§ House again in Committee.
§ Clause 6 [Co-operation to improve well-being]:
Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 80:
Page 4, line 23, after "co-operation" insert "and co-ordination
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 80, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 95, 96, 97, 101, 102 and 102B.
§ Amendment No. 80 is a small, but, we think, important amendment. Part 2 of the Bill—Clause 6 is the first clause in Part 2—defines a new body, the children's services authority, with the specific duty of promoting co-operation between a number of bodies. The first question to ask is: what sort of a body is the children's services authority? For the answer to that we have to turn to Clause 49 at the end of the Bill, which lists certain types of local authority. Clause 13 goes a 926 little further and tells us that local authorities that are children's services authorities must appoint a director of children's services to assist in carrying out a local authority's children, social services and education responsibilities.
There are three questions that we need to ask about the concept of the children's services authority. First, why are we going to the trouble of creating this new authority if all it can do is to,
make arrangements to promote co-operation"?
Given the repeated failures in co-operation, of which the Victoria Climbiée case was only the last in a very long line, surely we want an authority that has stronger powers to co-ordinate rather than just to arrange to promote co-operation. Here some help is given by the guidance note that the Minister kindly sent to us, paragraph 10 of which notes that,
local authorities who are children's services authorities should oversee arrangements for integrated planning, commissioning and delivery of services".
§ This notion of integrated planning, commissioning and delivery of services underlies the concept of the children's trust. Effectively, children's services authorities are the precursors, as I understand it, to the concept of children's trusts. However, the term "children's trust", which appears in the Explanatory Notes in relation to children's services authorities, does not appear on the face of the Bill.
§ It would be very helpful if the Minister could clarify for us, first, what the functions of the children's services authorities are and, secondly, the relationship between them, the concept of integrated planning and commissioning and the emergence of children's trusts. It would help those working on the Bill if that was clarified.
Why call the body children's services authority? Children's services are defined in Clause 18—but only for the purposes of Clauses 15 to 17—as,
anything done for or in relation to children and relevant young persons".
§ Would not the new body have more authority if its name reflected its functions—education, as well as just children, and young people as well as just children? We are not allowed to change the title of this part of the Bill but there is nevertheless a series of amendments that question what we mean by the term "young people". We debated some of those amendments this morning, others will arise later. For whom will the children's services authority act?
§ Whose activities is the children's services authority supposed to co-ordinate or to promote co-operation between? Clause 6(3) makes clear that co-operation is between relevant partners. It lists district councils and county councils. The clause refers to a district council but it is important to remember that for most county councils there are considerably more than one district council to be taken into account. Clause 6(3) also refers to police authorities, local probation boards, strategic health authorities and contractors to the Learning and Skills Council for England. The questions that immediately arise are, "Why those particular partners? What rationale is there?".927
There is some uncertainty about the precise relationship between "Co-operation to improve wellbeing" and:
Arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare",
on which there is another list under Clause 7; I know that we have not yet reached Clause 7. If the Minister would clarify why we have to have a different group of people in Clause 7 from the relevant partners in Clause 6, that would be of some help.
§ I shall go back to that list of partners. The other amendments to which I speak really relate to the question of, "If those partners, why not others?". We have strategic health authorities, but why those? I thought that they were being phased out. Amendment No. 95 would introduce National Health Service trusts. Why are those not included? Amendment No. 102B asks, "Why not GPs?". GPs are the people who actually have contact with children. They are contractors to PCTs, which are included in the list in Clause 7. However, GPs are not included.
Amendment No. 96 looks at schools and those delivering frontline services. If we look at the Bill as a whole and consider the role of schools, it is clear that, as the National Association of Head Teachers puts it:
Schools are to be at the heart of the 'Every Child Matters Agenda'. Their role, as extended schools, and the responsibilities of their headteachers, will change significantly. No-one should be in any doubt that the NAHT members want to play their part in making sure that no child slips through the net. Our members are heavily involved in the Early Years and Sure Start initiatives, as well as Primary, Secondary and Special schools. But multi-disciplinary teams based in schools, with heads clearly accountable for outcomes from a range of extended services, come at a cost".
The association goes on to plead for resources. There is no mention of schools in the Bill. Where do schools fit in? A series of our amendments to which I shall speak later picks up that issue.
§ What about youth offending teams, as covered in Amendment No. 97? Why are they not included? The guidance note states quite specifically that the guidance will give specific advice to each of the agencies listed in Clause 6(3), and to the youth offending teams on what the reciprocal duty to co-operate with the local authority means to them. Despite playing that substantial part in the guidance note, youth offending teams are not listed.
§ The amendment on independent care homes may seem slightly odd but, of the 1,714 homes that currently care for children and young people in our country, 1,027 are independent. However, the only ones to be represented in the Bill are the local authority care homes, through their local authority. Is it not appropriate that some representation be made for independent care homes? Amendment No. 102 refers to the governor of a local prison or secure training centre. In other circumstances, those concerned with the police, probation service and youth offending teams are involved. Is it not appropriate in some circumstances to include the governor of the local prison or secure training centre where there are young people in such accommodation?928
§ The group of amendments seeks to probe the nature of the children's services authority and why the specific list of relevant partners was included. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Byford
I shall speak to Amendment No. 85, which is in the group. I feel somewhat sorry for the Minister who will respond to the debate, because we are back on the question of lists and who should and should not be included, which is always a nightmare. My noble friend Lord Howe will speak to one of the later amendments in the group, but my amendment is intended to draw the Committee's attention to the fact that voluntary organisations, charities and private sector organisations are not included. The Minister may well tell me that the amendment is not necessary; I shall listen to what she has to say.
Our intention is simply to ensure that no person or organisation assumes that the Bill applies only to those paid to carry out specific functions with regard to the well-being of children. There have always been individuals who have worked tirelessly for no financial reward on behalf of children. Perhaps the most well known—I shall get told off for this—is Barnardo, who gave his name to a world-renowned organisation that still campaigns and draws our attention to new variations on old themes. However, it is only in very recent times that volunteers have been regimented, instructed and given statutory duties.
Such volunteers take on responsibilities and accept heavy workloads in many areas. Some are school governors, who will know what I mean about the extra workload that they carry. Some belong to the citizens advice bureaux, which work up and down the country and carry on all sorts of different tasks. My background was with the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, which straddled everything in those days and now looks more to the care of the elderly. Unfortunately, I hear that there increasingly seems to be a culture that assumes that the volunteer's time is less valuable compared to that of someone paid to do the job.
The Bill should carry an open reminder to everyone associated with child welfare, protection and advancement that volunteers and the organisations to which they belong are important and should not be ignored.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 100 and 110, which are in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. In a judicial review dated November 2002, the Howard League for penal reform was successful in challenging Home Office policy that the Children Act 1989 did,not apply to under 18s in prison establishments".Although that was a landmark ruling, the decision meant that local authorities retained a statutory duty to safeguard the welfare of children even if they were in prison, rather than the prison authorities.
The decision has been difficult to implement. It now makes practical sense to bring the Prison Service into line with the other agencies responsible for the welfare of vulnerable young people. Therefore, my amendment 929 would include the governor of a prison, secure training centre or other institution catering for children in custody. At the least, it is targeted at that.
It seems wholly appropriate that children in custody should be included in the clause, given the list of priorities, which includes,physical and mental health;… education and training; '… the contribution made by them to society; … social and economic well-being".All such children clearly often fail in those outcomes, and we would very much like them to be caught. If they were better provided for in such ways, they would contribute to not only their well-being, but the wellbeing of society and the protection of the public.
I spoke recently with a young man who had been through Feltham young offender institution. His experience had been that the prison officers there were, for the most part, sympathetic and helpful to him. But they are poorly equipped to engage with these young people. They now receive nine weeks' rather than 12 weeks' training, and that is wholly inadequate to make a difference to the lives of children who are in such an establishment. This is a real opportunity to turn around these young people's lives. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will consider including children in custody in this clause.
I also want to draw the attention of the Committee to Amendment No. 110, which would extend the clause to cover young people under the age of 25. Again, the reoffending rates of young people in this group are very high. The culture within prison is not geared up to dealing with young people making the transition to adulthood, but they would be included if the amendment were incorporated into the Bill.
Perhaps I may give the example of a young man who was a crack addict and dealer. He showed me one of the three bullet wounds that he had received. He was turned around because an adult took an interest in him. She had a specialist qualification as a child psychotherapist. She worked with him and he is now working in a centre helping other young people who come from a similar background to his. He is a young black man—perhaps not so young any more; he is 30—and he is working with other young black people to help them to turn around their lives and become constructive members of the community.
There is a long way to go in terms of changing the culture in these institutions, and incorporating this amendment into the Bill would be an important step in making progress in that respect. I look forward to the Minister's response.
§ 3 p.m.
I shall speak to Amendment No. 99, which stands in my name. This is a probing amendment. We are seeking to explore how to ensure that it is recognised that voluntary sector organisations are key providers of services to children and that their appropriate involvement in the proposed children's services structures is essential.
930 I want to pray in aid my honourable friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, Margaret Hodge, who last week said that she was keen to see the voluntary sector playing a bigger role in the provision of services under children's trusts, pledging local agreements and ring-fenced funding to protect the sector's involvement in them. She said:Early intervention, identification, prevention and services built around the needs of the child is music to the ears of the voluntary sector, which is more sensitive to users' needs".She added that,if it is to become a bigger player it will need stronger outcomes and greater accountability".In fact, the voluntary sector is already a big player. The five largest charities in the sector—the NSPCC, the Children's Society, Barnardo's, Save the Children UK and NCH—are substantial contracting businesses, and sometimes relatively little of their revenue comes from fund-raising. For example, NCH earned £128 million of business in the year 2002–03 with the provision of publicly funded services for children. It provides a huge range of services and is a big player in this market place. It is on that basis that I tabled the amendment.
The voluntary sector does not appear on the face of the Bill, yet many voluntary organisations—whether large, small or medium-sized—play an important role in the provision of such services, as I outlined. Sometimes the efforts are voluntary and sometimes the services are contracted. In some fields—for example, family support—the voluntary sector provides the bulk of the support for families. The Government say that they wish to promote the role of voluntary organisations in delivering services and that they will express that in guidance, but obviously that will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, nor carry statutory force.
Many children's voluntary organisations are concerned that there should be a level playing field when it comes to the terms for local contracting and commissioning so that the organisation best placed to deliver a service is, in fact, the one that is chosen to do so, regardless of which sector it comes from. That requires the commissioning process to be fair, open and transparent and based on the principles of best value, taking both quality and cost into account. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that that is in the best interests of children, young people and their families.
Some of the voluntary organisations are not yet convinced that the Government's current intentions to progress that through guidance will result in a fair and open commissioning process. Therefore, I invite my noble friend to explain how the commissioning process can be designed in such a way as to guarantee that valuable services are not lost by accident in the first round of giving out contracts because of procurement bureaucracy and guidelines. For example, would the pressures of the Gershon report come into play in this area? The aim of that report is to squeeze savings from 931 the procurement of goods of services. Will that read across into the commissioning of children's services and, if so, to what effect?
§ Earl Howe
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 85A and 108 in this group. Amendment No. 85A is a purely probing amendment to establish whether the list of outcomes in this clause covers children in the criminal justice system and children who, for one reason or another, are considered likely to offend. From what the Minister said previously, I assume that the answer is "yes", but there is an important aspect to this issue.
There is a marked correlation between the circumstances of a child's life which lead to offending and those that lead to other forms of risk. The preventive activities which may help to address family and environmental risk factors are not so very far removed from the activities that can prevent a child being excluded from school or needing child and adolescent mental health services. Truancy and misbehaviour at school have a number of causes. Most informed people believe that they are best tackled using a multi-agency response. However, I believe it is important that the way in which that response is exercised does not label or stigmatise children as potential offenders.
It would be very helpful to hear from the noble Baroness that in this type of case the approach adopted by the different agencies will be geared to supporting families in an integrated way. I am worried that initiatives such as youth inclusion and support panels could, perhaps unintentionally, serve to create stigma. That, in my view, would be deeply unfortunate.
I turn to Amendment No. 108. It seems obvious that any arm of local government which is in any way concerned with delivering services to children should be part of the co-operative arrangements referred to in Clause 6. That, indeed, is the conclusion that one has to draw from the definition in Clause 49 of the term "children's services authority". However, it would be helpful to have confirmation of that from the Minister because the document, Every Child Matters: Next Steps, gave the clear impression that that may not be so. For example, it indicated that youth offending teams will not have to be part of the local partnership arrangements, although they could be.
There is always room for flexibility at local level. However, I think that youth offending teams, which are responsible for delivering key services and interventions for some of the most troubled children, should be included in the arrangements as a matter of course. After all, the whole point of youth offending teams is to have a multi-disciplinary group of professional people whose job it is to meet the needs of young offenders, many of which can be quite complex and challenging. In my view, there really is no case for leaving them out of the partnership.
I support Amendment No. 100, which has already been spoken to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I support it in the context of the recent report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, published on 12 May. The report noted that Part 2 of the Bill,engages the important positive obligations owed to children under Articles 2, 3 and 8 ECHR, to take positive steps to protect their lives, to protect them from inhuman and degrading treatment, and to protect their physical integrity".Within that context, will the Minister explain why the detention institutions where children are held are not included while, quite rightly, both the police authority and the probation board are?
There is no doubt that children in such institutions need attention paid to their well-being. Many reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons on places where juveniles are held highlight seriously unacceptable practices. It can be argued that those are now out of date. I will quote from one report that came out on 5 May about Bullwood Hall, where young girls are held. It states:Bullwood Hall holds the second highest number of girls in the prison estate: 20 at the time of the inspection. Some were very vulnerable, three were on suicide watch, and six were pregnant (with child protection implications for the baby as well as the mother). In spite of this, child protection arrangements were inadequate.The Minister said that the Government,strongly believe that the views of children rather than the rights agenda should drive the commissioner's work".—[Official Report,30/3/04; col. 1303.]She was talking about the Children's Commissioner and I am sure that she would say the same about Part 2 of the Bill. She will perhaps be aware of the Home Office research study Tell Them So They Listen, which carried out extensive questioning and interviews with children in custody describing their experiences.
I shall end by giving a brief flavour of that study. It states:Many gave detailed practical examples of disrespectful treatment, clear abuse of power by adults in authority and, in some cases, incidents involving overt racism or violence … Many spoke of being scared, humiliated and de-personalised on reaching prisons".One young woman said:You … feel like a catalogue delivery. like you're nothing".The study included recommendations that staff should treat children and young people with respect; that they should make prisons safe for young people by tackling bullying and racism; and they should reduce the use of prescribed drugs by including healthcare and emotional support for young people.
Listening to children produces the same results as observing human rights and I support the amendment.
Boroness Massey of Darwen
I shall speak to Amendment No. 102A, which is a probing amendment. It focuses on the need to take account of the needs of young people in relation to substance misuse services, including drug action teams. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse.
933 The Government's public service agreement to target young people and drug misuse is to reduce,the use of class A drugs and the frequent use of any illicit drug among all young people under the age of 25, especially the most vulnerable young people".The success of the drugs strategy relies on effective partnership working at a national and local level. That is emphasised throughout that strategy. Achieving that target will contribute to the five key outcomes for young people described in Every Child Matters. I and my colleagues from the National Treatment Agency have had a helpful discussion on this issue with the Minister for Children, Margaret Hodge, and useful correspondence from her in relation to our concerns.
In this probing amendment, I simply want to flag up the importance of preventive and treatment measures necessary if young peoples' substance misuse is to be tackled successfully. Agencies must co-operate and substance misuse must not be linked just to criminal justice. I am concerned about that, particularly with regard to young people, some of whom would be better served through treatment outside custody.
A drug action team, where it exists, should have a young person's lead and action should be integrated into the commissioning process for vulnerable young people. In my view, drug action teams are relevant partners in services for young people and I am anxious that there should at least be sufficient guidance given on this issue with the Bill. I look forward to the Minister's response.
§ 3.15 p.m.
Boroness Thomas of Walliswood
I rise in support of my noble friend but there a particular aspect of the issue that I wish to put to the Minister.
I had the good fortune some time ago to speak to the lead officer of a county council that had already created the internal reforms necessary to arrive at the creation of a children's services authority. He said something that is directly relevant to this group of amendments and the group that starts with Amendment No. 84. He was fearful lest the organisational pattern should be at a high level between, in effect, education, social services and the National Health Service. He felt strongly that there should be a community aspect to what was going on. To my way of thinking, these amendments have been precisely about that particular aspect of the issue. The officer mentioned the voluntary sector and schools— which is being dealt with later.
An example of something that seems to be at rather a high level is the fact the Clause 6(3)(f) lists the Learning and Skills Council for England, rather than the local Learning and Skills Council's representative. That is an example of the sort of matter that that local officer might find of concern. I hope the Minister can reassure us that the work of the many agencies at a local level—including schools, because there is a separation between education authorities and the schools which they ostensibly control—and the community aspect of the organizational 934 process are what the Government and the Bill are trying to reach, even though the words in the Bill are not particularly helpful in creating that atmosphere.
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to their amendments with great clarity. I shall now attempt to deal with them all, but it may be useful to set out the contexts of Clauses 6 and 7, particularly as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked me about that.
The point about the Clause 6 group is that it involves the relevant partners who have responsibility for strategic decision making and the commissioning of services. It will be important that delivery agencies, such as NHS trusts and schools and the voluntary sector, are involved and that their expertise is used in planning and decision making—which will be made clear in guidance and is enabled under Clause 6(1)(c). The agencies listed in Clause 7 are both strategic agencies and those which have day-to-day responsibilities towards, and contact with, children. This duty is about the way in which these agencies deal with children and it is appropriate that the wider group of agencies are covered. Indeed, Clause 7(2)(b) ensures that those exercising functions on behalf of the agencies listed—for example, GPS and childcare providers—are also covered.
I hope that that helps the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in particular—if it does not I shall write to her. I should also say to her that the children's service authority is the top tier local authority, whose responsibility is to make arrangements for that co-operation, whereas the Children's Trust is the main commissioning body for integrated children's services and therefore is part of that co-operation arrangement.
Clause 6 is designed to get those key organisations to work together—focusing on the outcomes, as we have said in earlier debates, moving away from professional silos and getting services to work together in a way that meets the needs of the user; that is, the child. We are keen to prescribe only where it is necessary to allow local partners to develop arrangements and to take account of local circumstances. We believe that we have got right the level of detail and many of the amendments, as noble Lords have indicated, seek to add to that detail so as to ensure that a specific group of children or young people are included or a particular agency is mentioned. I hope that I can provide the assurances that Members seek to be able to withdraw their amendments.
