somebody's premises they had to answer countless questions. Only if one was satisfied with the answers would one agree to put a signature to it. Did those in the Prison Service who took part in that raid take any interest whatever in looking at the positive record of the prison before agreeing to the activity carried out on that night?

That outstanding record has been put at risk by the aftermath of an extraordinarily heavy-handed raid of a kind which could only have been justified by powerful evidence of extremely serious, organised criminal activity. I ask the same question as the noble Lord, Lord Elton. What was the seriousness of the matter? What was the source of the intelligence which effectively resulted in the course of action taken on that night? For example, was there any evidence of a serious drug-trafficking operation involving staff as well as prisoners? In fact no evidence of such activity was found. The amount of illicit goods found in the prison was minimal, far less than would have been found in a random raid on almost any other prison in this country.

The result of the raid caused serious damage to the morale of the staff and prisoners at Blantyre House. Many grave points of concern arise from that disastrous episode and I shall concentrate on just three. The first concerns the misinformation given in an attempt to defend the raid after the event. I think that was shameful on the part of whoever made those statements. I refer, for example, to the Director-General's statement to the Home Affairs Committee that a quite frightening amount of contraband material was found, when the Prison Service's own internal inquiry concluded that there were no significant finds.

The damage caused by this episode could have been mitigated if the Minister for Prisons or the Director-General had made a statement such as, "I received information suggesting that serious organised criminal activity had occurred at Blantyre House and I authorised the raid in good faith on the basis of that information"—nobody would dispute that that is the right thing to do—"However, the raid found no evidence of such activity. It is therefore clear, with hindsight, that the information was faulty. We will now have to work hard to ensure that the work and ethos of Blantyre House receives the strong support it needs to continue its outstanding work of resettlement".

Even at this stage it would not be too late to say that. I hope that the Minister will be good enough to take that into account. Why did not the Minister for Prisons or the Director-General make such a statement instead of continuing to defend the raid?

We are entitled to ask, are we not, what was the source of their information? I have looked quickly at the response made by the Home Office and find no evidence whatever so far. Why did it not match the outcome of the search? Would it not have been better to admit to and apologise for the grave error of judgment on the basis of which the decision was taken? How much advance warning did the Minister receive and why did he continue to defend something which was not borne out by the search? That issue needs an answer.

Secondly, one of the changes made following the raid was to prohibit prisoners from having driving lessons in order to get driving licences for cars, heavy goods vehicles and fork lift trucks. Possession of driving licences makes a big difference to the chances of ex-prisoners getting a wide range of jobs. That was an extremely shortsighted move. Have the lessons been reinstated? If not, will the Minister ensure that they are recommenced as soon as possible?

Thirdly, a key factor in this episode appears to have been a difference of view between the area manager, Tom Murtagh, and the former governor of Blantyre House about approaches to resettlement. At paragraph 77 of the report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, told the Home Affairs Committee:
"I get the feeling that the Area Manager, for reasons best known to himself, did not actually support what the governor was doing or why. I think that that is thoroughly unfortunate".
Does the Minister agree that the resettlement of prisoners is so important that we must aim to ensure that all senior staff in our prison system are fully committed to it? One does not have the impression that the area manager was committed in the same way as the prison governor. Senior staff must be willing to give their full backing to governors who are involved in imaginative steps to resettle prisoners and divert them away from further crime. Does the Minister agree that a strong commitment should be a key criterion in recruiting staff and assessing them for promotion to area manager and other senior posts?

The point at issue is the hostility between the area manager and the prison governor. The questions we are entitled to ask are: why was the area manager at loggerheads with the policies pursued by the governor? Why was there such a difference of opinion on the matters of resettlement? There were complimentary reports, including independent reports, which praised the management of Blantyre House. Surely we are entitled to know how such policy differences are reconciled between the governor and the area manager.

Sometimes it pays to be bold; bold enough to say to inmates that we were wrong in our assumptions; we were wrong in the way that we carried out the operation at Blantyre House. An apology is due to all those who care about our civilised values.

The action of 5th May at Blantyre House was a blot on the good name of our Prison Service. It has a difficult task, which we all appreciate. We shall continue to praise the many good things it does. Equally, it must be accountable for its failures. We need to know much more about the lessons learnt and who was accountable for what. Nothing less will do. I trust that the Minister will be candid in giving that information.

I was delighted by the contribution of the right reverend Prelate, who mentioned the role of the board of visitors. Perhaps I may say that we need to look again at the role it plays. We want to ensure that it is effective and plays a full part in the operation of prisons. I would have had much confidence in the system, had I not been told a few minutes ago by my noble friend Lord Avebury that at Haslar the board of visitors undertook a race relations survey with the full agreement of the Minister but the governor did not like the way it proceeded to carry out its work and three of the board of visitors were dismissed. That is least likely to build confidence of people who give so much of their time caring about those who are in an institution. It is therefore right that we re-examine the role they play.

I conclude by saying that prison is not simply about locking up people. It is also about what happens to them when they are there. I do not refer only to prisons. As a member of a board of visitors I learnt that what happens in prisons affects families. It affects parents and their children. Yet here we are, carrying out the type of action which has effectively done irreparable damage. It is about time we put that right.

6.46 p.m.

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My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for such an excellent overview of this disastrous situation. Between his speech and the report of the Select Committee the case has surely been made for a damning criticism of the raid on Blantyre House Prison. As noble Lords have mentioned, the reply from the Minister for Prisons was received only yesterday. Therefore, we have had little time to digest its contents. To me it gives two contrasting impressions. I find it somewhat defensive in its reaction to several of the committee's critical findings. However, in addressing the plans for the future of resettlement institutions it is distinctly more positive. The undertaking to report progress to the Select Committee in one year's time is to be welcomed.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew set out the facts on the bungling of the raid. I note in the Minister's reply that no mention was made of the near desecration of breaking into the prison chapel, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has drawn attention; or as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, the discourtesy extended to the board of visitors which was, it would appear, misled into thinking that this was only a routine visit and encouraged to leave the site. Thus an important element of independent witness was absent during the course of the raid. Perhaps I may say that not for the first time I am privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who brings such experience to this work, in this case as a member of a board of visitors.

Perhaps I may also draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that, while the excuse for the use of excessive force was that contrary to prison regulations, keys were in the hands of staff outside the prison, no disciplinary action appears to have been taken in respect of what would be a flagrant breach of regulations, either by the Prison Service or Kent police.

However, I recognise that the Minister broadly accepted the criticisms of the mode of the break-in. On the question of intelligence, the Minister upholds the view of the internal inquiry that in the weeks leading up to 25th April there were serious causes for concern. We must accept that view, though, in fairness to the Prison Service, in an otherwise balanced and fair report the Select Committee should have given greater prominence to the evidence given by Mr Narey on 16th May to another session of the Home Affairs Committee in which he stated:
"I think the worth of our doing that is proven by the quite frightening amount of contraband material we found, which included 25 bank or credit cards, not held legally, cameras, passports, driving licences in forged names, visiting orders for other prisons and escape equipment, which would have meant that an individual there fairly easily could have effected his escape".

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My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend is referring to the bag of builder's tools which was part of the legitimate equipment of one of the prisoners but happened to be in the wrong place when the search was made.

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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that intervention. I cannot comment on what was said. However, we note that, in accordance with the recommendations of the committee, a review of intelligence gathering has been put in hand.

As regards the status of Blantyre House. the committee is critical. One of the failures of communication between the prison governor and the area manager, to which many noble Lords have referred and which clearly played a significant part in the whole disastrous incident, was their clearly different perceptions. The governor considered it to be a resettlement institution and the area manager viewed it as a category C prison.

It is worth mentioning a comment on the relations within the service. At paragraph 83 of the report the education manager told the committee that Mr Murtagh told her that prisoners,
"were not to he trusted because they were all beyond redemption".
Mr Murtagh, in his subsequent evidence, refuted that. He said:
"I certainly have not said anything of the sort. I categorically deny it".
But what of the future of Blantyre House? My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew has left us in no doubt of the reputation which Blantyre House had locally, at least up until the events of May. With due respect to his former constituents, they would not be reticent in voicing their objections had Blantyre House and its liberal and imaginative regime posed any threat to the neighbourhood. I understand that objections have been few, if non-existent.

The work placement is well established and successful and in several instances former prisoners now hold permanent jobs locally. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne drew attention to the opportunities made available by various crafts. The Prison Service, in its internal report, refers to the measures now being taken to improve the security of the regime. I am sure that that is all very fine but in evidence to the committee the Minister for Prisons said, "Trust has been shattered", and a former prisoner said that,
"you can buy drugs in here for the first time ever".
A representative from the Prison Governors Association said that,
"the way senior people are treated in the Service at the moment is such that it may not be the wisest career choice".
The Prison Service memorandum states,
"Although much has been said about a loss of Blantyre House's ethos, performance figures strongly suggest that what is best about Blantyre has been maintained and in some key areas enhanced".
I suggest that, in the light of a memorandum from the board of visitors that verges on the complacent. The memorandum refers to continued unrest at not knowing the reasons for the search—
"perceived misinformation repeatedly given out by the authorities"—
and to a lack of confidence in the regime leading to less co-operation in education in prison activities. That is the measure of the damage which has been done to this imaginative institution and, if I may say so, to the service as a whole.

Perhaps I may make one further point. Recommendation 17 of the committee's report states:
"We recommend that when something goes seriously wrong in the Prison Service, the investigation should be conducted independently by the Chief Inspector of Prisons".
It was the opinion of the committee that the two internal reports from the Prison Service appear to lack independence from the chain of command. I understand that similar complaints led to the establishment of the Police Complaints Authority. The Minister has the power to request such an independent inquiry from the Chief Inspector but Mr Boateng in evidence stated that it did not occur to him to do so on this occasion. I believe that the Government's reply to the committee's report on that matter was less than positive and I should like the Minister's assurance that, in the absence of compelling reasons to the contrary, such a procedure in cases of such obvious sensitivity concerning the operation of the service should be the norm.

