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Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): What would happen if a young adult in the pathway plan made it clear that he or she did not want contact with a local authority? Would that fit with how the pathway plan might work? Does not that point provide a response to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond)?

Mr. Hutton: Those issues will arise, as the hon. Gentleman knows from experience. We cannot legislate for good relationships between children leaving care and local authorities. We must put in place the right framework of duties and responsibilities, and that is all that we seek to do. We expect pathway plans to be kept under regular review, and if difficulties arise, the pathway plan should reflect them. The plan can ultimately record only the agreement reached between the parties.

Mr. Hammond: I want to be clear on this point. Is the Minister suggesting that the pathway plan could provide for no further contact, which, I think, was the import of the point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas)?

Mr. Hutton: We should wish to ensure that the duty to keep in touch was preserved at all times. That is an extremely important principle. How it would translate into practice would vary from case to case. In some cases, a young person leading a successful, independent life may feel that minimum contact is necessary, and that could be reflected in the plans. We are not dogmatic about telephone conversations or visits every hour or every day. That would be absurd. We need to tailor arrangements to suit the particular circumstances of the young person concerned. We want flexibility. I suspect that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge is not reassured by all that, and I know that he feels strongly on these matters. I hope, however, that he will draw some comfort from the fact that we intend the arrangements to operate sensibly and realistically but in a way that achieves our fundamental objective for the Bill, which is to ensure that local authorities act in future as responsible and good parents. I argue strongly that it is characteristic of a good parent that he or she should at least try to keep in touch with a child.

Mr. Hammond: I have listened carefully to the Minister. He and I approach the problem from fundamentally different points of view, but I acknowledge, as I hope he would, that we are both well-intentioned.

The Minister referred to the pathway plan of an individual who was leading a successful, independent life, saying that it might propose minimum contact. In whose view would that life be successful? It is the local authority's view. It draws up the pathway plan. That is

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precisely the point. It is the nanny approach. The local authority will decide when, if and how one is entitled to break free.

6 pm

The Minister is not correct when he characterises my position as that of having misunderstood the Bill. I understand it well and I agree with him that, whatever it states, it will not prevent young people from going their own way--probably successfully--if that is what they want.

As the Bill is drafted, the local authority will retain a statutory obligation to use its reasonable endeavours to maintain or re-establish contact with the young person. It will retain a statutory obligation to appoint a young person's adviser. The young person's adviser for all those who have gone away and asserted their rights to be completely independent will have a good job because he will not be busy. There will also be a statutory obligation to maintain and update the pathway plan for the young person. Essentially, in the case of someone who has clearly stated his intention to set himself apart from the process, as the Minister has acknowledged young people will de facto be able to do, the local authority should be relieved of its statutory obligation to continue to do all those things laid down in clause 2 and, in case there are over zealous local authorities, should be prevented from pursuing aggressively--not all authorities would do so, but some might--the person in question.

The Minister got himself a little confused when he suggested that his resistance to the amendment was based in part on his desire to avoid abuse by local authorities. At one stage he told us that he did not want to create a mechanism that would allow local authorities to encourage individuals to make an election that would prevent the authority from providing the advice and support that it would like to provide to the young person. If authorities want to provide that, they will scarcely encourage the young person to make an election. I am not persuaded by the Minister's argument. We come at the problem from fundamentally different points of view.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) made a good point. I hope that we have dealt with it through the proposal that an election could be withdrawn as well as made. A young person who changed his or her mind would not be permanently excluded from the system.

I take exception to the Minister's remark that it took us 20 years in government to protect children effectively. He may want to remind himself of the date of the Children Act--1989--which is, I think, by consensus the basic building block from which we start. Indeed, the architecture of the Bill builds upon that Act. Most hon. Members--I include the Minister--have sought, in debates on this Bill and on others, to emphasise the consensual nature of most of what we do in the House for children.

Of course, the Minister was right to say that the regulations will determine the substance of the matter that I have raised. If they are drafted in such a way as to ensure that local authorities do not pursue individuals who express a clear wish to break free and they do not give authorities incentives to pursue people whom they should not pursue, the practical effect that I am seeking will be achieved. Therefore, although we have to disagree, I am

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mindful of the Minister's reassertion today of his commitment to consult with Conservative Members and hon. Members from other parties to produce those regulations.

I will withdraw the amendment and thus spare the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) the embarrassment of having to decide which part of it is most important to him. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Spelman: I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 5, line 2, at end insert--


'( ) The assistance given under subsection (4)(a) and (b) may be subject to such conditions regarding adherence by the former relevant child to his pathway plan as the local authority shall reasonably determine.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 3, in clause 4, page 7, line 39, at end insert--


'in accordance with his pathway plan'.

No. 4, in page 7, line 44, after "training", insert--


'in accordance with his pathway plan'.

No. 5, in page 7, line 46, at end insert--


'in accordance with his pathway plan'.

Mrs. Spelman: The amendments are a matter of common sense from the perspective of the corporate parent. The compliance with the pathway plan that we want to achieve will be instrumental in the effectiveness of the Bill.

All eligible relevant and former relevant children and young people must have a pathway plan under the Bill. It will take over from their existing care plan and will run at least until they are 21, covering education, training, career plans and help needed, for example, to move into supported lodgings. Regulations may be made on the review of pathway plans, but it is envisaged that they will be reviewed only every six months.

Having reflected on the matter since the Bill was in Committee in July, we have decided that, from the perspective of the corporate parent and given all the effort and resources that go into drawing up a pathway plan, we need to ensure that it is adhered to. If the Bill is not strengthened in that way, a more minimalist attitude towards compliance with this part of the Bill may result.

This is a classic role for a corporate parent. Many hon. Members will be in a similar position--seeing their children go on to further and higher education and becoming heavily involved in the cost. Parents are diligent in reassuring themselves that their money is spent on the purpose for which it was intended. Many of us who went through further and higher education remember our parents holding us to account about what we had done with the money--not necessarily every penny, but we certainly had to reassure them that we were following the course that we had together agreed. Sometimes, child and parent face the difficult decision to change course halfway through. Changing our minds had consequences--the implications might have been to increase the financial load on the parent. It is no different for corporate parents.

We want to encourage vulnerable young people to obtain educational qualifications. Statistics show that they are often very short of such qualifications. One of the

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purposes of the pathway plan is for the young person's adviser and the care leaver to agree together the appropriate development plan. There is little point in all that activity if the young person is simply allowed to depart from the plan. Such a departure might go undetected if the review does not take place more frequently than once every six months.


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