HL Deb 23 April 1998 vol 588 cc1244-5

3.17 p.m.

Lord Addington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will review their decision to withdraw all funding from the Access Committee for England.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, the decision not to renew government funding of the central administrative costs of the Access Committee for England (ACE) from April this year was reached only after very careful consideration, and was agreed jointly by Ministers from the Department for Education and Employment, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department of Health. The decision followed a recent interdepartmental review which concluded that future funding of ACE by the Government should be for specific projects, and not towards its central administrative costs.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, does she agree that deducting what is effectively a very small funding figureߞsome £.150,000ߞfrom a body which has acted as a secretariat for over 430 small individual groups acting at local level may well involve cutting off local people from decisions about local events, and may also cause a great waste of time and money for various departments as they will have to chase matters through individual channels?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

No, my Lords, we cannot agree with that suggestion. Much of ACE's work now overlaps that of other bodiesߞfor example, the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, the Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee, and to a lesser extent the National Disability Council. There are also other voluntary organisations working in the field. The Centre for Accessible Environments is a notable one. I opened an exhibition sponsored by that group and by the RNIB Mobility Unit, the RNID and the DETR, under the title, the "Universal Access Centre", only last month.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords, my noble friend may be aware of my involvement, as the then Minister for Disabled People, in the inception of this important body. As the millennium approaches, is the Minister's department aware of any organisation of disabled people that is content to contemplate its demise?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, of course I am aware of my noble friend's extremely important record in the field. As I hope I suggested in my answer to previous supplementary questions, there are other bodies working in the field which take on many of the responsibilities that ACE originally undertook. I suspect that the organisation is one of those whose unique contribution was important in the 1980s, but it has now been overtaken by other bodies.

It is open to ACE to apply for project funding, as is normal with voluntary organisations which cease to have core funding from the Department of Health.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, did I understand the Minister correctly when she said that it is now government policy to remove all core funding from charities which are supported by miscellaneous government departments?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I did not say that, but under the Section 64 grant system which the Department of Health administers, it has been and is the policy not only of this Government but of previous governments to try to reduce core funding for voluntary organisations and to encourage them to take on project funding.

I understand that this voluntary organisation was informed by the then Minister for Disabled People in 1996 that this was likely to happen in two years' time. However, it did not take action to avoid the position.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that someone contacted me only yesterday about the Disability Discrimination Act in relation to golf courses and access to them? Does she agree that disability and access are complex because there are so many different disabilities? If the wrong action is taken it is much more expensive than taking the right action at the right time.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

Yes, my Lords. Of course I support that sensible position taken by the noble Baroness. However, there are organisations with specific responsibilities in that field. For example, I recall the Centre for Accessible Environments which is a prominent body working in the area. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I opened an exhibition called the "Universal Access Centre" at the Building Centre where precisely the problems described were addressed.