Blantyre House has been a model institution, well respected in the community and with a below average absconding rate. As many witnesses testified to the committee and as said by many speakers today, it was built on the basis of trust. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, put that particularly well. As to whether there were serious abuses by inmates and staff, and whether there was a serious security risk in the making, there are clearly two views. But the point made so eloquently by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew is that that trust should form the basis of improvements—no institution is perfect—rather than be the victim of some hasty reforms put in hand as the result of what can be described only as a philistine and destructive episode.

For good measure, the committee sought fit to include in its report a check list of how a search of this nature should be conducted. It is devastating in its simplicity and common sense. It reads:
"It could have been planned properly in advance … conducted shortly after dawn (or with adequate lighting provided) … with the direct involvement of the Governor and staff … with the keys obtained and forced entry unnecessary … only in the presence of outside visitors (Board of Visitors) … and under the overall command of Prison Service Headquarters".
The whole service, from the Minister downwards, would do well to bear that advice in mind should the occasion arise again.

The resettlement regime has attracted some of the most imaginative thinking into the Prison Service. It is a scarce commodity; there are only three institutions of its type. The setback to one of these should not be minimised and the Minister should be in no doubt as to the scale of the task facing him in restoring its effectiveness.

6.57 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, want to place on record my gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for providing the Government with the opportunity to call attention to the excellent record of Blantyre House and to commend it as a resettlement prison.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord's opening observation that trust is at the heart of the debate. Whatever one's view of what took place at Blantyre House last May, we must all pull in the same direction and ensure that trust is put at the heart of what in future happens there and at other resettlement prisons. That is most important.

I have enjoyed listening to today's contributions to the debate. They have been excellent in quality and perception and all contributors have carefully constructed their comments and observations. Their criticisms have been precise and points made with honesty and integrity. In circumstances such as these it is invidious to draw attention to any one contribution but, as always, I listened with care and interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. She has a long interest and concern in this area of policy. I shall certainly take away her comment that we ought to have an expression of pride in the achievements of Blantyre House. None of us can be in doubt about the importance of that.

I shall try to answer as many questions as possible. However, if some stones are left unturned I shall try to respond perhaps in writing or in further discussions and meetings. The issue is important and I take it most seriously. The Home Affairs Select Committee held a recent and important inquiry into the search of the prison on 5th and 6th May. It was most critical of the way in which the search was conducted. The Home Office committee responded formally to its recommendations and I am grateful to the chairman of that committee for agreeing to make that response available in the Libraries of both Houses from yesterday. I am gratified by the welcome from all sides of the Chamber for the rapidity of its publication and some of its comments, although I understand that not all Members of your Lordships' House have had an opportunity to study the response in detail.

One key point is that, contrary to reports and some of the committee's suggestions and views expressed today, the search of Blantyre House was not indicative of the Government's lack of belief in the importance of resettlement; far from it. Not only do we pay great tribute to the work undertaken at Blantyre House but we fully recognise its importance and value within the overall prison estate.

We fully accept that unintentionally the search and the simultaneous move of the then governor of the prison led the Home Affairs Committee and others to doubt the commitment of the Government and senior managers in the Prison Service to resettlement and the regime at Blantyre House. We do not, however, believe that that doubt is in any way deserved. The Government greatly regret the damage caused during the search of the prison and accept the need for further work on the security classification of resettlement prisons and an overarching policy framework on resettlement. We are quite clear about the importance of ensuring that Blantyre House and the other two resettlement prisons continue to perform well in that role.

The Government regret that the Home Affairs Committee did not accept the explanation of the reasons for the search of the prison and remain fully supportive of the Director-General in carrying out his responsibilities. I echo the words of the Home Secretary that this is one of the most difficult jobs in public life. Like all Home Office Ministers, and many contributors to this evening's debate, I believe that Martin Narey carries out his job with great distinction.

Many questions have been asked about the decision to search the prison. Blantyre House provides a specialist resettlement role in preparing long-term adult male prisoners for their return to the community. It also caters for about 20 life sentence prisoners as part of their progression towards eventual release. Successful management of the prison depends on the careful balancing of security and resettlement needs. Prisoners who have daily access to the outside world mix with serious offenders who have not yet demonstrated that they can be trusted in open conditions.

While Blantyre House generally fulfils its resettlement role very effectively, the critical balance can be lost if security measures are not given sufficient weight. In the weeks leading up to 28th April 2000 emerging intelligence about Blantyre House built up into a worrying picture of possible security breaches, concerns that prisoners might be involved in criminal activities and the emergence of inappropriate work placements.

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My Lords, perhaps the Minister intends to deal with the following matter at the end of his speech. Is the noble Lord able to tell the House the route by which that intelligence reached the directorate and where in the chain it was evaluated?

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My Lords, it was my intention to deal with that point later. However, as the noble Lord raises it now I am content to clarify the position and place it on record. Intelligence was collected and analysed by a small group known as the Chaucer team based at HM Prison Swaleside. That team reports to the area manager for Kent. Clearly, that was the route whereby the intelligence emerged. I hope that that fully answers the noble Lord's point.

On 28th April the Director-General decided to conduct a full lock-down search of the prison and simultaneously to move the then governor. The Director-General and the Government stand by that decision, although we greatly regret the damage caused. The Director-General has said that, with the benefit of hindsight, the immediate posting of a new governor to start on the same day of such a search was, in his words I think, undesirable.

I do not believe that at this stage we can unearth new facts and judgments about the night of 5th/6th May. Damage estimated at £2,242 was caused by the forced entry through doors in the prison. The governor leading the search, who expressly took with him a colleague who knew the key system at Blantyre House, is adamant that he would never have authorised forced entry into any part of the prison had keys been available. Other evidence was put to the Home Affairs Committee which claimed that the keys had always been available and the damage was deliberate. Whatever the explanation, we can all agree that the damage was regrettable.

An internal Prison Service inquiry found failings in the planning of the search and made a number of recommendations, including the need for contingency plans, the importance of the attendance of the board of visitors at any non-routine event and practical planning issues related to the search. A full review of the security manual is being undertaken during 2001 and the section which gives guidance on searches is being given high priority. It remains the case that non-routine searches of the kind carried out at. Blantyre House are expected to be relatively rare occasions. The service has, nevertheless, accepted that the lessons emerging from the Blantyre House search need to be absorbed into routine guidance.

Allegations have been made of attempts to mislead Parliament and the public over the significance of the results of the search. I contend that those allegations do not hold water. The search team seized a total of 98 "unauthorised" items. It took time both to assess each item and to conduct an inquiry into the management of Blantyre House which provided the basis for improvements to the way in which security should be managed at that establishment. The objectives of the search were broad and included taking a snapshot of security and control measures at the prison.

The committee's criticism is based on public comments in the first four weeks after the search when it was not yet possible to assess the full significance of every item seized in the search. The results of the search do not stand alone as justification for the search. The Director-General accepts that a large number of items seized turned out subsequently to be relatively insignificant. But there were some significant finds, including three abandoned mobile telephones and some small quantities of drugs. The later investigation into the management of Blantyre H ouse revealed weaknesses in the supervision of prisoners working outside the prison, serious shortcomings in the application of security measures, weaknesses in the allocation and selection procedures for the transfer of prisoners to Blantyre House and apparent financial mismanagement of charitable and subsidiary funds.

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My Lords, the Minister makes a fairly damaging statement. As I understand it, money was found in the chaplain's office which, though unusually large for a prison, was not a significant sum. I would not have thought that that amounted to the mismanagement of public funds. Does the noble Lord refer to something else?

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My Lords, I repeat that there appeared to be some mismanagement of charitable and subsidiary funds. I am content to take away the noble Lord's point and give it further consideration.

There were also inadequate arrangements for the securing and locking up of tools and mobile telephones authorised for outside work which should not have been kept in the prison. In other circumstances there might have been considerable concern were it not for the particular nature of the prison.

The Director-General made it clear to the Home Affairs Select Committee that he held Mr McLennan-Murray in high regard. Mr McLennan-Murray is on a two-year secondment to the Department for Education and Employment. The timing of his return rests with him and the Prison Service. The director-general expects Mr McLennan-Murray to govern larger prisons than Blantyre House in the future.

The Government accept the committee's recommendation that the three resettlement prisons should have a new security status. The service has recently introduced a "semi-open" security classification for the women's estate which will accommodate prisoners who present a low risk but cannot be fully trusted in open conditions. The service has reassessed the security needs of the three resettlement prisons and decided to reclassify Blantyre House, Kirklevington Grange and Latchmere House as semi-open. That will allow medium- and long-term prisoners to come into a semi-secure environment and, subject to subsequent risk assessments, to be allocated work placements within the community.

The prison has conducted an analysis of the most recent temporary release failures. Each of the prisoners were at an advanced stage in their progression through Blantyre House and were allowed regular access to the community. There is no evidence to link their absconds to the changes at Blantyre House.

The Government are in full accord with the committee's view of the importance of resettlement. We also agree with the committee's view that resettlement should be part of the plan from the start for all prisoners. However, the Government do not accept the committee's view that there is:
"no policy or guidance on resettlement".
They have accepted that there is lack of a national policy framework. Work is in hand to correct that. That framework should be in place by April 2001. I hope that answers a question that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked.

There are a wide range of resettlement-related programmes and projects to identify and promote effective practice, particularly with regard to getting prisoners employment and accommodation on release. The examples include the resettlement pathfinders under the Government's crime reduction programme at seven establishments, which explore effective resettlement work with short-term prisoners in partnership with the Probation Service and voluntary sector organisations; and the welfare to work pilots at 12 establishments which aim to increase the job skills and employability of younger adult prisoners and help ensure that they get maximum benefit from the New Deal for Young People on release. Over 6,300 young offenders have started the welfare to work programme and some 4,700 have successfully completed it.

