Previous Section Home Page

Column 855

member of the authority by reason of retirement if he has been re-elected a member thereof not later than the day of his retirement.

(8) Paragraphs 2, 8, 9 and 10 of Schedule 10 to this Act shall, subject to any necessary modifications, apply in relation to an education committee and to the standing reference of functions to that committee under subsection (1) above as they apply in relation to the discharge of functions by arrangements made in accordance with that Schedule.".'.

Amendment No. 34, in schedule l3, page 193, leave out line 39. Amendment No. 35, in page 205, leave out lines 9 to 15. Amendment No. 37, in page 205, leave out lines 19 to 22. Amendment No. 38, in page 205, leave out lines 27 to 46. Amendment No. 45, in page 230, leave out lines 13 and 14. Amendment No. 46, in page 230, leave out lines 26 to 32. Amendment No. 47, in page 231, leave out lines 30 to 34. Amendment No. 39, in schedule 14, page 246, line 15, leave out Sections 2 and 3.'

Amendment No. 40, in page 250, line 4, leave out definitions of "education committee"' and insert definition of'.

Amendment No. 41, in page 252, leave out lines 9 to 16.

Mr. McLeish : This is an important set of new clauses and amendments. In Committee, we had considerable debate on what we regard again as common-sense proposals merely to retain the status quo with regard to the statutory provision of directors of social work and education and their appropriate committees. It is inconceivable that the Government are still resisting both of those ideas. We are not sure why they are resisting them. Despite the nature of the issue, the Government are not concerned about the quality of services. They seem to be willing literally to tear apart the statutory framework within which education and social work will operate with the new single-tier councils. Obviously, we are concerned about that. We have two main questions for the Government. First, why are they doing that ? Secondly, are they aware of the consequences of such changes ?

Once again, we are being asked to justify the status quo when the Government have put forward no case whatever to justify tearing up the statutory provision. Even in this confrontational Chamber, we are always hopeful that when the Minister rises he will simply accept the wisdom of what we are saying. However, I fear that that will not be the case this evening.

It is important for the Minister to appreciate that Scots are proud of their education services and education achievements, and their social services and social achievements. I venture to suggest that in many respects we lead Europe in both services, and in almost all respects we lead the rest of Britain. That suggestion is not designed to embarrass or insult colleagues south of the border or in Wales. When we have a system which is doing well, but is in need of investment, the last thing to do is simply to tear up the statutory provision, walk away from it and suggest that 32 councils can provide the same quality of services in a new form. It is also important to note that we are not

Column 856

dealing with small residual services tacked on to local authorities. For example, education takes 50 per cent. of local authority budgets. We are talking about a multi-million pound budget. However, the Government want to remove the statutory provision of directors of education and education committees. It is completely mad. We are used to that characteristic being exhibited by the Government. But how on earth can they justify it ?

Social services are another part of local government which spends hundreds of millions of pounds each year in dealing with a vital range of services. In addition, we are talking about statutory provision with regard to a wider spectrum of public policy issues and public interest. We are talking about education and training--training our work force and educating our society for the next century. That is absolutely crucial. Would any other country regard that as a residual matter and be willing to cast off such statutory provisions ?

In social services, we are dealing with some of the most important issues in the community, including some life-threatening issues in terms of child care. Of course, we are seeking to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. How on earth can the Government resist the temptation to support our new clauses ? New clause 10 deals with social work, but my arguments refer to both social work and education. The Government's case is simply put.

In Committee, the Government said that statutory provision should be removed because the councils needed flexibility and discretion. What on earth does that mean ? It is absolute gobbledegook.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : It is about choice

Mr. McLeish : I have an idea for the Minister. Why not accept the wisdom that education and social services are vital ? Let us give some choice to local authorities to do within a statutory framework what they think is right within their local communities. Is he against that type of choice ? Of course he is, because the Government's thinking has nothing to do with flexibility and discretion.

The Government have also argued that the statutory provision could be removed because most of the functions provided by education and social services have a statutory basis anyway. They claim that each of the elements for which those services are responsible, such as child care, education and school transport, have a statutory basis. We submit that the Government's argument is not a sensible excuse or reason for change. If one has a disparate set of functions, covered by different statutes, it is essential to accommodate the directors of both services and the appropriate committees within statutory provision.

