Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Spelman: I assure the Minister that there is no turmoil among Conservative Members, and there was no confusion until he started speaking. Although I shall ask for clarification on one point, I was pleased to hear that he understands exactly what we were driving at, something about which there is absolutely no confusion. We wish to strike a balance between rights and responsibilities. He used exactly the same language in that respect, and there is a clear consensus on that point. I accept that he does not take a one-sided view of this issue.

I take on board as a comfort the Minister's point that a review every six months will, in practice, mean a rolling revision process. However, such a process will have cost implications. As we are unsure about whether resources will be made available to make it successful, I underline to the Minister the fact that local authorities will consider the increased burden presented by rolling revision as a practical matter of resources.

I seek clarification on something that the Minister said. He seemed to suggest that if a care leaver did not co-operate or comply, the council could be right to assume that his welfare did not require support. If I understand him correctly, his point will not give comfort to the hon. Members for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand). However, I wish to point out to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight that our amendment No. 2 deliberately did not refer to subsection (4)(c), because we are interested in adherence in relation to education and employment. We are sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's point. However, I am left with the distinct impression--unless I am very confused on the matter--that the Minister said that the council could assume that the care leaver's welfare no longer required support if he did not comply with the agreement established with the personal adviser in the plan. Will the Minister help me on that point?

Mr. Hutton: I shall certainly try to help the hon. Lady. I tried to make the position clear and she can examine my

31 Oct 2000 : Column 654

remarks in Hansard. It is important that she understands that the issue will be addressed as part of the rights and responsibilities agenda that I have described. I do not want to be prescriptive about individual cases, and I am sure that she will understand that. However, the degree and extent of compliance with a pathway plan and a local authority's obligation to provide support for training and the other issues identified in the Bill are bound to be connected.

Mrs. Spelman: We may be reaching a degree of consensus on this point. I shall read Hansard carefully tomorrow, but the Minister has probably articulated the points that we were driving at in our amendments. My reading tomorrow will make the matter much clearer, but the Minister sought to finesse his reply. I think that I understand it correctly when I suggest that the balance of rights and responsibilities that we sought in our amendment is the same balance that he seeks to achieve. For that reason, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4

Advice and assistance for certain children and young persons aged 16 or over

Mr. Hutton: I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 6, line 25, leave out "registered" and insert "private".

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 14, 20, 19 and 21 to 23.

Mr. Hutton: I am rather sorry that I have to move the amendments. They are necessary only because the Care Standards Act 2000 received Royal Assent before this Bill and we had assumed that this Bill would reach the statute book first. I assure the House that the amendments are technical.

The Care Standards Act amended the definitions of residential care homes, nursing homes and registered children's homes to care homes, independent hospitals and private children's homes. I am sure that the hon. Members for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) will remember the debate on that point--I will never be able to forget it. This Bill, in restating section 24 of the Children Act 1989, deployed in the proposed new sections 24(2)(d)(ii) and 24C(2)(c) the existing definitions of such homes because it was introduced ahead of the Care Standards Bill.

Amendments updating those references were made to the Children Act in the Committee considering the Care Standards Act. As I said at the time, those amendments were drafted on the reasonable assumption that the amendments to the Children Act made by the Children (Leaving Care) Bill would become law first. In the event and as we all know, that did not happen so the amendments refer to new sections of the Children Act that did not, in fact, exist at the time the Care Standards Act obtained Royal Assent. The consequence is that the amendments have no effect. We therefore need to amend this Bill to bring the references to such homes into line, and to remove the now incorrect amendments to the Care Standards Act.

31 Oct 2000 : Column 655

I hope that I can assure the House that the amendments are simply technical: they have no new policy implications of any kind. They are necessary simply because the Care Standards Act received Royal Assent before this Bill.

Mr. Hammond: This is a complex series of amendments to achieve, as the Minister said, precisely nothing in policy terms. We are happy that they achieve their technical purpose and do it well.

I am moved to pass a comment because in the previous debate the Minister felt able to remark on the turmoil, as he saw it, among Conservative Members. What turmoil is going on among Labour Members that enables a Minister of the Crown to say, "We were assuming that the Children (Leaving Care) Bill would reach the statute book first"? Who are the "we" who made that assumption? The "we" have to be the Government. Presumably, the Government could determine which of those two measures reached the statute book first.

6.30 pm

It is a bit rich for the Minister to say that the Government drafted the Bill on the reasonable assumption that one Bill would reach the statute book before the other and that the Bill must now be amended otherwise it would not make sense because, by implication, someone else arranged that that would happen the other way around. If any turmoil is being revealed, it is that which lies at the heart of the Government's management of their overcrowded legislative programme.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 14, in page 6, line 31, leave out from "any" to second "or" in line 32 and insert--

'care home or independent hospital'.--[Mr. Hutton.]

Mr. Hutton: I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 8, line 11, after "full-time" insert "further or".

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 16 to 18.

Mr. Hutton: We all know by now that the Bill is all about improving the life chances of young people who have been in care. Of course, education is the best way to do that--helping them into jobs, careers and a fulfilling and productive role in society. Skills and knowledge are now the commanding heights of the new economy. We want looked-after children to have exactly the same opportunities to receive a good education as anyone else. That is why the Bill is assiduous in creating duties to help with education and training even beyond the point at which young people leave care.

The new duties for qualifying care leavers aged 18 and over specifically include a duty on councils to assist with education and training to the end of the agreed course, even if that takes a young person past the age of 21. The Bill, as originally drafted, backed that up with a new duty to provide vacation accommodation for care leavers in higher education. That duty was introduced because we were aware of cases in which young people who had left care were unable to take up university places simply

31 Oct 2000 : Column 656

because they could not find somewhere to live during vacations. That is why the duty applies to all care leavers, not just those to whom the rest of the Bill applies.

While the Bill has being making its passage through Parliament, we have been made aware of the fact that vacation accommodation can be an issue for some further education students as well. I am grateful to those who have drawn our attention to what might have been an omission in the Bill's drafting.

For the most part, students take further education courses near to home at their local school or college, usually studying from home. Those students do not usually have special accommodation needs during vacations, and these amendments do not affect them. However, some agricultural, horticultural and arts courses are run at residential colleges and those students are clearly in the same position as many university students during vacations in needing to find alternative accommodation. Therefore, following the representations made in Committee and elsewhere, we have decided explicitly to extend the duty to provide vacation accommodation to care leavers who require it to those further education students as well.

Under amendment No. 18, the Secretary of State will be allowed to make regulations defining further education for the purposes of the Bill and the intention is to define it in terms of the sort of residential FE courses that I have described.

Amendment No. 16 will add the qualifier

to establish the reason why a student would need to call on that duty. Most students have the option to return to their family home during vacations--an option that is not available to care leavers. These amendments are intended to create a more level playing field by ensuring that care leavers are not left with nowhere to go during vacations.

Next Section

IndexHome Page