Amendments Nos. 80 and 186 would strengthen the need to co-ordinate at all levels. Amendment No. 85A draws our attention to the needs of young people who are at risk or who have been offenders. Amendments Nos. 85, 95 to 97, 99 to 102B and 108 are about specifying detail in the Bill.
In Amendment No. 80, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is keen to strengthen the clause and ensure that not only do the children's services authority have a responsibility to co-operate but also to co-ordinate the work. We believe that because of the way we framed the Bill there is no need to include an amendment to that effect. Co-ordination is a natural consequence of the way in which we set up the co-operation arrangements.
935 We believe that effective co-operation is a prerequisite for co-ordination and integration. It is the starting point on which we build the relationship between the partners. We will provide further advice on the statutory guidance, which will help the noble Baroness to feel comfortable that we have effectively covered the co-ordination of services and ensure that it fits in with what noble Lords have seen in the policy statement.
Amendment No. 85A, moved by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, relates to the group of young people who are at risk of offending or who have offended. I completely and utterly agree with the noble Earl that it is important to ensure that our services do not stigmatise or label children. The way in which we have approached Every Child Matters, is to try to think of services in the round for all children and not to focus only on services for children at specific risk—although that is important. That is how good prevention and preventive measures are achieved.
I agree with the noble Earl that it is a multi-agency approach and a recognition of some of the ways in which children move from one problem to another. It is a spiralling effect. The child who is beginning to truant or be involved in some other activity may eventually be at risk of offending or may offend. It is therefore important to identify children who need support early on in order to ensure that they do not enter that spiral of behaviour. I agree, too, that it is about supporting families to ensure that we provide the necessary services.
For that reason, we have included for those young people who are at serious risk of offending, or who have offended, the police authority, the chief officer of police or the probation board for the local area. We have put them under a duty to co-operate with the arrangements made by the children's services authority to approve well-being. We therefore believe that we have covered those children who are at serious risk of offending, but I take on board the point made about the importance of recognising early the behaviour that might lead to offending or other problems and at that point put in support for families. However, we do not believe that it is necessary to put them on the face of the Bill. They are covered de facto because it is about all children. I want to reinforce the point that we have included all the agencies which we believe to be important in providing that support.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, moved the amendment concerned with the voluntary and private sectors. I agree with her tribute to the work of volunteers who do so much to support our statutory services. I do so not least from my own experience in the health service but in areas of child protection and so on.
Furthermore, I entirely agree with the sentiments of my noble friend Lady Thornton on the critical importance of a level playing field for the voluntary sector and of ensuring that we involve it. It is a key provider of services to children and their families. The voluntary sector has enormous expertise, identifying 936 unmet need, being at the forefront of developing innovative practice. It is also true that the private sector has played an important role in this. The Government believe that local authorities will need and want to ensure that we involve the sectors in the new arrangements.
We cannot describe such a diverse sector by naming it in the Bill. We also believe it is impractical to place a duty on the voluntary community and private sector organisations to co-operate. We will make it clear in guidance that local authorities must include voluntary and community organisations among the other people or bodies, including private sector bodies, which are involved in the co-operation arrangements.
Not only that, we are committed to removing the barriers to the voluntary sector's increased participation in strategy development and service delivery and planning at a local level. That was alluded to by my noble friend Lady Thornton in terms of the role as service provider on behalf of government and local government. We are developing an over-arching strategy for our relationship with the voluntary and community sector which will aim, among other things, to develop a stronger funding relationship, build capacity and infrastructure, improve our communications and, as importantly, ensure that local structures fully engage with the sectors. We are doing that in conjunction with the voluntary and community sector with a view to publishing a strategy in the autumn this year.
My noble friend Lady Thornton specifically asked me about an issue connected with the Gershon report. We expect services to continue to commission in accordance with the principles of best value and the Gershon report reinforces that. We believe that it is entirely consistent with the Gershon report to examine the commissioning of best value as the approach we would take through our guidance to local authorities in order to ensure we involve them.
I hope that I have answered the questions on the voluntary and community sector, but I am more than happy outside—
We all accept that local authorities are key providers and innovators. Their input comes and goes in that they achieve their aims and they are then taken up by someone else. Presumably, the guidance will recommend that local authorities should "have regard" or something similar. But will it state that the local authorities "must have regard"? There is a great difference between what one may desire to happen and specifically directing.
Secondly, during financially difficult times many local authorities unfortunately consider cutting grants to voluntary groups and charities. They could find themselves squeezed if they are not named in the Bill. That is why I was anxious to include the definition. Those are my two main concerns.
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. It is difficult in guidance to say that particular partners must be involved. The whole point is to create flexibility. However, I take her point and I 937 will reflect on it more. We will indicate to local authorities which other bodies and persons referred to in subsection (4) might be involved in the arrangements. It will make clear the critical point that the voluntary and community sectors must be included at all levels. We are therefore being clear about their relationship and will provide advice on developing a transparent process to ensure that voluntary and community sector partners with which each local authority works most directly are representative of those sectors in the locality.
The transparency of the process will help with the points the noble Baroness made about the funding issues. I recognise them—anecdotally, certainly—to be an issue. Therefore, a combination of ensuring that they must be included at all levels and the transparency will I hope go some way towards addressing the issue.
Critically, there is an absolute commitment from the Government to wish to involve the voluntary and community sector and the private sector where appropriate, not least because we would be extremely foolish not to. They are innovators and providers of services and are often ahead in terms of thinking and strategic work. They are also a critical and vital partner in supporting children. On that basis, I believe that we have got this about right but I am always happy to consider the issue further. I know that my right honourable friend Margaret Hodge is in discussion my noble friend and will continue to be so in order to ensure that we get this right. We believe we have it right; we believe we have been as positive as we can be. We are always willing to consider matters further on that basis.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to the National Health Service and NHS trusts. She was concerned about strategic health authorities being phased out—they are not being phased out as far as I am aware—and about the primary care trusts. A primary care trust is the body that has the responsibility in a local area to identify health needs and to deliver or to commission primary care as appropriate. GPs are connected to that through their contracts with the primary care trust. In guidance we shall make it clear that PCTs must specify that GP practices, including all health staff working in them, co-operate in the arrangements. We believe that that is the best way to achieve what the noble Baroness seeks.
On NHS foundation trusts, I hesitate to get into a detailed debate. I understand the need to involve NHS foundation trusts, but they retain a responsibility to provide services as agreed under contracts with primary care trusts and as such, in the same way as GPs, they will be engaged in co-operative arrangements through their commissioning relationships, subject to local negotiation. Guidance will make clear the importance of working with all those delivering services, including NHS foundation trusts. I hope that answers the point made by the noble Baroness.
On Amendment No. 96, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, spoke of the need to engage the children's workforce in the co-operation arrangements. That gives 938 me my chance to refer to the hard work and dedication of all who deliver services to children. We know that we need to involve those working with children in driving forward this agenda, but we are not convinced that naming their representative bodies as relevant partners under a reciprocal duty to co-operate in local arrangements, as the amendment states, is the best way to secure that engagement.
We are working with employer and other organisations to develop fully the proposals for a social care, children and young people sector skills council and the related children's workforce network, which we believe will be the best way to bring together those who work with children and young people and with their families, to develop plans for workforce development which is a critical part of the agenda. I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness on that point.
Amendment No. 97, and Amendment No. 108 proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, are similar in their intent and I shall deal with them together. The amendments seek to specify the parts of a children's services authority in England that are to be involved in making arrangements to promote co-operation. As I have already indicated, the children's services authority is the top tier authority, which, in its functions, will need to take account of what impacts on the well-being of children, including, for example, youth and leisure services, when making arrangements for co-operation to improve well-being. What we would expect those authorities to do can be made clear in guidance.
Youth offending teams will have an important role in promoting the co-operation to improve children's well-being. It has always been our intention that youth offending teams should be involved in the arrangements for promoting co-operation and the Home Office is strongly committed to that. Whether or not a youth offending team decides to join a children's trust is something that will be left to local discretion, but it is important that youth offending teams work closely with the trust.
Our firm intent is that youth offending teams are fully involved in co-operation arrangements. We shall consider further, with our colleagues in the Home Office, whether the clause as currently drafted makes the best provision for that. We shall return to the matter on Report. For that reason I resist the amendments as we consider that we have covered them effectively. I am grateful to noble Lords for raising the issue.
Amendments Nos. 100, 101 and 102 draw our attention to the situation of children living in independent children's homes, in prisons or in secure training centres. I am very grateful to noble Lords for raising these issues because it is so important to remember such children. I do not believe that what is proposed by these amendments is the right way to go. The clause as drafted allows independent children's homes, prisons and secure training centres to be included in the co-operation arrangements where it makes sense locally.
939 In the case of independent children's homes, the Commission for Social Care Inspection assesses whether or not a children's home should be registered and national minimum standards must be met. Arrangements for placing children already emphasise the need for partnership between parents, children and the responsible authority and between the responsible authority and other agencies.
Regulations that apply to children in independent children's homes place a duty on the responsible authority to draw up and record an individual care plan for the child. I believe that through those means the authority already has enough levers to ensure that independent children's homes are fully engaged in the local co-operation arrangements. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw Amendment No. 101.
I turn to prisons and secure training centres. The arrangements for promoting co-operation in Clause 6 are focused mainly on children permanently resident in the local authority area concerned. Some of the children or young people living in a young offender institution or in a secure training centre will have been living in the area previously and will probably return to it, but many will not.
Young offender institutions and secure training centres need to develop and to maintain links with each child's home area and, as noble Lords will know, there are already arrangements to do that through the local youth offending teams. The Youth Justice Board is working to strengthen those links, which is important. There would be little purpose in requiring the young offender institutions or secure training centre to take part in arrangements with their local police force or probation board if few of the children in its care were likely to come to the attention of those agencies.
Of course, there are matters—principally safeguarding and child protection—on which the local authority and those bodies need to work closely together. They are provided for in other parts of the Bill, notably in Clause 7, which places a duty on the governor to ensure that he carries out his functions having regard to the need to safeguard and to promote the welfare of children, and in Clause 9 which requires the governor to sit on the local safeguarding children board for his or her area. I hope that that answers the points that have been raised by noble Lords.
Amendment No. 102A was tabled by my noble friend Lady Massey. She has had a meeting with my right honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for children, young people and families and I believe she has received the assurance that the noble Baroness seeks; namely, that this will be covered in guidance. I restate that assurance and confirm to my noble friend that we shall consult widely on the guidance before it is finalised. We want to ensure that the co-operation arrangements meet the needs of those locally. The Bill allows drug action teams to be brought into those arrangements and, given their multi-agency approach, to be an important partner. 940 But that level of detail is not for the Bill to prescribe. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
On Amendment No. 110, Clause 6(8) simply ensures that agencies are not prevented from participating because they provide services for young people over the age of 18. It is to enable better co-operation. It does not extend the duty in Clause 6 to those over the age of 18, including this particular group. We do not believe that adding them as proposed would be helpful.
As we discussed this morning, we are very concerned to ensure that in our criminal justice system the needs of those who are part of it are taken into account. This morning I said to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that that is not for this Bill.
We are making changes to the management of offenders with the creation of a National Offender Management Service from June 2004. That will have a significant impact on the way that all adult offenders are dealt with, including young adult offenders. I could go into great detail, but I shall not because I am conscious of the time. However, I shall write to the noble Earl and to the noble Baroness setting out what are important areas where this new work will impact on the young people with whom they are concerned.
I apologise if this does not meet what the noble Earl seeks, but in a criminal justice system those over 18 are adults. It is critical to ensure that the adult services in the criminal justice system meet their needs and are able to support them in the right way. I do not believe that the answer to this issue raised by the noble Earl is to extend the role of the children's services and to turn adults effectively into children. I understand the issues and, as I say, I shall write to the noble Earl and the noble Baroness to clarify what I believe is happening in regard to the Government's plan.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I thank the Minister for giving way. I shall read with great interest what she has said and look forward to receiving that correspondence. I simply point out to the noble Baroness that there is a very high proportion of care leavers represented in young offender institutions. I believe the figure is about 40 per cent. Elsewhere in the Bill those particular young people are given a special position, as they were in the Children (Leaving Care) Act. We recognise that their transition to adulthood has been much impeded, often by the neglect that they have experienced in the past. I recognise the difficulties outlined by the noble Baroness and I shall read her correspondence with great interest.
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
I am grateful to the noble Earl. I reiterate what I said earlier: the way in which the age profile has been determined for the Bill is dependent on where the services are. If the services are dealing with young people beyond that age, we have made allowance for the fact that that should continue and not provided an artificial cut-off point. The difference in the criminal justice system is that the cut-off point is in existence.
941 I agree with the noble Earl about making sure that for those people who move into the system, the quality of the services is appropriate to their needs. Recognising that so many of these young people and young adults have been through the care system is incredibly important, and I would not detract from that for one second. However, I think it is important that the adult services respond effectively and properly, rather than saying that it is for the children's services to continue up the age range when there is not a clear differential in that way.
I think that I have answered all the issues that have been raised in this group of amendments—I hope I have. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Boroness Sharp of Guildford
I thank the Minister for her very detailed reply—I am most grateful to her. I think that I have now understood the distinction between Clauses 6 and 7. My notes say that Clause 6 is really about strategic partners with an overarching responsibility, whereas Clause 7 is about partners being given specific safeguarding responsibilities.
In the old days, we used to have a distinction between purchaser and provider—today it is commissioner and deliverer. Clause 6 is really about our commissioners and Clause 7 about our deliverers. In that sense, it seems that most of the lists we put forward should more appropriately have been added to the list in Clause 7 because they were about deliverers. Maybe I have still got it wrong, and I would be grateful if the Minister would write to me.
We understand what the Minister is saying; it is quite clear that we cannot append all these detailed lists to the Bill. It is more appropriate that such matters are included in guidance, and we look forward to seeing the detailed guidance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.45 p.m.
Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 81:
Page 4, line 24, at end insert—
( ) persons with parental responsibility for one or more children living in the authority's area;
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 81, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 82 and 83. Amendment Nos. 81 and 82 go together, and Amendment No. 83 is an alternative way of solving the problem.
§ These are probing amendments, and I have drafted them in the simplest possible form in order to elicit the Government's views on what I believe to be an issue crucial to the success of the Bill. The question is: we intend that parents should be treated as the problem, or do we recognise that parents can and should be a key part of the solution? By "parents", in this context, I mean primarily those who have parental responsibility for a child. That will usually mean one or both birth parents, but I accept that there will sometimes be others, such as grandparents or stepparents, who make a special and long-term commitment to care for a child.942
§ We have to accept that there are, in our society, some children who are at serious risk from the acts or failure to act of their own parents. Those parents are already being worked with by professionals and will have to continue to be so. But the number of families in which children are at risk from their parents is exceedingly small. From the statistics I have been able to obtain, it looks like being about 0.25 or 0.3 per cent. If the noble Baroness or any other noble Lord has a better statistic, it would be extremely interesting to know what it is, because it seems to me very relevant.
§ I suggest that we must not let our concern for those hard cases make us forget the other 99.7 per cent of parents and children. Are the Bill and this clause only about children at serious risk? We were told, as I understand it, that the purpose of the Bill is to improve the well-being of all the nation's children. The way it is drafted sometimes seems to focus almost eKclusively on our concerns arising from the tragic Victoria Climbié case.
§ For the vast majority of the nation's children, parents can be and are the key players in delivering the goals which we are all trying to achieve for all children. Why do I say that parents are the key players? Because the single most important factor in the well-being of a child, especially in its early years, is parental love—reliable, long-term, responsible, forgiving, parental love. Parents are the most likely people to be motivated to give that sort of commitment on a long-term basis, although, as I have already noted, there are sometimes others who do so, particularly grandparents and step-parents. That kind of commitment is not the role of professionals or carers, or professional carers. Parent and child usually have a special relationship.
I would like to quote from a brief which was sent to me by the Parenting Education and Support Forum. It says:
In the normal order, it is parents who take responsibility for the health, happiness and well-being of children. Parents are by far the most important partners in the crucial task of safeguarding children. They are the main service providers for children and, indeed, the service provider whom children usually choose in preference to anyone else".
§ Professionals alone cannot raise the nation's 11.7 million children. Without the full, wholehearted co-operation of the nation's parents, any project to enhance the well-being of the nation's children is seriously at risk. Therefore, the Bill must engage, empower and give recognition to the role of parents. If the Government are seen to be ignoring parents or if they alienate parents, they will, effectively, be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
§ I know that the Government are developing an important strategy document about their plans for the support of parents and families. I salute them for this, but a strategy will not work unless it engages the commitment of parents in the project. Doing things for parents and doing things to parents are not enough.
§ It is a basic principle of community development— in which I was, at one time in my career, slightly involved—that officials and experts do not just descend on a community and impose solutions. They consult, they listen, then they work from the "felt 943 needs" of the community. They engage the natural leaders of the community in working together towards solutions which will work and which have the commitment of the community itself. This is the way that Sure Start has worked and that is why it has worked so well. But alas, for some extraordinary reason which I do not understand, in this Bill the Government have written parents out of the plot completely. The word "parent" does not arise in the Bill except right at the end, in a clause which is an amendment to the Children Act 1989.
§ The objectives and solutions envisaged in the Bill, as it is printed, make no mention of any proposal to work with parents, listen to parents, empower parents and respect parents. In my view, this is a very grave mistake. It raises the serious risk that parents will become alienated from the Government's objectives. Many parents in this country, alas, are already becoming demoralised.
§ I would like to end on an optimistic note. The noble Baroness has sent us a policy statement, which offers some hope that the Government are aware of the problem. If that statement really represents the Government's policy, it may now only remain for us to get it firmly established and guaranteed by having it made clear, in one way or another, on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
I agree with the noble Lord that parents and families are the most important factor in a child's life. I hope that if the noble Lord reflected on what we said in Every Child Matters: Next Steps he would see that we have tried to position parents and families at the heart of our vision for improving the outcomes for children.
The issue is whether we think that these are matters for legislation. In Clause 6(1)(c), I know that it will sound odd to refer to "other persons or bodies" but that is the legislative way in which we can invite representation that could include parents or their representatives. We recognise and agree that parents should be involved and have their views taken on board. We want to encourage the different approaches to co-operation and service delivery in all the areas that impact on children, including services to their families. We want all those involved in those arrangements to be properly focused on the goal of improving the well-being of children and young people.
Adding to the duties in the way that Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 suggest would, I contend, run the risk of merely creating extra bureaucracy. Amendment No. 83 would place parents themselves under a duty to co-operate, which many might consider a burden rather than a positive means of seeking their views.
