HL Deb 28 October 1992 vol 539 cc1117-9

3.13 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider the custom of collections for Guy Fawkes day in public places appropriate in modern Britain.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, there is a long tradition of collections for Guy Fawkes night celebrations, but we would urge parents to give the highest priority to the safety of children and to ensure adequate supervision at all times. We would also urge parents to ensure that their children's activities do not become a nuisance to other members of the public.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that Answer with which I agree. In these days we need to celebrate jolly occasions, no matter how dimly understood may be their historical origins. However, as regards the specific matter of collections, known quaintly as,"penny for the guy", does the noble Viscount not agree that against the background of ever-rising crime particular care needs to be given to young children in the street collecting money for whatever cause? I see from the news tape situated outside the Chamber that crime has risen by 11 per cent., and violent crime by 9 per cent. Wherever possible, adults should accompany children when they are carrying out collections.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. The Home Office issues advice to parents on the safety of their children. That is included in both a handbook and a classroom pack on children's safety which is used by police schools liaison officers and crime prevention officers. There is clearly a risk to children's safety when they are allowed by their parents to call at strangers' houses after dark. There has been some anxiety as regards that practice. We suggest that parents should always know where their children are going and with whom. To ensure that children are safe, a responsible adult should accompany the group, and a responsible person should make sure also that the children do not threaten or annoy residents, particularly elderly people living on their own.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, it is understandable that your Lordships' House should take a more generous view of Guy Fawkes and his activities. But is it not going rather too far for your Lordships' House to be wasting time discussing little children pursuing a practice which has gone on since I have been active? I did it, and I plead guilty.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we are anxious about the safety of children because there have been instances which have been extremely distressing. We are concerned about the effects of what may be described as aggravated begging, especially on people living on their own.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, bearing in mind the recent hideous murder of a seven year-old child in Sunderland, would the Minister agree that the prevalence of children begging in public places—because that is what we are talking about—throughout the year and not only in early November, is deeply regrettable and a bad side of our society? What plans do his department have to control that nuisance and to safeguard the children who are often so gravely at risk?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, there has been a case in Manchester on which I cannot comment as it is before the courts. It is for parents to ensure that their children are not put at risk and do not cause a nuisance. However, it is for the police to respond to any complaints made by members of the public.

Lord Morris

My Lords, has my noble friend ceased to be as astonished as I am at the extraordinarily illiberal suggestions which emanate from the Benches opposite? Does not this ancient custom provide a welcome opportunity to the very young to learn an extremely important lesson in life; namely, that people generally in the mass are particularly unattractive?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend makes an interesting point. It is important that we celebrate Guy Fawkes night, and it is celebrated throughout the country. Of course, it is disturbing when children are collecting long before Guy Fawkes night or, indeed, after it.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, is not this Question a very great tribute to my noble friend's liberal and forgiving sentiments? Was not Guy Fawkes in favour of blowing up the House of Commons—not, I think, the House of Lords? Is it not a fact that my noble friend's ancestor was slaughtered by the forces of the parliamentary army? Does it not show an extraordinarily fine nature that this matter should be raised by one who might be thought to be in favour of Guy Fawkes?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the Gunpowder Plot was a conspiracy to blow up James I and the Houses of Parliament at the opening of Parliament on 5th November 1605. It was planned by a number of pro-Spanish fanatical catholics with Robert Catesby at their head. Perhaps they were the early Europhiles of their day. The conspirators hired a house adjoining the House of Lords and began tunnelling in 1604. In 1605 they obtained possession of a vault under the House of Lords and stored 36 barrels of gunpowder there. The plot was discovered when one of the conspirators warned his relative not to attend the opening of Parliament, who in turn warned the authorities, which, in those days, were led by the ancestors of my noble friend Lord Cecil.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that a particular search will be made under the cellars of this House since the government in exile seem now to govern here?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am glad to report to your Lordships that on the morning of every State Opening of Parliament the Queen's Body Guard of the Yeoman of the Guard, captained by my noble friend Lord Strathmore and Kinghorne conducts a search with a detachment, under the command of his lieutenant, Colonel Alan Pemberton, and searches the cellars beneath your Lordships' Chamber.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that in a modern Britain, as conceptualised by the noble Viscount, if there is no room for annual skylarking by the young then so much the worse for modern Britain?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we probably all agree with some of the noble Earl's sentiments.