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House of Lords

Monday, 30th April 2001.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Child Poverty, East and Central Europe

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How the Department for International Development programmes are helping to alleviate child poverty in central and eastern Europe.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Department for International Development's policy in central and eastern Europe, as elsewhere, is focused on the reduction of poverty. We are determined to do all we can to mobilise the international system to meet the international development targets by 2015 in order that today's poor children do not become the parents of larger numbers of children living in extreme poverty in the next generation. In those countries of central and eastern Europe where the problems are most acute we are supporting specific children's welfare and social assistance reform programmes.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. However, is she aware that some countries of eastern Europe have worse levels of child poverty than many developing countries? Does she agree that unless western governments are vigorously active in this area the situation will create more distress and instability in the region?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The transition to a market economy in central and eastern Europe is producing rising levels of child poverty, which is a cause of great concern. It has had an impact on the provision of child services.

The Department for International Development increasingly focuses its bilateral assistance on the poorer countries in the region. We are supporting specific children's welfare and social programmes, for example, in Romania, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Serbia. We are also working with the multilateral organisations because we feel that the leverage we can generate from working with those organisations is important. I agree with my noble friend. We need vigorously to tackle the problem.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, where European Union or World Bank funds are made available to central and eastern Europe, can the Minister assure the House that primary education and public health will be protected along the lines promised

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by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether that aim is working in practice?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to the European Union and the World Bank. A number of organisations are working in the area of health, including the Department for International Development. For example, in Bosnia we are supporting healthcare reform. In Kosovo we give management support to Pristina University Hospital. In Serbia we support the Ministry of Health.

I am aware that the European Union and the World Bank have a number of programmes in the region. However, the Department for International Development is not supporting primary education projects in the region.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the many economic and social problems in eastern and central Europe, highlighted by the excellent report of the European Children's Trust, The Silent Crisis, are often associated with large numbers of orphans and abandoned children. Is DfID supporting any programmes to help orphaned and abandoned children? The policy has tended to be to put them in often unsatisfactory institutional care. Is DfID helping to promote a preferable form of foster family care?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, Romania in particular has suffered from a legacy of inadequate government financing and poor use of resources in relation to children's welfare. We have a major 3 million, three-year programme of assistance to the national authority for child protection and adoption. The money is being used in a variety of ways. For example, a consultant has advised on options to improve current adoption practices. With the authority, we have looked at management structures. We have considered training and development, and other areas about which I am happy to write to the noble Baroness in more detail.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, now that the United Kingdom has become the fourth largest donor to poor countries, a near 40 cent rise having been achieved over previous years, can we not do more for this very needy area?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, it was announced last week that the United Kingdom has become the world's fourth largest donor. We are focusing more on poorer countries in central and eastern Europe. However, at the end of March 2003 we shall no longer have programmes in the better-off countries of the region--for example, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltics, Slovakia and Slovenia. But we shall be focusing on the two candidate countries, Bulgaria and Romania, and on the Balkans.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, are not the two charities--the Free and Democratic Bulgaria (Children) Foundation works with Britain's Childhope--exactly

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the kind of children's charities which DfID can support, especially as they are being forced to close this year because of an EU reduction of funds? Does the Minister know that they have applied to DfID for funds but to no avail? What can Her Majesty's Government do for these worthy causes?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Baroness has asked a number of questions in this House on specific charities which have approached the Department for International Development for funding. As the noble Baroness is aware, we have clear criteria against which we assess those applications. I am happy to consider the two organisations to which she refers and write to her with more information.

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge the clear determination that the new Government of Romania have shown to come to grips with the problems of child poverty and, in particular, with the scandal of children's homes and orphanages? Given the symbolic as well as the actual importance of that, will she assure the House that Romania will be given a high priority in the programmes, not just financially, but also in terms of know-how? If we can succeed in Romania, it will be a guide to the rest of eastern and central Europe.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, as I said in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we have a 3 million programme in Romania that covers a number of areas. The international community is working very hard. I agree that the Government of Romania are working hard to develop alternatives for children in institutions. The EC has been foremost in support of that effort and has allocated 15 million for spending in 2001. The noble Lord is right to stress the importance not only of giving financial support but of developing the skills and capacity of people in those countries so that we build for the long term.

Swinfen Hall Young Offender Institution

2.44 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the Chief Inspector of Prisons' report on young offender institution Swinfen Hall, published on 3rd April.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Chief Inspector described Swinfen Hall as a centre of excellence and a healthy prison in which young prisoners can mature as people and are given the opportunity to address both their offending behaviour and their educational, work and social skills shortcomings. There is an excellent "Moving Out" course to prepare young prisoners for their release. The Chief Inspector's excellent report is a great credit to the governor and her staff.

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Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. As Swinfen Hall is in general a welcome example of good practice--unlike Stoke Heath, for example, on which Sir David also recently reported--would it not be a good idea for this report to be required reading at every institution in the Prison Service? Might not that result in a bit more focused attention on education issues, which some of us have grown old reiterating, such as the point made in paragraph 5.09 about the transfer of education records?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord has made a number of useful points. I am sure that the report ought to be required reading. I know that inspection reports are widely circulated in the Prison Service. They are certainly filleted for good practice. The inspector drew attention to 14 areas of good practice. There is much sense in recommendation 5.09. No doubt it will be dwelt on. It is essential when planning educational courses for young individuals that their educational records are easily transferred. Let us hope that we can do that using the best of new technology in the future.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, may I ask the Leader of the House why the Front Benches should pre-empt the Back Benches, contrary to the erstwhile traditions of this House?

Lord Acton: My Lords, reverting to the Question, does my noble friend agree that we read a great deal about reports on prisons and offender institutions where things are far from well? Are the Government making any great effort to publicise this report and good reports in general?

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