I agree with the noble Lord's observation that it is important that we support parents. We have a new Parenting Fund worth £25 million to help build the capacity of the voluntary and community sector. The Sure Start programme, to which the noble Lord referred, is very important, as is the rolling out of the kind of scheme that Home Start represents.
944 When we debated these issues I indicated that it may be appropriate to revisit Clause 6 to ensure that arrangements relating to parents and families are properly included. I reiterate our commitment to do that. I can assure noble Lords that we will do that and return on Report if necessary.
I hope that that gives the noble Lord the comfort that he desires—he shakes his head. Perhaps I can suggest that when he sees what we propose to do, that will give him comfort. There is no suggestion that we do not recognise the core and fundamental importance of children in the context of their families and the relationship and role of parents, step-parents and others who care for children.
§ Earl Howe
Can the noble Baroness enlighten the Committee on what the Children Act says about the role of parents? I recollect that it says quite a lot. One should read this Bill in conjunction with the Act. I did not want to catch the noble Baroness on the hop by asking her about another statute, but it is relevant. One cannot divorce this Bill from the previous Act, which, we all accept, underpins everything that is currently done to help children.
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
I am very grateful to the noble Earl. He is absolutely right and has more experience than me in understanding how the legislation fits together. It is critical to view the Bill as building on existing legislation and good practice. I have conceded that we will look again at ensuring that we have provided for parents in the right way in the Bill. However, I will resist attempts to legislate for parents in an inappropriate way. It is critical that we put them at the heart of everything we do but in the context of both good practice and what already exists.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I thank the Minister for making clear the fundamental importance that she places on families. She mentions that there is £25 million in the Parenting Fund, which, I understand, is over three years. I recognise all the other very welcome investment by the Government through Sure Start, but given our earlier debate about reasonable chastisement and the need to find ways better to support parents, does she consider that £25 million over three years for the Parenting Fund will be adequate to meet the concerns that we have expressed? Will she relay to the Secretary of State for Education the concerns expressed about the need for better support for parenting education and the doubt that £25 million over three years is adequate to meet the need?
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
As is always the fate of Ministers, the minute I mention one figure, people think that that is all there is. The figure that I gave is not everything. I was merely referring to the Parenting Fund, particularly in the light of the noble Earl's comments earlier. My right honourable friend has just announced, for example, the family support grant programme for this year. Much of Sure Start's work is focused on families, and huge investment is going into 945 that programme. Separately, we are talking about rolling out the Home Start initiative nationally. Parents play a critical role in lots of the work that we are doing on the curriculum and much work in many other parts of government. I hesitate to say that I could reel off all the initiatives but I would not want any noble Lord to think that the fact that I put a figure on one fund meant that that is all there is. I appreciate that governments can always do more. Within the resources, I am pleased to say, we have begun the process of ensuring that we support families and children even more effectively than already we do.
§ Lord Northbourne
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the fairly encouraging remarks that she made towards the end of her response. I am still not clear whether she and I are talking the same language. I know that the Government are quite prepared to do endless things to parents: they are prepared to have strategies for parents and to tell them what to do. As noble Lords who listened to the previous group of amendments will know, a mind-boggling number of organisations will have to work together in order to do things to parents. It might be a good idea to have the courtesy to ask parents what they want; to sit down with them and to build a strategy at both national and local levels. Unless we include it in the Bill or there is some other very strong assurance, I do not think that local authorities will do that. It is a tiresome, boring, long process and they would rather tell people what to do than sit down and listen to what people want and then try to work with that. I can tell the House that if we do it my way, people will be committed, they will have ownership of the project and it will work. If you descend on them and do things for them, you will lose a lot of parents and their goodwill, or you will not get the parent goodwill that you anticipated.
In the context of the Green Paper, if the noble Baroness adds up the number of words—admittedly, very golden—in the introduction on the importance of parents and then adds up the number of words on page after page about what the Government intend to do to parents, the number of words used to eulogise about parents suggests that the commitment is not really there. I hope that what the noble Baroness comes forward with will change that impression. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 not moved. ]
Boroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 84:
Page 4, line 25, after "partners;" insert—
( ) the governing bodies of schools maintained by the local education authority, and the proprietors of academics and city colleges located in the area of the authority;
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 98 and 07. All three amendments are concerned with the role of schools in co-operation. Their main purpose is to probe what role the Government envisage for schools and school governing bodies.946
§ Amendment No. 84 suggests that school governing bodies should be listed in subsection (1). In the light of our discussion on the grouping of amendments starting at Amendment No. 80, I think that this amendment is misplaced. Nevertheless, it is a probing amendment about the role of school governing bodies as a co-operator with the other authorities.
Amendment No. 98 refers to the body or bodies,
responsible for the management of any education establishment maintained wholly or in part from public funds",
and what role that has to be seen as a relevant partner. Amendment No. 107 lists the same body or bodies referred to in Amendment No. 98 and applies them to subsection (7), alongside children's services authorities as needing to heed guidance from the Secretary of State.
§ 4 p.m.
§ These three amendments raise two important issues. First, as we know, the children's services authority subsumes within it the local education authority responsibilities. Under current legislation, much of what goes on in a school is the responsibility not of the LEA but of the school governing body. It is therefore important to consider where schools and where governing bodies come in as co-operators in the legislation that we are putting through. Given the degree to which in Every Child Matters: Next Steps emphasis was put on schools and extended schools as primary players in action for children, it is important that we understand this issue. Schools are important; they are the one universal service that has contact with nearly all children. They should be working collectively with their LEA to achieve the Government's objective of providing support for all children.
As the recent Education Network pamphlet, Every School Matters by Chris Waterman pointed out,
the school has the greatest potential to be the hub for the co-ordination of education, health and social services
As I understand it, this is essentially what we are looking at when we are talking about extended schools. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's recent annual report records that one secondary school in 20 has unsatisfactory provision for child protection and ensuring pupil welfare. However, the chief inspector also finds that the vast majority of schools are at least satisfactory, and two-fifths are very good. The proportion of unsatisfactory schools—one in 20—is higher in disadvantaged communities. That is a worrying feature.
§ Amendment No. 98 refers to the position of semi-independent schools, the voluntary aided and voluntary controlled schools, and the new city academies—the city technology colleges have now become city academies—which are independent of the LEAs; and what about independent schools themselves? The Green Paper has proposed further outsourcing to the private sector by way of children's trusts, despite the patchy record of the private sector in terms of the successful delivery of LEA services. The Every Child Matters: Next Steps document refers to funding and support for the local infrastructure bodies 947 to build the capacity of the voluntary and community sector to ensure that their diverse interests can be represented effectively in strategic development. But there is scant reference to the private sector.
§ The Every Child Matters: Next Steps document also indicates that there will be arrangements to ensure that the role of the voluntary sector as an independent voice for children, young people and families is not compromised by closer integration. What role will the private sector and the voluntary sector have within these co-operative arrangements? Can the Minister explain what is envisioned here? I beg to move.
§ Earl Howe
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has covered the ground admirably. I have put my name to Amendment No. 84, but I support everything that she has said. My Amendment No. 102BA is grouped with Amendment No. 84. It is very much in the same vein and designed to ask the same kinds of questions. I realise that my amendment may not be technically correct, but its purpose it to make a school a relevant partner that must co-operate with the children's services authority in making arrangements to promote co-operation between relevant partners to improve the well-being of children. By using the indefinite singular, I mean to denote any and all schools. The point is to include an explicit, declaratory duty that schools should co-operate in order to minimise the risk and maximise the available opportunities for every child.
If we ask whether schools should be integrated into the range of children's services across the piece—surely they should be. I do not really understand, in common with the noble Baroness, why explicit mention of schools, governing bodies, academies and indeed the private sector should have been omitted from the Bill.
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
I am delighted that the noble Earl is using the indefinite singular. I am not sure that my grammar will stretch that far to understand precisely what he has done. I shall look in Hansard and check.
I hope to be able to answer the questions raised by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness. I begin by saying that there is much common ground on this issue. We are all agreed that schools, including academies, city technology and FE colleges, are central to the successful delivery of improved outcomes for children. I was particularly pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned extended schools, for which I have policy responsibility and which I declare as the future. We recognise that they make an important and valuable contribution because of the services that they offer in the community, but also, as importantly, the services that they offer to their own children and young people as part of a standard-raising agenda, which is important.
We disagree on whether this should be in the Bill. The relevant partners listed in Clause 6(3) have been placed under a duty to co-operate because they are operating at a strategic level—putting in place the co-operation architecture for what we want to see happen. They will 948 work with the children's services authority to take a holistic look at the needs of children in their locality. They will identify the best combinations of services required to meet those needs, and they will plan and commission those services. We recognise that they must ground their work in operational reality, and that they must work closely with front line services including schools and colleges. However, it would not make any sense to place the same statutory duty on every school and college as, for example, we do on the local education authority. It would create additional burdens, and it would hinder the kind of cultural change that we wish to see.
I shall deal specifically with schools. We all recognise the critical importance of schools, and I will not reiterate, though I agree with, everything that the noble Earl and the noble Baroness said about the role of schools and the role of those who work, support and teach children in schools. Amendment No. 84 adds the governing bodies of maintained schools and proprietors of academies and CTCs into the body. As the clause is drafted, it allows schools, academies and city technology colleges to be included in the arrangements when and where they could be most effectively engaged.
As I have indicated, we do not believe that it is appropriate to expect every small primary school to be involved in detailed strategic decision making. That is the role of the local education authority, which is well placed to represent schools as a whole and, by keeping in contact with them, to ensure that their views are sought and passed back appropriately. Members of the Committee will be pleased to hear that we will make it clear in statutory guidance that schools and colleges must be engaged in that way. That includes academies and city technology colleges.
That does not preclude local partners agreeing that they want to have particular schools or colleges which have the capacity, or a representative of a local head teachers' group, more closely and directly involved in those arrangements. Again, we are looking for local flexibility to ensure that we have a sensible outcome that reflects different circumstances.
Amendment No. 84 would require every school to have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State in relation to co-operation arrangements. Again, where there are large schools with the capacity to participate directly in those arrangements, we would expect them to make use of our guidance, as I am sure that they would. For schools generally, it would be more appropriate for the education authority to issue tailored guidance that reflects the local arrangements that have been set up for co-operation.
Amendment No. 102BA seeks to include every school in the list of relevant partners that must cooperate with the authority. I have already stated, but I am happy to reiterate so there can be no doubt, that we will say in statutory guidance that schools must be involved in the co-operation arrangements. Some will be involved directly, others will be involved via the LEA. As I said, that will vary with different circumstances. Any arrangement that requires them all to be involved would be unmanageable and, potentially, counterproductive.
949 Amendments Nos. 84, 107 and 102BA would create unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and could distract schools. More importantly, we believe that they are not necessary because of what I have said about our guidance to LEAs and their tailored guidance to schools in order to secure the engagement of schools.
As regards Amendment No. 98, educational bodies are key partners in delivering better outcomes and, where appropriate, should be included in the cooperation arrangements. I think that we are all agreed on that. However, placing a statutory duty on them is not sensible or workable. Where appropriate, a large further education college might be well placed to play a strategic role, but other institutions, such as community nursery schools, would not have the capacity. It is through the local education authority and the learning and skills council that those bodies would be best represented in the context of what I have said about the flexibility of local arrangements and ensuring that tailored advice from the LEAs actually recognises the roles that schools should play.
I hope that that answers noble Lords' questions about how the arrangements would work in practice and that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My noble friend Lord Howe raised a very important point which relates to Clause 6 as one construes it. The intent of Clause 6 is to improve the well being of children. The Children Act assuredly applies. It has the like intent, but it also requires that the interests of the child shall be paramount. Beyond a certain point, specific provision defeats itself. It is dependent on the circumstances in which a conflict of interest—which does arise—between the interests of the child and the interests of a parent occur. The parent may well be a natural parent or an adoptive parent, as in a case in the House's Appellate Committee. I hope that the Committee with forgive me for seeking to clarify a point made by my noble friend.
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
I recognise that point. I am sorry that the noble Lord was unable to be with us earlier. I should simply point out that Clause 6 concerns strategic planning and commissioning. As the noble Lord will recognise, a school's main contribution is at the delivery level, which is a very different role.
Where there is a large college operating in a locality that provides all kinds of services, that college might, for example, be part of a children's trust or it might be an organisation that could participate. I am merely stating that we should think in terms of a strategic overview. The usual and perhaps critical partner is the education authority, which plays that strategic function. However, I absolutely recognise the critical delivery role that the schools play. Through guidance to the LEA and, thus, through their support and guidance to schools, we believe that we have got the right balance in terms of who should participate at which level.
Boroness Sharp of Guildford
I am again grateful to the Minister for her detailed explanation. I take on 950 board what she said about the fact that schools will be listed as prime partners within the guidance. I still find it slightly odd that schools have no place on the face of the Bill, although perhaps Clause 6 is the wrong place. I take on board the fact that it refers to the strategic commissioning authority and that the LEA would be the appropriate body in that sense. However, as we have pointed out, many schools will be their own commissioners and are not part of the LEA remit. I am also surprised not to see schools listed among the safeguarding authorities in Clause 7, but we shall discuss that in a few moments.
I shall read carefully what the Minister has said and I look forward to the detailed guidance when it is produced. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 85 to 92 not moved. ]
Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 93:
Page 4, line 35, at end insert—
( ) The arrangements referred to in subsection (2) are also to be made with a view to supporting children within their families whenever this is appropriate.
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment, tabled in my name and others, returns to a theme which is now familiar to our Committee debates. The desired outcome headings for children as set out in subsection (2) surely cannot be looked at separately from the context in which most children are brought up; namely, their families. That emphasises the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. What this amendment really says is that the importance of family life and individual family members must on no account be ignored when support services are being planned and delivered to children. On the contrary, their importance must be fully recognised, as indeed must the primacy of the responsibility borne by parents for their children.
§ What we cannot have, and I am sure the Minister will agree with this, is some sort of green light for a culture of interference in family life, however well meant, by statutory and voluntary bodies. This clause is extremely worthy and well intentioned, but it has the potential to result in over-intrusiveness and officiousness. As we say so often in these debates, there is a balance to be struck. Much will depend on the guidance that is to be issued, and we are still in the dark about that. But I hope that the general point I have made will be borne in mind. I beg to move.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
It is incredibly important to our society that children are brought up in families and that parents accept their responsibilities. This is another effort to make sure that that intent appears on the face of the Bill. Only if it is in the Bill can we be sure that it will not be changed by, say, regulation. Only when the provision is set out will it be taken seriously. This is a reasonably general and sensible proposal which I should like to support.
Boroness Finlay of Llandaff
I wonder whether the general concern that family life has not been 951 adequately addressed has arisen because we are considering these matters separately from Article 8 and our human rights legislation. I would not want anyone to think, having heard our earlier debates, that there is in any way a lack of respect for the sanctity of a loving and caring family. The concern that the words "family" and "families" do not appear often enough on the face of the Bill arises because we now have in place human rights legislation which, I hope, will underpin the importance of the family unit.
§ Lord Northbourne
I am sorry to intervene again. I shall be very brief. It is important for the appearance of things that the Bill should say what it means to say in this context. A legalistic and intellectual approach is not likely to get on to the pages of the tabloids, and it is those tabloids that parents will read. I am concerned that parents will feel demotivated, believing that they are being put upon by society when in fact we want to engage their enthusiastic support.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
In supporting the amendment, I want to point out that there is an essential safeguard whenever it is appropriate. It is absolutely essential that it exists.
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
Noble Lords will be pleased to learn that my speaking notes are getting shorter as we debate this issue. I recognise the point made by the noble Baroness about Article 8 and the importance of supporting the rights of families. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, while the appearance of things is all well and good, I should say that this is a legal document, written in legalistic terms. Perhaps that is the problem we face in trying to persuade the noble Lord that we have addressed his concerns. I do not intend to give up and I am determined that, by the end of our discussions on the Bill, he will be more than satisfied.
I am grateful to the noble Earl for our earlier discussion about the Children Act 1989. Perhaps I may refer him to Section 17 of that Act which sets out a duty on local authorities to,safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and, so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families".So I may, in a sense, pray in aid what the noble Earl said about the relevance of the Children Act in dealing with this.I reiterate once more that we share the Committee's desire to ensure that the clause reflects the important role of parents and families. It is an issue at which we will be looking carefully between now and the Report stage. In the mean time, I hope the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Boroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 94:
Page 4, line 35, at end insert—
( ) A children's services authority in England and each of their relevant partners must in exercising their functions under this section have due regard to—
§ The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 94 would ensure that in making arrangements for local co-operation to improve the well-being of children and young people, a children's services authority and its partners will focus on securing outcomes which reduce inequalities based on impairment, gender, race, sexuality, religion, family status or anything else that I have not thought of. The amendments would give stronger legislative effect to a key policy aim behind the Bill—namely, to promote equity for the most socially excluded children.
§ Of course, cultural change will be the key to this and there is considerable evidence that such positive equality duties are effective in embedding equality principles in the work of public authorities. While local authorities already have positive duties to promote equality under race relations law, and are set to acquire complementary duties under a future revision of the Disability Discrimination Act, what is really needed in the context of children's services is a cross-cutting duty that takes full account of the multiple sources of discrimination that many children face. Disabled children in care, in residential schools, from black and ethnic minority communities, or religious minorities, will be best served by such a duty. Without such broader equality duties, children's services will remain hamstrung in dealing effectively with exclusion.
§ Local authorities and other agencies are increasingly familiar with the concept of equality impact assessments and there is already a good deal of practical advice and guidance in existence to support them in the proposed new duties. On disability, for instance, the LGA and Disability Rights Commission have worked together to produce guidance for local government on how to implement disability equality within local authority service provision. This can be complemented by guidance under the Bill and additional support from agencies such as the DRC.
Embedding equality in the new arrangements for children's services will ensure that the new inspection arrangements provide a means of monitoring improvement. Liaison and partnership working with local disability and other equality groups will, of course, be central to the effectiveness of such duties. Clause 6 includes a duty to promote co-operation between,
such other. … bodies as the authority consider appropriate".
This could include voluntary organisations, as has been said already, and it would be helpful if the Minister could provide clear guarantees that children's authorities will be expected to consult and involve local disability organisations. I beg to move
Boroness Finlay of Llandaff
I rise to speak to the amendment standing in my name, which is in this 953 group. It is a probing amendment and has almost the same wording as the amendment of the noble Baroness. I am slightly concerned that we may not have got the words right and I am grateful to Children in Wales for having pointed that out to me. The wording is not as broad as that in the surrounding framework of legislation from within Europe.
