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Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): The hon. Lady's colleague, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), asked who were the local authority to judge whether a pathway plan had been successful. He accused the Government of acting like the nanny state. The amendment seems to state that we must judge failure. Is that not a contradictory perspective? If we say what is successful, we are being the nanny state, but if we judge something to be a failure, we are not.
Mrs. Spelman: We do not want to use labels as brutal as "success" or "failure" for this group of young people. Statistics show that 15 per cent. of them are unemployed and 75 per cent. do not have educational qualifications. On the face of it, that looks like failure if one is putting it baldly, but it will not be particularly helpful to attach that tag to such vulnerable young people.
The amendment's purpose, of which the hon. Gentleman seems to have lost sight, is to assist the young person's adviser to see through the investment made jointly with the vulnerable young individual--let us not talk of success or failure--so that the individual keeps on the agreed course. One of our concerns is that as a review is planned only once every six months, much could come unstitched. I invite the hon. Gentleman to think back to his own further or higher education--during a six-month period much can happen to a young person.
The amendment will help the young person's adviser to take a proactive approach to the implementation of the pathway plan. That is not to say that that would not entail change. If we consider the matter realistically, young people often make their choices quite late in the day, at short notice and so on. My understanding of the explanatory notes supporting the concept of pathway plans is that that is all perfectly possible within the role that the personal adviser would have under the plan.
Such changes should, however, be agreed, just as they would be discussed by a parent and child, who were looking together at further or higher education--as I pointed out. Such changes might be made when young people who had completed one term of a course in a further or higher education establishment came to the conclusion that, at the end of one term, or even after half a term, the course was absolutely not for them. Such occurrences are not unusual.
As matters stand, if the young person's adviser was unable to undertake a review more often than once every six months, half an academic year would be lost. That is important in relation to further education choices. Such courses may last for only two years, so a quarter of that potential for academic furtherance could be lost.
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): Given the spirit of the hon. Lady's remarks, does she also argue that her proposal would help the young person's adviser to put pressure on a local authority to provide resources for a young person who was following the pathway plan?
Dr. Brand: I seek clarification. I understand that if the relevant child is receiving money for education or training needs that are not being taken up, there may be an argument for withdrawing the money. However, does the hon. Lady really suggest that
Mrs. Spelman: Welfare is difficult to define precisely, although of course it must be the paramount concern. The focus of our amendment is on consistency between the pathway plan on education and employment choices and what the young person actually pursues. That is a perfectly reasonable position for the corporate parent to adopt and one that a young person will meet in later life. There is accountability for money spent on, or invested in, a person--whether in a business or public service context. There is accountability for resources invested to pursue a particular path of development. It is wholly reasonable that the authority committing those resources should ensure that the outcome reflects the agreed purpose of the initial commitment.
There will always be accidents, in education or employment, when young people begin a particular course of action and, for good reasons--such as a course being wrapped up for lack of participants--do not complete it. In my constituency, I have encountered that. However, such cases are in the minority; we do not want to multiply them, but to add strength to the Bill and to tighten the role and responsibilities of the adviser.
The amendment, which is a small but important alteration to the Bill, will ensure consistency between the pathway plan and the eventual outcome for the care leaver, to the benefit of that young person. It will increase the responsibility of the adviser to follow up the agreed course of action and to be satisfied that it is being pursued. It is very much in the interests of the welfare of the young person. The amendment is a practical and realistic proposal; it will help to improve the Bill's effectiveness in practice.
Mr. Hutton: This amendment and amendment No. 1 demonstrate some of the turmoil and tension among Conservative Members as to whether they want to take a libertarian view on these matters or whether they are more in favour of the control freak tendency view on the power and role of the state. Amendment No. 1 would have allowed young people to opt out of the arrangements altogether; amendment No. 2 would enforce their compliance with arrangements.
I want to reassure the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on one or two points on the way that we envisage the operation of the legislation. I hope that then she will not feel the need to push the argument further.
In essence, as I understand her arguments today and during our Standing Committee debates, she and her hon. Friends are concerned that the pathway plan will represent a one-sided bargain and that it will require the local authority to make available significant resources and other support, care and assistance to a young person who might either choose to disregard the terms of the pathway plan or fail in some way to comply with it. That would thus be an unacceptable use of public money and would not encourage the rights and responsibilities that we think necessary in this matter. We are talking about a good parent and the children for whom that parent has responsibility.
The pathway plans will not be one-sided bargains. I make that clear to the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends. There are responsibilities and rights in this matter. They need to be addressed and we intend to do that.
As the hon. Lady knows, the pathway plan will set out whatever assistance--for example, with education, training or employment--the responsible authority agrees to provide. The young person's adviser will keep in touch with the young person. There will continue to be reviews of the pathway plan--at least every six months--but a review can, of course, be initiated either by the young person or by the council itself.
If the council became aware that a young person was not complying with his or her plan--either because he was abusing the council's support or for some other reason--of course the council would be able to call a review and, if necessary, to revise the terms of the plan. We intend that type of rolling revision to happen. It is one of the reasons that a young person's adviser would keep in touch with the young person and one of the factors that would determine the level of contact that he and the young person would wish to maintain.
The amendment would affect former relevant children--young people aged 18 and over. Those young people will no longer be dependent on their responsible authority for accommodation and maintenance, because those duties--as the hon. Lady is aware--cease when the young people turn 18. The assistance for that group of young people, therefore, will consist of help with employment, education, training or general matters. Such help will normally be agreed between the young person and the responsible authority and will be given for specific purposes.
Councils are under a duty to provide such assistance to the extent that someone's welfare or his educational and training needs require it. If someone is not co-operating with the council, the council will be entitled to consider that his welfare does not require that assistance. That is hardly, therefore, a blank cheque. A pathway plan, setting out such assistance, will be reviewed regularly and as frequently as necessary. Clearly, that is not a licence for former relevant children to stay in bed all day--that is what the hon. Lady seemed to suggest--while limitless funds flow into their bank accounts. That is not likely to happen and it is certainly not what we intend. There is therefore no need to make specific provision in the Bill for that eventuality.
Amendments Nos. 3 to 5 would affect councils' powers--not duties--to help care leavers under section 24 of the Children Act 1989. The amendments seem to reflect some confusion and I bring that to the hon. Lady's attention. Of course, it is true that section 24 can still apply to former relevant children, but the proposed new section 23C sets out councils' duties to that group. In essence, the proposed new section 23C translates councils' section 24 powers to assist into duties to former relevant children. Section 24 will, therefore, apply in practice to care leavers who do not qualify for the new arrangements because, for example, they do not meet the eligibility rules that we will set out. That being so, I am sure that it is obvious to the hon. Lady that such care leavers will not have pathway plans and that it would be wrong for any help that they receive under section 24 to be contingent on their conforming to the plans. If they did, it would be perverse and unjustifiable.
We spent some time on this matter in Committee. I hope that I have been able to set at least one or two of the issues straight. We want very much for the new arrangements to work in the context of a relationship based around rights and responsibilities. I hope that my remarks will, to some extent, reassure the hon. Lady about the issues that she has raised.