The other reason for the Government's embrace of this daft idea is to ensure that the management madness that permeates every health board and every trust is incorporated in local government. The Government argued in Committee that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, COSLA, submitted the daft change. I can inform the House that, in a letter of 9 May sent to the Association of Directors of Social Work, Mr. Roy MacIver of COSLA stated :

"I recognise that as a result of that letter"

a previous letter sent to the Committee

"there is now the danger that the Convention's position will be misunderstood in the opposite direction, and I am therefore writing to confirm that while the Convention is not in a position

Column 857

to argue for retention of the statutory requirement, its position is not one of support for the removal of that requirement." When the Minister replies, I hope that he will

Mr. Stewart : I know about that letter.

Mr. McLeish : I am not concerned about that. I am only concerned that the Minister does not distort this important debate by spoon-feeding us remarks from COSLA which were based on a management inquiry into local government many months ago.

The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives has also boosted the Government's case. I can imagine that if 30 new authorities are to be created, some chief executives, some general managers and some lawyers and solicitors may want to feather their own nests by suggesting that directors of education are unnecessary. They may argue that they can do the job from a legal perspective, but, once again, that is just mischievous nonsense. The Government should ignore such advice.

We can reveal the real agenda behind the proposed change. It has nothing to do with management effectiveness, flexibility or the fact that some elements of the services have a statutory basis in any event. It is all to do with the Government's obsession with marketplace public policy. Directors of education and education committees exercise power within authorities, so it is easy to see why the Government want to sweep those obstacles away. It will be much easier for the Government to introduce a marketplace policy if those obstacles are removed. That is part of the reasoning behind the Government's dangerous and divisive proposals.

If one removes the statutory framework, where does that lead to ? Child care services will be transferred to the marketplace. Will child abuse cases be subject to market testing ? [Laughter.] The Minister may laugh, but this is the Government who want to privatise the Royal Mail. If they are daft enough to want to do that, a decision to transfer child care services, a sensitive issue, to the marketplace would be second nature to the kind of Scottish Office Ministers who operate every day in Scotland.

We do not need any lectures or laughter from the Minister, because we are raising a serious issue. The Government's proposals are all to do with the marketplace and market testing. They have little to do with the quality of services that we currently enjoy in Scotland. Surely it is crucial that decisions governing social work are accountable to the community through a committee. If no such committee exists, how can those services be accountable ? That seems elementary and I do not understand why the Government cannot grasp that. What about the courts and the children's panels ? Who will be responsible for dealing with the children's hearing system ? Who will be responsible when local authorities must exercise parental rights over children ? Do we leave it to one of the corporate services lawyers, lurking about in the corridor, instead of a director of social work, who may know something about it ? Do we leave it to some fag- end committee, which is responsible for social work, housing and everything else ? Of course not. That is the kind of madness that will follow, however, if we allow the Government's proposals to go through.

What about people with special needs ? As a result of the Bill, many small councils will be created. There might be a temptation in certain Conservative councils not to provide the right amount of investment for special needs, because those councils might want to spend the money on

Column 858

something more attractive. If the statutory framework governing the work of directors of social services and education and the relevant committees is removed, as well as the ring fencing that applies to much of the budget for those services, what then for special needs ? Will it remain a key concern in the community ?

6.15 pm

The Government have done some pioneering work on mental health problems, offenders and drug use. I am aware of some committees which, if they were not working within a statutory framework, might consider that the development of such work was less of a priority than other work. In some communities, the provision of homes for the homeless, rehabilitation units for drug users and help for people with mental health problems may not be very popular. If the Government remove the statutory provision governing such services, they will immediately put at risk the good work that has been done by the Scottish Office and the excellent work of local authorities that have given priority to such vulnerable groups. Why on earth do the Government want to put at risk those groups by de-prioritising them through the removal of the relevant statutory framework ? Demographic changes reveal that in the years ahead the number of older people in the community will increase. Will they be left to the dictates of the marketplace ? Is it right that the Government should abolish the post of director of social work and the relevant committees, given the responsibilities, skills and dedication that they have displayed over many years ? A director of social work knows about the problems faced by the elderly. Is it the Government's wish simply to abandon older people to any committee and any director who is willing to assume responsibility for them ?

The creation of inspection teams was a Government innovation. Why will no proper safeguards be provided to ensure that the relevant committees and directors remain in post, especially given their knowledge and responsibilities ?

If the Government's proposals are accepted, there will be four consequences. First, any remaining accountability will be poor or non- existent. Secondly, we will witness an inevitable drive towards lower standards in this vital area of public provision. Thirdly, vulnerable people will be placed at much greater risk. Finally, we will see the disintegration of many services. The absence of coherent, committed leadership, either from committees or directors, will have a devastating effect on the good work that has been done. Since 1968, Scotland has offered social work services and complementary services in education. Those services must continue to be offered and must receive investment. We do not need to play at party politics with the lives and jobs of many people in the community who provide vital services.

I ask the Government to think seriously about what they are doing. For the life of me, I cannot see the politics of this. I know that on many occasions the Government have demonstrated that they are greatly in favour of the market and I can see the politics of that. I simply cannot see the politics behind the Government's wish to abandon and sacrifice social work and education services that have built up over the years. Their decision is based on no consensus or support.

Column 859

The Minister is always willing to joust in debate, so perhaps I can give him the real reason for the Government's kamikaze policy. The Minister has not said a word, but I think that he will be amused by the following. In the House, the Minister has referred to a councillor, Mr. Ian Hutchison. I can reveal to the House--I know that the Minister will not--that, because Ian Hutchison dared to criticise the Minister and the Conservative party, his Tory-controlled district council has removed him from the delegation to COSLA. Is not that symptomatic of the fact that the Conservative party, which criticises eastern European republics, operates a campaign of fear and witch-hunts for its members ?

I want to finish on a charitable note. [Interruption.] Well, I am a charitable man. I should like the Minister to respond positively, after the debate, to those services. Let us keep the statutory provision. Let us not put at risk the most vulnerable members of Scotland's communities.

Mr. Connarty : I was going to intervene in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), but I shall remark that perhaps it is justice that Colonel Saunders, the former leader of the Conservatives on Central regional council, and Mrs. McNicol, the member for Bridge of Allan, stood against the Government's proposals for local government, thereby assisting the Labour party to rid Stirling conurbation of the Conservative representation in King's Park and Bridge of Allan. There is justice in democracy after all. I shall speak about services. I concur with everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central about the structures and the Government's lack of intelligence in trying to set up systems for social work and education under the new systems of local government without statutory committees or statutory directors.

I add a remark or two on the issue of a children's Act, because the potential role of social work and the role that social workers and the mediation services perform is made much more difficult by the lack of a children's Act in Scotland. The potential role of a social work department and the mediation services is to reduce misery to children caused, for example, by marital break-up. The services labour under a great difficulty as a result of the Scottish system. In spite of the work of Relate and mediation services, divorce in Scotland is still a battlefield and children are the main casualties. The definition of "custody" in Scots law, which we hope will be changed by a children's Act, is :

"the possession of the child"

-- as though the child were a motor car or the Elvis Presley records that are divided up during the marital break-up.

I commend the work of Children's Act (Scotland), a group of parents of all genders outwith the House with whom I went to meet the Minister of State, Scottish Office, who is in another place. Sadly, we do not have an elected representative responsible for many of the things that would relate to the Children's Act (Scotland) in this place. We have a subsidiary Member here because a non-elected Member is appointed in the Lords to look after that service.

We went, on 6 May 1994, to present the Minister of State with a birthday cake to commemorate the second anniversary of the publication of the consultation document on the Children's Act. There has been no visible progress on that consultation since. I hear that the Government blame some of the people who are being consulted, but there seems to me a lack of credibility.

Column 860

I also commend the work of the Scottish all- party group on children, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). Until we pass a children's Act, the social work departments in Scotland will be forced to act as the ball-bearings in the machine of society without any ability to become the drivers of the machine --a machine that, sadly, at least in marital break-up in Scotland, grinds up the children when it should give them rights, and those rights should protect them.

I am seriously disappointed with the Government's failure to respond to the anxieties of groups such as Enable and Children in Scotland. They were worried, during the passage of the Bill, about its results for children with special educational needs and other needs, and remain just as worried now in spite of all the discussions and correspondence.

Opposition Members tried to help the Government during the passage of the Bill by proposing an amendment, which I paraphrase. It says that if, as a consequence of the break-up of any local authority boundary, school education for children with special educational needs belonging to the area of one education authority be provided at schools or educational establishments under the management of another educational authority, the education authority in which the child lives shall have a duty to make arrangements with the provider authority to ensure an adequate and efficient education for the child or young person with special educational needs. We emphasised the fact that that would include an appropriate level of psychological services support and, in the case of a child or young person with a record of needs, the services specified therein.

That was a helpful amendment and the debate in Committee at the time was one of the most measured and reasonable. People were trying to tackle a real problem which they understood was critical to the individual child and the parents of that child. I, for my part, have witnessed the process many times. I was a teacher of children with learning difficulties for 15 years. The time comes when the child and the parent--especially the parent-- realise that the child is not as gifted as other children, cannot cope in a mainstream school and can often, if the treatment is wrong, end up stigmatised and deprived of a proper and full life in the future. The passage through that barrier is a trauma which I, thank goodness, have never had to experience personally. I know that, for the parents who have had to go through it, it is the most traumatic experience that any of us could have.

If one then enters the morass of a lack of provision--the morass of wondering where that provision will come from, who will provide it, whether we have statutory rights, by what mechanism we obtain those statutory rights and whether we have to end up in the courts or appeal to a higher authority--it becomes a nightmare. We tried to emphasise, by our amendment, that we should make a specific reference in the Bill--a final declaration-- to who will be responsible, with no equivocation.

The Minister's reply can be found in the report of the Standing Committee. He was saying at that time that the Government had made great advances and they were issuing guidance for consultation at this moment

"on the issue of provision throughout Scotland, including the recording arrangements."

I have read the document. It is entirely about recording arrangements. It is not about provision. It has nothing to

Column 861

say about provision. Yet the whole debate was centred on the issue of who will provide and who will have the responsibility to provide. The Minister went on to say :

"Similarly, section 62(3) of the 1980 Act lays a specific duty on an education authority to make provision for special educational needs of recorded children, and recorded young persons, in its area."

I repeat that quote--"in its area." The problem is that many of the provisions will not lie in the person's area any longer, but will lie outwith the area because the Government have decided to break up local authorities into such small units that the provision will not be made in those areas.

The Minister went on to say :

"Clause 32 will enable new arrangements for cross-border provision of education to be made, and old arrangements to continue." I think that the Minister accepted that I was not satisfied with that, and that it would give no automatic safeguards, because he went on to say that it was all right because the children would continue to live in the area in which they were currently located. He says clearly :

"Special schools making provision for children and young persons with special educational needs are not being relocated. Children with such needs will be living in the same location."--[ Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee , 10 March 1994 ; c. 1056-7] The problem is that the children will not be in the same local authority any longer. In many more cases--an enlarged number, if not the majority, of cases--the provision will lie outwith the area in which the child lives. It is an inherent contradiction in the Bill, and it is not resolved by anything that the Government have done or anything that they have written to me since, or anything that has been said to me in discussions with members of the Scottish Office staff since.

I mentioned the problem of making one authority raise taxation to provide an infrastructure for another authority. There is a second problem of making a local authority open the doors of provision, and possibly extend those provisions to people who do not lie in its catchment area. From my experience, I can guarantee that there is a growing need, especially at secondary level, for special educational provision for children as we realise the type of provision that is required by many more pupils.

I shall cite one example in central Scotland, which I know best. Clackmannan, the smallest authority with 47,000 inhabitants, will not have a single provision for secondary education for children with mild, profound or severe learning difficulties, as those provisions all lie in the Falkirk area.