The clause is about ensuring that at every point there is no discrimination and disability abuse, which very often takes place in terms of either mental, physical and, usually, motor-type disabilities. I am concerned that we do not forget those children who are disfigured. either through their genetic features or through accident, and who can be subjected to terrible discrimination. Such discrimination can be incredibly damaging, particularly when the disfigurement is newly acquired through accident.
In our previous debates we referred to equality of opportunity as the principle that has to run through everything, and I wonder whether or not that is the wording we should be looking for when we revisit this issue at a later stage.
I would just like briefly to draw the House's attention to two things. One is Article 13 from the European convention, which is very clear and contains a broader list than the one that we have in this amendment. The other is that in December 2000, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights stated that any discrimination,based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited".I wonder whether those are not stronger words than the ones in the amendment.
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 94. I take on board what the noble Baroness has just said with regard to wording. When we discussed similar amendments earlier in Committee, we recognised that perhaps the wording was too explicit in some cases and perhaps missing in others. It is the advantage of Committee stage that we can consider such things.
Under an early amendment, Amendment No. 33, I spoke at great length about my concerns about needing to have regard to children and young people with disability. I shall not take the time of the Committee to go over those arguments, which are as valid to this amendment as they were to the previous one. However, it is important that at various stages of the Bill we keep coming back to our concerns, because they apply right through the Bill.
I have nothing to add to what has been said, except that I hope that the Minister understands our concerns, as she earlier indicated that she did, while suggesting that the amendment was not adequate. Will she shed more light on the matter, as we discussed it at an earlier stage'?
Boroness Ashton of Upholland
I am never sure whether I can add more light, even if we have discussed the matter at an earlier stage. However, I am grateful 954 to Members of the Committee as it is important that we continue to consider the issues of equality of opportunity for specific groups of children and young people.
As Members of the Committee said, Amendment No. 94 refers to England and Amendment No. 190 to Wales. We can say categorically that we are all sharing the same concerns about equality of opportunity and want to maximise opportunities for all children. I hope that although our deliberations are focused on the legislative framework, we recognise that it is only part of what we seek in terms of a whole system reform—practical changes underpinned by clearer accountability and partnership, putting children's well-being at the heart of policies.
For disabled children and other vulnerable children we want earlier identification of disabilities and better family support services. I am very proud of our early support pilots. They work in a multi-agency way with the parents of disabled children to enable them to get the right kind of support as early as possible and to understand what that support will be. The Bill is part of that programme—perhaps the legislative spine to ensure that we develop better services.
Existing legislation that applies to both England and Wales creates rights and responsibilities in respect of a number of the groups which are mentioned in the amendment, particularly children with disabilities and children of different racial groups. We share the belief with all noble Lords that children and their families should have access to the services that they need, to help them to achieve the five outcomes that children and young people themselves have indicated as important.
I assure the Committee that we will make it clear in guidance that all organisations involved in the co-operation arrangements in England must—I emphasise must—have regard to promoting equality of opportunity. Within that, they must consult local groups, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, suggested, when those local groups have important information to impart, as do all bodies who work to support children. In Wales, the Assembly aims to publish its national service framework next year, which will go some way to address the issues.
I have made the same point in other debates on the Bill, and it is a bit of a refrain, but I am averse by nature to lists. The legislation must cover all children. What I know from discussions with organisations and with those responsible for ensuring that we do things legally and appropriately is that the minute one calls attention to one group, one runs the risk of undermining the principle that the legislation relates to all children. I know that that is not what Members of the Committee would wish to happen. I absolutely understand the wish to single out particular groups of children who are especially vulnerable to discrimination or neglect—I understand that entirely. However, noble Lords will know that for every list with which they might come forward, I can think of another one.
955 I am mindful of the need to raise the profile of children and to make sure that their needs are not overlooked, but the strength of the Bill lies in its inclusiveness. If we begin to list children, we run the risk, however unintentionally, of being less inclusive because we either have to list everyone or we fail to list somebody. That would not be helpful. On that basis, and on the understanding that our guidance would be clear, I hope that noble Lords will feel reassured and able to withdraw their amendment.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I thank the Minister for her response. I look forward to seeing the very clear, unambiguous guidance which she has promised us. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 95 to 102BA not moved.]
Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 102C:
Page 5, line 8, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
( ) A children's services authority in England and their relevant partners should share resources which may include establishing and maintaining a pooled fund, for the purposes of arrangements under this section.
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 102C, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 102D, 105, 106 and 111. All the amendments are probing amendments. They seek elucidation on the functions and workings of pooled budgets as proposed in Clause 6(6).
§ Amendment No. 102C, and associated Amendment No. 102D, would widen the concept of sharing resources from the narrow limits of a pooled fund to the wider sharing of other forms of resources. We are particularly concerned that the concept of the pooled fund is unnecessarily restrictive and could act as a deterrent to sharing resources, whereas a wider power, which the two amendments propose, would encourage a more creative and flexible approach to the sharing of resources among partners.
§ In particular, we are conscious that, if the concept of partnership is to work as it should, it will include many voluntary and private sector agencies which may be unable to contribute monetarily to a pooled fund but can contribute ideas and participate in projects. They could contribute experience, expertise and local knowledge. For example, it is often the voluntary agencies that work with the hardest-to-reach children and families.
§ This interpretation of shared resources is much nearer the spirit of the legislation than the limited notion of pooled budgets. It ensures focus on achieving outcomes through the creative use of resources and encourages participation and cooperation among the relevant groups. The amendment is supported by the NSPCC, the NHS Confederation, the NCB and the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations. All of them support the amendment.956
§ Amendments Nos. 105, 106 and 111 relate primarily to the interests of schools and their relationship to pooled funds. The implementation of the Bill's proposals has to be underpinned by sufficient funding. Virtually no reference is made to how each of its strands would be resourced. Education is a major player and, if its role in the partnerships is to succeed, there has to be a clearly identified and guaranteed funding stream. It is very difficult to cope with uncertainties and variations from year to year. That was well illustrated by the funding shortfall experienced by schools last year, which led to a net loss of many teaching and support staff jobs. Such developments could jeopardise the implementation of the Government's proposals for children's services and throw the whole project into disarray.
§ It remains unclear how, within the pooled funding formula, the Government propose to make sure that their and other priorities are maintained. The great danger is that the removal of ring-fencing between education and social services funding streams, for example, will lead to a lack of transparency and an increase in the possibility of both services, in different areas, suffering a loss of funds.
§ In short, the potential for "robbing Peter to pay Paul" could increase. The new educational funding mechanisms, in particular the schools and the LEA block budgets and the schools forums, have only just been established. Clarity in funding streams is vital if each service is to know to what it is entitled.
§ For example, a recent DfES circular on the standards fund included details of the ethnic minority achievement grant to vulnerable children and the vulnerable children grant. There has been a welcome 4 per cent increase in the DfES's contribution to that grant. However, by locating the ethnic minority achievement grant within the standards fund mechanism, the DfES lays the grant open to being raided by other priorities. A separate long-term grant to meet the specific educational needs of minority ethnic pupils is, arguably, the only means of safeguarding its purpose.
§ Every Child Matters makes no reference to the needs of Traveller children. Traveller pupils are another group most at risk in the educational system. Although some make a reasonably promising start in primary school, by the time they reach secondary level their generally low attainment is a matter of serious concern.
§ Access to schooling is another particular concern for Traveller pupils. In the report Raising the attainment of minority ethnic pupils, Ofsted found that the majority of Traveller children were on the SEN register. In one primary school, 74 per cent of Traveller children were on the register, and in one secondary school the figure was as high as 80 per cent. Alarmingly, in half the schools in the Ofsted study, no Traveller student had yet sat GCSEs. Are the resources going to be available for such pupils when there is a special need for it? I beg to move.957
§ Baroness Byford
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 103 and 104 which are in my name. For the convenience of the Committee, it might be sensible—I referred the matter to the Chief Whip's Office—if I spoke also to Amendments Nos. 192 and 193, which deal with related matters.
Like other noble Lords, I have already spoken of the importance of voluntary organisations in the life of children. Their contribution is not always financial, although fundraising has been an important part of any voluntary body with which I have been associated. The Minister acknowledged earlier the work and valuable input that many voluntary organisations provide to ensure the well-being of all our children.
Sometimes volunteers combine financial assistance with donations of their own time. I ask the Committee to think, for example, of the huge number of charity shops manned by volunteers, many of whom, together with others, spend the money they raise in taking handicapped children on days out, taking children and their families to the airport for trips abroad, and working in the various children's hospices. I could draw upon many examples.
Some volunteers do not fundraise, but spend large amounts of their own time working on behalf of children in areas such as schools where they are governors, unpaid reading helpers or responsible adults on the educational trips. Hospitals have large numbers of these generous people. Indeed, many hospital trusts now employ someone with the task of organising all the volunteers and training them to accomplish even more.
No less a person then David Miliband acknowledged to a recent DfES/Ofsted conference that were governors paid at the national minimum wage for the work they do, the bill would probably be in the region of £1.6 billion annually. I think that that puts the issue in context.
This Bill is exciting in many ways as it is pulling together the threads of the professional and the voluntary sides of community life. Earlier, one noble Lord described it as a community Bill. It is worth mentioning the recognition on the part of David Miliband that the figure we are discussing is huge. I am sure that many others who establish organisations to help children have not been included in that figure.
It is surely not right that the Bill should exclude the input of a huge volunteer army. On the contrary, I believe it should demand that those in charge use that army to the best possible advantage. Pooled funds will be used to pay for work, some at least of which may safely be delegated to one or more volunteer associations. Our amendment attempts to ensure that this is not only recognised but is factored in. I have been speaking to Amendments Nos. 103, 104, 192 and 193.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that I shall address Amendments Nos. 192 and 193. They comprise equivalent measures for Wales.
958 The co-operation arrangements in Clause 6 cannot be effectively developed without a strategic commissioning strategy supported by pooled funds. Developing pooled funds under this wider pooling power in subsections (5) and (6) is integral to cementing and sustaining relationships between partners and enabling them to work together effectively.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 102C and 102D spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, arid to Amendments Nos. 103, 104, 192 and 193, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I should like to deal with those amendments together as they all raise the important issue that local partners should be able to pool non-pecuniary resources. I absolutely recognise what the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said regarding the role of volunteers. My honourable friend David Miliband mentioned the costs that would arise if governors were paid at the national minimum wage rate. As the noble Baroness said, some hospitals now have full-time staff members to look after volunteers. Certainly, when I was involved in the health service we recognised that we simply could not operate without the volunteers who carry out so much extraordinary work. It is very important that we keep reminding ourselves of those critically important individuals.
We recognise the importance of the ability of local partners to pool non-budgetary resource. As it stands, the Bill makes provision for that. The duty on the relevant partners to make arrangements for cooperation is sufficient to allow them to contribute resources such as staff and premises. However, I recognise the concerns of both noble Baronesses that they wish to see the option made explicit on the face of the Bill. In light of that we will take away the underlying issue to consider it further and to consult with lawyers on the precise drafting. I cannot accept the amendment as it stands but I hope that they are happy for me to take it away and consider it very carefully; in other words, I accept it in principle. I appreciate the issues that have been raised.
The amendments raise the issue of the crucial role of the voluntary and community sector which we have already discussed in your Lordships' House. We can, and must, involve the voluntary and community sector.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 105 and 106. We again understand the intent of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to ensure that school funding is not threatened, as it were, but also to recognise the importance of services that work alongside schools. Decisions will be made by local education authorities, and increasingly by children's services authorities, as to the most appropriate method for allocating their resources. These will have to reflect local circumstances. Flexibility will be required. The authority should recognise that it needs to develop the most suitable response to local assessments of need.
As noble Lords know, a series of controls is already in place to ensure that schools receive sufficient funding. We share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in that regard. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills has a reserve power under the 959 School Standards and Framework Act 1998, as amended, to set a minimum schools budget for an authority. We have the powers to ensure that that happens.
The noble Baroness referred to Traveller children who have the highest level of special educational needs. It is important to recognise that in raising standards schools want to support children with additional services, either provided directly by the school in terms of study support, after school activities, breakfast clubs and so on, but also by bringing in other services that can offer the kind of support that will enable those children and young people to make progress. I do not differentiate in quite the same way. So long as we are clear that the role of schools is about raising educational standards, I am always keen to see the innovative ways in which schools recognise that they can support the individual needs of their children. We want to make sure that that continues in the best possible way.
In that context, we believe that we have the levers to make sure that our schools receive the funding. As I have indicated, we are very concerned to add to the Bill the amendments to which I referred. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
I am delighted that the Minister will take some of the amendments away and consider the role and contribution of volunteers. The non-pecuniary contributions made by agencies that cannot necessarily make pecuniary ones is vital. It would be splendid if something could be reflected in the Bill to that effect.
I accept the Minister's reply on schools. Given the size of education budgets in relation to the total, I find myself worrying, in relation to pooled budgets, how far there can be a satisfactory pooling of resources while maintaining the two things that schools need; namely, certainty—the ability to plan one year with another for what they will provide—and the identification of the specific streams of funding that go to resource, for example, some of the special educational needs. One hopes that there will be an ability to feel one's way along the trajectory—that, as time passes, some aspects of the pooled budgets may he more satisfactory than others. Within the provision, it is very necessary that there be an ability for such pragmatism.
I am very grateful to the Minister for her explanation. I shall read with interest what she said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 102D to 109 not moved.]
Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 109ZA:
Page 5, line 21, at end insert "who are defined as in need under sections 17 (provision of services for children in need, their families and others) and 47 (local authority's duty to investigate) of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41);
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak very briefly to the amendment. Its purpose is to ensure that the arrangements very clearly define people to whom they apply. Subsection (8) states:
Arrangements under this section may include arrangements relating to—
(a) persons aged 18 and 19".
§ The intention of the amendment is to ensure that those aged 18 and 19 defined as in need under the Children Act—for example, asylum seekers, looked-after young people, young people who have faced abuse or with drug and alcohol problems—continue to receive appropriate services after they reach the age of 18. The appropriate services for young people over that age may fall within the remit of the children's services authority. Therefore, the arrangements under the section should be extended to such young people.
§ The problem with subsection (8)(a) as it currently reads is that it could result in the arrangements under Clause 6 being applied to all 18 and 19 year-olds. Paragraphs (b) and (c) of the subsection define specifically to which persons over the age of 19 the arrangements can be extended. But paragraph (a) is open-ended and has the clear potential to include all 18 and 19 year-olds. That would result in resources not being properly focused on those with greatest need. Unless resources are properly focused, young people with additional needs may not receive the support that they need. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
As the noble Baroness indicated, Amendment No. 109ZA adds further detail to the enabling subsection at the end of the clause, which seeks to prevent the creation of artificial boundaries around the age of certain groups with whom agencies involved in the arrangements currently work. The effect of the amendment would be to limit the involvement of the local Connexions service to a particular group of young people—that is, those defined in legislation as children in need. That would make it difficult for the Connexions service to participate as it provides services for all young people between the ages of 18 and 19. I am not at all convinced that that is what the noble Baroness intended the amendment to do, but I thought I would say that that is what its effect would be.
As I said previously, the purpose of Clause 6(8) is simply to ensure that agencies which provide services for young people over the age of 18 are not prevented from participating because they do that. The subsection enables better co-operation, and it does not extend the duty in Clause 6 to those over the age of 18. It is drafted to ensure the full participation of the Connexions service. We expect local partnerships to identify the groups of children whose needs are greatest and how those needs can be met.
961 Perhaps I may return to one of the first discussions that we had today. The table that I shall send to noble Lords demonstrates the different ways in which the Bill seeks to ensure that the services are appropriately encapsulated within it. I hope that that will put the noble Baroness's mind at rest. The purpose of the subsection is to ensure that we do not prevent services participating because they offer services beyond the age limit or when a child becomes an adult.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
I am grateful to the Minister. We tabled the amendment on behalf of the LGA. I take on board what she said about the Connexions service. It is certainly true that some services apply more broadly, and we need to be aware of that. Clearly, the amendment is deficient and we need to think about it a little more. I am grateful to the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 109A to 111 not moved.]
Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 112:
Page 5, line 26, at end insert—
( ) For the purposes of section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (strategies for promoting well-being) arrangements made under this section shall be considered to be part of the community strategy of every local authority which is a children's service authority and shall be specifically identified as a section of that community strategy and co-ordinated by the authority concerned within such community strategy as a whole.
§ The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to seek clarification on whether or not Clause 6 overlaps with existing legislation—in particular, Section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000, which is concerned with the duty to prepare a community strategy to promote or improve wellbeing in an area. The amendment has been tabled in order to seek clarification that the integration of strategies under the two Acts will not lead to confused lines of responsibility. In particular, further clarification is needed in terms of the role or roles of the lead officer or officers.
§ There can be few people who have not experienced, and bemoaned, the decline of local services and amenities and the effects on their personal and community lives. The decline in neighbourhood shops and services is sounding the death knell for many of Britain's local communities and has a serious knock-on effect on the lives of children in those communities.
§ According to the think-tank, the New Economics Foundation, between 1995 and 2000 the UK lost 20 per cent of some of its most vital institutions—corner shops, grocers, high street banks, post offices and pubs—amounting to a cumulative loss of more than 30,000 local economic outlets. A further 28,000 outlets stand to be lost by 2005. Overall, on current trends, the number of local outlets will have dropped by nearly one-third in the two decades to 2010. The result is "ghost town Britain"—a phrase coined by Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation think tank—in which communities and 962 neighbourhoods in poor urban and rural areas are without easy access to essential elements of both the economy and the social fabric of the country.
§ There is a danger that in some areas extended schools will no longer have a community to serve. What strategies are envisaged to ensure that local authority planning and regeneration departments properly work together to consider children's well-being? For instance, when planning a new supermarket there should be consideration of how shops full of fast food desserts can be avoided in areas of deprivation. For example, would it be worth while for DfES to explore with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister the possible introduction of requirements for local authority planning departments to consult with local boards for safeguarding children? What input would those boards have into the health, environment and equality aspects of impact assessments? I beg to move.
§ Earl Howe
I shall speak to Amendment Nos. 179A and 244, which are grouped here. Amendment No. 179A is simple. What it proposes is a new duty for local authorities to produce an overarching local children's plan. The intention behind the idea of an overarching plan is that it should cover all the statutory plans across the complete range of children's education and social care services provided by all of the partners. Of course, that does not preclude the development of more specific plans to address the priorities identified in the single plan, if that is what is desired; but it would give a tangible boost to the aim, which we all endorse, of achieving a more integrated approach to service delivery.