There are housing advice and mentoring pilots at six establishments in partnership with the Rough Sleepers Unit. There is the Headstart programme which has been successfully run at Thorn Cross and is being extended to two more prisons. That programme helps prisoners to achieve job aspirations through individually tailored interventions, including building close links with the individual's home community prior to release.

There are many other employment and accommodation schemes based on locally developed partnerships between prisons and other agencies, particularly with the voluntary sector. The experience of those initiatives and programmes is being fed into the development and implementation of a new custody to work strategy for the Prison Service to deliver improved employment and accommodation outcomes for released prisoners.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I sense that he is moving away from the report of the Select Committee. I gave him notice of the questions that I mentioned. Will he find time in the remaining few minutes that he has to deal with, above all, the question of the relationship between the area manager and the governor of the prison? Will he answer the question why Mr Boateng's response made no reference to that? Will he answer the question about funds for greater security, refused to Mr McLennan-Murray but granted, I understand, to the incoming governor? Other questions were asked and we would be disappointed if he missed the opportunity to answer the questions of which he has had notice.

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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for bringing us back to those points. I intended to cover them in my conclusion. I recognise that time is pressing so, particularly in view of the noble and learned Lord's observation, I shall answer the points that he asked. There were some 11 of them.

The noble and learned Lord asked whether, when the board of visitors wrote to the director-general, it complained about the relationship between the area manager and the governor. The director-general says that to his knowledge the first time the specific question of bullying was raised by the board of visitors was before the Home Affairs Committee on 17th October. It raised other concerns to the director-general to which he responded by letter and in person.

The committee criticised those relationships and said that the matter should have been addressed earlier. The question relates to that and asks whether we accept that. We do not. The director-general believes in the professionalism of both the former governor and the area manager and their commitment to resettlement. The director-general explained to the Home Affairs Committee that had Blantyre House been re-roled to a juvenile prison, which was considered in early 2000, he would have wanted Mr McLennan-Murray to stay on as governor.

The noble and learned Lord asked about Mr Paul Boateng's response and why he did not deal with the relationship. I am in some difficulty here because a complaint has been lodged with the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office by Mr McLennan-Murray over the relationship. Because of an investigation being undertaken into that complaint, I am sure the noble and learned Lord appreciates that it would be invidious and wrong for me to comment. Therefore, I cannot comment further on that matter.

The noble and learned Lord asked about the former governor. There was a further question regarding resources to improve security and whether they were refused to him. The area manager asked the former governor to carry out a re-profiling exercise before consideration could be given to providing additional resources. That re-profiling exercise has been carried out by the present governor and, as has been widely expected, has led to a release of further resources. The improvements to security arrangements were carried out by the new governor without those new resources in place. The resources put into Blantyre House relate to resettlement work.

I have dealt with the noble and learned Lord's point on the policy formulation for resettlement establishments within the Prison Service. We are developing that policy.

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My Lords, there is a matter that concerns a number of noble Lords. Perhaps I may press the Minister on the matter. According to what he has said, the Government place much importance on resettlement. The governor did precisely the same. Yet the area manager was in conflict with that particular governor. Where precisely do the Government stand in relation to area managers who are in conflict with governors over the running of prisons?

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My Lords, I accept that that relationship is sometimes difficult and challenging, but clearly it must be right that there is a "negotiated" relationship. However, ultimately operational decisions rest with the director-general. That has to be right.

I want to try to go through all the questions and points. I hope that your Lordships' House will bear with me as I do that. The noble and learned Lord rightly asked whether the Government are satisfied that any senior officer directing our policy should combine with it other duties such as director of regimes. The answer is yes, and that is already part of the present director's responsibilities.

The noble and learned Lord also asked about our attitude towards boards of visitors. It has always been the case that the Government value the independent advice given to Ministers by boards about the NA, a y in which prisoners are treated and the state of the administration and premises within Prison Service establishments. My right honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for prisons and probation expects to receive by Easter a report on a review of boards of visitors that he asked Peter Lloyd to undertake, which is aimed at helping make boards even more effective than they are at present.

Furthermore, the noble and learned Lord asked what weight was to be given to future warnings from boards of visitors that there might be problems with relationships in their prisons. Again I want to put on record that we take these matters very seriously and that they are properly investigated. It is open to boards at any time to raise any of those concerns with Ministers and senior Prison Service managers. All issues raised formally by boards are and will continue to be fully investigated carefully by the Prison Service. The way in which issues are raised and reported upon by boards is being considered by the review group with a view to helping boards focus and report more clearly on matters of concern.

Then the noble and learned Lord asked for an assessment of damage done to Blantyre House in the view of the service. The Prison Service accepts that the new governor needs support. He has received that support. That support is being actively provided to regain the important atmosphere of trust in the prison. That comes back to a key point raised by the noble and learned Lord at the outset. As I said earlier, it is regretted that the damage caused in the course of the search has had some lasting impact. But we need to move on. That is the point I tried to make at the outset of my remarks and in summarising where we are now.

The noble and learned Lord asked whether Blantyre House is to be recategorised and whether the board of visitors will be consulted. It is not usual to consult a board of visitors on matters of security policy. That would not be right and I think that the noble and learned Lord will understand that. But the board is welcome at any time to raise this question with the governor. That will always be an important consideration.

I am in danger of greatly running over my time. Noble Lords raised a number of other points. I was asked about planning for the search—I would refute that it started eight months beforehand—and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked about education matters. I want also to put on record our great regret that the chapel had to be searched in the way in which it was searched. Sadly, however, it has to be said that from time to time chapels within prisons need to be searched. I would reflect that those searches need to be carried out with the greatest possible sensitivity. We will endeavour to ensure that that happens in the future. I was grateful for the comments and observations of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, which will be taken to heart.

One could say and put on record much more about Blantyre House. It is an excellent institution. It is in many ways a flagship and provides a great service to the community and to the nation. Those points must be properly acknowledged. There is no desire on the part of the Government to undermine the resettlement estate in any way, shape or form. We think that this debate, although perhaps, some might say, a little uncomfortable for government, is an important debate to be had. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to it. For those questions that I have not managed to answer as fully as your Lordships would have liked, I shall prepare written responses and try to ensure that those written responses are received promptly, as is my custom. It has been a most valuable debate for me and for the Government and Prison Service.

7.22 p.m.

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My Lords, I am most grateful to those who, at a not particularly convenient hour, have stayed and taken part in the debate or who have listened to it with such attention. One is very nearly disarmed by the Minister, but not entirely. This has been, as the noble Lord put it, a rather uncomfortable debate for the Government and of course we all want to move on, as he, very understandably, was very anxious to move on. However, the events at Blantyre House have merited the parliamentary scrutiny that has been given, both by the Select Committee and by this House. I hope that the Government will consider very carefully the questions that have been asked. When the Minister writes to me with further answers, perhaps he would be good enough to place those answers in the Library.

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My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord.

In conclusion, I think that the whole House will agree that there is a lot of unfinished business here for the Government and for the Prison Service in remedying the consequences of what happened at Blantyre House on 5th May. We welcome the commitment to resettlement but we will be looking carefully to see how that commitment is translated into practical policies and improvements. With those few words and a reiteration of my gratitude, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Elderly And Disabled People

7.25 p.m.

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rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider their refusal to pay for personal care for elderly and disabled people in residential homes.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this debate is to criticise the Government's refusal to pay for personal care charges for old and disabled people who are unable to fend for themselves; and to seek a change of policy. But first I want to congratulate the Government on their decision that the National Health Service will meet the costs of registered nursing time spent on providing, delegating or supervising care in any setting.

That decision was taken within the context of the largest ever sustained increase in NHS funding, with its budget growing by a half in cash terms and by one-third in real terms over five years. I believe that the Government deserve more bouquets than brickbats. Those really are very considerable achievements. But they are ruining a good record by refusing to accept the Royal Commission's main recommendation that necessary personal care for elderly and disabled people, wherever they live, should be free. This refusal will undoubtedly cause severe hardship for many vulnerable people. It is indefensible and unacceptable.

We need to be very clear what we are talking about. Personal care is not some little old lady being given a cup of tea and perhaps a nice toasted crumpet by a kindly neighbour while they chat before a blazing fire about "East Enders". Personal care, needed because of illness or frailty, is usefully defined by the Royal Commission. It involves helping with eating, drinking, toileting, washing, dressing and undressing, as well as assisting with mobility and personal safety. Without this personal care, frail people will sicken and die before their time—a bit more slowly, perhaps, than people deprived of vital medicines, but they die nevertheless and with less dignity. Personal care is as necessary for health and well being as medical care. It is preposterous to differentiate, indeed discriminate, between the two.

The Government appear to believe that charging for personal care does not lead to people going without vital services. I find that absolutely incredible. Personal care is costly and I am sure that many people are denying themselves what they need because they cannot afford it.

Although most of us grow old. not all of us eventually require personal care. But many do and it inevitably leads to costs as well as to personal distress and loss of dignity. I share the Royal Commission's view that the risk of that happening and the resulting personal care costs should be shared by us all, just as NHS provision leads to us all sharing medical risks and costs.

In its report the Royal Commission highlighted the plight of people with Alzheimer's disease and recommended that the provision should be the same for those with chronic conditions as for those with acute conditions. With the present policy suggested by the Government, that will not happen because anyone with a cognitive impairment is less likely to be recognised as requiring intensive "nursing" support as currently defined by the Government. Their needs may not be assessed as health needs and they will not be covered. They are unlikely to benefit from the Government's willingness to pay for nursing care as others do. A fresh definition of "nursing care" might help but it would stretch the meaning of the English language and prove a bureaucratic nightmare.

