Previous Section Index Home Page

2 Nov 2006 : Column 546

Notwithstanding that, I want the best for young people in my constituency and elsewhere, and we welcome the amendment. It will ensure that all young people have access to meaningful youth work activities. We recognise, as will other Members of the House, that such an approach will be enormously beneficial in preparing young people for the responsibilities of adult life. Social responsibility is at the heart of my party’s mission.

Schemes that promote the social and personal development of young people, such as the Young Adult Trust, which was recently launched by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, are essential if we are to instil in young people a sense of civic duty and social responsibility. By extending the responsibilities of local authorities in that respect, the amendments will serve to assist the objectives that my right hon. Friend elucidated when he called for a new nationwide effort to give teenagers a new sense of civic duty and social responsibility.

The measure that the Minister introduced, albeit briefly, could also help in promoting community cohesion. It will be extremely encouraging if, as a result of the amendment, local authorities are able to use youth work to break down barriers between different groups in society, so that they can engage constructively together. We should also recognise that giving responsibility to young people from troubled backgrounds has an extremely beneficial effect on their attitudes to their fellows and to society at large. We need to recognise that, in addition to punishing irresponsible behaviour, Government should do more to encourage and reward young people who engage in exemplary behaviour, as the vast majority do. In that spirit, I am happy to welcome and support this group of amendments.

Annette Brooke: I, too, welcome the amendments. In a sense I feel rather guilty, in that we did not discuss this matter in our Committee stage. Going through the copies of Hansard for the other place, I had to get right back to Second Reading to find out where the amendments had come from. It is good to realise that the Government are following through points made on Second Reading and including them.

Personal and social development is obviously important and yet it is quite difficult to define what activities fall into that category. I interpret it to include some of the typical youth service outreach projects, which might involve working with a group of young people on their territory, rather than somebody else’s territory. That is important. Because of the cuts in youth services that have taken place over many years—way before 1997, as well—it was important that there was not a diversion to, say, activities at a leisure centre, thereby losing the traditional youth work that has been of such great value to us over many years. We strongly support the measure.

4.45 pm

Jim Knight: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) for her comments in particular. I recall that great youth work is carried out at the leisure centre in Wareham in her
2 Nov 2006 : Column 547
constituency, so sometimes the two can go together, and I certainly agree that youth work has never been more important.

The hon. Lady is right to say that we have not had a chance to debate this properly. In trying to keep my comments brief, I omitted to state that youth work aims to help young people to identify and developtheir capacities and accept their responsibilities as individuals and citizens. It offers them the ability to acquire important social skills, extends their horizon and engages them actively in their own development. On that note, I commend the amendment to the House.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Clause 2

Duties in Relation to Diversity and Choice

Lords amendment: No. 1.

Jim Knight: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this we may consider Lords amendments Nos. 5, 55 to 61, 63, 64, 66 to 68, 70, 73, 80, 82, 223 to 232, 234 and 235.

Jim Knight: I take this opportunity to thank the Front Benchers for their constructive, positive spirit in taking this Bill through the House. The scrutiny of both Houses has greatly strengthened the Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friends, and especially grateful to my officials.

Mr. Gibb: I would like to thank the Minister, who stepped into the proceedings on the Bill part way through, and the Liberal Democrat spokespeople. The proceedings in the main Chamber have been very pleasant and good-natured even though the Bill is highly controversial.

Amendment No. 1 adjusts the wording of clause 2 so that it is in line with that used in section 14 of the Education Act 1996. It changes the word “powers”to “functions”, and it is something spotted by Conservatives in Committee, so we are very proud of the amendment.

Clause 8 deals with proposals to establish new community schools. Amendment No. 5 allows a wider range of criteria to be used by the Secretary of State when deciding whether to consent to such proposals. In another place, Lord Adonis stated that this was to allow the criteria to be used to be subject to broader consultation. Illustrative regulations showed that the kind of criteria that the Government envisage are ones such as the range of SEN provision and curricular specialisms. Our attitude to community schools is clear: we subscribe totally to the view of the White Paper, where it said:

Since that was published, much has changed. New community schools were to be forbidden in the original proposal, but the Government decided to allow the Secretary of State to permit local authorities to
2 Nov 2006 : Column 548
propose them. The Government then decided to allow certain local authorities to have an automatic right to establish new community schools, and others theright to ask permission, provided that other criteria were met.

