Previous Section Home Page

Column 867

Children, particularly those living in difficult circumstances, need a comprehensive children Act in Scotland. Indeed, I hope that such a Bill will feature in the Gracious Speech later this year. It is our children who suffer from the leap-frogging effects of legislation being enacted for the two legal systems in the United Kingdom. Some of our Scottish measures would benefit English children if they were translated into English law, but we in turn need a children Act for all the reasons that I have explained. Admittedly, the new clause is part of the general piecemeal approach to children's needs, but I hope that the Minister will give us a positive response to the concerns expressed in the debate today.

Mrs. Ewing : I support new clause 10, but, like the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), I want to speak to new clauses 18 and 19, to which I am a signatory.

I echo some of the comments made on new clause 10 in connection with social work committees and the appointment of directors of social work. Unlike the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), I was not a social worker, but I was involved in the administration of a course of training for professional social workers--the certificate in social services. At that time, I saw men and women of all age groups who were seriously committed to eradicating many of the problems that our people face. I therefore have great admiration for social workers, and I echo what the hon. Lady said about them. Like politicians, social workers often seem to be the fall guys for the popular press, even though they undertake jobs that many of us would be too frightened to perform ourselves. They do great work for children, the elderly, the handicapped and, indeed, for all sections of society and they should be given due credit.

I believe that a statutory duty should be written into the Bill, stipulating that the profession must provide the services and giving people who need them a statutory right to those services. The Government have not acted to allay the fears that many people have, arising from the fact that the local government transitional arrangements are due to last two years. Elections will be held next year. I want to be able to reassure my constituents that their social work facilities will be guaranteed throughout that time. We cannot tell them to wait until next year or the year after that. When people need social work facilities, they need them immediately. The Government must acknowledge and deal with that fact.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow has already dealt effectively with new clause 19. I remind the Minister that we must always recognise the needs of the child. The Scottish Law Commission report seems to have been gathering dust while Scottish children have been relegated to the bottom of the heap. We have had publication of the White Paper, "Scotland's Children," and the family law report No.135. We have also debated them in the Scottish Grand Committee, but there seems to have been no progress whatever. I remind the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), that in the Scottish Grand Committee he referred to "the priority that we, and I believe all members of the Committee, place on the care of children."--[ Official Report, Scottish Grand

Column 868

Committee , 2 November 1993 ; c. 1.]

It seems to have slipped down the Government's list of priorities.

7 pm

In tabling this all-party group of amendments, we have worked closely as a group and have met Ministers and others in the context of our discussions and we want to ensure that children are placed high on the Government's list of priorities. The Gracious Speech may not include a separate Scottish Children Bill, but we certainly wish to see that and I hope that we shall obtain that commitment when we meet Lord Fraser of Carmyllie on 25 May. However, it would be interesting to hear in the elected House of Commons exactly the view of the Scottish Office. Are Ministers pushing for such legislation in the next Session, or will they let it continue to peter out until our Scottish children can say they are denied their rights, unlike their counterparts south of the border who have the children Acts ?

Mr. Worthington : The new clauses seek to set up a social work committee and appoint a director of social work. However, they are angry gestures and gestures of despair ; perhaps they are means by which we may be able to stop some of the damage that we believe will be caused by the legislation.

Just 20 years ago last week, the new local authorities in 1974 came into force. They began their preparatory year before taking over from social work authorities the size of Clackmannan. It was a pretty desperate scene. There were a lot of well-meaning people around, but there was a shortage of that much despised but important professionalism, drive and vision.

Enormous progress has been made since then, but I fear that we shall slip backwards because of this legislation. People have talked eloquently about the role of social workers who deal with that with which other people cannot cope--they have to cope with circumstances that are too much for other people. I am thinking particularly about the progress that has been made in adoption and fostering over the years. Some of the large local authorities now have the resources and skills to place hard-to-place, damaged children who in the past would have stayed in institutional care for the rest of their lives. I cannot see that happening in the new local authorities covering a population of 47,000.

Mental handicap is another important concern. There is an adult training centre in my constituency. Some of the people who were in that adult training centre when I came into local government 20 years ago are still there. It is difficult to decide whether that is right or wrong, but an adult training centre can either be a warehouse to which people turn up each day, or it can be a lively, thriving place which is driven by professional standards and genuine care for those adults and their families.

