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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, following the question of my noble friend Lady Sharp, is there a relationship between the amount of money available for school meals and their nutritional value?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the nutritional standards have been in place since 2001. We introduced them because we wanted to raise the quality of school meals. I cannot say anything about a potential relationship between nutritional value and the amount of money, but I am sure that children on free school meals, for example—we want to see all children who are eligible for them claiming them—would certainly be getting value for money.

Lord Laming: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this report and others indicate that the performance of schools should be evaluated on issues wider than simple examination results, important though they are?

Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords, that is absolutely true. When we look at what constitutes a successful school, we look at far more than examination achievements. We look at the range of elements that make a school effective in terms of mental health, self-esteem, achievement in personal relationships and the widest possible variety of choices in the curriculum so that young people choose the careers that really suit them.

Lord Rea: My Lords, as well as insisting on the improved nutritional content of school meals—there are some excellent examples of good practice, but I think the Minister would agree that the general standard is pretty abysmal—can the Minister say whether nutritional education is forming part of the curriculum? If not, will the Government see that it does?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, a lot of information about nutritional values goes into the design and technology curriculum in terms of what we teach and how we teach it. The healthy schools programme puts a huge emphasis on healthy eating across the school day; for example, the new food in schools programme, to which we are committing £2 million, looks at the value of the healthy breakfast. Increasingly, schools want and are able to offer breakfast as a successful start to the day. In addition, we are looking at how school lunches can be improved and working with all the people involved in making them more nutritious and appetizing. Some schools have also worked out successful ways of reducing the amount of chips that are sold.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

3.6 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, we will shortly make an announcement about the fees that will charged for freedom of information requests. We will introduce a fee system that is simple to operate and understand and is accessible to users regardless of their means.

Lord McNally: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the reason that the fee decision has been taken right to the wire is that throughout the summer a fierce battle has been raging in Whitehall between those who would use the fee structure to retain the culture of secrecy in Whitehall and those who see the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act as a real step forward for open government? Will she assure the House that she is on the side of the angels in this battle?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I confess that I have always been an angel. In my few weeks as a Minister in the department, I have seen no evidence of any battle across Whitehall. What I have seen in my discussions with colleagues across government is a desire to ensure that we have freedom of information—something which the Government have long aspired to and support. It is good news for all our citizens.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that probably the best policy is to try to avoid fees wherever possible? Will she urge government departments to be proactive in the field of freedom of information and publish as much as information as possible, especially on the Internet, so that we can refer inquiries to that source and therefore avoid fees?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend's work in this area, and I could not agree more with him on the need to be proactive. I met with the guardians of records across government last week at their two-day conference, where they were looking precisely at how to be as proactive as possible by releasing information and using technology cleverly to enable us to get ahead of the game on the information that is to be released. We met with huge enthusiasm there, as we have across government.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, will the Minister repeat her first reply? Did she say that information would be accessible regardless of means? How can one have a fee structure that is accessible regardless of means? If one has no means, how does one pay a fee?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as the noble Baroness says, I did say that the structure would be simple to operate and understand, and accessible to users regardless of their means. We shall make an announcement very shortly that will elucidate for the noble Baroness precisely what I mean. However, the direction of travel for the Government should be very

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clear. It is to ensure that our fee structure reflects our desire to see the facility as something important and necessary for our citizens.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that if the level of fees is pitched too high, members of the public may be tempted to avoid them by asking honourable Members or noble Lords to obtain the information for them, thus adding to ministerial correspondence?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am ever mindful of the workload of noble Lords and Members in another place, and indeed of the ministerial workload. However, the purpose is to enable our citizens to obtain information and not to have to use means other than a direct request. That is very much in the forefront of our minds as we consider the final structure.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we on these Benches associate ourselves with the compliment paid to the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, who played such a pioneering role in taking the Bill forward?

Does the Minister accept that the experience in both Canada and Ireland was that there needed to be substantial training of civil servants to change the mindset away from a culture of secrecy towards open government? Can she assure the House that such training has been taking place?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, indeed it has. I know that the noble Lord asked my noble friend Lord Filkin a very similar question as one of his supplementaries to a Question in July. I believe that my noble friend answered, rightly, that a lot of work was going on across and within departments to ensure that appropriate training is available for all those involved in public service who will provide information. I believe that we can build on the experience of Canada and Ireland and other nations in doing that.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, will members of the public be able to make requests and receive answers by electronic means? If the answer is yes, will that same courtesy be extended to Members of this House when they ask Questions to the Government?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I sense a loaded question, and I shall be very cautious in answering. It is my ambition that we should use technology as much as we can and as best we can. As the noble Lord knows, it is not always possible to respond in the way he suggests right across government. Systems need to be able to cope and cater, and there are real issues about firewalls and other security questions. However, as a proponent of technology as an answer to a question rather than a problem, my ambition has always been that we should try to use it wherever possible.

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Medway Council Bill

Read a third time, and passed.


Lord Grocott: My Lords, I want to say the usual words about timing. As the House will have seen, there are 51 Back-Benchers down to speak on the Hunting Bill. I always give the warning that such calculations are not a scientific operation but more of an art. I can be no more specific than to say that if contributions from the Back Benches were around seven or eight minutes long, we would finish at around midnight. Just as a final reminder, it is worth considering that seven or eight minutes means around 1,500 words.

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