Although we would have preferred the Government to stick with the original position, I am pleased that there has been no meaningful watering down of the proposals since the original publication of the Bill. It is clearer if the criteria for the establishment of community schools are set out in regulation rather than being left to the discretion of the Secretary of State. I doubt that the criteria that the Government are proposing are much different from those that the Secretary of State would have used. I also expect very few local authorities to try to set up a new community school, given the clear statements of Government policy against them.

Amendments Nos. 55 to 61 remove an ambiguity in the Bill as originally drafted. At present, the Bill uses the phrase “normal school hours” to refer to the time when a child is at school, but that is ambiguous. Section 32 of the Education Act 2002 gives school governing bodies the authority to set the time of school sessions, rather than hours. Given that some schools permit pupils to leave the premises during the day, it is better to use the term “sessions” rather than “hours”.

The Bill will give teachers in schools the power to use reasonable force. Clause 86 gives members of staff at a school the power to use reasonable force for the purpose of preventing a pupil from committing an offence or prejudicing the maintenance of good order. Lords amendment No. 64 extends the power to use reasonable force to further education institutions and means that members of staff at those institutions will enjoy the same freedom to use force as their counterparts in schools, which we welcome.

Lords amendment No. 66 inserts a new section into the Education Act 2002 placing restrictions on people participating in the management of independent schools. We support that amendment.

Lords amendment No. 73 fulfils a commitment made by the Government to accept the recommendation that amendments to primary legislation under clause 153be subject to the affirmative procedure. Given thesubstantial nature of the body of primary legislation that is to be change, we think the use of the affirmative procedure is appropriate.

Sarah Teather: I, too, shall begin by making a few general remarks. I thank the Minister and his officials—especially his officials—for their help during the Bill’s passage. I also thank the Conservative Front-Bench team for the interesting and lively debate at all stages, especially in Committee, some of which I shall not easily forget. This is the first Bill on which I have served as my party’s spokesperson from beginning to end, so the learning curve was a steep one. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) and for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) for their help and support throughout the process.

It is notable that the Lords appear to be more flexible and willing than the Commons to amend a Bill. I hope that the new ethos—we had a debate about
2 Nov 2006 : Column 549
ethoi in the Committee, so perhaps that is a better word. I hope that the new ethoi of flexibility and responsiveness will translate into the Commons in relation to future Bills.

Lords amendment No. 5 to clause 8 does not deal with the key concern that we expressed at other stages, which is that the Bill gives the Secretary of State a veto that we do not believe he should have. However, inasmuch as the amendment appears to prescribe more closely the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can use his or her discretion, rather than leave it entirely unfettered, it is probably welcome.

We expressed concern about the provisions on exclusions and house arrest at earlier stages, but we cannot reopen those matters now without going out of order. It seems to us that the amendments in those respects make the position neither worse nor better. With those brief comments, I shall conclude my remarks.

Jim Knight: For a while, I thought that I would have something to add, but it now appears that I do not.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 3 to 5, 7 to 28, 31, 32, 34 to 45, 48 to 52, 54 to 68 and 70 to 239 agreed to.

2 Nov 2006 : Column 550


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Jonathan Shaw.]

4.53 pm

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): I rise to deal with a problem which is becoming increasingly common and on which I have corresponded in some depth with Citizens Advice. It relates in particular to one of my constituents, a lady whom I shall call Mrs. B because she is not in good health now and she does not wish to have any personal publicity or the media chasing after her. The Minister knows her identity because we have corresponded regarding her case.

When I first wrote to the Minister, I said that the case was rather unusual, but I have come to realise that it is far from unusual and relates to a matter of considerable public concern. My constituent, Mrs. B, became the carer to her father in 1996 and had no contact with social services until 2000. During that time she did not claim carer’s allowance or attendance allowance for her father, and she did not therefore qualify under the rules as they now exist for home responsibilities protection. That has meant that her own retirement pension is reduced by the gap in her employment record that would not have existed if she had qualified for that protection.

The situation is difficult. Mrs. B has appealed on two occasions and on each occasion there has been no questioning her entitlement to those benefits—carer’s allowance and her father’s attendance allowance—and she would therefore have qualified for home responsibilities protection. The law in this respect needs changing. It cannot be right that people who are ignorant of their rights in this matter should be penalised both by losing the original allowances, which would have been considerable, and by having their own retirement pension reduced through lack of an adequate national insurance record.

