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House of Lords

Tuesday, 28 October 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.


Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government do not underestimate the challenges facing the industry. VisitBritain is leading a strategic review of tourism support and we are confident that this will improve VisitBritain’s ability to market Britain internationally and England at home. VisitBritain’s grant-in-aid for 2008-09 is set at £47.9 million for 2007-08. DCMS is also contributing £5.4 million in 2006-09 to support the tourism responsibilities of the regional development agencies.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, in the light of falling inbound tourism and the 2012 Olympics, it seems extraordinary that over the next three years the Government are cutting the budget of VisitBritain by 20 per cent. That is on top of deep cuts in previous years. Ninety per cent of the sector is made up of small and medium-sized enterprises. The Government now claim to be the champion of SMEs. Will they now make sure that VisitBritain has the budget that it so badly needs to do the job of promoting tourism?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the issues surrounding VisitBritain are not just a question of resources but about the priorities that it adopts and the way in which it works. The strategic review which I mentioned in my Answer is designed to identify how VisitBritain can fulfil its role more effectively in the light of the opportunities which will develop in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, as the noble Lord suggested in his question.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, surely the Government have done an extremely good job for the British tourist industry by ensuring that the pound is lower than it has been for a long time and will continue to descend.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is as perceptive as ever in seeing the change in the value of the pound. His economics, for once, are faultless: namely, that that will make for a less expensive experience for visitors to Britain.

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The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, given the important contribution that heritage churches and cathedrals make to our tourism industry, does the Minister agree that they deserve sympathetic encouragement in both financial and promotional terms?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I do not have the slightest doubt that ecclesiastical buildings—the cathedrals and churches—are a very important part of the attractions of Britain. I am used to seeing France boast about its cathedrals, but there is a great deal of co-operation between French cathedrals and British ones on occasions when it comes to promotion. I recall when Canterbury linked up with Rouen and another French cathedral in a joint project. That is all to be welcomed.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, what signal do the Government think they are sending our sixth largest industry when they see the chairmanship of VisitBritain as a six-days-a-month job and advertise the chairmanship of VisitEngland as a one-day-a-week job? The fact that the present chairman of VisitBritain was a former chief executive of the Bradford & Bingley building society does not mean that he should be punished or taken advantage of in this way.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I will ignore that last point. On the more general issue, I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate, as all Members of this House do, that leadership of an organisation may not require a huge amount of time. We have many very important and hugely successful quangos, which are run on the basis of the chief executive being full-time but the chairman serving for one or two days a month or a little more frequently. It depends on the quality of leadership.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one thing that would help to encourage visitors to come to Britain would be to reduce the rate of VAT on hotels? It is perhaps not always recognised that Britain is one of only three countries in Europe that charge the full rate of VAT on hotels, thus disadvantaging us competitively against other European destinations.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend will recognise that VAT across Europe is an ever thorny issue. He will also know of the substantial investment in accommodation in Britain in recent years. Recognition is due of the enhanced quality of much provision. I do not think that the slightly higher rate of VAT necessarily has the detrimental effect that he suggests.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that, in the current extremely grave economic situation, when many manufacturing industries may find it difficult to take advantage of the more advantageous exchange rate, tourism and all the businesses involved in it are particularly well placed? The UK was getting a reputation for being too expensive. Now, suddenly,

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one of the few bright spots in the present dramatic situation could be if the Government and all the organisations concerned put real effort behind this. This is one way in which we could see a real improvement, and quickly, in the economic situation.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, who has expressed fluently and at length the pithy comments of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on this issue. There is no doubt that tourism in this country should benefit from the position of the exchange rate. It has quite a significant impact on British prices, which is obviously key when people are choosing whether to come here or not.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, will the Minister do all he can to encourage the reduction of queues at Heathrow Airport, which must be a major disincentive for tourists coming into this country who might have to queue for well over an hour?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there is no doubt that Heathrow needs improvements, although it will be appreciated on all sides of the House that after the calamitous start to terminal 5, which produced such a furore in the nation last year, we get relatively few complaints about the operation of that terminal at the present time.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, following the observations of the noble Lord, Lord King, does my noble friend agree that, among the industries that have been most successful in attracting tourism into the country, the arts and culture are very high on the list? Following an excellent settlement in the most recent Comprehensive Spending Review, will my noble friend ensure that the Government’s support is sustained in the years to come?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend has paid tribute to the arts. There is no doubt that there are many hugely successful institutions. It may be invidious to identify one, but no one can ignore the enormous success of the British Museum in recent years, which has acted as a lodestar for improvements right across that sector. Britain is famous for its arts provision, which will be an important part of the cultural Olympiad leading up to the 2012 Olympics.