Yet the Government and those supporting their policy argue that making personal care free would not be effective. They claim that it would target substantial resources without necessarily improving services; that it would deprive elderly and disabled people of planned improvements in other areas; and that it would help only the wealthy. Those are considerable allegations. To see how misguided that analysis is, let us look at the facts. Currently, personal care has to be paid for by anyone with assets of more than £16,000— soon to be increased to £18,000. Since assets include the value of any property owned, and rightly so, millions of people, many of them living just above the poverty line, will be charged. It is simply not true that free personal care helps only the wealthy. It helps millions of those living just above the poverty line—and in middle England. Furthermore, it is unbelievable that, if properly administered, it would not improve services. I simply cannot believe that, with this change, services would not be improved.

The argument based on robbing Peter to pay Paul being used by opponents of free personal care is an ancient one. It is a convenient way of refusing to accept the costs of changes in society. Of course it is based on the false assumption of a fixed pot of gold. It involves a passive acquiescence in the Government's allocation of funding. Critics of the Royal Commission object to free personal care, but objections are never made to free NHS provision or free education provision.

Today, people's priorities are changing. One in four people become incapacitated. There is now widespread fear among the old and disabled that they will be among the unlucky ones. They will be unable to cope with the consequences and the costs. I believe that the Government need to listen and to reassess their priorities.

Some of the changes in the charging arrangements for residential care proposed by the Government are helpful but, frankly, I am sceptical about the loan proposal. It goes like this: if an elderly person needs permanent residential care, does he or she really want the worry of maintaining a property that can no longer be used and that would be sold on their death to repay a loan plus interest charges? Would the property be rented out? Would the tenants damage it? Would they move out when they were asked to do so? Would vandals break in? This proposal offers no advantage to elderly people or their heirs. It makes sense only if there is a prospect of the person returning home. Short-term loans may be helpful, but not loans over the long term.

I suggest this to the Government. As a percentage of our future national income, according to the Royal Commission, paying for personal care will not be a costly burden. It is a natural step forward in our development of social and health support. It will improve the lives of countless old and disabled people. It will avoid the troubling and complex dispute about what constitutes nursing care, so vividly described by Age Concern. It will remove the burden of fear and it will ease personal anguish. It will give vulnerable people a sense of security in old age. I urge the Government to think again.

7.33 p.m.

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My Lords, I have been vexing the Minister with imponderable questions on the subject before us in the debate this evening, and I have the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, to thank for a further opportunity to be a nuisance. I should add that the Minister has, as always, been courteous and helpful, but I regret that I am not yet able to add the epithet "convincing".

Those of us who have accumulated more than a few sere and yellow leaves must all declare a latent personal interest in the topic of who pays for what kind of care—especially if we have also accumulated a few pounds sterling. The Government have moved forward in the matters of both capital disregards and payment for nursing care, and it would be churlish not to acknowledge that. Further movement on capital—indeed, the eventual abolition of the capital limit—has been promised in respect of elderly people, though not, I understand, in respect of disabled people below pension age—and thereby hangs a question. On the other side of Hadrian's Wall, they have, as is their right, plans to do things rather differently. Learning from the Scots would be nothing new for the English.

What has not been answered, or indeed proposed for answer, is the argument that a line drawn between what a nurse does and what someone else does is simply not sustainable as a dividing line between modest riches and relative poverty. If non-nursing care has to be paid for, people below pension age with capital resources will exhaust them before they reach pension age. Matters would, of course, be very different if the capital rules for residential care ran in line with the much more realistic capital exemption for inheritance tax. With the rules as they are at present, people whose care needs arise after pension age will rapidly lose their hard-won capital as they pay for what they had thought their taxes and contributions had already paid for. Such older sufferers will inevitably include people who have been carers throughout much of their adult lives and had been hoping to settle some protective resources on their disabled adult son or daughter.

I could say much of what I want to say with reference to people with other forms of intellectual disability or cognitive impairment, groups already touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. I refer to those whose condition means a need for intensive support and some loss of control over their own destinies. But I propose to concentrate on learning disability because it so well illustrates wider anxieties about the nursing/non-nursing dividing line. What I have to say about this group could readily be extrapolated to what could be said about people with Huntington's Chorea, Alzheimer's disease, or other mental and physical impairments possibly caused, for example, by strokes. I accept that the number of people with learning disabilities who have substantial personal assets is relatively small. However, if the distinction between nursing and personal care does not work here, I doubt that it works anywhere.

I have huge respect for the high quality professionalism of learning disability nurses. Some made the large institutions a little less awful, despite appalling surroundings and woefully inadequate resources. Some were pioneers of the movement to residential homes in the community. Some, as community learning disability nurses, have held together community services in grave danger of falling apart and have secured—against the recalcitrance of those who seem to want to bar the way—access to mainstream health services for people with learning disabilities. I shall pause there lest the right reverend Prelate accuse me of stealing from Ecclesiasticus the whole of that resonant passage which begins:
"Let us now praise famous men".
I am leading up to the observation that the introduction of the NHS in 1948 converted care attendants to nurses, and care to nursing. Furthermore, developments since have meant that much of learning disability caring is done by the person best qualified to do it, who may or may not be a nurse. In location A it might be a nurse. In location B it might be someone else with the relevant skills. For example, behaviour management might fall to a nurse, a psychologist or a social worker. I should add that, as we increasingly recognise the wide range of abilities among people with learning disabilities, and the potential of many, I expect to see other people with learning disabilities among those trained and qualified to support those with more severe disabilities.

The complications of trying to maintain the nursing/ personal care distinction get worse. Those nurses who entered residential care, often in leadership roles when the hospitals closed, may or may not have maintained their registration as nurses. Some have maintained their registration, but you cannot practise as a nurse in a residential care home even if you are one. So what they do—even if based on nursing knowledge and competencies undertaken by someone registered with the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting—will not count as nursing care. There are procedures, such as administration per rectum of medication for epilepsy, which might be thought pre-eminently a nursing function, and may well be done by a nurse if one is present, but which is commonly done by someone else who was originally trained by a nurse.

It seems to me that, despite evident good intentions, the Government have landed themselves with confused principles and inoperable practice. The scheme will fall down every time someone with personal resources is getting care on the nursing borderline. Those who need long-term care and support are not where they are by choice, and we are not arguing about options in their lives but about basic necessities. Moreover, these are necessities over and above the accommodation, food, light and heating and daily living expenses which all of us have to meet. The necessities we are debating are the care costs which most of us do not incur because we are fortunate enough to be able to do these things for ourselves.

I do hope that the Government will think again because what I venture to call their interim conclusions are not, in my view, sustainable as a long-term solution. That is, I assume, why our Scottish neighbours are thinking of doing things differently. Improbable as it may seem, I do know people with learning difficulties who are both quite well off and well advanced in years, and whose main carers are not nurses practising as nurses. While the political parties are committing themselves to various visions of the brave new world, it would be good to have a government-led all-party agreement of vision and common sense embodied in the decision to make essential care free.

To return to Ecclesiasticus, such a comprehensive and rational policy would ensure that those responsible for the policy were not among the people who leave no memorial. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would wish, modest as he is, to be remembered along with his ministerial colleagues for a major advance in social policy. I look forward to his reply.

7.42 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, for giving the House this most welcome opportunity to discuss one of the most contentious aspects of the Government's proposals to reform health and social care. Noble Lords may have noticed that Clause 48 is one of the shorter clauses in the Health and Social Care Bill. I confidently predict that it will generate by far the most debate. It is timely that your Lordships are discussing what is, in effect, the subject of that clause today, having already seen the text of the Bill and heard the Second Reading in another place a week ago.

In the daily lives of frail older people, distinctions between nursing care and personal care are often fine and not readily apparent. The Government's decision to reject the majority recommendation of the Royal Commission that personal care, as defined in its report, should be universally free immediately begged the question of what the Government mean when they talk of nursing care and personal care. So far, there has been no straight answer and the contortions of Ministers in another place as they try to avoid giving a definite answer to that question is a growing cause for concern.

I hope that your Lordships had an enjoyable recess, particularly the extra week's holiday, which was well deserved after last year's marathon Session. However, perhaps like me your Lordships felt the seasonal cheer evaporate as the Government's list of holiday reading began to emerge. The Health and Social Care Bill, published 21st December; the domiciliary care charges guidance, issued 3rd January; followed swiftly, a couple of days later, by the supporting people charges guidance; the intermediate care guidance, due any day; and the continuing care guidance, promised for December 1999, now described as "coming soon". The national standards framework on services for older people must, one fears, be coming by rail, because it was announced months ago. We have been waiting for it for ages and there is no sign of it yet. Altogether, one gets a sense not of joined up government, but a jumble of government, coming towards us.

I list all those publications, the contents of each of which is interrelated, because to do so illustrates the extent of the major changes which are taking place in the fields of health and social care. However, welcome as many of these reforms are to those on these Benches, we are fearful that the whole edifice of social care is being built on a foundation which is wholly unclear. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, alluded eloquently to the lack of a clear and inclusive definition of nursing care and, consequently, confusion about personal care.

Since the publication of the report of the Royal Commission, there has been a great deal of discussion about the extent to which it is possible in practice to differentiate personal care from health care. Assistance with intimate tasks such as washing, bathing, dressing and toileting have always been a part of nursing care. When a person is unable to perform such routine tasks of daily living, there is usually an underlying physical cause. Moreover, the inability either to attend to one's own personal care or to have it carried out by someone else frequently and regularly would, in most instances, rapidly lead to problems which require medical attention. It is for that reason that many of us on these Benches believe that the Government's rejection of the majority report of the Royal Commission is wrong. Not being able to have a bath for weeks on end is an indignity which no older person should have to suffer for fear that he or she cannot afford the help.

