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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business),
That, at this day's sitting, the Lords Amendments to the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill and the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Willetts.]
Column 1455Question agreed to.
Lords amendments again considered.
Question again proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
Mr. Home Robertson: We have crossed the 10 o'clock boundary, but it will be a lot more difficult for elderly and disabled people to cross the boundaries in future. It is important that there should be social work directors, who will have the power to initiate policy and to make firm recommendations to their councils, and to Government where necessary, that those important areas of responsibility should be co-ordinated.
I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that we have a serious problem here, that there is a need for the co-ordination of policy in this vital area, particularly on the point of mobility for elderly and disabled people, and that we need directors of social work who will have the authority to cross those boundaries in every sense of the word. There must be serious concern that, under the Bill, even with the Lords amendments, that will not happen. I hope that the Minister will seriously address that point.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Govan): Many excellent contributions have already been made on the merits of existing social work departments, and I do not want to go over that ground again. I want to seek clarification from the Minister on the distinction between social work and education. I do not want to argue the case for education, because that would be out of order; rather, I want clarification on why the Government appear to treat education and social work differently, when debates in the House and in Committee have always taken place on the basis that the Opposition argued overwhelmingly for chief officers for education and social work, while the Government argued consistently against both.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton): Statutory duties are not specifically assigned tthe directors of education but to the education authority; however, duties are directly imposed on social workers by statute.
Mr. Davidson: Notwithstanding that, when we argued earlier in the House and in Committee for chief officers, the Government used exactly the same arguments against chief officers for education and social work. They argued that the matter should be left entirely to the discretion of individual local authorities. Now they have changed their argument completely on only one.
That presumably means a downgrading of education vis-a-vis social work, because it is not felt sufficiently important to command a chief officer in the way that the social work departments do. Will the Minister clarify exactly why he believes that an education department does not deserve a chief officer, whereas a social work department does?
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I have been sitting here this evening in the growing disbelief that Parliament today, and no doubt the Queen tomorrow, will pass the Bill with or without this amendment in relation to the chief social work officer, and reorganise at great expense and great trouble local government in Scotland, when I understand that all the recommendations of the Banham committee in England
Column 1456are being thrown out completely. There will be no local government reorganisation in England. I understand that Ministers are saying that they do not want it in areas such as Suffolk--
But I have read in the paper that, in Suffolk, the Secretary of State for the Environment is opposed to the scheme that is going through. The Dorset schemes are opposed. No doubt, in the West Bromwich area, local government will not be organised--Madam Speaker acknowledges that.
I must say that I find it unbelievable, disgraceful and astonishing that the Government are pressing ahead with this expensive, unwanted reorganisation in Scotland, while things south of the border will continue as they are.
Sir Teddy Taylor: I am sorry to intervene in a Scottish debate, but I really must say that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is talking absolute rubbish, and I think that the House should know that.
In England, the situation, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, is that, in some areas, the Government take the view that there is a case for change. In other areas, there is no case for change. The Government, very sensibly, are taking local circumstances into account. I am sorry--as my hon. Friends will know, although I was a Member for a Scottish seat for a long time, and I tried hard not to interfere--but when I find that things are going in the wrong direction, I feel it right just to put forward one point of view. I say to the Government that it is rather sad that their Lordships were forced to table the amendment. I am sure that the great majority of Scottish new local authorities will want to have a director of social work, because they will feel that that is appropriate. But if local councillors are talented, able and wish to serve the public, surely Ministers should accept that some local authorities might decide, with good reason, for example, that there is a case for saying that responsibility for social work and housing should be brought together, or, perhaps, that social work and education be brought together.
Some Members might say, "We would not want that," but, quite honestly, if we are to run our local councillors by telling them all they should do and how much they should spend--taking away all their freedom--we are making a great mistake. I must say to the Ministers who are promoting the Bill that it is unfortunate--probably because of the pressure from some of the Lords who should know better--that the amendments propose restrictions.
Mr. Wallace: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I know that he follows Scottish matters assiduously, albeit from Southend, but does he accept that the Bill does contain more than 150 provisions that give the Secretary of State power to tell local authorities what to do? Does he approve of that?
Column 1457much with local councils. I would like to see far more freedom. That, sadly--whether under a Conservative Government or a Labour Government--is something that never happens, although, in fairness, our splendid Secretary of State for Scotland has been trying very hard indeed.
Politics apart--the Minister knows that I have said this on several occasions--he is one of the most courageous, talented and independent Secretaries of State for Scotland that we have ever had. But, sadly, he is constantly under pressure from colleagues in the Government, and, more importantly, from reactionaries in the House of Lords. It is very sad that the reactionaries in the House of Lords, who want to run everything through law, are forcing him to do what he does not want to do.
If the councillors and the voters wish it, what on earth is wrong with having one or two councils who take the view that the responsibilities for social work and housing be brought together? In England, where there are many Conservative councils, and where the House of Lords does not seem to have the same influence, we do have some flexibility--for example, in local government. They do not want changes in some areas, but Essex will allow change, and Southend, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, will shortly become an independent borough running its own affairs--unfortunately, not outside the EEC, but at least it will be independent.
It is very sad that the Government have been forced by the House of Lords to table their limited amendment. How much better it would be if we left it to local authorities to decide what is right for their areas, and not force them all to go on one particular track.
