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House of Lords

Monday, 23rd January 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.


Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much money they provide to assist Childline, and what proportion it is of Childline's budget.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, government sources provided £256,812 to Childline in 1993-94. This was over one-thirteenth of its total expenditure.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Childline has revealed enormous distress and suffering among children, many of whom suffer physical and sexual abuse and are desperate for help? Is she further aware that of no less than 10,000 children who telephone Childline every day, 3,000 get through and 7,000 merely get the engaged signal as there is no money to expand the service? I am disturbed and incredulous that thousands of children can telephone for help and be refused that help simply because the Government provide less than one-fourteenth of the £4 million that is required. Will the noble Baroness do what she can to help? Will she recognise that this social problem is far too serious to be left to voluntary funding and that the Government should help more?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we share the admiration of the noble Lord for this organisation. It does sterling work. That is why we have supported it since it first started in 1986. It is not possible to accede to every request from every organisation. Since Childline started, however, the Government have supported it to the tune of £750,000.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, is the Minister aware that last year just under 82,000 children were helped by Childline, and yet for every 10,000 children who ring in each day only 3,000 receive help? The nightmare of these young children is absolutely desperate if, when they call, they cannot get an answer. That can only be put right by extra funds. Will the Minister agree to review the funding that the Government provide for Childline to assist it to help these desperate children?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, there are a number of children who write to Childline in addition to those who telephone in. Those letters are always answered. We know that the organisation has the most amazing ability to raise funds from other sources, and we congratulate it on that. Since last year it has managed to increase its income by 25 per cent. and has attracted

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donations of over £3 million. It is not possible for the Government to supply resources to every charity that launches an appeal.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, would it not be far better for the Government to lop off from the quite useless sums that are provided for the European Community—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bruce of Donington: It is quite clear to me that it would be better to devote at any rate some of the money to the purposes outlined by my noble friend. Surely, in a civilised country, they should have prior attention over subsidies to Spanish agriculture.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question. It has certainly started the week on a good note. I agree with the noble Lord that in this area we can lead the rest of Europe. Indeed, I am sure that other countries in Europe look to Childline to see what best practice to adopt.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, how can Britain lead the rest of Europe? Is it not the case that the figures given to the House today are a grim condemnation of a society in which such a large number of children are dealt with so cruelly? Should not the Government do rather more than simply provide a sum of money? Is it not time to institute a probing inquiry into the causes of cruelty to, and abuse of, children in Britain in 1995?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we give much more than the figures I mentioned to organisations and charities which support children. Indeed, only last Thursday we issued a practical guide to social workers on improving the services they give towards preventing abuse against children.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that last year Childline set up a special service on school bullying, a specific area of child abuse which has been very topical in the past few months? That service answered 58,000 calls in the six months during which the line was open. Childline asked the Government for £20,000 in order to extend the service and that request was turned down.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we give to a whole range of organisations. The Pre-School Playgroups Association receives £500,000 a year; the National Children's Bureau, £443,000 a year. We give also to the National Council for Voluntary Child Care Organisations, Home Start, Kids Clubs Network, Kidscape, and all sorts of other organisations. It is not true that we do not support voluntary organisations in this area; we do. However, as noble Lords will know, the demand is insatiable. We have to set some priorities. We know that Childline has an amazing ability to raise funds from private sources—unlike perhaps the Alzheimer's Disease Society and others, which are less popular. We have to support them all in some way.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, will the noble Baroness give an assurance that she will not be diverted

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by people riding hobby-horses about Europe? We are talking about rape, sodomy, bullying and vicious sexual assaults; we are talking about children in grave need, sadness and despair. They are children who need help. People who do not understand that should not come to this House and ride hobby-horses. They should listen. The Question is about those in very grave need. Will the Minister, who is always helpful, do something about it? Will she accept that the Government are not doing enough? There must be more government support. Does she agree that we cannot let these children be turned down, as they are at present?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I very much respect the noble Lord's sincerity. I share his view that child abuse in any form cannot be condoned. We have improved enormously our childcare services. It is interesting to see how many fewer children are now in care compared with 10 years ago. With regard to hobby-horses, I feel that if your Lordships were not allowed to ride them, this place would be the poorer.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am sure that we all appreciate the sincerity of the Question. But is not Childline a voluntary organisation? Do we know whether it has approached bodies such as British Telecom to ask for assistance with its telephone lines? Do we know whether it is using the number of volunteers it could use to man the telephone lines? Does the noble Baroness agree that it is not just a matter of having telephone lines; it is also necessary to man them?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, yes, the organisation uses volunteers effectively. I understand that it has 500 people who help to man the lines. As my noble friend said, it has an amazing ability to raise funds. Last year it attracted income of well over £3 million from donations and covenants. It has just launched a new appeal. I can understand that it wishes to obtain support from the Houses of Parliament, both from your Lordships' Chamber and the other place. We have no reason to believe that it will not meet the targets that it has set itself.

Legal Aid

2.45 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to limit the extent under the legal aid scheme by which, as reportedly stated by the Lord Chancellor in The Times of 4th January 1995, "the money goes rolling out to the lawyers involved in the case".

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, I am presently considering whether the present scheme should be replaced by one operated within a cash limit and based on a system of block contracts with a variety of different suppliers of legal services. I intend to develop this idea further in a Green Paper which I hope to publish in the spring.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that encouraging Answer. Will he

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accept my assurance that his words, as quoted in the Starred Question, gave great encouragement to those of us who are very disturbed at the appalling outpouring of public money into legal aid?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. In seeking to develop the idea to which I referred, I shall be grateful for any help that any of your Lordships care to tender to me.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, we very much welcome the statement made earlier by the noble and learned Lord to his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I congratulate him on what is being done. But is he aware that some people have grave concern that those who appear to be very well off can obtain more legal aid much more easily than those who richly deserve it?

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