I taught in a school for children with mild learning difficulties, and attached to it, in other locations, were schools for children with profound and severe learning difficulties. That provision will have to be bought across the border. Does the Minister think that it will be easy to persuade the Falkirk unitary authority to provide that service, particularly given the pressure that will fall on all local authorities for resources when the cost of the reorganisation must be borne and services must be cut left, right and centre ? I do not believe that it will.

What the Government have been saying smells of complacency. Although local authorities have been co-operating, they have had the critical mass to do so. They have had an extended psychological service--an extended provision for mildly, severely and profoundly handicapped children ; and they have had a network that allows them to

Column 862

co-operate. Once authorities are broken up, the critical mass of provision will also be broken up. Authorities will be much reduced, whether provision is in Stirling, with its centre for children with cerebral palsy, or in Falkirk, with the facilities that I have just mentioned. Once the psychological services have been broken up, local authorities will be strained and stretched and are unlikely to co- operate in providing facilities to people across the borders. 6.30 pm

I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central was correct to say that the Government, driven by an ideology, want the children of Clackmannan to be driven on to the market. I do not believe that the Under- Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas -Hamilton), is involved in that conspiracy as he is a man of integrity. The Government are not considering the long term. In a generation from now, will children from Stirling simply cross the border to Falkirk ? If they have to hunt round the markets of Scotland for the provision that they need, the Government will be damned for what they are doing.

My main worry is that the arbiter will be the Secretary of State. Under clause 17, if a local authority does not provide and is in default, a parent can appeal to the Secretary of State. Every case in which a parent must appeal for provision to the Secretary of State becomes a cause celebre in the media. It denigrates and degrades the process of special educational provision, as it is seen as a war on behalf of the child between the Government Department and the local authority. The media love it, and the Government love to see a local authority being taken to task and the Secretary of State arbitrating. If the Government want a media circus in thousands of cases, it is a damnable disgrace and they should be ashamed.

If the Government have a will to solve the problem, they should reconsider it and come back with a clear statutory duty that no one can avoid. But they should remember to put their resources where they are putting their so -called statutory duties.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West) : I wish to support the amendments, especially new clauses 10 and 11 on the statutory need for social work committees and a director of social work. I pay tribute to the work carried out by social work committees, social work staff and all council committees. All too often, they are criticised rather than praised. I admit that I have a vested interest because back in the 1970s I was a social worker. I expect to hear a collective groan at that. The qualities and skills of social work committees and staff are undervalued, particularly by the Government's proposal.

Nearly 20 years after the last local government reorganisation, which was decided after an independent commission, some people are still not sure which council department to go to. Social work, however, is an exception ; people know that if they need personal help or help for their family they go to the social work department. The removal of the statutory right to have a social work director and committee could disrupt accessibility for the public.

One of the main reasons for opposing the Bill is the disruption that it will cause to community care, in which social work committees and directors play a vital part. The Government had the sense to recognise, when they passed

Column 863

the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, that they should allow three years for the structures to be set up, so the Act did not come into effect until 1993. The process of co- ordination and consultation is still going on. In many ways, it is still in its early stages, but it will all be disrupted by the Bill, and especially by the removal of statutory rights. Moreover, the smaller councils being created may be unable to continue the work and structures that have been set up.

On the impact that the removal of the social work director and committees will have on voluntary organisations, I will quote from three of such organisations. The chairman of the Glenrothes branch of Age Concern Scotland said :

"As a voluntary organisation engaged in the provision of Day Care and ancillary services to physically frail and disadvantaged elderly people of the community, we observe with the utmost concern that the above Bill proposes to abolish the statutory requirement for the new Councils to have a Social Work Committee and a Director of Social Work who is professionally qualified".

The Epilepsy Association of Scotland said the same, and added : "We have a further concern that the sensitive and fruitful partnerships which exist between statutory Social Work Departments and voluntary agencies like our own would be endangered, to the detriment of vulnerable people in need of services."

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations said :

"There may be a loss of commitment to some of the less popular clients of social work services, such as ex-offenders, drug users and people with mental health problems."

I stress the impact that that could have on the most important people--the users of those services, particularly carers. Tens of thousands of people look after a loved one at home but rely on the accessibility of social work services in order to carry out that care.