The noble Lords, Lord Ashley and Lord Rix, have stated in great detail that it would be wrong to concentrate, as many in this debate so far have done, solely upon one condition; namely, Alzheimer's. There are many reasons why people need help with personal care, not least of which is simple frailty following a fall or the simple frailty of old age. To single out one condition for an exemption would be to compound one unfairness with another.

Members of this House and Members of another place, along with a range of organisations, including the RCN, CAB, Alzheimer's, Help the Aged and my own employer, Age Concern, have all expressed fear of the potential inequity of these proposals. Two people with identical personal care needs who receive exactly the same help may face entirely different costs—one having to pay and one not—either because of where they live or because the person who carries out that care is or is not a registered nurse. So far, the Government have failed to refute that interpretation of their proposals. If that analysis is incorrect, the Government must explain why, and do so unequivocally now.

There are three reasons why the Government should make an explicit statement about the definition of nursing care and why they should do it soon. First, their proposals are open to widely varying interpretations, some of which may or may not be wholly erroneous. For example, there is a widespread assumption that most nursing type care in nursing homes will be free. However, if the care is provided not by a registered nurse but by a care assistant, it may have to be paid for. In fact, it is arguable that a great deal more care may have to paid for in nursing homes where a large number of care assistants are employed and supervised by a small number of registered nurses than in care homes where district nurses provide frequent nursing services. Older people must not be misled into thinking that their care in nursing homes will be free when it will not.

Secondly, a major component of the Health and Social Care Bill is the proposal to integrate health and social services much more closely than ever before in structural terms. There is the potential for small cottage hospitals, in which all care is free, to be redesignated as nursing homes, in which personal care has to be paid for. If that is going to happen, older people need to know.

Thirdly, in another place on 10th January, in response to questions—some from his own Benches—about what is and what is not deemed to be nursing care and therefore free, the Secretary of State said:
"It would depend on the assessment".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/01: col. 1093.]
He followed that up, at col. 1094, by saying:
"Who can make the assessment for free nursing, other than a nurse?".
There is someone else who can be called upon to make that kind of decision—a judge. That should come as no surprise to the department that was involved in the Coughlan case. It is highly likely that such matters will be determined in court when people who feel themselves to have been treated inequitably inevitably seek redress. Far be it from me to be disparaging about the legal profession—a dangerous pursuit in your Lordships' House, blessed as it is by the presence of so many noble and learned Lords—but I do not believe that courts should be the arbiters of this important matter. For if issues such as these are resolved in court, it will be those with the greatest capacity for articulation rather than those with the greatest need who end up with the support that they need—and that is wrong.

I hope I have explained why, in the absence of an undertaking to fund "personal care", there is an urgent need to define what is "nursing care". In order to begin to resolve the issue, I ask the Minister to include in his response an answer to the following question. The Government's current definition of "nursing care" is set out in Clause 48 of the Health and Social Care Bill. Does that, or does it not, include the cost of the time taken by a care attendant to carry out a task which is supervised or delegated by a registered nurse? If the Minister will cover that point in his reply, your Lordships will be one step closer to ensuring that older people know exactly where they stand and the Government's welcome reforms will be able to go ahead on a sustainable basis.

7.50 p.m.

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My Lords, I welcome this debate standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, and thank him for introducing it. I consider it an honour to take part in a debate that he has promoted. I do so out of a passionate conviction that a society's notion of whether it may be called "civilised" is measured by its attitude to the needs of the most vulnerable. But it goes deeper than that: today's wealth and well-being are, for each of us, the result of our forebears' labour. If we forget the enormous debt we owe to the past, we become prey to smug and myopic arrogance.

On grounds of morality, compassion and common humanity, the elderly in our country deserve, and need, the best and most effective care that we can provide. We should be deeply ashamed of the way in which many of our elderly are treated and of the state of some of the psycho-geriatric wards in our hospitals.

I recognise, of course, that this debate is not about hospital provision but about care in residential homes. However, I am trying to place it in the broader context of how the elderly are treated in our society. Therefore, perhaps I may raise three questions.

The first has already been referred to. It relates to the Royal Commission's recommendation that personal care should be free at the point of delivery. When a Royal Commission has laboured long and hard and when it has come up with an equitable and just solution, for the life of me I cannot see why it should be ignored.

So why are the elderly, especially those suffering from long-term conditions such as dementia, to be penalised? Also, I fail to see how, without a massive increase in inspectorial bureaucracy, the definition of what constitutes "nursing care" and what constitutes "personal care" can be made to work. Other speakers have referred to this matter and I make no apology for doing so. If a patient requires feeding, for example, is that "personal care"; or, because that feeding keeps the person relatively well, is it to be classed as "nursing care"? The idea of inspectors with clipboards and watches touring residential homes to determine whether the definitions—which do not yet exist—are being complied with conjures up a picture worthy of Kafka.

Secondly, in common with many others, I look forward to the publication of the national service framework which will for the first time set national standards in relation to care for older people. That is to be welcomed. However, can the Minister assure me that the national service framework will include—or that it already includes, at least in draft form—within its definition of standards the right of elderly people and staff in residential homes to receive spiritual care?

I pay tribute to the thousands of clergy and lay people and to those of all faiths who currently offer daily pastoral and spiritual care to the elderly in the community on a voluntary basis. It would be tragic, not to say immoral, if the national service framework sought to define care purely in material terms and failed to recognise that all human beings, not least the elderly, have spiritual needs, hopes and fears which require to be met in compassionate and sensitive ways.

My third point is, I hope, a simple one. Her Majesty's Government are in the process of setting up a national children's fund, with a budget of over £450 million. It will be distributed during this year and the following two years. Its purpose is to,
"help vulnerable children and young people, listening to their needs and supporting them in breaking the cycle of poverty and disadvantage".
It is a welcome development. But old people, too, are frequently trapped in a cycle of poverty and disadvantage—poverty and disadvantage which never receive the public attention that they deserve, notwithstanding the huge effort of organisations such as Age Concern. I pay public tribute to that organisation and all that it stands for. A teddy bear with an eye-patch brings the money pouring in; people are shown an old person with a stick, and the money stays put. Would it not be wonderful if, for the next three years, the BBC ran an "Old People in Need" appeal, and gave it the kind of energy and enthusiasm that it gives to the "Children in Need" appeal? I raise the question, guessing, sadly, that the response of the BBC governors to the suggestion will probably be negative, because the challenge to change public perception would be thought too difficult—or, in BBC-speak, "not sexy enough". I await with interest any response to the challenge. I am almost certain that the response will be absolute silence.

Will Her Majesty's Government, believing as they do—as I and many others do—in freeing children from cycles of deprivation and poverty—now make available at least a similar sum of £450 million for elderly people? If not, why not? The pattern of administering the fund could be the same—that is, it could be administered by community foundations and local charities. Again, I want to honour and pay tribute to all the community foundations I know which do an outstanding job. If that fund could be put rapidly into place, it would do much to raise hope among carers who work with the elderly. It would be another signal from the Government that older people should be given by the nation the dignity and respect that they so richly deserve.

7.59 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, should like to express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, for raising this important issue, which is of such concern to many elderly people and their families. It is with regret that I do not support the noble Lord's Question, as it is clear that much pain is being caused to many elderly and disabled residents by the present arrangements.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and I were cosignatories to the dissenting report by the Royal Commission on long-term care. Unlike the majority report, we did not recommend that the burden for all personal care should come out of public funds, for reasons that I shall touch upon later in my speech.

In considering the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, it is of critical importance to note that the Government are already paying, and have agreed to continue to pay, for all or some of the personal care of 75 per cent of the elderly in residential homes. These 75 per cent are the residents who cannot afford to pay for care themselves. In practice, Britain has a limited form of social insurance. Everyone is insured against not being cared for because they will always be provided with care free if they cannot afford to pay for it themselves. Accordingly, the Question tabled by the noble Lord relates only to the 25 per cent of elderly people in residential homes who can afford to pay for their own care because they have assets in excess of £16,000.

In arriving at a decision on free personal care for all, regard has to be paid to the unequivocal statement made by government in their response to the Royal Commission's report. That response states in paragraph 2.6 that making free personal care available to all would consume most of the additional resources they plan to make available for older people through the NHS Plan. I regret that I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that the additional cost is not so high. In practice, the additional cost of providing free personal care to the 25 per cent of residents who can actually afford to pay for it themselves is £1.1 billion initially, rising to £6.4 billion in the year 2050. Indeed, if government accepted this proposal, it has to be remembered that what we would be talking about in effect is simply the transfer of £1.1 today to the public purse of a burden presently borne by those residents who can afford to pay for their own care.

Once there are only limited funds available, the question of how best to use them raises the issue of priorities. In our dissenting report we concluded that there are at least two higher priorities than free personal care for the 25 per cent of elderly residents, some of whom are wealthy and all of whom are able to pay, either fully or partially, for their own personal care. The two priorities were, first, providing an adequate level and quality of personal care for the elderly who are unable to pay for it themselves; and, secondly, the provision of extra support for the millions of informal carers.

From the evidence that we heard at the commission, it was clear that the amount and quality of care being provided was inadequate in many areas due to a shortage of funds. In this regard, it is instructive to study the evidence of Age Concern, the organisation that exists for the purpose of protecting the interests of the elderly. In its final paper to the Royal Commission, it unequivocally stated:
"However, no matter what the funding or administrative system, the heart of the current problem is inadequate funding. However financed … more money must be set aside for those who will need care as they age. The result of the failure to take account of this and to plan accordingly is damaging short termism".
Evidence to the same effect was given by the local authorities, which raised the issue of the rationing of services to elderly people as a result of the shortage of funds which in turn led, understandably, to the limited available funds being applied to those with the severest needs, thereby depriving those with lesser, but very real needs, of the care that they required.