Police: Ethnic Minorities

2.45 pm

Lord Sheikh asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Government have introduced initiatives, including targeted advertising, mentoring, familiarisation days and specific

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training to support candidates who may need assistance with language skills. In addition, the Green Paper on policing proposes the introduction of local targets to enable local representation within forces and will feature in the 2010 HMIC inspection. An assessment of the recruitment, retention and progression of minority ethnic staff has just been completed and is now with the Home Secretary.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I have encouraged and will continue to encourage the recruitment of ethnic minorities to the police force. I therefore totally disagree with the recruitment boycott proposed by the Metropolitan Black Police Association. Following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the Government set each police force a target for BME recruitment based on the make-up of the local population. Have those targets been achieved? If not, what measures are being taken to ensure that the police forces achieve their targets and how best can we monitor their progress?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comment on the statement about not recruiting into the Metropolitan Police; that was an outrageous and damaging thing to say and I thank him for his support. I am afraid that we are not making the targets. The NPIA is being enlisted to assess the police forces that are not making them. It is clear that we must do better in this area. We have done a huge amount, but we are not doing as well as we should. However, we are absolutely intent, as are the police, to ensure that we get a correct representation of BMEs in our police forces. It is essential that we do that.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is about time that the Metropolitan Black Police Association in the metropolis was wound up? Is not its very existence divisive and does its existence not smack of racism?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Lord’s final statement. However, these are very difficult issues. It is interesting that I was asked last time we debated this question about the percentage of superintendents who are of BME background; the figure was, I think, about eight out of 300, which is about 2 per cent. But it takes about 20 to 22 years to grow a superintendent and, about 20 or 22 years ago, less than 2 per cent of the police were BME. These things take a considerable time. We have done a great deal and have put a lot of things in place. Everyone is struggling to make it happen. When people make outrageous statements, as some have, that does not help at all.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, is it not the case that for at least 40 years, under-recruitment from ethnic minorities to the police has bedevilled successive Administrations? Since the success over that period was so meagre, will the Government undertake a robust and imaginative programme, as soon as is humanly possible, which concentrates on the fertile areas of schools and universities?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, we already do that. We go to special recruitment fairs at schools and universities. A great deal has been done not just by this Government but also by other Governments. Post the Macpherson report we have had the breaking through action plan, the Winning the Race report and the Positive Action Events Toolkit document; SEARCH has been established for recruitment; and we have had the Home Secretary’s race, equality, employment targets bulletin and the From the Neighbourhood to the National: Policing our Communities Together Green Paper. A whole raft of those things have been put in place and people looking at them and trying to do things.

It is very exciting that a large number of BMEs are going in as PCSOs; the figure is, 11.5 per cent, which is very good. A number of those PCSOs become officers, which is good. In a funny way, that neighbourhood policing initiative and the use of PCSOs is probably a better lever in some ways than some of the other mechanisms.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, while the MPA’s boycott might be unhelpful, does the Minister agree that when every one of the six most senior non-white officers in the Met has brought a discrimination case against their employer, something extremely serious is afoot, perhaps not in recruitment but in retention? Will the Minister consider leadership counselling and career development for senior levels, and when does he expect the Coaker report to be released by the Home Secretary?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the specifics referred to by the noble Baroness are a cause for concern—absolutely—but what they reflect is difficult to know and will take some assessment. I do not believe that it is up to central Government to tell the MPS and the MPA what they have got to do. As she knows, the Mayor of London has put in hand a review—it may take some time because the terms of reference will not be ready until 27 November—which is the correct approach to tackling these issues. The assessment for the Home Secretary—it is not really a report—stems from the fact that there were concerns about what lies behind this. The assessment is with the Home Secretary now, but I do not yet know exactly how it will move forward,. As soon as I do, I shall let the House know.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, would my noble friend care to comment, first, on yesterday’s press reports that the Mayor of London intends to reduce recruitment targets for the police force in London? Secondly, if it happens, what does he believe will be the consequences for the recruitment of people from ethnic minorities in the London area?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the answer to my noble friend’s question; I have to say that I am unsighted on that. Over the past 10 years or so we have increased the number of police in this country overall, and I hope that if there is any adjustment, it would not have any effect on the number of BME officers coming in. Within London, one in four of the new recruits is BME, and I think a rate of 25 per cent is rather good. However, we have to