Mr. Galloway: The speech of the right hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) was breathtaking in its audacity. He asked us to compare the situation in England, where, in some instances, a case had been made for change, or in some instances for no change. He asked us to give credit to the Government for taking cognisance of the local views in those circumstances. The point being made by the massed ranks of the Opposition in Scotland is that there is no case for local government reorganisation in Scotland, by any test of opinion--local government elections, by-elections, parliamentary elections or opinion polls.
According to all those tests, the people of Scotland have spoken in overwhelming numbers against the change that the Government are ramming down their throats. The Government are saying that Northern Ireland can have devolution and an assembly, but that Scotland cannot have those things. The implication is that those who bomb and shoot their way towards devolution can have it, but that those who pursue democratic means and gather the support of 74 per cent. of the electorate are simply and cynically denied.
The amendment seeks to rescue something for the Government from this mess, and to do justice at least to the most vital area of local government work- -social work, which takes place among the weakest and most
Column 1458vulnerable people, who depend most on us and the country's political structures. I ask the House to accept the amendment, for decency's sake.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) made some perceptive points. As I intend to show, we are doing much that he has asked of us. I repudiate the suggestion of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) that the chief social work officer will be a minor official. He or she will be nothing of the sort: the person concerned will have to make decisions affecting life and liberty, such as the decision to remove children to places of safety. He or she may have to make recommendations for the assumption of parental rights in respect of children in care, recommendations for adoption and fostering and supervision arrangements for people who are a danger to others. He or she may be involved in services in the criminal justice system and recommendations for sentencing.
I can confirm to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) that the new clause inserted by Lords amendment No. 12 will require every authority to appoint a chief social work officer who is professionally qualified. The qualifications of directors were updated by statutory instrument in March 1993: they include a diploma in social work, a certificate of qualification in social work, the certificate of social services and other qualifications. Those will be the qualifications prescribed for chief social work officers. The statutory duties of such officers will be the same as those for directors of social work.
The hon. Gentleman asked about welfare rights officers. Local authorities can continue to employ them, but not all are employed by social work departments. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Scottish Office would be involved in appointments of chief social work officers; the answer is no.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked about the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations. We have made clear the contribution of the voluntary sector to social work, and we recognise its concerns about the transitional period. We therefore intend to require existing councils to pass on to the new councils information about the funds they provide for the voluntary sector, and we are continuing discussions with the SCVO about continued support.
Dr. Godman: Will the Minister give an assurance that the Secretary of State will not in any way involve himself, or herself, in the appointment of a chief social work officer? That would directly contravene section 3(3) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, which gives the Secretary of State the power to refuse to accept the appointment of a social work director. Will the Minister assure us that the Scottish Office will not interfere in the selection and appointment of officers?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I understand that the local authority will make the appointment. If it is discovered that, for instance, someone has committed the offence of child abuse and been to prison, of course that person will not be suitable. I shall examine the detailed point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but my understanding is that the discretion will be that of the local
Column 1459authority concerned, and that the Scottish Office will not interfere unless a substantial issue of public interest is involved.
Mr. Dalyell: Does the passing on of information from one council to another in any way guarantee that the level of funding for special needs groups about which the voluntary organisations are concerned will be sustained?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The duties all remain intact under statute as they have in the past. I believe that councils will be responsible. There may be changing priorities and that is the position now. However, it is vital that the necessary information is passed on and that will happen.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) asked about guidance. Chief social work officers will have oversight over all social work services provided or purchased by the local authority. We will consult the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Association of Directors of Social Work in considering what further guidance is required.
The effect of the Opposition amendments to Lords amendment No.12 and the associated group of amendments would be to remove from local authorities the flexibility which they seek and which we wish them to have. We reached the decision on social workers for the simple reason that I gave earlier, which is that social work decisions can affect personal lives and liberties to an extent that other local authority services generally do not.
Mr. Wallace rose --
The main amendment is a new clause that will require every authority to appoint a professionally qualified chief social work officer. We do not wish to confine the managerial arrangements of local authorities by saying that that person must necessarily be a director.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East pointed out, a chief social work officer need not necessarily be the director of a department. If, for example, an authority had a single department for housing and social work or for education and social work, the director of that department would not necessarily be the chief social work officer.
No doubt most authorities will have social work departments led by professionally qualified directors. Other authorities may decide on a different structure. They will be required to appoint the professionally qualified social work officer at an appropriate level in their organisation, and he or she will be responsible, as I have said, for oversight of all services concerned.
A series of consequential amendments makes clear the specific decisions and tasks for which the chief social work officer will be responsible. I believe that this amendment meets the concerns that have been expressed,
Column 1460while giving the new authorities as much flexibility as possible in determining their own internal structures and management arrangements.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Yes, I can. There are a considerable number of authorities. A total of 15 were in favour of a statutory director and 37 authorities were against--three of them were regions, two were islands and 32 were districts. Many other bodies were also against a statutory director. The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that the president of the Association of Directors of Social Work welcomes this amendment, and that the British Association of Social Workers welcomes it as a sensible compromise. I strongly commend the amendment to the House.
Amendment proposed to the Lords amendment: (a), in line 4, leave out
" Chief social work officer.'
" Director of social work.'
-- [Mr. McAllion.]
Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made:--
The House divided: Ayes 248, Noes 286.
Division No. 322] [22.19 pm
Column 1460Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Column 1460Cann, Jamie
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela