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Amendment made : No. 125, in page 52, line 25, leave out subsection (3).-- [Mr. Mellor.]
(4A) A child is not cared for and accommodated in a children's home when he is cared for and accommodated by
(a) a parent of his ;
(b) a person who is not a parent of his but who has parental responsibility for him ; or
(c) any relative of his.'.
Amendment made : No. 458, in page 53, line 1, leave out from home' to ; or' in line 2 and insert
provided, equipped and maintained by the Secretary of State'.-- [Mr. Mellor.]
Amendment No. 407 is intended to deal with the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and others that some local authorities
Column 491needed to take better account of the ethnic composition of their areas and make greater efforts to recruit day and foster carers from ethnic minority families. The amendment requires local authorities to have regard to the different racial groups of children in need in their areas when they are providing day care services or encouraging applications from potential foster parents. I hope that it will be a welcome amendment.
Mr. Mellor : The amendments are concerned with the definition of a children's home. Amendment No. 301 is part of the package of new measures to which I referred when moving the motion for the order of consideration, aimed at safeguarding the welfare of children in independent schools. The amendment extends the definition of a children's home to include all independent schools which provide accommodation for not more than 50 pupils and which are not approved for special education. The requirement has been removed that at least one of the children being accommodated must be looked after by a local authority. All such independent schools, in addition to being registered with the Department of Education and Science, will now have to register with the local authority within whose boundaries they lie. As regards independent schools, the definition of a children's home will mirror that of a residential care home.
Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West) : May I make it clear that the amendment, in a sense, technically "sorts out" clause 56, while the new clause that we shall be debating later spells out the implications for independent schools?
Mr. Mellor : The hon. Lady is quite right. The amendment deals with the special arrangements for very small schools with fewer than 50 pupils. As I have said, the Bill as originally drafted required one of the children to be looked after by a local authority if such a school was to be within the definition of a children's home. Now any such school, whether or not any single pupil is placed there by a local authority, will fall within that definition, and so will have to be registered with the local authority.
The arrangements made for independent schools more generally do not involve registration but involve certain inspection arrangements with which we shall deal later. The proposal is part of a package, so I thought it right to refer to it as a part of the careful reconsideration that we have been giving that section of the Bill, in the light of discussions in Committee and of certain matters that were the subject of television programmes and, I think, a good deal of public concern a couple of months ago.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made : No 127, in page 53, leave out from beginning of line 10 to end of line 30 and insert--
(7A) A child shall not be treated as cared for and accommodated in a children's home when--
(a) any person mentioned in subsection (4A)(a) or (b) is living at the home ; or
(b) the person caring for him is doing so in his personal capacity and not in the course of carrying out his duties in relation to the home.'.
No. 128, in page 53, line 40, at end insert--
Column 492(15) Schedule 6A shall have effect for the purpose of setting out the circumstances in which a person may foster more than three children without being treated as carrying on a children's home.'.-- [Mr. Mellor.]
(4A) Before deciding whether or not to grant an application a local authority shall comply with any prescribed requirements. (4B) Regulations made for the purposes of sub-paragraph (4A) may, in particular, make provision as to the inspection of the home in question.'.
Mr. Mellor : Amendment No. 202 provides that, in considering applications for registration of registered children's homes, regulations may require a local authority to comply with certain requirements, including carrying out an inspection of a home. Although it is unlikely that any authority would register a home without first inspecting it, the Bill as drafted did not require a pre-registration inspection. The amendment is properly tabled in that it provides power for a specific requirement to inspect to be included in regulations. I do not think that that will be a controversial matter.
Amendment No. 203 is a drafting amendment. Amendment No. 204 requires those running a registered home to supply information about facilities for persons to visit or otherwise to communicate with a child accommodated in a registered home. It mirrors the provisions in respect of voluntary homes already to be found in the Bill.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : I wonder whether I can take a couple of minutes of the Minister's time on this group of amendments. Without challenging your ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I say that you will be aware that on 30 June I tabled an amendment to this part of the Bill to seek an assurance from the Minister, and this seems the most appropriate group of amendments.
As I understand it, the amendments amend part VIII of the Bill dealing with the absence of state regulation of privately owned children's homes. It occurred to me and to those who have written to me, most notably Mr. John Harris of the department of applied social studies at Warwick university and Mr. Tom Hopkins of Coventry polytechnic, that, although this part of the Bill is not controversial and, in the words of the Minister, will be welcomed as it provides for pre-registration inspection by local authorities, its enactment will cause some concern. This part of the Bill, together with schedule 6, re-enacts certain amendments that the provisions of the Children's Homes Act 1982 had already raised but never implemented. My correspondence with academics in this field contains references to the Children Act 1975 raising similar questions. Because of the long process of enactment of certain sections it takes years for some of the changes to come about, if ever.
As I tried to discover with a couple of written questions earlier in the year, I want to know from the Minister the Government's intentions about the date of enactment. Although my hon. Friends and I have no detailed
Column 493objection to this part of the Bill, and although we may not vote for the Bill itself, it is no good without a fairly specific date for these measures to be introduced.