Why are the Government so intent on removing that statutory right ? It is, in effect, a denial by the state of the responsibility that we all share for every section of our community. In Committee the Minister talked of the "freedom to choose", which shows that the Government are bent on privatising social work services. They may be planning to create social work trusts, as we now have NHS trusts, or to merge social work and health board provision, as they have in Northern Ireland. From my contacts with people in Northern Ireland, I know that that has not been successful.

I urge the Government to prove me wrong and to show their support for the continuation of community care and social work services by agreeing to the amendments, particularly new clauses 10 and 11.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I wish to support new clause 10, which was moved by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). The members of my party had a very genuine debate about the merits of leaving to the discretion of local authorities whether there should be a director of social work and a social work committee. For a party which believes very much in decentralised decision-making, this is a very legitimate debate. We would have been much more convinced about the spirit in which the proposal is put forward if it had come from any source other than a Government who have sought to destroy so many of the other powers of local democracy.

Column 864

There was a very strong countervailing argument, however, that with regard to the powers and responsibilities of social work, as set down in statute, serious professional direction must be provided. Subsection (2) of new clause 10 sets out a huge range of functions, the performance of which is the responsibility of social work departments. The details are very clear, as is the fact that these are people-centred responsibilities, often concerning vulnerable individuals. Clearly, the discharge of the functions is sometimes not without controversy--a point which, on the basis of constituency experience, I must accept. For that reason, responsibilities need to be discharged by someone who can be an adviser as well as a manager. In such circumstances, management is not a question just of looking at efficiency and functions in an abstract way. We are dealing here with people, and many of the functions interact. This is why we have concluded that there ought to be a chief officer with professional qualifications.

The Secretary of State said in a letter to me that he would be issuing guidance under section 5(1) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 with regard to the staffing arrangements that local authorities should make. The right hon. Gentleman said :

"This will include guidance on the need to ensure professional oversight of social work services at the appropriate level in the organisation."

I envisage the need for officers with that professional expertise in addition to senior managerial posts. This would not necessarily produce efficiency if it amounted simply to duplication of posts. Inevitably, these services must be people-centred rather than profit-centred or efficiency- centred. The latter would take away any sense of how responsibilities impinge on people. If there is to be a manager, he or she ought to have the proper qualifications and sensitivities.

In a parallel case, it was proposed that we should do without directors of education. One of my party's councillors--a regional councillor with long experience of education committees--said in a letter to me :

"A manager would probably ensure that the right number of desks and chairs went into a school and that teachers' allocations were numerically correct, but the innovative curriculum would be stifled."

There is a parallel fear in respect of social work--that, while one might get some of the numbers right, one would not necessarily get right the policies and their operation as they affect people. I should like to refer briefly to new clauses 18 and 19. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) probably hopes to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, with a view to commenting on these provisions. While I do not want to steal the hon. Gentleman's thunder, I must echo something that has been said many times during the debate--the time is long overdue for putting on the statute book many of the proposals contained in the White Paper on children published as long ago as last August. That White Paper brought together many proposals which emanated from a number of earlier studies and inquiries, such as the inquiry conducted by Lord Clyde in my constituency following the removal of nine children in February 1991. The White Paper was given a wide welcome in the House. No doubt we shall debate some of its detail in due course, and differences will undoubtedly emerge.

We should all like to see the adoption of the principles of a child-centred White Paper which stresses the

Column 865

importance of the views of the child. It is a matter not just of regret but of shame that legislative time has not been found for this purpose. In terms of provision for Scotland, Parliament would have done a greater service to the people, particularly the young people, by producing legislation on children rather than a Bill to reform local government.

New clause 18 sensibly provides for the continuation of services that will become cross-boundary when the new boundaries come into operation. With regard to children in receipt of these services--for example, those in residential establishments and those benefiting from specialised educational facilities--we cannot rest on the basis of permissive provision. If those services were discontinued, the young people would be the sufferers.

New clause 19 contains a requirement that was proposed in the White Paper-- that local authorities should publish plans in relation to child care services. This emphasises the importance of an interdisciplinary approach, and it is long overdue. The new clause and the debate on it give us an opportunity to make a small contribution to putting on the statute book one of the many important proposals contained in the White Paper. Of course, that is no substitute for the substantive Bill which I hope we shall be told is to come along in the next Session.

