HL Deb 21 July 1993 vol 548 cc709-12

3.18 p.m.

Lord Hothfield asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to ensure that adequate and cheap facilities are made available for local meetings of voluntary youth groups such as the Girl Guides Association.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, school premises are among the buildings that are available to be rented by local voluntary youth groups.

Lord Hothfield

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that rather short reply. Does he accept that youth associations such as the Guides should be actively encouraged as they keep young people interested, occupied and off the streets? Is he aware of the country-wide extent of the problem caused by the cost of traditional meeting places jumping to a level at which Guide units are unable to afford them and units therefore having to reduce their activities, meet less often, meet in unsuitable alternative locations, or sometimes disband altogether? Will the noble Viscount undertake to use his undoubted ability to persuade local education authorities to consider the provision of school halls as a community benefit rather than as "a nice little earner"?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, it is open to local education authorities to encourage schools to look favourably on lettings to voluntary youth groups through their community education policy statements. These are attached to LEA schemes for the local management of schools, and schools are required to have regard to the statements in framing their letting policies.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I speak as the honorary president of the Girls' Brigade in Scotland and that the queue for my appointment was as long as the queue for the appointment of the deputy chairman of the board of governors of the BBC? Is he further aware that this is the centenary year of the Girls' Brigade? Will he accept that this country was at its best when youth organisations such as the Girls' Brigade, the Girl Guides, the Scouts, the Boys' Brigade, the YMCA and YWCA were all at their strongest? Therefore, will the Government do everything possible to encourage the growth of those youth organisations?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I should first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, on his appointment to the governors of the BBC. I do not have the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, in these matters, but my noble friend Lady Chalker was a Girl Guide and my noble friend Lady Trumpington was a Brownie. I do not know how many of the Opposition Front Bench have such a distinguished record. Under LMS schools can keep their income from lettings and, subject to any direction by the local education authority on the use of school premises, it is up to the governors of schools with delegated budgets to make the final decisions on charging for lettings. That means that the governors inevitably will look carefully at the use made of their school premises outside school hours. However, provided that they do not use any of their school's budget for non-school use, there is nothing to prevent the governors from varying their charges, which in effect would enable them to subsidise voluntary youth organisations if they so wish.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, I should first declare an interest presumably as a former Brownie and Girl Guide. Is my noble friend aware that the national functioning of organisations such as the Girl Guides throughout the country will be in great difficulty if they depend only on funding from local education authorities? Will he accept that every local education authority will fulfil a different policy and that some have already announced that they are withdrawing £800,000 from assistance to youth movements? Can he say whether his department intends to issue any guidelines as to the way in which money is to be spent to support specifically youth movements such as the Girl Guides, which have had an increasing membership of 5 per cent. over the past two years? Does he agree that such organisations fulfil an important function in training young people as law abiding citizens? If he intends to issue guidelines, will he ensure that they are both monitored and implemented?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the Department for Education gives grants to 61 national voluntary youth service organisations, such as the Scout Association and the Guides Association. Those grants are for specific, approved programmes of work and preclude the use of the grant for hiring premises. The Government intend to issue guidance on the provisions of the current Education Bill, subject to Royal Assent. The Bill reaffirms the powers of the governing bodies of LEA maintained schools to control the use of school premises outside school hours. We shall be replicating that provision in the new articles of government for grant-maintained schools. I understand the point made by my noble friend about monitoring what happens. I shall bring her remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, in order that the Government Front Bench should not seek to claim a monopoly on these matters, is the Minister aware that my noble friend Lord Wilson of Rievaulx was a most distinguished Boy Scout?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing that information to the attention of your Lordships.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister accept that so far as is known my noble friends Lady Chalker, Lady Trumpington and Lady Elles were not juvenile delinquents? Does he agree that many people in this country are concerned about the rising rate of crime among juveniles and yet the expenses of the youth service at both central and local government level are being cut? It is a very great preventive service. Does he further agree that, in view of the fact that my three noble friends were not juvenile delinquents and attended a youth service, we are very unwise to cut such provision?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, it would be unwise if I were to answer for my noble friends about what they got up to in their youth. I appreciate the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Faithfull. I should point out that there is nothing to prevent local authorities continuing to subsidise youth and other community use of school facilities by making or increasing grants to local youth organisations.

Lord Judd

My Lords, will the noble Viscount agree that there is a difference between the phraseology "nothing to prevent the local education authority's continuing- to make those possibilities available and a full-blooded commitment on the part of the Government to support local education authorities in their full role in society? Will he accept that the grim truth of the Bill that is at present before the House is that it undermines local education authorities in all that they are trying to achieve?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord. His question is rather wide of the Question on the Order Paper. However, the current Education Bill reaffirms the powers of school governors to have control of school premises when they are not needed for school purposes, subject to any directions by local education authorities in the case of LEA maintained schools. A school's delegated budget under local management of schools may only he used for the purposes of the school. But school governors have the freedom to frame their letting policies to allow for different charges to different groups of users.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that the preventive role of those national organisations is much fortified by the preventive role of local voluntary organisations? Does he agree that such schemes as the Home Office partnership programme for youth crime—I have used the wrong term but its intention is youth crime prevention—are a significant step in assisting local voluntary organisations? Does he further agree that the Home Office could help greatly by encouraging probation services to reach the 5 per cent. target in that scheme as early as possible?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I feel sure that all your Lordships will agree with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that we sometimes have Girl Guides camping in our garden, although of course that sort of venue would not be suitable for the winter?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, some people have fairies at the bottom of their garden.

Earl Russell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we spend a good deal of time discussing the failure of bodies funded by the Government to fund those activities that the Government are supposed to fund adequately? Does he feel that that is entirely a coincidence? When he looks at this question, wilt he consider standard spending assessments and take advice about the legal position of local authorities who are under a statutory duty to do what they nevertheless cannot do?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, all local authorities have a wide discretionary power under Section 19 of the Local Government Act 1976 to provide sports and recreational facilities. In particular, Section 19 enables authorities to provide premises for the use of clubs and societies along with equipment, supplies and assistance of any kind.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, speaking as the recently retired president of the Guides of Scotland, I ask my noble friend whether he appreciates that, although what he said is absolutely correct, it is not enough? In drawing up those important guidelines, can there be very close consultation with the organisations that we are discussing? Those organisations are funded entirely by membership subscriptions and money that they raise locally. The government grants are only used centrally. Does my noble friend agree that the discussion of guidelines is very important indeed?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, all noble Lords will realise the important role of voluntary organisations and in particular voluntary youth groups in this country. I take note of what my noble friend says about guidance on the issue. We shall certainly hold in mind her comments when we produce guidance.