I move on to the second priority; namely, informal carers. Twice as much care is provided informally as formally. But for this provision of care by children, spouses, relatives and friends, the burden on public funds would increase by as much as 70 per cent of the current cost. A decline in informal caring has long been predicted, due to more marital break-ups, more mobile lifestyles and the increasing number of women in employment, among other factors. If there were a reduction in informal care of only 20 per cent by the year 2051, it is estimated that it would lead to an increase in public expenditure then of £3.8 billion.

The strain on carers, many of whom are themselves elderly, is almost unbearable in many cases. Many carers say that they are at the end of their tether; and that, if they are not supported, they will give up. Informal carers, who sacrifice so much to care for the people they love desperately, need additional support and particularly respite care. They deserve it on the grounds of natural justice. But, as it happens, if they do not get it and stop caring as a result, the cost of replacing them with paid care will fall on government. I suggest that better care for the elderly who cannot afford to pay for it and more support for informal carers are higher priorities than personal care for those who can afford it.

In conclusion, I should like to make it clear that 1 am not saying that there is no case for free personal care for the elderly who do not qualify for it at present. Obviously, using up their lifetime savings causes severe grief and anguish to elderly people, especially when that involves selling the homes in which they have lived for much of their lives and which they had hoped to pass on to their heirs. If there is additional funding for the care of the elderly, it would he appropriate for consideration to be given to paying for personal care for all. However, such a claim for additional funding would need to be weighed against the natural desire of taxpayers to keep public spending low and against all the other unmet calls on public funds to determine where in the hierarchy of priorities it fell.

8.7 p.m.

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My Lords, I am sorry that the vagary of the draw tonight has given the House Tweedled um followed by Tweedledee. However, I am privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, in this debate. We spent many agonised hours—I do not exaggerate—as members of the Royal Commission deliberating over these issues; indeed, hours, days and nights. It is not easy to sign a minority report, especially when, admittedly, one knows that much distress is being caused, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. Much distress is being caused to elderly people who thought that everything would be paid for but who now find that that is not so. As I say, this was not an easy route to follow. Nevertheless, as the debate has progressed and the Government's package has been unveiled, I have become even more strongly of the opinion that we did the right thing and that our recommendations are correct.

We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, for raising this issue and for his moving opening speech. He rightly stressed the virtues of free personal care, and I disagree with little of what the noble Lord said. However, some of the vices have also to be recognised. The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, quoted the figures from the Royal Commission as rising to £6 billion by the middle of the next century. But, to my mind, that is a vast underestimate. I speak as an economist rather than anything else in this respect, but if you cut the price of something to zero people will consume a great deal more of it.

If care were free in residential homes—and we may get a controlled, or uncontrolled, experiment on this in Scotland, if they continue along the unwise route that they have taken—many people who are being cared for at home at present with the aid of their families would move to residential homes, or nursing home care, and that is where they would spend the rest of their lives. That is not what they want. It is an unfortunate side-effect of a well-meant policy.

Further, where will the money go? We cannot get away from the fact that for some of us public spending is very much an instrument to help the worse off. However, none of the extra spending on personal care would help the worse off. Some 70 per cent of people who receive the care at the moment have it paid for by the state. Therefore, only the better off 30 per cent would benefit from the change.

I do not for a moment say that those people are wealthy. But they are well above the average in terms of wealth. They comprise the top 30 per cent. Indeed, in most cases, their heirs will benefit from the measure as, on average, the elderly people receive the care for two years. The measure will enable these elderly people to leave their homes to their children. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to want to do. I do not wish to do it, but it is a perfectly reasonable thing to want to do. If one wants to do that, one can prepare for that step now by insuring oneself privately. No speaker in the debate has so far mentioned that before Christmas the Government announced, following great pressure from some Members on these Benches, that long-term care products to enable better-off people to insure themselves would be properly regulated so that snake oil salesmen did not sell them to vulnerable people. That is a tremendous breakthrough and the Government deserve credit for that, even if it took them some time to achieve it.

My next point arises from the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, whose comments on these issues I listen to carefully. She said that it is a scandal that many old people cannot take a bath for weeks. It is a scandal. That is why we do not make personal care our priority. It is scandalous that under the present system the most disabled older people living at home receive four hours' care per week. That is why these tough decisions about priorities and resources have to be made.

I welcome the fact that the bulk of the money the Government are making available will be allocated to those people. It is £900 million. It is not small beer. However, I regret deeply that the Government have "wrapped up" the money under the title, "intermediate care" which means nothing to anyone. However, in practice, it means those extra aids and adaptations which enable a person living at home to get in and out of the bath. Therefore he or she does not spend weeks without taking a bath. Intermediate care covers the period between someone's discharge from hospital and their return to their own home where they want to be. Intermediate care enables them to be properly cared for and looked after. It ensures that they are not shoved into a nursing home with no possibility of exit or improvement.

When we compare the Government's package with the free personal care package proposed by the Royal Commission, I should point out that the Royal Commission specifically rejected the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and myself that no elderly person should ever again have to sell their home during their lifetime to fund their care. Under the Royal Commission's proposal, people would still be forced to sell their homes to pay for their care.

Carers were eloquently referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. More money is made available for them—I accept that it is not enough—in the Government's package. I am afraid that they were dealt with in what I can only term an offhand way in the Royal Commission's report. Of course it understood the value of carers, but, fixated as it was on this single holy grail of free personal care that would solve all our problems, carers were brushed aside. However, they are catered for in the Government's package.

I refer to free nursing care. I understand the problems of definition and that the Government's definition is not the same as that of the minority group. I should not be surprised if the Minister does not have cause to regret that he did not adopt our simple definition but instead entered the rather complex waters that will be discussed at length in this House over the next few months. However, I welcome free nursing care which will deal with the worst anomaly in this area. Nothing will deal with all the anomalies. Free personal care will not do so. Why is it right that if an elderly person needs help with eating that should be paid for, but if they need help to cook their food they should have to pay for that themselves? That is the Royal Commission's recommendation. It is at least as anomalous as the situation we are discussing.

Therefore free personal care does not get rid of all the anomalies. One creates new ones to replace the old ones. One pre-empts the resources that should he allocated to better conditions and better care for old people. I could not agree more with every word that the right reverend Prelate said. To my shame I had not thought much about the state of elderly people in our country before I sat on the Royal Commission. Much of what I saw shocked me. However, it is because I believe passionately that we must do more for older people, and that in particular we must do more for poorer older people, that with great regret we had to reject the proposal for free personal care in favour of a package in the minority report which I am delighted to say is to a large extent reflected in the response of the Government.

8.15 p.m.

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My Lords, I too welcome the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. It is a great privilege to take part in a debate with so many speakers who have enormous experience and understanding of the complex issues involved.

However, I must start by expressing disappointment that the Government have moved so slowly to resolve this difficult issue. The Leeds case was first considered by the health ombudsman in 1993 or 1994, but, apparently, we are still a long way from a clear definition of nursing care. I acknowledge the hard work carried out by the Minister, his colleagues and officials as well as that of the Royal Commissioners. We must acknowledge that this is a complex matter.

However, there is a worry that the Department of Health does not seem to be carrying with it many of the organisations which have a great amount of expertise in this field, including the charity which I headed until last summer, Age Concern—I thank the right reverend Prelate for his kind words about that organisation—the Methodist Homes for the Aged and the Abbeyfield Society. That is both worrying and sad.

When the NHS Plan and the Government's response to the Royal Commission were published in July 2000, I asked a supplementary question of the Minister about the definition of nursing care. I was greatly encouraged to note that the Government's response to the Royal Commission stated that,
"in future, the NHS will meet the costs of registered nurse time spent on providing, delegating or supervising care in any setting".
I thought that that would mean that we could go beyond what most people consider to be basic nursing provided by a nurse. That is what it appeared to mean. I am now worried to learn that the Health and Social Care Bill, which is before the other place, offers what seems to be a much narrower definition of nursing care—indeed, I gather that it does not define the NHS's responsibilities at all but merely debars social services from purchasing such care. I fear that the Bill will need radical amendment in this House to determine how nursing care will be more broadly defined to include those elements of care delegated or supervised by a nurse. This is what older people and their relatives and carers desperately need to hear. After a decade of muddle, with worrying and often distressing consequences, this debate offers us an opportunity to rehearse our arguments so that we can get this matter right once and for all when the House considers the Health and Social Care Bill.

I refer briefly to three other matters. The first concerns capital limits. I especially welcome the three-month time-limit before a person's home is included in the means test. Given that people should only be in residential care when they cannot cope at home any longer—that is, after all, the point of the community care policy—and that this usually happens in the last year of their life, perhaps the period ought to be extended to at least six months. That would make a great difference as it takes a long time for the necessary arrangements to be made for the transition to end-of-life long-term care. The capital limits that "bite in" thereafter remain rather low. It might have been better if the Government had been a little more radical in that regard. Perhaps it might be reconsidered. Where does the figure of 40,000 homes—that is over a hundred every day—being sold to pay for care home fees come from?

The regulation of long-term care insurance is essential. I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in that respect. It is essential that that is undertaken quickly.

Lastly, I refer to long-term care home fees. About four years ago, when I headed up Age Concern, we undertook a survey with the Royal College of Nursing to estimate the costs of nursing care in a nursing home. It concluded that the cost was around £150 per week. At the time some nursing homes were charging over £350 per week. That would have meant that self-funders would still have had to find about £200 per week if the nursing element of their care was funded by the state. This is now to happen. I have not seen any figures on the estimated cost of personal care per person in long-term care, but I find it difficult to believe that it will reduce the overall figure much—except for those in residential care who would benefit. In other words, it will still be expensive for the self-funders to pay for the hotel costs of their care. Even the cheapest bed and breakfast today costs £20 per night or £150 per week. Thankfully, the quality of care in long-term care homes is rising, and will rise further once the key recommendations of the Fit for the Future proposals are implemented. Some modern care homes are akin to mid-range hotels which would charge about £35 per night or £250 per week. So quality comes with a price. I believe that we must all be more honest about this, so that once and for all we can be clear about what we as a society and in particular our older population, the families and carers, can expect.