6.45 pm

Dr. Godman : I want to speak in support of new clauses 18 and 19, which appear under my name. I should like to say in passing that I support new clauses 10 and 11 also. In my view, each of the new local authorities should have both a social work committee and a director of social work. That is certainly what I hope for in the case of the new council in Inverclyde.

I want to echo some of the points made by other hon. Members. I, too, believe that Scotland has first-class social work departments providing essential services for people of all ages. At a local level, I work closely with area teams and with hospital teams when constituents need help. In Inverclyde, the three welfare rights officers employed by the social work department of Strathclyde regional council provide an excellent service to people of all types who are in need of one kind or another.

There is no doubt that politicians and others place huge responsibilities on social workers, who perform extremely difficult tasks with commendable efficiency. Too often, in the House of Commons and elsewhere, moralists malign social workers unfairly on the basis of lazy judgments. I often say to such critics that they would not last a month in an area social work team. Indeed, some of them would not last two days. Social workers perform extremely difficult tasks, often under the threat of violence. They go about their work in an unassuming way and the overwhelming majority display admirable competence.

I have been advised to make my intervention brief, and I had better do so. However, I have to say that the Government and their predecessors have adopted a dismally piecemeal approach to child care legislation, in respect of which this legislature seems to be engaged in a leap-frogging game. In the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 we had a dramatic development. I thought then and I still believe that that was an extremely radical and brilliant measure. In some respects, however, Scottish law has fallen behind English legislation. That is especially true of our lack of a comprehensive children Act.

Column 866

I am deeply grateful for all the fine work that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) does in this field, and to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) for his campaigning efforts. The purpose of new clause 18 is to protect people who need to use social work services that will not be found in their own council areas. The Minister cannot deny that many people need to use services that are outwith the communities in which they live. Children in residential establishments are a good example.

Some years ago, my wife, then a senior social worker in the east end of Glasgow, had occasion to take a young girl into care, by way of a place of safety order. She also had to take the girl's three brothers into care. They were placed in a fine establishment many miles down the coast, away from Glasgow but still within the Strathclyde regional council's social work department area. Unfortunately, the children had to spend two periods in the establishment, but they were quite happy there. They had come from the most appalling domestic circumstances.

What would happen under the Bill ? The Minister will tell me, referring to clause 57, that such services can be bought in from other councils. Social work services, however, are much more vulnerable than education services, for instance. The statutory duties in the Bill governing the provision of such services are somewhat vague, and in practice they are unenforceable. Whereas in education children and their parents have the right to choose a school and to enjoy certain other guarantees, the same does not apply to children and others who require the services of a social work department.

Under the new clause, the councils that inherit certain services would have a duty to co-operate with the other councils in whose areas the users of a service resided. As a last resort, the Secretary of State would be able to step in to ensure that those who rely on the services do not suffer. Services change over time, of course, but it is vital to offer transitional protection to all vulnerable clients--people with learning disabilities, for instance, and young children.

As for new clause 19, I believe that a duty should be imposed on the new local authorities to prepare and publish child care plans. That would be a useful way of ensuring that children's services were protected and enhanced. Such plans could be required to describe how the needs of children with disabilities would be met. They might involve the participation of voluntary organisations, working beside local authorities to provide the necessary services.

That new duty could go a long way to answering the concerns felt by many of us--that children in need and vulnerable people may suffer as a result of this legislation. I remind the Minister of what he and his officials said in the White Paper, "Scotland's Children", in paragraph 8.13 :

"At a strategic level the Government will introduce a new requirement on local authorities to publish plans in relation to child care services".

The new clause merely seeks to implement what the Minister and his officials proposed in their fine White Paper. Some of the new duties are described thus :

"a clear appraisal of the strength and weaknesses of current services ;

an assessment of future needs ;

an estimate of likely available resources ;

a statement of strategic objectives for service development ; a review of innovative developments."

All these are what we seek to achieve by way of the new clause.

Next Section

  Home Page