We should consider the complexity of the issues involved in taking someone into care and the enormous power which rests with a social worker and a social work department to take someone from his home and to use that power for the benefit of the child and his family. Unfortunately, the Bill does not give a tinker's cuss about those issues and uses local authorities as political playthings. No thought has been given to issues relating to the abuse of drugs and the complexity of getting policies to work with the police and the health authorities. Am I

Column 869

seriously to believe that my new local authority of Clydebank and Dumbarton will liaise effectively with the Greater Glasgow health board and Argyle and Clyde health board ? Is anyone seriously expecting small local authorities to have the clout to do that ? The new clauses are asking someone in the Government at long last to start listening to the cries of despair. Simply as an act of revenge against Labour local authorities, to divide and rule and to create pathetic little enclaves for little clusters of the nearly extinguished species of the Conservative councillor, they are damaging local authority services.

The new clauses are gestures, but they are angry and despairing gestures and I hope the Minister will think and listen.

Mr. Dalyell : On the question of listening, I should like to make an observation, but first I shall ask two questions of the Minister that concern his constituency and mine. First, he will know that there is great concern about those who work in the Blindcraft factory. Alex Scott, the secretary of Blindcraft, has contacted us all. I have spoken to him and there is considerable concern about the future of that factory if it is not supported by Lothian region. My second question affects a small minority-- those who teach lip reading. It is the considered professional opinion that it has to be done on a large scale and a number of us have received communications about the viability of teaching lip reading in Lothian region. I wanted to take advantage of the presence of the vice-chairman of the Conservative party to make an observation to the Minister. Does he realise that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who is sitting next to him, and the Secretary of State are busily losing him his parliamentary seat by their non-answers ?

For more than 30 years, I represented the royal borough of South Queensferry. I know it extremely well and there has always been a substantial Conservative vote there. It is a very serious place and the voters are certainly entitled to their opinions, which have always been well-expressed.

If I were a betting man, which I am not, I should have thought that the Edinburgh, West constituency would remain in the Conservative party. I say in all seriousness, because I am not a yah-boo person, that, chiefly through what has happened in the Bill and the general attitudes that have been displayed, at the next election when South Queensferry goes into his constituency, the Minister will come not first, not second but a very poor third, as the local authority Conservative candidate did, and where there is a very decent Conservative district councillor. It is a sea change.

If I were in the Minister's position on the Bill, I would say to the Under- Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood, who, frankly, has been very frivolous in his presentation and non-answers, and to the Secretary of State, who cares about many things but, I am sorry to say, does not care about local government, that I found it extraordinary that the Secretary of State has not been in the House of Commons very much today. If the Secretary of State cared about local government, he would have been in the Chamber for the debate. It is about time that the Minister--who is a personal friend of many years' standing--made it quite clear to his senior colleagues that it is either their ill-informed opinions or his seat.

Column 870

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I think that the best course is for me to send the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) a copy of the letter that my office sent to the National League of the Blind and Disabled about Blindcraft. Obviously, the same duties will remain in place. We believe that it is a matter for local democracy to decide. I will deal with three groups of amendments--new clause 10, dealing with social work committees and directors of social work ; various amendments dealing with education committees and directors of education ; and the new clauses dealing with out-of-area social work services.

The thrust of our policy is freedom and flexibility for local authorities. The majority of responses to the consultation paper favoured removing the statutory requirements. Social work will remain one of our most important responsibilities. We have major initiatives in community care, child care and criminal justice.

Each authority will have to make certain that there is oversight of professional social work tasks and clear arrangements for accountability and professional standards. Section 5 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 will remain in place, making it clear that local authorities perform their duties under the guidance of the Secretary of State. We will issue guidance about staffing arrangements and we will monitor the establishment and development of the services concerned.

We believe that local authorities should be free to determine their own internal organisational requirements. Some may decide to appoint social work committees, to combine social work functions with housing, to manage services on a corporate basis, or to decentralise and involve more local management in a range of functions. Some authorities may wish to appoint directors of social work ; others may wish to combine this function with another area, such as housing or possibly leisure and recreation.

I was interested to see the confusion expressed by some Opposition Members in Committee. Local councils will still be able to appoint directors of education and establish education committees. The proposal to remove the statutory requirement for an education committee emerged from a working group. Since that time, there has been consultation about the matter. Not only the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, but the majority of those consulted expressed strong views in favour of leaving the discretion to local authorities.

For the benefit of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), at this stage there is no requirement that the director of education need have any teaching or other professional

qualifications--although it is highly desirable that he does.

