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Column 1154Raynsford, Nick
Reid, Dr John
Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Column 1154Strang, Dr. Gavin
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Walker, A Cecil (Belfast N)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, Robert N
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Wright, Dr Tony
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Ray Powell and Mr. Gordon McMaster.
Column 1154Question accordingly agreed to.
Madam Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House rejects the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition towards Europe, which would destroy United Kingdom jobs, erode the United Kingdom's competitiveness in world markets, place new bureaucratic burdens on business and industry, destroy the veto and diminish the role of Europe's nation states and their national parliaments.
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport): I wish to present a petition, the prime signatories to which are Julie Oakley, of my constituency, Karen James, of the Plymouth, Sutton constituency, and many people from your constituency of Plymouth, Drake, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The petition comes from a total of 17 parents who have lost their children in sudden infant cot deaths. They believe that their children died due to fire retardants in the cot mattresses and they call on the Government to undertake further research and to demand a further recall of mattresses containing antimony, phosphorus and arsenic.
The petition reads:
To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. The Humble petition of Members of the Plymouth Cot Death Action Group,
Column 1155sheweth, That evidence has shown that cot mattresses containing fire retardants have caused antimony poisoning in some babies which may have been a factor in their sudden deaths.
Wherefore your Humble Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will commission further research into sudden infant death syndrome, and will ban the use of fire retardants in cot mattresses, and recall all cot mattresses containing fire retardant chemicals, such as antimony, phosphorus and arsenic.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc. To lie upon the Table.
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York): I rise to present a petition signed by 1, 015 of my constituents, who were deeply angered last year when the Disabled Persons (Civil Rights) Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) was talked out in the House. They are concerned this year to find that the Government may not make time available for the same Bill, this time introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes).
The petition reads as follows:
To the House of Commons. The petition of the constituents of York declares that disabled people are unfairly deprived of their basic civil rights in the United Kingdom. The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons pass legislation to ensure civil rights for disabled people. And the petitioners remain, etc.
The petition is signed by John Keeper, the secretary of the National League of the Blind and Disabled in York and, as I say, by 1,014 other of my constituents.
To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Burns.]
Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport): In this debate I could probably say anything I liked about the physical standards, the care and staffing in unregistrable children's homes, the number of them in the country and the number of placements of children hundreds of miles away from home. I could say that the children being placed are the most disturbed and the most difficult. The Minister could not contradict me because the collation of data is extremely inadequate in every respect.
As the Minister is aware, I have pursued the subject of the debate through numerous parliamentary questions. Recently I have been trying to establish when the social services inspectorate study will be completed. The answer that I received was, "In due course." I hope that when it is completed, it will be published, if for no other reason than to prove me wrong in my belief that it will be as scathing about some of the standards of care as the one in the north-west was.
Following the report by the SSI in the north-west, the Department of Health issued a circular, LAC(93)(16), in August 1993, entitled "Practice guidance on the application of the Arrangements for the Placement of Children (General) Regulations 1991 in relation to small unregistrable children's homes". That guidance shows up the illogicality of the current situation in which children's homes of fewer than four children are not required to register, something to which I shall return in a moment.
What has come to be of great interest to me is the difference between an unregistrable children's home and care provided in a family setting as offered in some of the brochures of private agencies. The water in that area is becoming muddied.
On that point, the guidance says that where investigations reveal that the home offers care equivalent to close parental care provided on a 24-hour basis by one or two adults, consideration should be given to making the placement in accordance with Foster Placement (Children) Regulations 1991. Note the word "should". But why on earth should anyone bother? It is much easier to treat it as an unregistrable children's home rather than the expensive, protracted approval process for fostering.
If such homes with fewer than four children had to be registered, they would have to be treated either as children's homes or foster homes, and certainly could not be foster homes posing as children's homes, which is certainly happening at the moment.
On foster homes, let me quickly raise an issue with the Minister, which I think is related to unregistrable children's homes. Clearly, some voluntary agencies--I include independent fostering agencies that register as voluntary agencies--are interpreting the current regulations as allowing them to approve a pool of foster carers, whereas the regulations clearly state that that can be delegated only in relation to a particular child. Even that is not a function that can be delegated to a profit-making organisation, which they are as the profit is essentially the fee paid to families. The Minister might like to consider some of those issues and whether the way forward is for voluntary agencies to be registered as
Column 1157suitable to approve their own foster parents. They could be registered either by the local authority or by the Department of Health.
The guidance circular states that premises should be inspected before placement to satisfy the authority that they are suitable in relation to the standards set out and then once a year thereafter by an officer from the placing authority. The standards referred to in the guidance are physical standards, and they are important. But my eye was struck by the fact that one of the things that the social worker has to inspect is whether there are any obvious fire risks. I can assure the Minister that when I was a social worker, I doubt whether I would have seen a fire risk if I had fallen over one. The investigation of fire risks should be left to the proper fire authority.
The guidance instructs that police checks should be carried out, but not that a personal reference should be taken up, when looking at the staff who will be caring for the children. Those staff should be interviewed to see that they understand the care that is necessary for the children. The guidance does not specifically say that that should include the proprietor of the home, who may not have the day-to-day care of the children. But the standards that he sets are important for the staff. Nor does it indicate whether a social worker interviewing the staff is entitled to have access to the application form to the agency that employs the carer. Proprietors are to be advised that matters of control and discipline should conform to those that relate to registered children's homes. There is no requirement, however, to keep a record of that.
As for the inspection that must take place before each placement, the guidance does not say by whom it should be done. I presume that it could be done by the placing social worker. If I was placing a child, I could go to the home in the morning, interview some of the staff--the police checks having been carried out--come back in the afternoon and place the child. Also, of course, the local authority that carries out the inspection does not receive one penny. If the homes were required to register, the local authority in the area in which the homes were resident would receive an income. Apart from anything else, requiring inspection before each placement of a child is not a cost-effective way of using resources.
As to the duties of the local authority in which the home resides, authorities placing children in homes in a different area must inform the geographical authority about the placement. The guidance says that the authority should inform itself about the welfare of those children. Does that mean that it has to visit? What responsibilities does it have? Who pays for the time that is required when visiting? Can it charge a fee? In the event of a tragedy, who bears the responsibilities? For example, for a fire, would it be the local authority officer who inspects, the placing social worker who visits or the geographical authority, which, apparently, should inform itself about the welfare of the children?
That will not do. The whole situation is ridiculous, full of anomalies and quite unjustifiable. We are talking about the most difficult children, who are often a danger to themselves and to others. In one children's home in Manchester, a mentally handicapped boy was tortured over time by two younger boys. I am saying that to illustrate some of the difficulties of behaviour that those children present. How can placing authorities fulfil their