8.22 p.m.

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My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, on raising this crucial issue. I found the case he made utterly convincing. It was backed up by a number of other noble Lords who raised vivid illustrations of the problems with the Government's policy. That said, however, it has been a privilege, as the right reverend Prelate made clear, to take part in this debate. While profoundly disagreeing with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, nevertheless I fully recognise the conviction and force underlying what he said. In the view of my party, the Government's free nursing care plans set out in the Health and Social Care Bill are fatally flawed. They set up an artificial and unsustainable distinction between nursing and personal care. As many noble Lords have made clear, that is unjust. It means that many people in nursing homes or at home will still be means tested for care such as being dressed, bathed or washed, which they would not pay for in an NHS hospital. That will be exacerbated by the continuing low level of the means-tested threshold.

No one has a brief for the current regime. The system is complex and entitlement is unclear. Who pays for care is dependent on for whom and where the care is provided. My party found the key recommendation of the majority report of the Royal Commission—that personal care should be free at the point of use—highly persuasive and we regard this as a key priority for future expenditure.

People in long-term care incur three kinds of cost: first, living costs; secondly, housing costs; and, thirdly, personal care costs which arise from frailty or disability. Living and housing costs are legitimate items which people should generally be expected to meet themselves. Some of those costs may fall to be met through income maintenance but they are costs that fall on us all and reflect personal choices and lifestyles. The straightforward living and housing costs of staying in residential care should remain the responsibility of the individual, subject to means testing.

However, personal care costs fall heavily and unexpectedly and are beyond the control of the individual. For that reason we believe that personal care costs should be exempted from means testing in all settings and instead based on an assessment of need. The Royal Commission defines personal care as the care needs that give rise to major additional costs of frailty or disability associated with old age.

Critics of the commission's proposals, including the two distinguished commission dissenters, stated—as they have today—that the changes proposed by the Royal Commission would give rise to an undue and massive increase in demand. But the commission makes it clear that an exemption from means testing does not mean a demand-led system. A proper system of assessment of need of the level of stability and dependency will be essential. In addition, cost control could be achieved by the determination of a maximum figure for personal care costs. Any costs exceeding this level would continue to fall on the individual and be subject to means testing. Between 100,000 and 125,000 people in residential settings would benefit from excluding personal care costs from the means test.

Personal care costs in the domiciliary setting should also be exempt from charging. Therefore, the perverse incentive mentioned by noble Lords would no longer exist.

We are not wholly negative on these Benches about the Government's plans. One recommendation, for the granting of a three month breathing space for people admitted into residential or nursing homes before they are subject to the means test, is highly welcome. However, in our view overall the Royal Commission majority recommendations offer a humane and practical formula for addressing the funding of long-term care. Personal care should be free on the basis of assessed need. Location should not matter when people need intimate care such as bathing, dressing or feeding. That care should be free. That means that the personal care element of non-residential care should also be free.

The public require a system that promotes dignity and independence by providing the support and help that people need when they need it and in the way that suits them best. As regards the arguments made by the minority members of the commission and the Government themselves on resources, in so far as we believe in a health service free at the point of need, paid for from general taxation, then it must be right to pay for all personal care after an assessment of need no matter where it is delivered. We should accept the obligation to fund it.

Furthermore, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, the proposed definition of nursing care is far too narrow. The proposed definition of nursing care will leave care home residents unclear about what they will have to pay for. The management and delivery of care involves a variety of nursing and care staff. Who performs what task can vary depending on a person's state of health, as a number of your Lordships pointed out. The bureaucracy involved in recording billable care will be formidable and costly. Who will foot the bill? Will it be the individual, the care home manager or the NHS?

Vulnerable old and disabled people may have to pay for care which should be free. If tasks such as dressing ulcers, changing a catheter or skin care are delegated to a care assistant, they may well have a price tag attached but they will be free if performed by a registered nurse. A definition of nursing care based on who performs the task rather than on what the task involves is clearly wrong. As my noble friend Lady Barker and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, pointed out, taken together with the provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill, and Section 48 in particular, by debarring social services from providing nursing care without placing a clear duty on the NHS to do so may well make matters worse for older people than they currently are.

Fifteen major voluntary organisations involved in the care and representation of older people have condemned the Government's plans on nursing care. The Scottish Executive is seriously considering moving down a different track and one which is much closer to the approach my party would wish to see in England and Wales. I am pessimistic at this stage, but I hope that the Government will reconsider. I believe that the cause of full funding of personal care is a popular one among the British public and that they will live to regret their current stance.

8.29 p.m.

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My Lords, this has been a valuable debate. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has taken us through what many of us agree are the key issues on a topic that, as he said, is of concern to a great number of elderly and disabled people. I welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters for the first time in any depth since the publication of the NHS Plan last summer.

The Royal Commission on Long-Term Care concerned itself, broadly speaking, with two main tasks. The first was to identify mechanisms for the sustainable long-term funding of good-quality care. The second was to arrive at a fair determination of how the costs of long-term care should be shared between taxpayers and the individual. In a society made up of rich and poor, in which people's expectations of the welfare state and of residential care vary and are changing constantly, the commission's job was formidable.

The overriding criticism of the current funding regime is surely its manifest unfairness. Despite the significant increases in the means-test threshold over the years, large numbers of people are still obliged to sell their homes and other assets to pay for nursing care in their old age. Such people often feel cheated. In many instances, they have paid high taxes throughout their working lives in the expectation that by doing so they would become entitled to state-funded care once they were aged and infirm. Others, by contrast, who have not saved for their retirement at all, have all their costs paid for them by the state.

However, as we have heard this evening, the unfairness runs wider than that. Whereas nursing care is provided free in hospitals, at home and in residential homes, it has hitherto been means tested in nursing homes. That anomaly has been accentuated by the expansion of the private and voluntary nursing home sector, particularly over the past 10 years.

We waited quite a long time for the Government to respond to the Royal Commission. Nevertheless, when it came, the response contained some welcome provisions. In my judgment, the two most important are the decision to provide free nursing care in nursing homes and the three-month disregard of a person's home when he or she first enters the care system. Free nursing care will end the glaring anomaly to which I have just referred. I am sure that the disregard of a person's home will be of major benefit not only to patients, who should not have to take difficult decisions about the sale of a house at a time when they are especially vulnerable, but also to the NHS. All too often, elderly patients of modest means are unwilling to be discharged into intermediate care because of fears that they will not be able to afford the cost.

The conundrum that divided the Royal Commission, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has drawn our attention this evening, is whether the Government should have gone further and made personal care, as well as nursing care, universally free of charge in care homes. We have yet to hear the Minister's response this evening, but I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that I find it difficult to take issue with the reasoning advanced by the Government in support of their decision. The dissenting section of the Royal Commission report makes a compelling case. Surely what matters to patients is that those who cannot afford to meet the cost of personal care should have that cost met for them.

Much has been said this evening about the shame that is cast on a society that deprives elderly and disabled people of personal care, but already three-quarters of those in care homes have some or all of their personal care costs met by the taxpayer. Directing more public money towards relatively well-off people would neither enhance the service provided nor benefit the least well off, whom we all want to help the most. I strongly agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, said about the value of informal care and the folly of doing anything that might discourage it.

There is, of course, a practical issue of how to distinguish nursing care from personal care. I accept that it is likely to prove problematic in many cases, and it will be no good, either, if different people around the country are subject to different rules. Any methodology that is devised for assessing people's needs must be applied universally.

However, although it may be difficult to devise a fair methodology, it certainly should not be impossible. As the dissenting note in the Royal Commission report pointed out, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in his excellent speech this evening, there are difficulties of definition wherever one draws the line between state and privately funded care, not least when one looks at the line drawn by the Royal Commission's majority report.

Nevertheless, I should be grateful for the Minister's reassurance that the Government are alive to the danger of creating perverse incentives. I have in mind the point made by Christine Hancock of the Royal College of Nursing; namely, that large amounts of nursing care are in practice delegated to care assistants. It would be undesirable to discourage such delegation merely because a care assistant rather than a registered nurse was likely to deliver the service in question. We need clarification of what is meant by paragraph 2.9 of the NHS Plan, volume 2, which refers to the NHS meeting,
"the costs of registered nurse time spent on providing, delegating or supervising care in any setting".
The Health and Social Care Bill, currently in another place, leaves the NHS's responsibilities undefined.

Two things above all are essential for the delivery of a fair assessment of a patient's care needs: professionalism and promptness. There have to be an adequate number of nurses, suitably trained, to carry out assessments in a timely manner.

If I have a criticism of the Government, it is not the same as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. My main concern is that Ministers have done far too little to address the real problem associated with long-term care, which is how to encourage future generations to make provision for themselves, and, as far as possible, to reward thrift. The note of dissent in the Royal Commission report recommended that the Government needed to introduce,
"a genuine public-private partnership in the funding of care, with private savings and private insurance making their contribution".
That section outlines some interesting suggestions for enhancing private savings in that area. So far, I have not gained the impression that the Government are particularly exercised about those issues. That is a great pity. To the extent that the state explicitly disclaims responsibility for funding personal care, it has a duty to encourage individuals to invest in their own future and, in so doing, to promote greater self-reliance. My party will announce its proposals on the issue during the next few weeks, but I should be interested to hear a little more of the Government's thinking.