All the partners would need to sit down together and decide what the priorities were for promoting the wellbeing of children. Having a single plan would serve to reduce the current planning burden on the public sector, by removing the requirement for a single education plan proposed in Clause 45 and other statutory plans.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was referring to "food deserts". It is a term coined to represent the fact that some of our most vulnerable families, particularly in inner cities, are not able to find appropriate shopping facilities, because supermarkets do not exist there, so they have high-priced local shops with food that is not of high quality. I was not suggesting that she did not know that, but the issue is really important and affects many of our most vulnerable families. Indeed, those shops do sell very high-priced desserts.
Amendment No. 112 is intended to set the co-operation arrangements within the broader community strategies that local authorities have set up. We would expect children and young people to be included in the wider community strategies that local areas will develop and that the co-operation arrangements to improve the well-being of children will contribute to achieving the ambitions of these strategies. But it would be unhelpful to prescribe exactly how the two will fit together, because we want to make that a decision for local areas, based on their individual circumstances.
963 Regarding Amendment No. 244, we are taking the opportunity presented by the Bill to remove the duty on local authorities to produce plans concerning their services for children in need and that is what subsection (2) of Clause 45 enables. We are not in any way seeking to devalue the planning of services. However, this particular duty concerns children in need served by the Children Act 1989. It is too narrow to use as a basis for the streamlining of planning arrangements across education and social and health services, as envisaged by the Green Paper.
The letter of July 2003 jointly from the LGA and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister explained that a single strategy for children and young people would be developed in the light of the Green Paper. This was to cover the children's services plan as well as other plans.
Plan rationalisation is linked to the policies introduced by this Bill which are designed to improve local authority performance; for example, integrated inspection and the duty of local authorities to co-operate with key partners. It is also set in the context of other policies designed to improve local authority performance; for example, the comprehensive performance assessment and compacts.
We are introducing a statutory single education plan for local education authorities to replace requirements for most statutory and non-statutory education plans and to encourage LEAs to plan more strategically across their responsibilities.
We believe that this kind of rationalisation will help local authority planning to contribute to the outcomes for children. We want local authorities to plan more effectively and more co-operatively in the interests of providing a better service and to reduce prescription by central government of local authorities, allowing them to tailor their planning more to local circumstances.
We do not believe that it would make sense for local authorities to be hampered by the duty this amendment is seeking to reinstate, while at the same time trying to plan strategically across the whole range of their responsibilities.
On Amendment No. 179A, we are sympathetic to its intentions. It seeks to introduce a duty to have an overarching children's plan. We support the principle behind it of an integrated approach to service delivery. I referred to the principles set out in the letter of July 2003.
I have also explained that we are in the process of introducing a statutory education plan and that we will build it to take account of the whole children's agenda. I say to the noble Earl that we started talking to partners across government and in local authorities about how to achieve the transition from a single education plan to a whole children's agenda plan.
At this stage, we prefer to continue our discussions rather than accept the amendment. One of the reasons is technical—we would want to lift the existing planning arrangements which we consider to be necessary for the introduction of a single children's plan, otherwise we would be imposing too much of a 964 burden. The other reason is simple—we need a little more time to consult key partners. We plan to reach a decision as soon as possible about a children's planning framework.
On the basis that I will keep the noble Earl and other Members of the Committee in touch with those deliberations and an assurance that it is our intention in principle to support the amendment, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
I am grateful to the Minister for consideration of the amendment and accept that she does not intend to consider it further. However, it is important that within the overall planning framework, there is consideration of the needs of children. I am delighted that she will accept the other amendment, which seems to be sensible. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 112A:
Page 5, line 26, at end insert—
( ) The Secretary of State may under this section give a children's services authority or any of its relevant partners under subsection (3), such directions as the Secretary of State thinks expedient for the purpose of securing the co-operation of the authority or its partners to ensure that the objectives of this section are fully met.
§ The noble Baroness said: The amendment inserts a new subsection (9) to ensure that the new duty to co-operate to improve children's well-being can be enforced. The current arrangements in the Bill will be covered by guidance, but, unfortunately, it is well known that if the guidance is breached it is not possible to take legal action.
§ The NSPCC, which suggested the amendment to us and in relation to which I declare an interest, recognises that there will be inspection frameworks that can be used to determine whether the relevant partners are co-operating. However, such inspections occur only every three years and a great deal can happen in three years. Provided the public services can meet inspection targets without necessarily providing a high-quality service, the mandatory order will ensure that the new duties under Clause 6 will be enforceable. In the unlikely event that there is a breakdown in co-operation that causes detrimental harm to a service deliverer, there has to be a final recourse to the Secretary of State.
§ The amendment ensures that the direction given by the Secretary of State to intervene is stated on the face of the Bill and is based on a similar provision inserted after Section 497A of the Education Act 1996. That is the precedent on which we have based our amendment. We hope that it will be acceptable to the Committee. It is important that the Bill not only has ears but also teeth. That is a phrase that has been used in relation to the commissioner's powers in Part 1. I believe that I can appropriately use it here as well. I beg to move.
§ Earl Howe
I dislike having to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, but on this occasion 965 I feel I must. We have to be careful before extending the Secretary of State's powers of compulsion and intervention over elected local authorities. There are already significant powers of intervention in the Local Government Act which are there, as I understand it, to cater for failures in performance or service quality. Those powers are being extended under the provisions in Clause 41 of the Bill. I am in difficulty about inserting yet more powers in the same vein.
I also have a general point to make. If one gives local authorities and their partners the legal duty to co-operate with each other and to assess the level of need in an area, surely the last thing one wants is for the Secretary of State to second guess that process. The noble Baroness posited the situation in which one or more of the partners failed to co-operate. I take that point. I suppose the answer is that in the ultimate extreme, such a partner could be judicially reviewed. Of course, there may be a situation in which one or other partner co-operates only half-heartedly, thereby failing to pull its weight. Presumably that kind of matter would emerge during the course of an inspection and be corrected.
I take the point that the noble Baroness made that inspections will not happen every day of the week, but an inspection could be triggered at any time. I do not see how the Secretary of State would be in a position to make a rounded judgment about the performance of a particular children's services authority and its partners. Even if he were given such a power, there would need to be good reasons to create yet more centralisation. I am not sure that I am persuaded that the noble Baroness has provided them.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I am sorry that the noble Earl is not able to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, but I have to say that we are inclined to agree with the noble Earl. I hesitate to give the Committee this information, but I have here the distinction between guidance and direction in Laker Airways v Department of Trade, 1977. Perhaps I shall save that for another day. The principle behind that was that a direction requires the person to whom the direction is given to decide as directed, depriving the individual of any freedom of decision or any power to make his own decision as opposed to that which he is directed to make. However, guidance is assistance in reaching the decision. Having learnt that I wanted to share it with the Committee.
I agree with the noble Earl that the joint area reviews will assess not only the quality of services delivered, but also will make judgments about how well those services have worked together to improve the well-being of children and young people. As noble Lords would expect, we want services to be better than the sum of their parts. We hope that the joint area reviews will enable us to assess the effectiveness of local co-operation.
As the noble Earl has indicated, we have various powers to intervene where a local authority or key partner fails to fulfil their existing functions. The Bill provides an addition to the power in Clause 41 to intervene specifically where a children's services authority is failing to discharge its duty under Clause 6.
966 That means that where inspectorates report failings around the arrangements for co-operation, safeguarding and promoting welfare, intervention measures can be triggered to improve those arrangements. Where failures are identified in services provided by the relevant partners, a range of options exist. They include performance management frameworks and statutory powers of intervention.
We are developing an agreed framework within which national partners may use the measures as appropriate to ensure that failures are tackled as part of an overall intervention strategy within an area. We will consult and we are working with national and local partners, as appropriate, to develop this framework. The framework for engagement and intervention in children's services will be discussed in detail with our key stakeholders and with practitioners before being finalised. I hope that in doing that, we will address noble Lords' concerns to ensure that the framework is adequate and sufficient and also that it is appropriate in terms of the way in which it works with those seeking to co-operate and with the children's services agencies.
Where we are aware of poor or deteriorating performances, we will consult early and closely with the authority and its relevant partners to design what we describe as a bespoke support package acceptable to all, where possible.
We recognise that local authorities cannot be held to account for the delivery of actions in areas outside their area of responsibility, such as health service provision for children. But they are responsible for leading on establishing co-operation arrangements locally and will be expected to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to co-ordinate a comprehensive response to those joint area review findings. There is, of course, provision in subsection (7), as noble Lords have indicated, for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the exercise of their duty.
We think we have this about right. We have powers, and we recognise that we need to develop the framework in consultation with our key partners. I hope that that will go some way towards satisfying noble Lords and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Barker
I have not troubled your Lordships with my thoughts on these matters since Second Reading for a number of reasons. However, have followed your Lordships' deliberations with some care. It has been rather a strange process, akin to being a shepherd in the school nativity play and hoping that Mary and Jesus will get on with things quickly so that the important part can start.
This is perhaps one of the most important parts of the entire Bill. I should like to press the Minister to say a bit more about the word "trigger". Will she outline the circumstances in which one of the local partners could trigger a concern about a safeguarding arrangement? This is fundamental to the whole of Part 2 of the Bill. What does one of the partners with a duty to co-operate do when it has reason to believe that one of the other partners is not fulfilling its duty?
967 The noble Earl, Lord Howe, is, like me, a veteran of many health Bills, where duty of co-operation is sometimes legislatively expressed in a negative way by the use of fines, and so on. I am not clear from what the noble Baroness said exactly what the capacity of any one partner will be to trigger an inspection.
Will the noble Baroness say whether or not there is any hierarchy within local partners as to their ability? For example, if two or more local partners have a concern about another, is there any precedence between them with regard to who can trigger a course of action? This is all about enabling partners to identify failing services before matters become critical. It therefore goes to the heart of the rest of Part 2.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I am not sure about Mary, Joseph or the stable at this point, and I am sorry that the noble Baroness was not able to be with us earlier today. I recognise the sincerity with which she says that this is a critical part of the Bill.
Instead of giving the noble Baroness examples of triggering concerns, I would rather write to her with them, with a copy to the Library of the House, so that I can make sure that I am completely accurate. We are looking to a complaints procedure related to the failure to co-operate which will require investigation if not necessarily inspection. That is what I was alluding to in terms of discussions with our key partners—to make sure that we have the framework correct.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I thank the Minister for her reply. The words of my noble friend Lady Barker went absolutely to the heart of the comments that I was going to make myself, but she made the point in a much more entertaining way. Three years is a long time and children have only one chance. They are more like a piece of putty than a rubber ball: if you press into them, they do not spring back very easily concerning their well-being, their one chance at education, and the possibility of their being abused. So it is terribly important that if things are going wrong that is picked up quickly.
I am so sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is unable to agree with me on this occasion—not for the first time today. Those Members of the Committee who were present during consideration of the Education Act 2002 will know that I am usually reluctant to give additional powers to the Secretary of State. However, on this occasion, it was concern about the need to act quickly if co-operation is not taking place as it should and children's services are suffering that persuaded me to table the amendment. I, too, would be interested to know a little more about what triggers inspections in the middle of the normal cycle, because it is vital to catch things early if they are going wrong and not working properly. So I shall be most interested to be copied in to the Minister's letter to my noble friend. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.968
§ On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Earl Howe
The noble Baroness need not worry that I am about to aim any big guns at the clause—far from it—but I want to talk about some of its practical implications. Clause 6 is likely to impact on a wide range of statutory and non-statutory agencies and it is not clear how the partnership arrangements are supposed to work in practice. It is also unclear how anyone will be able to measure the extent to which the Clause 6 duty has been fulfilled. If we cannot measure success or failure, we are in some difficulty.
I am concerned that Parliament will be unable to scrutinise the detail of the arrangements that will be the subject of guidance. Can the Minister throw any light on that general aspect of the clause, because it is important?
Working together is a wonderful concept but, in practice, it will involve the confluence of a great many disparate cultures. All partners will bring to the table their own very different ideas about how things should be done—or not done—and, somehow, there will have to be some pretty clear guidelines for everyone to follow concerning what is and what is not acceptable practice. Youth offending teams, for example, tend to have a different outlook from that of teachers. Many partners will have their own targets, which will he seen as competing, and a competing target culture is not necessarily conducive to a co-operative, child-centred culture.
I may be wrong, but I fear that there could be quite a bit of mistrust at the outset between individual partners, which will need time to dispel. So I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said earlier about the need for proper co-ordination as well as co-operation. There are also bound to be some practical difficulties in some areas. In rural parts of the country, for example, some services are not readily available and there are inevitable problems associated with delivering services across long distances.
All that points to the need for time, training and real commitment from everyone involved. I am sure that it is possible—indeed, it is absolutely necessary—but perhaps we ought to sound a mild note of warning that the arrangements foreshadowed in Clause 6 will not just happen at the wave of a wand.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
Those are very wise words. The Government approach the impact of the clause in very much the same spirit as the noble Earl indicated. We are under no illusion that there is not a huge amount to do. There is cultural change to ensure that it happens and there is change in practice. There are ways in which we want professionals to operate that will mean they have to think very carefully about their practice. I was involved in bringing together education and social care in Hertfordshire as chair of the health authority, not integrating fully but working closely with practitioners. There were huge issues about how to make things function effectively.
969 The good news is that the motivation for much of how people want to co-operate comes from professionals themselves. They recognise the need to pull together and co-operate effectively to support children and families. But we do not underestimate the extent to which the Bill is only a small part of the story and the work needed to support professionals and enable them to work well. It is imperative that they receive the training that they need. I fully accept what the noble Earl said: it will not be easy. There is a huge amount of support from all those who know—far better than I could ever know—that on the ground this makes complete sense in terms of how they operate. We have a lot of support from the agencies and the local authorities, many of which have moved in this direction long before this Bill came before Parliament. That is very important.
As regards the measurement, I hope that noble Lords will have received the discussion paper from Ofsted, the lead agency. If they did not, I apologise and shall ensure that they receive it. It is signed up to by all the inspectorates working together to develop the framework. It is a discussion document—a preamble—to the formal consultation that will take place in the autumn. I suggest that noble Lords read the paper before we return to these issues at a later stage. It begins to break down some of the criteria that one might look to. It might also help to address some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. on how to go about that measurement and ensuring that we understand and know when we have success on our hands.
We are trying very hard to bring together the partners, to give them flexibility to recognise the individual circumstances in a locality and to put that in a framework driven by the outcomes for children rather than the inputs from government. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to allow the clause to stand part.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 [Arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare]:
Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 112AA:
Page 5, line 37, at end insert—
( ) a general practitioner and any other independent clinical practitioner:
§ The noble Earl said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 113, 114, 115 and 117. Much as the new duty in Clause 7 has been welcomed both in and outside Parliament, there is a wide sense of unease that the critical services responsible for the welfare and support of children have not all been included within the scope of the duty. The amendments that I have tabled are aimed at exploring that concern. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide the necessary reassurances.
§ I shall begin with medical services. Subsection (1) lists four kinds of NHS organisation—a strategic health authority, a PCT, an English NHS trust and an NHS foundation trust—that will be subject to the new duty. That is fine, but the obvious question arises: what about those doctors, nurses and other practitioners who are not employed by the NHS but 970 who deliver services within it? Unless such individuals, particularly general practitioners, are bound by the new duty, an enormous gap in the coverage of the duty is unavoidable. A very similar point can be made in relation to schools. I shall not labour that, as we have already had that debate in the context of the previous clause. The children's services authority, and hence the LEA, is to he bound by the duty. What about the individuals delivering education to children? How will these people be brought within the scope of Clause 7? We also need to think about those organisations and people operating statutory databases on children. Those people will be in a privileged position. What duty will they have to ensure that the way in which the databases are run does not compromise the welfare and safety of children?
§ As the Minister may know, there is a particular worry in relation to refugee children. They are children first and foremost, and we ought to start from the proposition that they should be afforded the same rights and protection as any other children in the United Kingdom. It follows from that that the agencies responsible for providing them with support and accommodation and for looking after them while they are being detained with their families should be included in the new duties. The same applies to those who make the critical decisions about their entry into the country in the first instance.
§ It is at least questionable whether the detention of any child is compatible with the UN Convention, and reports by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons on inspections of five removal centres in 2002 highlighted the inappropriateness of detaining children in this way. In Dungavel in Scotland, for example, HMIP spoke about the likelihood of the welfare and development of children being compromised by detention. Independent research has backed this up. There are numerous examples of children missing key vaccinations, suffering weight loss, sleeping trouble, boredom and fear while being detained. Those concerns are almost always bound to arise so long as any child is kept in enforced detention. They certainly arise in the case of children detained in prison. which is why Prison Service establishments have been included in Clause 7. It would be one thing if social services had access to refugee children in detention, but at present they do not. We need to hear from the Minister the precise reasons why, if refugee children are to continue being detained, those directly responsible for their care should not fall within the scope of the new duty.
§ There is widespread concern about unaccompanied children who are vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation at ports of entry. A report by ECPPAT—that is, End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking—three years ago, identified a key gap in relation to communication between immigration services and social services departments. This leads to children being picked up at ports by adults who claim a relationship with children, and there is no one who regards it as their business to see that those claims are verified.971
§ Similar points can be made about asylum-seeking children. Why on earth is the National Asylum Support Service not included in the new duty? The NASS is the organisation responsible for providing emergency accommodation to asylum seekers and for making decisions about dispersing families to different areas of the UK. In doing that, it must of necessity consider the safeguarding of children, and it should be obligated to do so. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some comfort on these issues, perhaps by saying that she will at least take the concerns away with her. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 112AB and 116 in my name, which are grouped with the amendment just moved by the noble Earl, Lord Howe.
This group of amendments is essentially about which bodies and persons should have a duty to make arrangements for ensuring that their functions and services are discharged, having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. As the noble Earl has just highlighted, there remain some important omissions. Amendment No. 112AA relates to the British Transport Police and whether such police authorities are included in Clause 7(1)(g). The British Transport Police have enormous responsibilities given the large number of children who use the railway system unaccompanied by adults to go to and from school, and also for leisure purposes.
A very unfortunate example of how things can go wrong was reported in the Evening Standard on 14 May. The article stated:Police and a 50-strong crowd of schoolgirls clashed in front of passengers at a south London railway station after a routine operation to check tickets turned to violence. … The disturbance broke out when pupils from [a south London school] arrived at New Beckenham station on their way home to find eight British Transport Police waiting to check their tickets … a group of girls, whom police say had no tickets, tried to rush the platform to join friends who were holding the doors open. After police grabbed two girls, violence between the officers and pupils—some as young as 12—quickly escalated. … Order was only restored when Met reinforcements arrived along with … [the] head teacher".She of course said that most of her girls at the station were not involved, many of whom were very distressed by the level of violence that they had witnessed in the incident.