In an amendment which was not in order and to which I shall not refer at length, I suggested that six months was a reasonable time. Within the ambit of this group of amendments, will the Minister give an assurance to the House, and through me to my constituents, that the beneficial aspects of part VIII will be introduced by a certain date--for example, some time next year--so that local authorities will know when they are to have that extra power and plan how to regulate that sector?
Finally, the Registered Homes Act 1984 contained parallel provisions dealing with adults rather than children. In parts of my city, that seemed to lead to an explosion of privately-owned homes. In 1988, in certain British social work journals, an advertisement appeared stating :
"Exceptional opportunity in the private sector. Are you a qualified professional with a comprehensive knowledge in all aspects of community home with education? Are you ambitious, self-motivated and willing to contemplate a new challenge at executive level with optional equity/investment?
If the answers are yes, kindly contact us. We are an enterprising new CHE Company focusing our endeavours to combine the ultimate child care service with professional business methods."
I am all in favour of local authorities having powers to inspect and regulate children's homes. I am a little bit worried about the parallels between this Bill and the 1984 Act. When this part of the measure is brought into operation, does the Minister hope for an explosion of privately run children's homes along the lines of the advertisements that appeared in various British social work journals last year?
What will be the date for implementation of those parts of the Bill that we welcome, and will the Minister confirm or deny that this part of the Bill could be used to open more privately run children's homes--which would be less welcome to us?
Mr. Mellor : It is some years since I was able to give the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) any parliamentary satisfaction. I am glad to be able to make my debut in that respect now by telling him that he is right
Mr. Speaker : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. I am afraid I did not see the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) rise. It might be convenient for the Minister to answer all questions together, as this is not a Committee stage.
I seek some information from the Minister about the operation of the proposed regulations. I have served on a local authority social services committee and have dealt with quarterly and annual reviews of local authority facilities. As a member of that committee, I have found it difficult to carry out an assessment to the best of my abilities because very little information was provided about the ethos of a children's home-- about contact with outside organisations, the number of children in a home at any time, and the types of learning difficulties in the home.
Column 494Is it intended that these regulations will require visits by local government officers from the department of social services, or is it intended that inspections should be incorporated with the current annual inspections that social services departments make on their own homes?
Will the Bill insist that local education authorities and social services departments be involved in developing welfare programmes in the homes? I ask that question, because I am interested in children with learning difficulties. Many children in homes have severe learning difficulties or severe physical handicaps so it is important that the ethos of a home should take account of them and, when trying to regulate the conduct of a home, it is important that the education department in each local authority gets involved and takes responsibility for developing the standards that apply to activities inside and outside the home.
Does the Minister believe that it is important to develop standards in the care provided in a children's home and in the programme for activities in the community? Many children in long-stay homes, whether run by the local authority or the private sector, require a home life, balanced by all the other activities that take place in the wider community.
Does the Minister intend to consider the ethos of a children's home and the activities that it develops in the wider community for the children in it?
For once, I am trying to be helpful to the Minister. I know that, when he comes to the Select Committee on Social Services, things can get aggressive on occasions. I shall raise some practical issues with him and attempt to tease out his attitude towards the specific problems of regulation of children's homes. Can he put more flesh on the bones, and tell the House how he envisages the role of the regulatory organisation in the development of a care policy in children's homes, and co-ordinating, with the voluntary sector and the education departments in each local authority?
Mr. Mellor : I shall continue my efforts to be helpful to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) and then, as an encore, I shall try to be helpful to the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney).
I was saying to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East that he was right to say that these provisions in the Bill replace the Children's Homes Act 1982. We intend to implement all the Bill, when it becomes an Act, in accordance with a strict timetable which we intend should lead to all provisions in the Bill being implemented by the autumn of 1991 at the latest. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Bill is long and complex. However, we do not intend to leave any of its provisions lying around for years on end.
One of the purposes of the Bill has been to look through the whole corpus of children's law and to work out which parts of it we need in future, and which parts we do not need. The House would expect me to say that, having taken the trouble to put existing law into the Bill, we see it as having a role to play. We have no interest, therefore, in delaying its implementation. I hope that those comments are helpful to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East.
I stress that one of the Bill's purposes is to regulate--often for the first time--aspects of the running of private children's homes. It is unlikely, therefore, to lead to an explosion in the number of such homes. The hon.
Column 495Gentleman is concerned about undesirable developments, but the impact of regulation may be to control such developments, as is intended. From the debate on community care the other day, the hon. Gentleman knows that our intention is for community care to develop in a way that allows the best possible options to be pursued, whether those options come from the Health Service, local authorities, voluntary organisations or the private sector. In relation to children, any such application has to be examined in accordance with the strictest body of law and this body of law is far stricter than any that has gone before.
It is not part of our policy to see an explosion in the number of private children's homes. We know that the trend is moving away from children's homes of any kind towards fostering and adoption. One of my regular duties is to sign documents that, in effect, remove children's homes. If that means that many kids who would formerly have been brought up in institutions are being brought up in real homes, that is good and that is the direction in which we all seek to go.