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remember that about a third of the population in London now comes from a BME background, and therefore that is the proportion we should be looking at. Interestingly, in New York some 45 per cent of the police come from that background because that is the split there. Clearly, the police should reflect the society they represent; that is why the PCSO initiative is so good. When I was in the military, we always expected our forces to represent the nation they were defending. I think that the same is true of our police.

Education Maintenance Allowance

2.52 pm

Lord Bilston asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, EMA is targeted on young people from lower income households, so not all learners receive it. It has been shown to have a positive impact on both participation and attainment. Applications are ongoing throughout the year. However, there have been some regrettable delays, which the Learning and Skills Council is seeking to resolve with its contractor.

Lord Bilston: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. The Government should be congratulated on this wonderful scheme, whose introduction a few months ago was welcomed on all sides of the House. Betwixt the LSC and the private company operating the scheme, something has gone sadly amiss, which has caused considerable financial difficulties for colleges, and particularly for students. Will my noble friend assure the House that the Government will ensure that the LSC fully compensates colleges for any outlay they have made on behalf of their students?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I can reassure him that colleges have additional funds from the Discretionary Learner Support Fund which, at their discretion, they can make available to students in hardship. They are using the fund to provide interim payments to students in real need who are waiting for their education maintenance allowance. While the expectation is that learners will repay the fund once they receive their backdated EMA, this cannot be guaranteed. My department has therefore agreed with the LSC that if colleges or councils have concerns about this, or if they have insufficient funds to provide the support necessary to cover the needs of learners in hardship, they should contact the LSC immediately to access sufficient funds.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, will the Minister explain why students, teachers and parents should have confidence in the delivery of EMAs when Liberata, the company awarded the contract, has such a poor track record and was recently described by the FSA as reckless?

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Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I encourage parents and learners to have confidence in the EMA because we know that it delivers results. It is extremely regrettable that there have been delays in payments. I fully recognise that. However, in tackling the delays, the number of outstanding payments has in some weeks fallen from 200,000 to 40,516. I can assure the noble Baroness that the LSC is working hard to tackle the concerns that she has raised and that learners are receiving their payments as quickly as possible.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, given that at one point 250,000 students were waiting for payments, how is compensation being given in the schools where sixth formers are as entitled to EMA as those in further education colleges? As the Minister pointed out, further education colleges have hardship funds, which have been highly stretched, but what happens in the schools?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, EMA is paid to about 500,000 students every year and so, at the beginning of the academic year, all students were waiting to receive their notification of eligibility. We know that 429,622 notifications of entitlement have been sent out and, as I have said, more than 40,000 are still waiting to be processed. Of course schools need to support their students who are waiting for EMA, but they will get their backdated payments. That is very important for learners to know.

Lord Soley: My Lords, notwithstanding the problems of the contracting organisation, am I right in thinking that the education maintenance allowance has made it possible for many children from low-income families to continue in further education? Is it not true that the more we say to encourage that happening the more likely it is to make it possible for those kids to get employment in what is likely to be a difficult time employment-wise? Should we not be shouting about the success of the allowance in order to get the message over to young people from poor families to access it?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend. Because of the importance of the EMA in promoting increased participation, and because we have seen results, the Government have extended the role of the EMA in creating the kind of confidence in participation to which my noble friend referred. Subject to parliamentary approval, students who have received EMA from this September will be entitled to the top rate of higher education maintenance grant should they go on to higher education. That is an important continuation of that participation encouragement.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, education authorities seem to have had some difficulty in the recent past with their contractors. Will the Minister explain the reasons for that and whether anything can be done to prevent it happening in the future?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I would wish to talk further with the noble and learned Lord about which education authorities and contractors he is referring to. I shall be happy to look into his concerns and come back to him on that.

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