The incident was witnessed by a former teacher who commented:Certainly, what I saw was inappropriate behaviour by the police. A big, burly policeman dragging a 15-year-old girl down a platform is no way to calm a situation like this. … If the police had not been there, there wouldn't have been a riot".That sort of incident requires the British Transport Police to have the same duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Therefore, are the British Transport Police covered by the Bill? If they are not, how do the Government intend to ensure that the Chief Constable manages the force with a view to ensuring that all officers act at all times to safeguard 972 and promote the welfare of children? That includes even when they are carrying out revenue protection duties for the railway companies, which could include refusing access to the railway system to children who are going to and from school. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that.
The main points have already been made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in relation to Amendment No. 117. Perhaps I may point out that the JCHR 12th report, Scrutiny of Bills, draws attention to the fact that organisations working with refugee children are omitted from Clauses 6, 7 and 9. The JCHR highlights the positive obligations under Articles 2, 3 and 8 and questions whether this omission gives rise to unjustifiable discrimination in the enjoyment of convention rights.
In the debates on the asylum Bill on Tuesday, Members of the Committee may recall that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, resisted the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Avebury, which would ensure assessments of children's needs when they are in detention. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that that was on the basis that immigration removal centres are adequately providing for their needs already.
In view of the noble Lord's comments, can the Minister possibly resist the inclusion of the refugee agencies in this duty "to safeguard and promote welfare"? As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, those children are at their most vulnerable when they are in the care of the various immigration agencies. Therefore, the duty to safeguard them should certainly be on those organisations as well as all the others in the Bill.
§ Baroness Massey of Darwen
With my probing Amendment No. 112B, I simply wish to build on the matters that I raised in my first amendment about the issue of substance misuse. Again, I declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for substance misuse. Substance misuse among young people is a key concern for parents, carers and communities. Each local authority has a responsibility. Again, I plead that substance misuse should not be inevitably linked with the criminal justice system.
In local safeguarding teams, will there be a person with designated substance misuse responsibility? Would that person be a signatory to the local young person's partnership grant? I assume that substance misuse services will be included in the integrated inspection framework and in the common assessment framework. Again, I want to be reassured that there will be reference to those issues at least in guidance to the Bill.
§ Baroness Barker
My name is attached to many of the amendments grouped with the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I too am a veteran of debates on many a health Bill and I share his anxiety. I want to refer to private therapists who see children, such as psychotherapists and a variety of physical therapists. I am not convinced that they would be included under the present drafting of the clause. It is very important that they are brought into the Bill.
973 I want to speak in particular to Amendment No. 115, which would ensure the inclusion of the operator of the database. Above all others, that person or organisation ought to be charged with a duty, clearly expressed, to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. I do not wish to steal anyone's thunder before we debate Clause 8, but perhaps this is the key role in the whole of the exercise.
I want to put to the Minister what may seem a naive question, but it is one that is rather important: what exactly does the word "arrangements" mean? I know what I think it means, but I would like some clarification of the term. That said, it is clear that the operator of the database will hold, in one place, some of the most sensitive and potentially damaging information about vulnerable individuals. Therefore, while all the other bodies have a duty, it is inconceivable that that person or body should be left out of such a critical obligation.
§ Lord Colwyn
When speaking to Amendment No. 112AA, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about giving the clause some teeth. I wonder whether the noble Baroness, or perhaps my noble friend Lord Howe, could say whether the term "a general practitioner" refers to both a medical practitioner and a dental practitioner or whether a dental practitioner would be included under "other independent clinical practitioner". It is important to make this clear, in particular on behalf of my profession.
§ Lord Hylton
I support what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said about inter-agency co-operation and the lack of accountability of the various agencies in terms of co-operating. I think he raised that in the debate on whether Clause 6 should stand part. In that context, some improvement on the present situation could be made if, whenever possible, the catchment areas of the various agencies were harmonised. I realise that it will not always be possible and that some bodies, by their nature, have much bigger catchment areas than others. But there is, I believe, a quite unnecessary degree of variation, in particular at the local level. It is possible that the Ofsted report, which I have not seen but to which the Minister referred, might say something about that. I hope it does.
I turn to Amendment No. 112AB. The British Transport Police are very likely to come into contact with the very large number of children who each year run away from home and quite often make a beeline for London. It is important to include the British Transport Police among the other agencies.
As regards Amendments Nos. 116 and 117, I urge the Minister to look at our debates on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill, which have been referred to, albeit briefly. Both in Committee and on Report I moved amendments to that Bill which sought to try to improve the situation of trafficking in persons for exploitation. That issue affects many children, whether or not they are 974 technically asylum-seeking children. I look forward to what the noble Baroness may have to say about that matter.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I hope that in the course of my remarks I shall be able to address all the issues. I am very grateful to noble Lords for indicating their concerns by raising a number of substantial points.
As noble Lords have indicated, the first three amendments in this group seek to place the duty to have regard to the need to safeguard children and promote their welfare on to GPs and other independent clinical practitioners, substance misuse services for young people and individuals providing medical or clinical services.
In regard to Amendment No. 112B, tabled by my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen, she will know better than I that substance misuse services for young people are funded in England through the young people's substance misuse partnership grant. This is paid to local authorities, which act as bankers for local drug partnerships. The partnerships are the young people's joint commissioning groups and consist of local authority and NHS representatives.
Services may be provided, too, by the voluntary sector or directly by the NHS, but in all cases will be covered by the provisions of Clauses 7(2)(b) or 22(2)(b) as they are all provided under arrangements made by the local authority or NHS bodies in discharge of their functions. I hope that that addresses the amendment of my noble friend. Such services are indeed covered by the Bill and I hope that she will accept that her amendment is unnecessary.
As to those providing medical and clinical services within the NHS, including general medical practitioners and nurses—this relates to Amendments Nos. 112AA and 113, and its Welsh equivalent, Amendment No. 201—such practitioners are either employed by an NHS trust or contracted by the local primary care trust, or in Wales the local health board, to provide primary care services.
I should say at this point that I am not a veteran of all the health Bills and I recognise the expertise available to both Opposition Front Benches. I shall choose my words carefully and hope that I properly reflect the position.
As the Committee will know, as a result of a new GP contract the current arrangements for the provision of primary medical services made with individual GPs came to an end on 31 March this year and were replaced by a system based on practice contracts. From 1 April 2004, primary care trusts are under a duty to provide or secure the provision of primary medical services to meet the reasonable needs of their areas, either by providing the services themselves or through contracts with a range of providers, who may be individual GPs, partnerships and so on.
Given the new PCT duty and the range of providers available, it will be better for the duties to co-operate to improve well-being and protect the welfare of children to rest with the primary care trusts, an issue 975 we touched on in our earlier deliberations today. We can then direct primary care trusts to ensure that contracts for primary medical services include a term requiring the contractor to safeguard the welfare of children and provide supporting guidance as appropriate, setting out in practical terms what this duty will mean for them. As I am sure the Committee will recognise, this will have the advantage of capturing—that is the word I am given—not only GPs but all healthcare professionals who deliver primary care.
Clause 7 does not apply to independent providers of medical and clinical services that are funded personally by individual patients or their insurance policies. It does, however, apply to an NHS organisation that commissions and funds the provision of services by an independent contractor or contract. In this case, they will be covered by Clause 7(2)(b).
We considered whether private providers treating private patients should be covered by this duty but have concluded that it would not be appropriate. In the first place, such providers do not have statutory functions and so cannot make arrangements for their functions to be discharged having regard to the need to safeguard children. Secondly, they are independent bodies which can enter into private arrangements with others.
However, they have to meet any regulatory rules where they provide certain kinds of services such as those covered by the Care Standards Act 2000. Where they are providing a service to a private citizen who is procuring the service—for example, a parent—the provider should not take on the same kind of role as the public authorities in Clause 7. The Care Standards Act enables the Government to regulate how such providers conduct themselves, which we think is the right way to ensure that such providers provide services which safeguard children.
The Care Standards Act provides for the Department of Health to publish, following consultation, statements of national minimum standards to be met by the providers of such services. We believe that that is the right way to ensure that these issues are dealt with. I hope that on that basis Members of the Committee will feel that their amendments are unnecessary.
We have discussed schools a couple of times in our deliberations. They are covered by Section 175 of the Education Act 2002, which came into being not least because of the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, in our discussions of the tragedy of Lauren Wright. We believe that the Education Act 2002 imposes a stronger duty than that within the amendment. I refer Members of the Committee to that, and if they need any further explanation I shall be happy to give it. In issuing guidance under this clause, we intend to ensure that it is consistent with guidance under Section 175, so that no inconsistency or confusion is created.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, had particular concerns on the back of the amendment introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about database operators.
976 The first thing I should say is that no decision has been reached on whether the person should be a database operator. That is simply part of the discussions being undertaken and on which we shall form much of our deliberations in the time to come, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, suggested. I am very much looking forward to that as we deliberate how best to deal with the issues raised under Clause 8.
First, the amendments are unnecessary because no decision has been made. Secondly, if there were to be a database operator under Clauses 8 or 23, should the Secretary of State or Welsh Assembly decide that there should be established in children's services authority areas a database that would require such a person, that would be covered by virtue of the fact that local authorities are covered. In addition, the purposes for which such databases would be set up are tied explicitly to those of Clauses 7 and 23—that is, to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. That is not in my brief, but that is the belt and braces approach. I hope that the noble Earl and the noble Baroness will accept that that person, if he did exist, would be covered both ways.
On the issues of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, the Immigration Service and the National Asylum Support Service, I have some sympathy with the next three amendments in this group. I would say at the outset that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate takes its responsibility towards the children that it encounters very seriously. I am sure that Members of the Committee would accept that. I have not had the privilege of reading the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, moved, as my work on this Bill and another Bill has prevented me reading Hansard as closely as I should like. However, now that the noble Lord has drawn my attention to it, I shall make sure that I do so, and I shall have a conversation with my noble friend Lord Bassam in the light of the noble Lord's remarks, for which I am grateful.
Members of the Committee will know about the matters under debate from those particularly involved in the Bill and from the experiences of the Immigration Service and NASS. Those bodies encounter many different children in different circumstances and are acutely aware of the need to ensure that the children are properly identified and referred to the appropriate agencies. They have well established arrangements with local authorities and other agencies to ensure that concerns are swiftly dealt with. The Immigration and Nationality Directorate also carries out an essential task in providing immigration controls for the UK and ensuring a tightly managed asylum system.
The duty in the Bill would not be an appropriate one for that body. It would, I fear, damage that role and be exploited by anyone seeking to abuse the system. The amendments go much further than our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and could be exploited.
It is important to recognise that unaccompanied asylum seeker children are not directly supported by NASS—they are supported by local authorities under the Children Act 1989 and are directly referred to local 977 authorities by the Immigration Service. The role of NASS is to provide accommodation and cash support to families with children. In those functions, NASS acts in the same way as any other provider of accommodation or subsistence to families and it seeks to respect families' rights to private and family life. We do not believe that it is not necessary or appropriate for NASS, in particular, to be placed under the Clause 7 duty.
A better approach is to ensure that NASS safeguards the rights of the children it deals with by working in close partnership with other agencies. NASS was set up from the beginning through extensive consultation with local authorities and its work has been carried out in partnership with local authorities wherever possible. Of course, NASS funds local authority consortia to help facilitate and develop all aspects of partnership working.
Arrangements are already in place to notify the relevant statutory bodies about children arriving in their area. All concerns about children are referred to the proper authorities. NASS is supported to ensure that that is done properly.
The Immigration Service also has established partnership arrangements with local authorities and the police to ensure that any concerns about a child are promptly acted upon. It is extremely concerned that the proposed amendment would provide another basis for exploiting the appellate and judicial review systems by arguing that the detention of asylum-seeking families with children is not compatible with safeguarding children or protecting their welfare. Detention is an unfortunate but necessary element of our immigration control procedures.
Noble Lords will be aware that children are detained for only the shortest possible time. Families entering detention for removal are expected to have removal directions already in place and are therefore usually detained for no more than a few days. As noble Lords may know, we have recently introduced enhanced arrangements for the rigorous and frequent review of family detention and put in place a system of regular ministerial authorisation for the detention of children beyond 28 days.
Noble Lords will know too of a number of different measures that have been put in place during the past few years aimed at significantly improving our policies and procedures. For example, a single point of contact has been established for all local authorities and social workers who want to clarify the immigration status of children. Another example is the best practice guidance that was distributed to all UK ports of entry. A point was raised about the procedures to be followed when immigration officers encounter children, especially those who may be at risk. Training is being offered alongside that.
Finally, Amendment No. 112AB would impose the Clause 7 duty on the British Transport Police. To be honest, we had not even considered whether that duty should be placed on the British Transport Police until the amendment was laid, so I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for doing so. As she 978 indicated, the British Transport Police undertakes a public policing role which is very similar to that of local police forces, albeit that it is a national police force responsible for policing the railway network. As well as the example provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, spoke about its role in terms of runaway children. On the face of it, there could therefore be a case for including it along with other forces. We plan to consider the amendment further with colleagues in the Department for Transport and with the British Transport Police itself. I shall return to it at a later stage. I hope that I have given as good an explanation as possible and that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Dholakia
Perhaps I may intervene before the Minister sits down. I have no difficulty in accepting what she said about NASS, but a year or so ago, the Home Office produced an internal review of the work of NASS. When we asked for that report to be published, it refused to do so. How can one have confidence in bodies such as NASS when the report is not available to Members of your Lordships' House? More importantly, irrespective of the relationship between immigration authorities and local authorities, NASS plays an important role in looking after the children of asylum-seekers by providing accommodation. Why should it therefore be excluded from this provision?
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
On the latter point. the noble Lord may not agree with me, but I have tried to set out my reasons. I hope that he will have the chance to read them and to reflect on them. I am very happy to discuss the matter with him further. On the former, he will not be surprised to learn that I am unable to answer the question about the NASS report, but I will refer that to my colleagues in the Home Office who I hope will give him a satisfactory explanation.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I did not intend to speak to the amendment, because I know how pressed the Committee is for time. I hoped that the Minister's response would be sympathetic to Amendment No. 117 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, which had regard to NASS.
I recognise the difficulties that NASS faces, and we did not wish to put it in a position where its system can be abused. On the other hand, it is important to bear in mind, for example, that we keep asylum-seeking families in bed and breakfast accommodation whereas we no longer permit that to be done in the case of citizens of our own country. In the recent debacle involving the accession countries, families were told that they would have to leave their house and find a job on the same day; I think it was 1 May. They were given very short notice. Just imagine how those families and the children in those families must have felt when they realised, "Oh my goodness; we are going to be moved on. We won't have any income coming in". Thanks to a judicial review of the process, I believe, the timetable was put back and they were given more time to prepare.
979 It was gratifying to hear from debates on the immigration and asylum Bill that, for the most part, children are not being kept in detention for lengthy periods. However, I also understand that they have occasionally been kept in detention for more than 100 days. So there are real concerns about the welfare of children under the current NASS arrangements. NASS does not seem to have such a good reputation in what it does. So if the noble Earl, Lord Howe, does not bring back this amendment at the next stage, I certainly will. However, I thank the Minister for her response and for providing information at this stage.
§ Earl Howe
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and to the Minister, whose reply was partly reassuring and partly very disappointing. I shall obviously read what she had to say very carefully between now and Report. I will just say at this stage to my noble friend Lord Colwyn that I think I am right in saying that primary care trusts have responsibility for primary dental services. Amendment No. 112AA mentions,any other independent clinical practitioner",quite deliberately to embrace just about anyone falling under that description. Certainly dentists are included.
I was a little surprised to hear what the Minister had to say about how independent contractors could be captured through their contract. I hope that that can be done, but it has always been my understanding—we had this debate when we were debating the Health Protection Agency Bill—that directing a body to agree with an independent contractor to do something was technically impossible because if a contractor is independent, then by definition he or she has the ability not to agree with whatever is being proposed. So you can direct all you like, but unless there is a duty in the Bill for the independent practitioner to be bound by whatever duty it is, then you may not succeed in your objective. Nevertheless I note what the Minister had to say on that point, and I shall reflect further on it.
The disappointment came in relation to refugee and asylum-seeking children. I am very grateful for what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, had to say on that issue in particular. Like other noble Lords, I was in receipt of a letter from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in relation to the asylum and immigration Bill. The foundation's general experience through its child and family specialists of detainees is that seriously troubled families have not been identified and adequate assessments have not been made of those families while they have been in detention. The foundation's clinicians have concluded from that and other evidence that staff in removal centres simply lack the skills to carry out complex assessments of children, adolescents and their parents. That is very worrying. I think that to talk of the situation being exploited if the amendment were accepted is perhaps a little out place when there is clearly such a deficit in essential services being delivered to these very vulnerable children.
980 Time is moving on. I am grateful to the Minister for the time that she spent on her reply. I am sure that she has given us much food for thought between now and the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 112AB to 117 not moved.]
§ 6 p.m.
Baroness Stern moved Amendment No. 117A:
Page 5, line 43, at end insert—
( ) courts with the power to sentence a child to detention or remand a child in custody
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 117A, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 130C. I speak on behalf also of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu.
§ These are amendments to probe the Government on their intentions with regard to the placement of vulnerable children remanded or sentenced to custody. The Youth Justice Board is very interested in the discussion on the amendments.
§ This is a complicated area and I shall attempt as best I can to set out for the benefit of the Committee what the problem is and why we hope that some remedies can be found through this Bill. At the core of it is the decision about where to place a child who has been before the court or sentenced to secure custody, when that child is deemed vulnerable. At the moment there are discrepancies in the way that the matter is dealt with and the placement options available.
§ Any boy under 15 and all girls under 17 who are being remanded before trial or who are waiting for their sentence should be placed in a local authority secure unit or a secure training centre. The situation with boys of 15 and 16 who are remanded in custody before trial is different. They are assessed for vulnerability by the youth offending team and, if they are deemed too vulnerable to be placed in a prison, under Section 98 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 the court may direct that they be placed not in a prison but in a local authority secure unit or a secure training centre, but only if there is an available placement on that day.
