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House of Lords

Tuesday, 14th March 2000.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Hereford.

Millennium Dome Experience: Ticket Sales

Lord Luke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the advance sales of tickets for the Millennium Dome are still adequate to ensure that the whole project will have been run at a profit by the end of the year.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) is extremely encouraged by the continuing upward trend in visitor numbers: 10 million paying visitors over the year will enable the company to deliver a break-even operating budget. The company's target remains higher than that, but its focus at this stage is on achieving that figure of 10 million. Over 1 million people have visited the Dome so far, which is remarkable in itself given the fact that January, February and March are traditionally low season periods for visitor attractions.

Lord Luke: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. However, in view of the Question that I asked on the subject of the chairman and board of the NMEC on 10th February in this House and the fact that the chairman of the company no longer has his day-time job at British Airways after a £60 million loss in the first quarter of the year, do the Government still think that he is the right person to be chairman?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, he has delivered great service to the Dome. The Government do think that he is definitely the right person to remain chairman.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that everyone will hope that M. Gerbeau, who seemed somewhat surprised to get the job, is successful at the Dome? However, has the noble and learned Lord read reports in the press that there were several M. Gerbeaux at Euro Disney--one very highly paid, one very senior and one junior and not so well paid? Will the Minister categorically and unequivocally deny the rather alarming suggestion that the wrong M. Gerbeau was chosen?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I categorically and unequivocally deny that the wrong M. Gerbeau was chosen. Our M. Gerbeau is delivering a great service to the Dome, as can be seen from the huge visitor numbers that we are now seeing.

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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what is the effect of the combined tickets that we see being advertised now for the Dome and the London Eye, which, of course, has been very successful? Can the noble and learned Lord also tell us how the money will be allocated between the two; in other words, will they be run independently or jointly? What will happen in that respect?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, visitors to the Eye can buy a ticket there which will take them down to the Dome by river. That is a marvellous journey and one that I would recommend to everyone in the House. The money for the boat trip will be allocated to the boat operators and the money for entrance to the Dome will go to the NMEC.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I trust that my noble and learned friend will forgive my voice. Will he accept the plaudits of Back-Benchers for the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, was not chosen for the post?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, applied for the position.

Waterhouse Report: Government Response

2.39 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they propose to take in the light of the Waterhouse report on the abuse of children in care.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government are determined to learn the lessons emerging from this tragic inquiry. We are already making good progress on many of the recommendations contained in the Lost in Care report. The Government's response to the Waterhouse inquiry is being co-ordinated by the Ministerial Task Force on Children's Safeguards.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the Government deserve congratulations on their speedy and constructive response to the Waterhouse report on child abuse in residential homes? Is he also aware that in a lecture after the report was published Sir Ronald Waterhouse said that the abusers could by now have infiltrated the foster care system where they could prove more difficult to detect?

As far as concerns monitoring, does my noble friend the Minister agree that it would prove exceptionally difficult to monitor foster parents? Although the Government have said that they will monitor foster agencies, monitoring foster parents will be remarkably tough. Can my noble friend tell the House whether the Government have any plans to deal with that situation?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The Care Standards Bill, which is currently proceeding rather slowly through your Lordships' House, will give power to the appropriate commission to inspect fostering agencies. I take note of my noble friend's point as regards the general issue of how to ensure that foster care is effective and that there are safeguards of high standard. We need better safeguards and support for children placed with foster carers, but I believe that the best approach is the one that the Government have adopted in establishing UK national foster care standards. These aim to raise standards and to improve practice on recruitment, assessment and training. In the 1998-99 financial year, the Government began funding a training programme for foster carers. I am sure that that is the appropriate way forward.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the proposal that there should be a children's commissioner for Wales? Is he also aware there is some talk that this proposal may be incorporated in the Care Standards Bill which is currently before this House? If that is so, can the Minister say whether noble Lords will have an opportunity to discuss the proposals, possibly on Report or at the Third Reading stage of the Bill?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I believe that the Report stage of the Bill will take place on 28th March. That will provide the House with an opportunity to discuss matters such as the children's rights director. I cannot inform the House of the outcome of the discussions which have taken place in the Welsh Assembly on the proposed children's commissioner for Wales. However, I understand that an amendment could be made to the Bill in another place if the discussions are successfully concluded. As regards the national care standards commission for England, we regard the children's rights director as having an important role in ensuring that an overview of children's rights is maintained.

Baroness Young: My Lords, is the Minister aware of two of the conclusions of the Waterhouse report; namely, that many boys aged between 16 and 18 were corrupted, damaged and sexually confused by the sexual abuse that they experienced, and that many teenage boys were abused by men who were not in a position of trust and would therefore not have been caught by the new abuse of trust provisions in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill which is now before your Lordships' House? Will the noble Lord consider dropping the Bill in the light of those conclusions?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I think that is a little outside my area of responsibility. However, in considering what action needs to be taken as regards those people who have a relationship of trust with young people, we need to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place. The Protection of Children Act, which has passed through both Houses and will,

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I hope, be implemented in the autumn, will provide children with much greater protection because of the responsibility it places on employers to report to the Department of Health instances where employees have shown themselves to be at risk of harming, or have harmed, children in their care. That will be an important protection in the future.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that important though standards are, public confidence and public expectations of the care system are equally significant? Does he further agree that when the new standards are in place and are monitored and regulated, as the Care Standards Bill will undoubtedly ensure, it will be important to make a great point of publicising them as widely as possible so that the general public know what standards we ought to provide?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I very much agree with those comments. We shall expect the commission to ensure that its work is brought to the public's attention and that the public can gain access both to its work and to the guidelines which will inform the inspection process. I believe that the new commission's work, which will undoubtedly lead to a much higher and more consistent standard of regulation, in conjunction with the provisions of the Protection of Children Act and the implementation of the measures in the Children (Leaving Care) Bill, which is before your Lordships' House at the moment, will offer a much greater degree of protection to young people than has been the case in former generations. At the same time, we need to undertake many other measures to ensure that staff who work in residential care settings are given the training, support and leadership that is undoubtedly required.

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