I point out to the hon. Member for Makerfield that, as I said in Committee, it will be a major task under the Bill to draw up regulations. The aim of the regulations is to offer more guidance in a slightly less structured way than is possible in primary legislation and to try to ensure that that guidance is kept up to date and can be changed more readily. We intend to consult widely on the regulations and we shall welcome contributions from those who have experience in this area. In that light, I shall look at the hon. Gentleman's contribution. If he wants to write in more detail on those matters, I assure him that his comments will be taken into active consideration.
Mr. McCartney : I will take up the opportunity to make a contribution in writing about the regulations. If the regulations are to operate effectively, it is vital that there are clear contributions from local authority associations in particular and that there is an attempt by the Department of Health to work with them to produce workable regulations which will protect children's development in homes.
Mr. Mellor : The extent to which we have had open and sustained discussions on the Bill has been encouraging, and I am not the only person who thinks so. We intend to continue that process when we exercise our regulation-making powers. Obviously all the regulations will be brought before Parliament, if any hon. Member feels continuing concern on the matter.
It is not simply a question of the law being amended to ensure that the Bill is implemented. I received a letter this morning from the director of social services in my area who states that there are now difficulties in securing space in court timetables. I believe that he speaks for the vast majority of the directors of social services when he states that he is less than clear about how increased court capacity can be created to ensure that the intentions in the Bill are carried out. That point may not be particularly relevant to this clause. However, as we proceed through
Column 496the final stages of the Bill, I should be obliged if the Minister would comment on that anxiety expressed by my director of social services.
I hope that at some point during the final stages of this Bill, we can discuss in some detail the other anxiety voiced by directors of social services, which is their belief that if the Bill is implemented in accordance with the Government's intentions and timetable, local authorities will require at least nine or 10 times the Government's estimate of the cost of the legislation.
Mr. Mellor : The hon. Gentleman's latter point will have to be discussed, in the usual way, with the local authority associations. The hon. Gentleman's first point is important. One of the key aims of the Bill is to ensure that a readily understood and easily manageable body of law can lead to cases being put before the courts within as short a time scale as possible. Some very challenging timetables are set deliberately in the Bill and the power is taken for rules of court to put further flesh on those bones.
My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who expects to participate in a later debate about the family courts, will want to take the opportunity to comment on some of the novel features of the Bill including, for the first time, the ability to move cases from one part of the jurisdiction to another. I know that my hon. and learned Friend will have heard the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and he will want to dilate further on it, as may the hon. Member for Wentworth. This is an important matter.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made : No. 203, in page 114, line 44, leave out above'.
No. 204, in page 117, line 29, at end insert--
(dd) require the furnishing to the responsible authority of information as to the facilities provided for--
(i) the parents of children in such homes ;
(ii) persons who are not parents of such children but who have parental responsibility for them ; and
(iii) other persons connected with such children,
to visit and communicate with the children.'.
No. 372, in page 117, line 38, leave out
require the approval of the Secretary of State for the provision' and insert prohibit the'.
No 373, in page 117, line 40, leave out from homes' to end of line 43.
No. 205, in page 117, line 45, after on' insert or in charge of'.
No. 206, in page 117, line 46, at end insert--
(k) make provision similar to that made by regulations under section 23.'.- - [Mr. Mellor.]
1. For the purposes of this Schedule, a person fosters a child if--
(a) he is a local authority foster parent in relation to the child ;
(b) he is a foster parent with whom the child has been placed by a voluntary organisation ; or
(c) he fosters the child privately.
Column 497The usual fostering limit
2. Subject to what follows, a person may not foster more than three children ("the usual fostering limit").
3. A person may exceed the usual fostering limit if the children concerned are all siblings with respect to each other.
Exemption by local authority
4.--(1) A person may exceed the usual fostering limit if he is exempted from it by the local authority within whose area he lives. (2) In considering whether to exempt a person, a local authority shall have regard, in particular, to--
(a) the number of children whom the person proposes to foster ; (
(b) the arrangements which the person proposes for the care and accommodation of the fostered children ;
(c) the intended and likely relationship between the person and the fostered children ;
(d) the period of time for which he proposes to foster the children ; and
(e) whether the welfare of the fostered children (and of any other children who are or will be living in the accommodation) will be safeguarded and promoted.
(3) Where a local authority exempt a person, they shall inform him by notice in writing--
(a) that he is so exempted;
(b) of the children, described by name, whom he may foster; and (
(c) of any condition to which the exemption is subject. (4) A local authority may at any time by notice in writing (
(a) vary or cancel an exemption ; or
(b) impose, vary or cancel a condition to which the exemption is subject,
and, in considering whether to do so, they shall have regard in particular to the considerations mentioned in sub-paragraph (2). (5) The Secretary of State may make regulations amplifying or modifying the provisions of this paragraph in order to provide for cases where children need to be placed with foster parents as a matter of urgency.
Effect of exceeding fostering limit
5.--(1) A person shall cease to be treated as fostering and shall be treated as carrying on a children's home if--