§ The assessment of vulnerability is undertaken following the Youth Justice Board's assessment profile and focuses in particular on emotional health and maturity, any risks of self-harm, suicidal tendency or any other emotional fragility for which exposure to the harshness of a prison placement would be too great a risk. With under-15s and young women getting priority for these placements, however, it is often reported by practitioners that vulnerable young men aged 15 and 16 are remanded to prison custody despite having been determined as being too vulnerable to be there. This raises questions in itself. I wonder whether the Minister has any figures for those who are assessed as too vulnerable for prison at the remand stage but still get sent there because there are no other placements.981
§ That is the situation for remand prisoners. For those who are sentenced, it is different. Any boy aged 15 or over who is sentenced to custody through a detention and training order will almost certainly serve the sentence in a Prison Service establishment. However vulnerable the boy is, the court has no power to direct where the order should be served or to require a mental health placement. However vulnerable he is and however many reports on vulnerability have been written by the youth offending team, the court has no power in that regard. This may be why the sentencing judge took 19 days to decide the sentence in the case of Joseph Scholes who was extremely vulnerable and subsequently killed himself. However, there is one other element in this explanation, and that is Sections 90 and 91 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. Under those sections, children convicted of grave crimes and sentenced can be placed in local authority secure units—they are smaller, with higher staff ratios and a child-centred regime—or in secure training centres. Highly vulnerable children convicted of less grave crimes cannot benefit from that flexibility or appropriate placement.
§ This admirable Bill seeks to bring about a sea change in how all services and agencies work together to meet the particular needs of each individual child or young person. When we come to children facing a period of detention, which is a very serious thing to happen to a child, their placement is not determined by the criteria of the Bill—need, vulnerability, physical and mental health, prevention from harm—but by a not very coherent mix of legal requirements combined with a hierarchy of category priorities for the allocation of oversubscribed secure-unit places.
§ Prisons and secure training centres will have new responsibilities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their care under Clause 7. However, they cannot control the decision-making that sent the child to them in the first place. The amendment seeks to probe how courts, which make critical decisions about children's safety and welfare when they decide to detain them, could be empowered and enabled to make the decisions appropriate to each child. If given such powers and responsibilities, courts could play a part in reconfiguring the range and appropriateness of secure placements available for young people. Courts make critical, life-and-death decisions about children's welfare, but do not have the power to make sentencing decisions on placements of children that reflect their vulnerability.
§ All courts—in both family and criminal proceedings—are currently required to have regard to the child's welfare under Section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. That provision is in need of clarification and strengthening. It is clear that the courts have a pivotal role in decisions about children's safety and welfare through the sentencing decisions that they make, so they must be an integral part of the Government's new framework for safeguarding children and promoting their welfare.
§ We seek an assurance that the Government recognise that there is a problem with the placement of vulnerable children in Prison Service accommodation and agree that the courts have an active and critical role in relation to children's welfare and safeguarding. 982 We hope that they will give further consideration to the role of the courts in the safeguarding framework of the Bill, and in the clause. I beg to move.
§ Lord Dholakia
I am delighted to support the amendment. On 1 April, I raised in the House the death in Prison Service custody of Joseph Scholes, and asked Her Majesty's Government to establish an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding it. I spelt out then circumstances leading to his death in the Stoke Heath young offender institution on 24 March 2002, when he was found hanged in his cell a month after his 16th birthday.
If the Bill has been designed to safeguard and promote welfare, we must ensure that courts are subject to the new detail to do so in the exercise of their current functions. That duty will ensure that children deemed vulnerable are not placed in Prison Service custody. Sadly, Joseph's case is not isolated, but highlights the terrible situation in which many of our most vulnerable people find themselves when sentenced to or remanded in custody. Even the coroners' powers are limited, in terms of the examination of such cases. So far as their functions are concerned, in Joseph's case, the coroner has asked for a public inquiry, and I am in correspondence with the Secretary of State on that matter. It is clear that Joseph should not have been placed in a young offender institution, and our amendment would ensure that that did not happen to others.
Joseph had an unsettled childhood and became a disturbed young boy, exhibiting clear signs of depression and periodic suicidal thoughts, and he had begun to self-harm. Two weeks before his court appearance, he slashed his face 30 times with a knife. He was clearly extremely vulnerable and in need of the utmost care and attention.
The fact that Joseph and many others like him have found themselves in Prison Service custody is a testament to the impotence of the courts in these matters. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, mentioned the concern that even the judge had expressed in this matter. The judge was fully aware of the high level of risk and vulnerability in Joseph's case but had no powers to ensure that he was placed in suitable secure accommodation, such as a local authority secure unit or mental health placement.
Of course, we know that one critical problem in this respect is the lack of adequate placements. Whatever the outcome of an assessment of vulnerability or the opinion of the court, youth offending team worker or social worker, it is the availability or otherwise of alternative placements that determines the outcome for young people, not their need. That cannot be acceptable. No amount of concern expressed can change a situation unless a duty is enshrined in statute to that effect.
That is the important point that the amendment seeks to make. The Children Bill rightly has at its heart the aim of improving safeguards for children. Clause 7 places a duty on a number of agencies and bodies to make arrangements to have regard to the safeguarding and promotion of children's welfare. There are a 983 number of concerns about whether that duty is strong enough to make a real difference to the decisions made by the bodies listed in the new duty. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction, and we certainly welcome it.
Significantly, prisons, secure training centres and youth offending teams are all included in that duty. But where are the courts? It is no good to say that the Sentencing Guidelines Council will deal with this matter. Guidelines are precisely that—guidelines; they are not instructions. No practice can be changed unless the change has been instructed by law. The courts have a most important role to play in determining children's welfare and safety. That was the responsibility that lay so heavily on the judge in the case of Joseph Scholes. Judges know that, once they make a decision on a sentence of detention, they have no power over the final decision about where the young person will end up. That seems to me a complete nonsense. Why do we make our courts so powerless in such matters? If courts were brought into the safeguarding framework proposed by the Bill, they could become key drivers in the placements available for vulnerable children and thereby prevent another death in custody.
The prison estate is growing and the prison population increasing. In relation to young people, it is a situation that is provider and cost-led; it is not based on the needs of vulnerable children. If it were, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, resources would be directed towards smaller and safer secure accommodation for the small number of children who need it.
As has repeatedly been pointed out, the treatment and care of children in Prison Service establishments has been subject to criticism from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. The JCHR recently recommended the complete separation of the organisation responsible for the custody of children from the Prison Service. Prison is no place for children.
If we cannot use the Children Bill—a Bill which the Minister has, on repeated occasions, told us is about improving things for all children—to address the current problem and to ensure that vulnerable children are not put at risk, we are failing in our duty of care to those children. I ask the Minister to assure the Committee that the Government recognise that there is a problem in the placement of vulnerable children in Prison Service accommodation, that they agree that the courts have an active and critical role to play in relation to children's welfare and safeguarding, that they will give further consideration to the role of the courts in the safeguarding framework of the Bill, and that they will further consider the role of the courts in Clause 7.
Those are the minimum assurances that we need. If they are not forthcoming, then we should be entitled to seek the opinion of the House on Report.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I rise briefly to express my great interest in the debate about the two amendments in this group.
If my understanding is correct, they are about giving more flexibility to the courts. I was most grateful to my noble friend Lady Stern for introducing me recently to a legal adviser to the district attorney of Brooklyn, where there has been a magnificent project over 13 years called the DTAP. I shall not go into the details of it, but if one gives the courts more flexibility it is possible to place people and children outside prison in more therapeutic environments. This case related to an adult therapeutic community which we talked about with the American lawyer. The response around the table was that, regrettably, in this country everything is controlled from the top and there is not the flexibility to bring forward those important new modes of working. If that is what the amendment is about, I will read it with great interest tomorrow.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I begin by acknowledging that noble Lords have spoken with real expertise and I shall attempt to do justice to some of the questions raised, while recognising that noble Lords are better informed than I and that I would wish to consult with colleagues in the Home Office on many of the important issues that noble Lords have raised.
As a backdrop, noble Lords will know that we published Youth Justice: the next steps alongside Every Child Matters. Many of the concerns raised by noble Lords are encapsulated within that document. We have not finished with the Bill in that sense. I know that colleagues in the Home Office are actively looking at the issues raised in that document and seeing what more could and should be done. If I fail to give distinct answers and the reassurances that noble Lords are seeking, I shall certainly do so in correspondence and place copies in the Library, having taken that consultation to my colleagues, who will want to read what noble Lords have said. For example, I know that my noble friend Lord Bassam is writing to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, about a number of these issues and I have asked that we discover how many vulnerable children have been placed in youth offending institutions, although we do not know whether there is information about that. We will find out whether we have that information and ensure that we give it to the noble Baroness.
We also know that there are real concerns about the welfare of children in custody—and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia movingly raised the issue of what happened to Joseph. The noble Lord may know that we will shortly issue guidance to local authorities about their responsibilities towards children in custodial settings as a result of the 1989 Act.
Again, I know that I am speaking to real experts in your Lordships' House when I say that courts sentencing under 18s are already required to have regard to the welfare of children and young people under Section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. It is against that backdrop that I want to reflect further on that.
985 I have a speaking note which talks much about the Youth Justice Board, but I feel that it would he wasting your Lordships' time because so many noble Lords know so much about this matter that it would be better for me to put my points in correspondence. On the basis that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment I will take these issues to colleagues in the Home Office to reflect further on what noble Lords have said about the more general issues. There is one set of issues concerning the courts that are properly the responsibility of the Home Office, but wider issues have also been raised about understanding where our vulnerable children and young people are and recognising that vulnerability in society at large, as well as in our youth offending institutions.
I have been as helpful as I can and I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
§ Baroness Stern
I thank the Minister for that helpful and considerate reply. I am sure Members of the Committee will agree with me that she has no need to apologise for not knowing the finer and minute details of the youth justice system. Her performance on the two Bills she is taking through at the same time is phenomenal enough.
I thank her for agreeing to look at these matters further. We look forward to hearing what she will bring forward. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 118 had been retabled as Amendment No. 1194.]
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Simon)
If Amendment No. 119 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 119A or 122.
Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 119:
Page 6, line 1, leave out from "discharged" to "the" in line 2 and insert "in a manner consistent with the objective of safeguarding and promoting
§ The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 114, 203 and 204A. I believe that Amendment No. 119 is an extremely important amendment, although I suspect that other Members of the Committee will argue that all amendments are important. The phrase "having regard to" is widely used in Bills—I suspect that that is why it is used in this context—but it is a catch-all which leaves open the possibility of disregard of the clause in question.
§ The growth of consultation as a means to justify the actions of an official body has, in its own way, also weakened the perception of "having regard to". Departments which go out to consultation in obedience to the structure to have regard to the needs and wants of a certain group of people often have many responses which are themselves incompatible; for example, conflicting needs or wants. The freedom to drink until the early hours in pubs or clubs as against the need for the average citizen to get a good 986 night's sleep often means that the consulting department acts in a way which has no regard for either point of view.
§ In the context of the Children Bill, we feel that it is not adequate simply to "have regard to" the need to promote and safeguard. The actions of any authority listed in Clause 7(1) must be seen to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The difference between the wording of the Bill and the wording of the amendment is that the Bill defines the fulfilment of the safeguarding duty in terms of the decision-making process and our amendment defines it in terms of the manner in which actions are taken. That is an important, distinct and material difference. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 123. Its purpose is to probe the question whether the new duty in Clause 7 is strong enough to ensure that persons or bodies to whom it applies do not take decisions or undertake actions contrary to their duty to safeguard and promote welfare.
The amendment came from the Children's Society and it is supported by other children's organisations. Naturally, they welcome the new duty of relevant agencies providing services to children to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in discharging their normal sanctions as a positive step in the right direction. However, the critical question they ask is whether or not the new duty goes far enough, or is robust enough, to ensure greater protection for children. What additional safeguards will it provide in practice for children?
The Children's Society is concerned that the nature of the duty created under Clause 7(2) is ambiguous and insufficiently strong to guarantee that the authority subject to it could not continue to be able to act in ways that are detrimental to a child's welfare. In cases where meeting children's needs under this duty may sit in conflict with the carrying out of primary functions, the clause does not provide any clear direction to decision-making. In such situations, it is unclear what real or new safeguard would exist for children.
The duty to discharge functions, having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, is important as a positive duty, but in effect it is an administrative test, requiring a demonstrable point in decision-making at which child safety and welfare are considered. One might say that it is another piece of bureaucracy.
Our interest is in what kind of additional safeguard this new duty would provide in practice for children in the care of and/or subject to the decisions of the listed authorities. In theory at least, the actions of authorities subject to this duty need not change at all as a result of it, permitting them to place children's safety and welfare needs at a lower level of priority in favour of carrying out their primary functions. It does not provide the clear legal framework for a positive test about whether actions taken are consistent with the safeguarding of children and the promotion of their welfare.
987 Any new duty must focus on the real impact on children of the actions of persons or bodies subject to its requirements, and not merely on process. That would not be a problem where both sets of interests can be met at the same time. However, when meeting children's needs would sit in conflict with the carrying out of primary functions, the duty does not appear to help in guiding decision-making.
Clause 7 needs to be of practical use in guiding decision-making in cases such as these, making clear the priority to be given to children's safety and welfare. There is a critical need, for example, for the Prison Service and other institutions responsible for children to have an unambiguous duty placed upon them in law. That is particularly so in light of the judgment by Mr Justice Munby, which established that the Children Act 1989 applies to children in prisons, but not to the Prison Service. There is a critical gap in the safeguarding of children, which means that the Prison Service does not have a clear statutory duty to safeguard the welfare of children.
At the very least the Bill's provisions should provide that decisions and actions in the exercise of functions should not be detrimental to children's welfare and protection. As currently drafted, the Bill leaves an ambiguity in the law, whereby agencies would be required to demonstrate that they had taken children's welfare and protection into account but would still be permitted to undertake a particular action or make decisions detrimental to the child. Amendment No. 123 seeks to correct that ambiguity.
§ Baroness Stern
I support Amendment No. 123. I have already stressed—I will not elaborate again—the importance of law in creating what the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, this morning called the nominative framework. People working in coercive institutions, such as prisons, but also in any institution away from the public eye where acts can be concealed and where children are at the mercy of others, need to be able to rely on strong clear unambiguous law to help them to make the right decisions.
The addition of the wording in this amendment would strengthen and structure decision-making for those working with children. One has to do more than just have regard to the words of the provision. The amendment puts the duty to safeguard above the obligation to keep the show on the road. I fear that without such strengthening, there will be much "having regard to", but not very much positive promoting.
§ Baroness Barker
I want to speak to Amendments Nos. 119 and 120 to which my name is attached. I wish to return to a point I made in regard to an earlier group of amendments, which was not answered by the Minister in her reply. I refer to the meaning of "arrangement". The definition of "arrangement" is critical to the subsections that we are discussing now. Does it mean "contractual terms", "internal policies of organisation", or "purchasing policies"? What exactly does it mean? Like the emperor's new clothes, 988 everyone else may understand this, but I do not. I believe that it is absolutely fundamental to the relationship between these organisations.
Only when we understand what "arrangement" means—arrangements can be implemented in a number of different ways—can we make a decision about whether the wording in the clause as it stands, or the wording proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, which I much prefer, is what is needed. The noble Baroness was absolutely right; I think that there are a number of authorities which will believe that they have discharged their functions by holding consultations. I do not believe that that is a high enough threshold.
My view of this is greatly coloured by some of the arrangements which exist in older people's services where organisations can, through agencies, believe that they have discharged their duty, yet the level of service provided is appalling—dangerous, in fact.
I am sorry to raise the question again, but I think that there needs to be absolute clarity about the whole of this clause and this provision in particular.
§ Earl Howe
I should first like to speak to Amendment No. 120, which seeks to couple "health" with "welfare" in the safeguarding duty set out in subsection (2)(a).
This is not a cosmetic amendment—achieving good health is something that most people believe is the province of the NHS, but it is not the sole responsibility of the NHS. If we agree, as we surely must, that other bodies besides the health service have the task of promoting children's health, then it is essential that those local organisations should make an explicit commitment to that objective if the role of "health" within the Bill is not to play second fiddle to that of social services and education.
I think particularly of smoking, diet and exercise—three of the issues that are addressed in the Government's health Choosing Health? consultation paper. These issues need to be at the forefront of people's minds in the context of the Clause 7 duty. If the Minister says to me that the concept of welfare implicitly subsumes the concept of health, I would have to differ from her. If we look back to Clause 6(2), we see physical and mental health mentioned in their own right as quite distinct from the various other categories of well-being. It would be interesting to know whether there is a difference in the Government's mind between well-being and welfare, but I suggest that "welfare" is not sufficiently explicit or precise to carry with it an automatic import of the health dimension in its fullest sense.
Amendment No. 128A seeks to introduce a definition of the term "safeguard" into Clause 7. Why is this necessary? The short answer is that without such a definition, it is not easy to see how those persons and bodies who are bound by the duty to safeguard will be able to take decisions that are either correct or consistent. The definition of "safeguarding" in the amendment is taken from the joint chief inspectors' report Safeguarding 989 Children. It is useful because it draws attention to the dual aspect of safeguarding; namely, preventive action and proactive partnership working.
Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 places a duty on LEAs and governing bodies of both schools and further education authorities to make arrangements to ensure that their functions are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. The Minister referred to that Act earlier. There is draft child protection guidance, which the department issued for consultation earlier in the year, but this is not the equivalent of safeguarding guidance—at least, not as I read it. This implies that the duty on LEAs and schools may be more narrowly defined than that on the other agencies and bodies listed in the clause.
A number of organisations, including the NSPCC and the NCB, have expressed concern about the lack of clarity over the meaning of "safeguard". I hope that the Minister will be able to offer some explanation and reassurance.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I should like to speak to Amendment No. 119. Recently a child—a 15 year-old boy—died at Rainsbrook secure training centre following, if I recall it correctly, control and restraint procedures being used on him. That may have just been a regrettable, unhappy incident, but my point is relevant to this amendment.
Staff in this sort of establishment have about nine weeks' basic training and may have two or three days' additional training in working with children. The only obligatory module after that is training in restraint. One appreciates the importance of understanding training in restraint in such environments. However, we are putting very poorly qualified staff in charge of very vulnerable, troubled and troubling children. I am not an expert, but there must be a lot of weight in including in the Bill that sort of extra protection for children in custodial settings. I look forward to a more sympathetic response to that from the Minister.
I remind the Committee that in this country we have around 2,500 children in custody; in France there are around 755; and in Denmark there are 12. Other countries tend to find more constructive routes. I apologise for always raising this matter in the House, but on the Continent there is a professional cadre, with around three years' training, who work with such children. When one does not have such professionals working with these children, one needs very clear laws and regulations to protect them.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I am very sympathetic to what noble Lords seek to do in their amendments. Without taking up too much of the Committee's time, I shall respond to some of the issues raised by the amendments. I hope that I can resolve some of them.