Mr. Dalyell : So that it is clear and beyond doubt, what is the Minister saying that SOLACE agreed to and supported ?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Member knows that perfectly well, because I read out its representations in the Standing Committee. He can look up the Standing Committee transcript ; it is on the record. It is plain and unmistakable. It supported local authorities having discretion in this connection. Of course, it paid tribute to the work of the directors, but it made its view quite clear.

For years, social work authorities have co-operated with one another in relation to the purchase and supply of

Column 871

services for people living outwith their areas. The 1968 Act enables an authority providing a service to a person outwith its area to recover the cost of that provision from the authority in whose area the person lives.

We do not believe that the level of coercion in new clause 18 is either necessary or desirable. It is not necessary because it will clearly be cost -efficient for authorities supplying facilities or services to utilise them fully. We do not believe that it is desirable to coerce authorities. In any case, the Bill provides for authorities to receive the necessary information, including details of services bought out of area or provided to those living outwith the area. There are various means whereby the needs of those currently receiving out-of-area services can be assessed fully and properly.

New clause 19 is in keeping with the provision to introduce child care plans proposed in the White Paper "Scotland's Children", in which the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is very interested. Initial work on planning has taken place between Scottish Office officials and local authorities. We are determined to develop a new system in due course as part of child care legislation, not local government legislation. Before finalising the new system, we want to consult local authorities and other interested parties. We will ensure that services are maintained properly during the period of local government reorganisation.

7.15 pm

Mrs. Ewing : I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. He knows of my interest and that of hon. Members from other parties in this matter. When he says that further consultation is needed, does not he accept that there has already been very substantial consultation about this matter ? Although we will now have new local authorities, there is surely a possibility of introducing child care legislation in the new parliamentary Session next year. We are fed up with waiting for it.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am not in a position to reveal the contents of the Queen's Speech ; I have no knowledge of that at present. However, it is certainly a priority that will be borne in mind for the future.

Question put , That the clause be read a Second time :

The House divided : Ayes 244, Noes 274.

Division No. 242] [7.15 pm


Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F.

Benton, Joe

Bermingham, Gerald

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Blair, Tony

Blunkett, David

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Burden, Richard

Byers, Stephen

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Column 872

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Chisholm, Malcolm

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Corbyn, Jeremy

Corston, Ms Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cummings, John

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Dafis, Cynog

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davidson, Ian

Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Donohoe, Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eastham, Ken

Enright, Derek

Etherington, Bill

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret

Fatchett, Derek

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fisher, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Foster, Don (Bath)

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Garrett, John

George, Bruce

Gerrard, Neil

Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Godsiff, Roger

Golding, Mrs Llin

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hain, Peter

Hall, Mike

Hanson, David

Harman, Ms Harriet

Harvey, Nick

Henderson, Doug

Heppell, John

Hill, Keith (Streatham)

Hinchliffe, David

Hoey, Kate

Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hutton, John

Ingram, Adam

Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)

Janner, Greville

Johnston, Sir Russell

Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)

Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)

Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)

Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)

Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)

Khabra, Piara S.

Kilfoyle, Peter

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)

Kirkwood, Archy

Lewis, Terry

Livingstone, Ken

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Llwyd, Elfyn

Loyden, Eddie

Lynne, Ms Liz

McAllion, John

McAvoy, Thomas

McCartney, Ian

Macdonald, Calum

McFall, John

McKelvey, William

McLeish, Henry

Maclennan, Robert

McMaster, Gordon

McNamara, Kevin

MacShane, Denis

McWilliam, John

Madden, Max

Maddock, Mrs Diana

Mandelson, Peter

Marek, Dr John

Marshall, David (Shettleston)

Martlew, Eric

Maxton, John

Meacher, Michael

Meale, Alan

Michael, Alun

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)

Milburn, Alan

Miller, Andrew

Moonie, Dr Lewis

Morley, Elliot

Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)

Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)

Mowlam, Marjorie

Mudie, George

Mullin, Chris

Murphy, Paul

Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon

O'Brien, William (Normanton)

O'Hara, Edward

Olner, William

O'Neill, Martin

Orme, Rt Hon Stanley

Parry, Robert

Patchett, Terry

Pendry, Tom

Pickthall, Colin

Pike, Peter L.

Pope, Greg

Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)

Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)

Prescott, John

Primarolo, Dawn

Quin, Ms Joyce

Radice, Giles

Raynsford, Nick

Redmond, Martin

Reid, Dr John

Rendel, David

Robertson, George (Hamilton)

Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)

Roche, Mrs. Barbara

Rogers, Allan

Next Section

  Home Page