The Government's response to Sutherland makes it clear that there is a balance to be struck between private and state funding of long-term care. However, that balance should not be a short-term fix. It ought to be struck for the long term, so that people can be confident that it will not change. One of the key words in the Royal Commission's remit is "sustainable". That word alone should give pause to those who call for universal state funding of personal care. The Government have gone part, but, so far, not all of the way towards creating a sustainable system for funding long-term care. My message to them is that this is unfinished business.

8.38 p.m.

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My Lords, once again the House is indebted to my noble friend Lord Ashley for raising a very pertinent issue. It is clear from the contributions we have heard tonight that it may entertain us for a few moments during the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill, whenever it comes to your Lordships' House.

There can be no question but that the issue of the future care and support for older and disabled people in residential homes is very important. However, so too is the more general holistic issue of the support that we give to such people. In considering the Government's response, I reiterate that it is not simply a question of free personal care and free nursing home care. We have to look at the issue in the round and in the general context of our policies to improve the support and rehabilitation that we give, particularly to older people, but also to disabled people.

As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, remarked, the Royal Commission was established to look at options for a sustainable system of funding for long-term care. I believe that the commission went about its work in a very consultative manner. It met many people, and it would be fair to say that it received a strong message that improvements in quality and choice of care and fair access to care were at least as important as funding issues. We took that to heart in our own decisions. We know that most older and disabled people prefer to remain independent in their own homes. Our investment in intermediate care and related services, to which I shall return in a moment, is intended to ensure that that happens.

In addition to intermediate care, shortly we shall also publish a national service framework for older people. That will set very clear and consistent standards for the health and social services which older people use. I was most interested in the remarks of the right reverend Prelate in relation to the spiritual needs of older people. I do not know the answer to the question but I shall certainly find out because I believe that it is particularly apposite. Certainly, I very much respect the contribution which the Church makes, for example, in the National Health Service to the hospital chaplaincy service, and, indeed, to other faiths and religions. I shall wish to pursue that point.

Clearly, our response to the Royal Commission must be seen in the round and not simply in terms of our decision in relation to the specific question of personal care. Of course, the Royal Commission recommended that personal care should be available after assessment according to need and paid for from general taxation. Since we responded to that report, we have made it abundantly clear that we are committed to an unprecedented investment in improving services for older and disabled people. However, we do not believe that making personal care universally free would represent the best use of those resources. That remains the Government's position and it is embraced within the NHS Bill now being considered in another place.

No matter how eloquent the speeches that we have heard tonight, I have not heard any convincing argument as to why this particular element of free personal care should be put on a pedestal as if it were the magic wand which will bring about the cure to so many of the issues we face. As my noble friend Lord Lipsey, the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and, indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, pointed out, at present personal care is provided on a means-tested basis. Three-quarters of residents of care homes receive some or all their personal care free. Four hundred and fifty thousand older people are in nursing and residential care homes in the UK, and approximately 125,000 of them pay all or some of the home fees.

The Royal Commission assumed that personal care costs other than nursing care costs, whether in residential or nursing homes, were approximately £120 per week. Approximately 600,000 older people receive some care from social services in their own homes. Almost 90 per cent of that care is funded by social services but users are charged on a means-tested basis. Where charges are made, the costs are often subsidised by social services.

In putting together that information, the Royal Commission estimated that free personal care at home, which would not include meals or domestic help, would cost an extra £150 million across the UK. That, together with the cost of personal care in residential care homes, would demand an enormous investment—over £1 billion for England as it arises at present. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, said, not one extra older or disabled person would have received any extra care or support to remain independent as long as possible; nor would such a system have benefited the least well-off, for whom all or some personal care costs are already paid.

Therefore, it would keep in place essentially the same inadequate services which older people themselves criticise. It would not allow us to develop the wide range of services which we should like to see in place in order to meet the health and social care needs of older and disabled people. As my noble friend Lord Lipsey said, it could well have perverse incentives. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made a brave attempt at arguing that that would not occur. None the less, it is a substantive point that free personal care could produce the wrong incentives as regards the way that people look towards state support in the future.

As do other noble Lords, I very much appreciate the welcome given by my noble friend Lord Ashley to free nursing care and the removal of the major anomaly which exists at present. Comment has been made tonight about exactly what that means. I can say to noble Lords that, subject to legislation, from October 2001 everyone who needs the care of a registered nurse will receive it, paid by the NHS. That includes registered nurse time spent on providing, planning, delegating, supervising and monitoring care. It will also meet the costs of specialist equipment used by those nurses. We believe that that change will benefit approximately 35,000 people in nursing homes who currently pay for their own care.

I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, about the other costs which may be involved. Nevertheless, the arrangement will mean that people will save up to approximately £5,000 of the annual fees for a year's stay in nursing homes. I believe that that is significant.

I turn to the issue of definitions. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, talked about a list of goodies that has come out over the past few weeks. I can assure her that there are many more goodies to come in the next few weeks. I do not believe that she was present during our debate yesterday on the National Care Standards Commission. However, I can assure her that the regulations and standards, on which we are keen to consult and receive feedback, will be produced in three batches over the next few months.

I turn to the issue of assessing the registered nurse input to care. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is right: yes, issues will arise which will need to be sorted out. However, I do not believe that it is intrinsically impossible to arrive at a consistent definition. From previous debates, noble Lords will know that we are working with the RCN, the Alzheimer's Disease Society and other key stakeholders to ensure that we arrive at an assessment process which will be understandable and consistent.

I also say to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that I am alive to the issue which he raised in relation to perverse incentives. With regard to consistency, we shall also be informed and helped by the work of the National Care Standards Commission in relation to regulations, minimum standards and the regulatory process. I believe that that will encourage not only a higher standard of provision within nursing homes but also much greater consistency than we have achieved in the past.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that I always listen with great interest and care to the points that he raises about the needs of people with learning disabilities. I want to assure him that the assessment tool that we shall develop will ensure that aspects of care which are important for learning disabilities will be taken into account when making assessments for nursing care.

Several noble Lords raised the question of Scotland. I must say—and I acknowledge the joys of devolution in so doing—that the First Minister announced that the Scottish Executive will review the decision not to implement the recommendation in the Sutherland report that personal care should be free. I do not think that a final announcement has yet been made, but we shall all look with great interest to see what Scotland decides to do. Of course, that is a matter for Scotland. When comparing what we do in England with what is done in Scotland, one has to consider the matter in the round and take account of the enormous improvements we shall make in care generally through the national service framework and in intermediate care before obtaining a balanced picture.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, was, as ever, robust on this issue. She asked whether people might have to pay for intermediate care. I accept that that is an important matter. Clearly, any service that is provided by the NHS is free. When councils are responsible for services that are similar to those offered through intermediate care, they have some discretion about whether to impose charges. However, the department believes that all intermediate care should be free at the point of use and should be funded from pooled budgets. I also assure her that we shall presently issue a circular that will contain guidance for councils about those matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, raised the question of carers. It is important to consider that in conjunction with what we are doing for older people and disabled people. During the past few years we have made great strides in giving extra support to carers. The package that the Secretary of State for Social Security announced, involving £5 million extra support for carers over three years, is one such issue. There are many other ways in which we are seeking to support carers, including funding of the Carers National Association, improved information services, the draft long-term charter and Care Direct, as well as the carers' special grant, which has been extended from three to five years. We are determined to increase whatever help we can to carers because the role that they play is crucial.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, welcomed the raising of the threshold for capital assets, which is important. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, also welcomed the property disregard for the first three months. I agree with him that that allows valuable time for the person and his or her family to take stock of the situation. It gives them a breathing space to make decisions about financial and other arrangements, and has been warmly welcomed.

In addition, we said that councils will get an extra £85 million over three years from 2001 as a ring-fenced special grant to encourage them to offer deferred payment arrangements whereby councils place a legal charge on homes that they recoup at a later date. That means that, following admission to permanent care, people will not be forced to sell their houses during their lifetime against their wishes. That is an important development.

My noble friend Lord Ashley asked about short-term loans. It is perhaps worth pointing out that the Royal Commission rejected loan schemes because of what it regarded as a high initial outlay and the fact that local authorities would be involved in funding transaction costs and paying interest. It also said that the arrangement would be complex to establish and administer and that local authorities would be left with a complex burden of assets. As I said, the Government's decision to pay an additional £85 million to local authorities as a ring-fenced grant in relation to deferred payment arrangements is a significant advance.

Time presses on, but, if the House will allow me, I want to mention the developments in intermediate care. They are the crux of this debate. We believe that instead of paying for free personal care for everyone, the £900 million that we will make available for intermediate care will be much more effective because it will be developed and invested in preventive and rehabilitative services, such as community equipment services, as my noble friend Lord Lipsey said. It is aimed at maximising people's independence following a period in hospital or at providing care that re-establishes independence and prevents admission to a care home.

We are already seeing the effects. I have been impressed by some of the developments in intermediate care. By 2004 we estimate that the new investment will help an extra 130,000 people. It is a question of priorities. But I believe that that is a better place to put that £900 million. In the long term it will produce many more effective results.

I pick up the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as to what can be done in the long term to encourage people to provide for themselves in old age and also as to what can be done in partnership with the private sector. He will be glad to know that a Treasury-led committee is looking at the whole issue of long-term private/public contribution to care. I am sure that the outcome will prove to be interesting and informative to the wider debate.

In summary, as ever, governments are faced with choices as to priorities. I understand why noble Lords feel that making personal care free would be a good step to take. But at the end of the day the argument the Government put forward is that the additional £900 million will be much more effectively spent in relation to intermediate care. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, does not like that phrase. But it is surely the best way to ensure that as many old and disabled people as possible are rehabilitated and enabled to live in their own homes. That is why we believe we have taken the right decision and that, in the end, the public and those who require our support will be encouraged and helped by the services we now intend to develop.

Barclays Group Reorganisation Bill Hl

National Australia Group Europe Bill Hl

Presented and read a first time.

House adjourned at three minutes before nine o'clock.