The aim of Amendment No. 128A is to define "safeguard" and "welfare" in Clauses 7 and 22. We have thought about the matter very carefully and believe that the amendment would limit the already widely understood meaning of those words. That 990 would therefore limit the activity of the agencies listed in Clause 7(1) and Clause 22(1) in relation to the duties under those provisions. It attempts to define what it means to "safeguard the welfare of children", which is not the phrase that we use. We talk about the need to have regard to the need "to safeguard and promote the welfare of children".
Members of the Committee will he very familiar with the term "to safeguard and promote the welfare of children" because it has been used already in the same context in the Children Act 1989. Under Section 17 of that Act, local authorities must "safeguard and promote the welfare of children" in need in their area. They are also under a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children whom they are looking after. Those who framed the Children Act did not consider it necessary to define that term or any of its constituent parts and neither do we at this stage.
As the noble Earl has indicated, the Joint Chief Inspectors' report Safeguarding Children, published in October 2002, already describes what safeguarding means in practice, which is identical to the one in the amendment. The meaning of "promoting welfare" is explained in the Government's Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families of 2000. I am not sure whether the noble Earl has a copy of the framework, but I will ensure that noble Lords who have spoken in this part of the debate see it. The framework explains that safeguarding children and promoting their welfare are two sides of the same coin. Promoting welfare has a more positive, action-centred approach centred on enabling children to have optimum life chances in adulthood, as well as ensuring that they grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care. In my view, that covers all the defining factors listed in Amendment No. 128A. Perhaps the noble Earl will be able to reflect on that.
The approaches to safeguarding children and promoting their welfare that I have just outlined are widely understood by agencies. We and the National Assembly for Wales will build on those approaches in the guidance that we make under Clauses 7 and 22 to set out the arrangements that agencies will need to put in place to safeguard children. On that basis, I strongly believe that trying to define "safeguard" or "welfare" might restrict the already widely understood meaning of those words. I hope that the noble Earl will reflect on the documentation to which I have referred, and that on that basis he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 120 and its Welsh equivalent, Amendment No. 204, are similarly unnecessary. As I have said, the phrase to "safeguard and promote the welfare of children" is based on the 1989 Act. It is essential for the Bill to reflect accurately the wording in previous legislation, because it has widespread currency, as noble Lords will recognise.
991 It seems clear to me that the concept of welfare—the noble Earl will be disappointed in me for saying this—clearly encompasses health. We are concerned that if we include health specifically—again we are into the difficulty of the list—that might cast doubt on what else might be included in or excluded from that definition. I take the strength of feeling of the noble Earl, and I will reflect on that, because it is important. Our understanding is that we have captured it. The noble Earl made some important points about some of the issues, not least smoking, that affect children and young people. I hope the noble Earl will be reassured by this, which I doubt, or will accept that I intend to look carefully at this.
I will address Amendments Nos. 119 and 124 and their Welsh equivalents, Amendments Nos. 203 and 204A. Taken together, these amendments would give agencies a duty to discharge their functions in a manner consistent with the objectives of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, irrespective of what their other functions might be, rather than the duty currently set out in Clauses 7 and 22 for agencies to have regard to the need to safeguard children and promote their welfare when exercising their normal functions.
I understand what noble Lords were trying to achieve; the difficulty is to make sure that we do not achieve something that we did not intend. We made clear in Every Child Matters: Next Steps that this duty was about them exercising their normal functions in a way that recognises and takes into account the safeguarding needs of children. For example, we know of a drug misuse team that includes a consultant midwife, so as to ensure that the needs of both the pregnant drug users and their babies are addressed in the most effective and efficient way. In this service, the assessment process for pregnant drug users ensures that any child protection issues are picked up and that a referral is made to social services. It also prioritises the pregnant woman for stabilisation and detoxification and makes her an appointment with the midwife. That is a good example of the kind of service developments that we want to see under Clauses 7 and 22, ensuring that services take into account the needs of children in carrying out their day-to-day business.
We recognise that, because agencies have different responsibilities, it is possible that an agency in exercising its duties could take action that could be regarded as contrary to promoting the welfare of a particular child. For example, police officers have to investigate and arrest people who might otherwise be loving parents because they have committed crimes. If found guilty by a court of law and given a prison sentence, the Prison Service would then have to imprison the parent, perhaps in a prison many miles away from his or her children. This might be inconsistent with safeguarding and promoting the welfare of a particular child, but would be consistent with the criminal justice system's duty to investigate, charge, try, sentence and punish those who commit crimes.
992 I understand what noble Lords are seeking to achieve. The difficulty is that that would be the effect of the amendment. I recognise that there are issues on which noble Lords feel there needs to be certainty about the way in which agencies perform these functions, but we think that in the Bill we have laid them out in the most effective way. I fear that Amendment No. 123 would have a similar effect, because none of the agencies, in discharging their functions, would be able to take a decision or course of action which was contrary to the safeguarding and promotion of the welfare of any children.
I have just explained the intention behind the existing Clause 7 duty: ensuring that services take account of the needs of children in the course of their day-to-day business. By contrast, as with Amendments Nos. 119 and 124, Amendment No. 123 would curtail significantly agencies' ability to fulfil their necessary primary functions. For example, Amendment No. 123 might constrain the ability of agencies to take decisions about funding or service provision based on particular local needs. It is important to reflect that we have got the right balance in the Bill in setting out what it is that we want agencies to achieve.
I will address Amendment No. 125 and its Welsh equivalent, Amendment No. 205. In Clause 7(1) and Clause 22(1) we are seeking to ensure, first, that agencies' functions are discharged with regard to the need to safeguard, and so on; and, secondly, that the services that they contract out to others are provided having regard to that need.
Amendments Nos. 125 and 205 would add to the second limb by providing that the agency has to ensure that the contracted-out function is carried out having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children,as it applies in the area served by the person or body".The effect would be to ensure that the agency's duty is discharged as long as it ensures that the contracted-out function is carried out with regard to the need to safeguard, and so forth. The agency does not become responsible for other activities of the contractor in other areas.
However, my view is that the amendments are unnecessary. The effect of Clauses 7(2) and 22(2), as drafted, would not be to apply that duty beyond the matters that had been contracted out. In other words, it would fit precisely with what the movers of the amendment are wishing to achieve on the basis of the way in which we have drafted it. I have no doubt that Members of the Committee will wish to reflect on what I have just said in terms of ensuring that that makes sense.
Perhaps I may refer to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, in her impassioned desire to know what the word "arrangements" means. I do not think that I shall make her entirely happy. Currently, we are trying to discuss with our partners and stakeholders to ensure that we put those arrangements in place. Therefore, one could simply ask, "Will it be about purchasing? Will it be about those other issues?". I could probably say, "Yes, it would".
993 I think that the noble Baroness was looking for the kind and strength of those arrangements. I know that officials are in discussion with the different agencies. Of course, the arrangements will vary, as the noble Baroness would expect. I suggest that I set out in detail in writing to the noble Baroness where we are with those deliberations, what our stakeholders are saying to us and where we think that they will vary. I hope that would enable the noble Baroness to look again at the wording of the clauses in the light of that more detailed information and will help her to determine what she might do next. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas
I find myself convinced by what the noble Baroness said about Amendment No. 119. But will the existing wording be strong enough in practice? Let us suppose that a planning application is made by a youth club that is opposed by local people. When that comes up in front of the planning sub-committee, how strong and effective are the words in the Bill? Would they really make a difference to the way such a proposal is considered? Should not the word, "particular" be inserted before the word, "regard", for it to he sufficiently strong to make a difference in those sorts of contentious circumstances?
I see how it will work in terms of the ordinary way in which local authorities structure their services to ensure that they are doing what they should in the general organisation that will be reported on by the Audit Commission. But how would the wording in the Bill apply in a particular circumstance that was contentious? I think that it could be disregarded just by saying, "Well, we have had regard to it, but, actually, it does not weigh". I think that a bit of strengthening would help in those circumstances.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
There are two kinds of strengthening. Perhaps I may take the example of a youth club, as given by the noble Lord. It might be that the planning application for the youth club is next door to an establishment that supports, for example, elderly people who would not be desperately keen on having a great many young people running around late at night. I am sure that the children would not be running around because they would be properly supervised, but I am sure that Members of the Committee get my drift.
In that situation, there would be considerations that the planning committee would need to take into account. If one said that the needs of the young people overrode every other consideration, we would be in some difficulties. However, I would expect that in looking at the provision for young people, the planning committee could take into account whether there were facilities for young people in the locality and how important that could be in terms of preventing them from going into pubs and being there half the night. It could look at what else could be provided and listen to the views of both the agencies that are running the youth club and those supporting 994 children. That should be part and parcel of what it does. In a sense, the planning committee should be looking for good reasons to support the planning application unless there were overriding reasons not to.
That is the basis of trying to put this in the right kind of framework. Of course, the guidance that goes alongside will be very important too. Because of the example that I have given—that it might be inappropriate to position the youth club in the place that has been suggested—one would not want always that to override other aspects of the work of, for example, a planning committee.
I recognise the strength of feeling on that. I shall check to ensure that we are comfortable that, within the combination of the Bill and the guidance, we have got that exactly right.
§ Baroness Byford
I thank the Minister for her response. However, I have to say that on this occasion I am not satisfied with it. The issue is too important to do anything physical about it at this time of night. By that I mean that I want to talk to the Minister about it rather than test the opinion of the House.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke to Amendment No. 119, which addresses a crucial issue. We have heard many different examples illustrating why we question the strength of the current wording in this clause. I shall not go over all that has been said. However, in her response, the noble Baroness said two things that alarmed me straightaway. The first was along the lines of, "We are still discussing what is to happen". It is good to hold discussions, but the Bill is in front of the Committee. Secondly, once those discussions have been completed, they are to come out as guidance. That makes me doubly unhappy. By now the noble Baroness will be aware that Hazel—the noble Baroness on this side of the Committee—would prefer to see this dealt with on the face of the Bill rather than in guidance.
I shall look carefully at what the Minister has said, and I am glad that she too is going to think further about the matter. Had this debate been held earlier in the day, I think that many more noble Lords would have contributed to it. It is hugely important not to allow things just to be considered and dismissed. We want to see consultation and then action taken.
This debate reminded me of the flagging system that we have discussed and to which we shall return. The system will be used to highlight problems that need to be addressed. The difficulty with that is that while it is all very well having a flag to highlight a problem, we really need a green flag to indicate that the problem has been dealt with because action was taken. I do not think the current wording is strong enough to deal with the question raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas in giving another example. We shall certainly return to the point.
995 Again, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on all the amendments in this group. Ultimately we are trying to achieve the same result. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was right to highlight the fact that we are dealing with some of the most vulnerable children in society. If we do not speak up for them and ensure that adequate protection is provided in the Bill, we run the risk of leaving them without someone who will stand up for them strongly enough. That is why this set of amendments is so important.
I am disappointed that the Minister could move no further at this stage, but I am satisfied with her assurance that she will look at the matter again. No doubt we shall return to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 119A:
Page 6, line 1, after first "to" insert—
§ The noble Lord said: I shall be brief. In moving Amendment No. 119A I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 122, 129, 164 and 168. Amendments Nos. 119A, 122 and 129 reflect my concerns about the impact of the provisions of Clauses 6 and 7 and the Bill in genera] on parental responsibility. On reflection, I think that probably there are no implications and I hope, in that case, that the noble Baroness will be able to reassure me. However, I want to put two questions to the Minister.
§ First, do either Clause 6 or Clause 7 increase in any way the powers of each individual authority in relation to those with parental responsibilities? Secondly, does the imperative for co-operation between the agencies mean that when they work together they could say, "Well, I can't do that, but you can do it for me", thereby in effect giving the group of agencies more power to interfere with, influence or affect existing parental rights and responsibilities? It is important for us to know whether that is the case. I do not necessarily say that that would be a bad thing, but it ought to be made absolutely clear.
§ Amendments Nos. 168 and 169 concern issues about bringing "family" on to the face of the Bill, and other family friendly matters. I believe these issues will also be raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, under Amendment No. 121. I shall say no more. I await the statement on this subject that the Government are to bring forward before the next stage of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Lord Lucas
I shall be brief. Having missed the earlier discussions today, I do not want to ask the noble Baroness to repeat anything or to risk prolonging matters without any function.
It is interesting to see how parents will be dealt with under this clause. We have had the famous contrasting cases of the 14 year-old girl who was allowed an abortion without her parents knowing and the mother who was sent to prison because her 14 year-old girl 996 would not go to school. My understanding is that the effect of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, would be to draw such matters back together.
I hope that that is something that might happen as a result of the kind of amendment that I have been contemplating and that it will become necessary for the agencies involved to take greater account of the fact that there are parties other than themselves and the child whose involvement should be considered. I do not take an absolute position on this. I do not particularly mind whether it happens in the way described in the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, or in mine. Indeed, one hopes that something even more effective will come from the Government.
As it stands, the Bill will tend to drive things even further apart. From the wording at the moment, it is quite clear that mothers should be sent to prison as often as possible because that is likely to improve the child's welfare because it will frighten him so much; and clearly parents should not be consulted about whether or not their child has a baby because it has nothing to do with the welfare of the child.
It is for that reason that I really want "family" in the Bill somewhere. If we are going to have it anywhere, this clause would be my favourite place in which to put it. I look forward to hearing what the Government have to say.
§ Earl Howe
These are tremendously important amendments and I support everything that has been said about them so far. If I were to single out one amendment from this group that is of pre-eminent importance it would be Amendment No. 129 which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. It seems to me that the wording he has chosen is spot on.
The flavour conveyed by the whole clause—I am sure unintentionally—is the flavour of intrusion into family life. The way to safeguard and promote the welfare of children is, more often than not, to assist parents in doing so and to take them willingly along with you as you provide that assistance. Only in rare circumstances should parents be left out of the loop—most notably when there are no parents whom one could include within the loop. Schools know this; the police know this; social services, it has to be said, sometimes forget this.
The job of those involved in children's social services is, above all, to provide support and assistance. There are a great many dedicated, highly professional social workers in our country who do a job which few of us would be capable of doing. But, every now and again, we hear of social workers who forget the main reason why they are there. It is with that kind of person in mind that I think there is a particular need for something like this to be on the face of the Bill at this point.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
As Members of the Committee have indicated, both sets of amendments return us to the child in the context of its family being seen as an individual. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that I was impressed by the press coverage that he got for this amendment, in which I got a mention. We intend to ensure that the guidance that goes alongside Clause 7 will say to agencies that they should always seek the views of children and their families before taking any action that affects the welfare of children. We agree that the principle that the child's family must be taken into account when decisions are being made about safeguarding that child is crucial. For the vast majority of children, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said several times today and I am sure will continue to say, allowing them to live with their family is the best way in which to promote the welfare of those children. That is a clearly established principle that should be a consideration for all agencies involved in safeguarding children and promoting their welfare. However, I do not believe that it needs to be specified in the legislation.
I have already made my commitments repeatedly today that we are considering the legislation. I hope that there will not be a vying between Clauses 6 and 7 for where best to approach the issue. I recognise and completely accept that it is important to put children in the context of that principle and to ensure that nothing that we do undermines the duty of agencies to consider that principle. To put the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, at rest, there are no powers in the Bill and no extension of powers that would affect what agencies can "do" to parents.
I hope that I can reassure the Committee that guidance will emphasise the importance of considering the role of parents, and the wider family as well. Members of the Committee have made the point during the passage of the Bill of thinking about children in that wider context. The importance of talking to children themselves needs to be stressed, too. However, placing the need to consider the responsibilities of parents on an equal footing with a duty to safeguard children, as Amendment No. 129 would do, runs a slight risk. I hope that Members of' the Committee will reflect on that matter carefully before considering what further to do. The amendment might send a conflicting message to agencies, which might in exceptional circumstances make children less safe.
A small example of such a risk is when agencies are providing services to parents, such as mental health or drug misuse services. A professional might find it difficult to take action in pursuit of a child's welfare if he felt he had a legal duty to respect the primacy of parental responsibility. That might leave children vulnerable and prevent professionals acting in the best interests of the child. We have shied off that kind of equality of duty around those issues, where we want the safeguarding of children to take precedence. If 998 Members of the Committee would reflect on that in the context of the amendment, as they consider what they might want to do further, I should be grateful.
Amendments Nos. 164 and 168 to Clauses 9 and 10 relate to the local safeguarding boards. There is provision under Clause 9(5) to allow for safeguarding boards to co-opt members to the board. We believe that it is right to leave the decisions as to whom may be co-opted on to the board to the individual local safeguarding children board in consultation with its partners, for all the reasons with which the Committee will he familiar about trying to ensure that the needs of the local community are addressed. Therefore, it would be possible for boards to co-opt representatives of parents, if they felt that was appropriate in those circumstances.
There may be better ways in which to ensure that parents' views are taken into account. It may sometimes be difficult for a parent to be heard on a board full of professionals considering these issues, and it may be better for the board or local authority to seek the views in other ways, through a local forum for parents. with their views being fed regularly into the board by the local authority. That might ensure greater representative views of the local area and not simply of the one or two parents who might sit on the boards.
Parents' views on the services delivered to their children and families are already taken into account in the good practice of service providers. The services provided for children and young people are often developed in consultation with parents in any event. Guidance will make it clear that the views of service users—children and young people and their parents, carers and families—should be taken into account in developing services.
As I have said, I hope that Members of the Committee will reflect on the impact of Amendment No. 129. I would be grateful for that. We believe that we have got the provision right and, with the proviso that we consider the Bill to ensure that we have factored in parents in the right way, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Northbourne
I am grateful to the Minister. I do not think that I buy into the example that she gave in relation to Amendment No. 129, but I suspect that the best thing to do is to withdraw the amendment now, wait to see what comes forward and maybe have some discussions later. I do not totally buy into the idea that professionals always know better than parents, nor do I buy into the idea that if parents are wrong and the professionals are right, the professionals should work not through parents rather than—
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I am sorry. I did not say under any circumstances that professionals know better than parents. I would never say that. That is not right. I was trying to give an example where a professional would wish perhaps to put the needs of the child above the paramount nature of the 999 relationship with the parent. It was possibly not a great example—I shall try to do better—but I would certainly never say what the noble Lord implied.
§ Lord Northbourne
I did not wish to take up the Minister in that way. I am sorry if I was ungracious. Although the Minister and I do not think that professionals know better than parents, professionals sometimes think that they do. That is perhaps what I was trying to say. I am more than willing to withdraw the amendment. I beg leave to do so.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 120 to 125 not moved.]
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at seven minutes past seven o'clock.