I am sure that that is not what Parliament intended when it passed the legislation, but Parliament unfortunately seemed to believe that everybody would be aware of their entitlement to such benefits and would apply for them in the usual way. I accept, as the Minister has pointed out to me, that there have been campaigns to try to make people aware. Nevertheless, it is clear that a huge number of people—possibly as many as 50 per cent.—are not aware of their entitlement. There are large numbers of people who during their lifetime have never had any contact with social services or the Benefits Agency. To them, all this is a complete mystery. There is another group of people who have regular contact with such agencies and they are perfectly qualified to claim.

When I quoted that figure to the Minister, he raised his eyebrows, but Citizens Advice comes up against the problem. In its briefing, Citizens Advice welcomes this Adjournment debate and states:

I apologise for quoting at length—

as is the case with my constituent—

Citizens Advice proceeds to give me a list of recent clients who fall into that category. I will not bore or detain the House by going through them, but it is clear that Citizens Advice regards this as a significant problem that is giving rise to difficulties.

There are several ways in which the problem could be remedied. One way would be to allow people to claim retrospectively provided that they could satisfy a tribunal that they would otherwise have qualified. That would certainly be so in the case of my constituent, where there is no dispute on the medical evidence, no dispute by social services, and nobody in either tribunal ever questioned that my constituent would have been entitled to home responsibilities protection or that she and her father would have been entitled to the benefits that they could otherwise have claimed. If we were to change the law so that tribunals could take into account suitable evidence of this nature in a retrospective claim, it would go a long way towards removing the considerable injustice that exists in the present system.

We must remember the extremely valuable role that carers play in our society. They are unpaid and they look after elderly people who would otherwise be a great burden to social services or to the national health service. It is largely an unsung role, but without people who perform this service unstintingly—usually for relatives, one must accept, but not always—society would be a great deal poorer and we would probably have to raise a lot in extra taxation to pay for the caring service that would be provided in another way. It is important that we remedy this injustice. I therefore suggest that certain deserving cases should be reviewed by a tribunal and benefit paid retrospectively, or home responsibilities protection reinstated.

We must be more imaginative about making the availability of these benefits known to those who act as carers. It is extraordinary, given that my constituent’s father was extremely ill and had had spells in hospital and a great deal of medical care, that nobody told my constituent that she and her father would be entitled to these benefits. They were not told by the family doctor, or by anybody in the hospital or in social services, which must have been involved at some point. I hope that I can persuade the Government that those who deal with people in this position should have some form of statutory obligation to provide such information to those who act as carers. It needs to be far more widely disseminated and additional to notices that may already be available, such as leaflets in doctors’ surgeries. The Government must take firm action to ensure that people are aware of their rights. I hope that they will also create legislation that will enable a retrospective claim.

2 Nov 2006 : Column 552
5.3 pm

The Minister for Pensions Reform (James Purnell): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) on securing the debate. I want to start by placing on the record an apology, on behalf of the Department, for the fact that the information provided to him in August concerning his constituent was misleading and confusing.

The Government entirely echo the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments about carers. The effort that they devote to caring for disabled or ill relatives, friends or neighbours is absolutely vital, and we want to ensure that we continue to support them. As he said, with an ageing population, the demand for care and support from friends and relatives is only going to grow.

That is why the Government believe that we should reform the system to ensure that we provide support for carers in their pension arrangements, and that caring contributions should be recognised in the same way as work contributions are. The hon. Gentleman will know, because he is an expert on pensions, that our recent White Paper set out how we will help carers to build up a full record, both for the basic state pension and for the state second pension. In particular, we will reduce the number of qualifying years for a basic state pension to 30, and introduce a new carer’s credit, so that people who are caring for about 20 hours a week or more can build up credits towards their state pensions. We believe that this reform will make a significant difference to carers’ pension outcomes. For example, someone caring and working for about40 years can now expect to retire on a state pension of up to £135 a week, which is well above the means-tested level for the pension credit.

These reforms build on the arrangements that are already in place to ensure that carers receive pensions in retirement. Those are delivered through the carer’s allowance and through home responsibilities protection. We entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that there should be a proactive approach to publicising these arrangements. Indeed, there was an extensive national publicity campaign during January and February this year to make carers aware that they might need to apply for home responsibilities protection in order to gain additional state pension.

Let me go into a small amount of detail regarding the background, so that I can answer the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about Mrs. B’s case. Carer’s allowance is a non-contributory and non-income-related benefit for those providing informal care for a severely disabled person. It helps carers who are not entitled to other non-income-related help, or who have net earnings of £84 a week or less. To qualify for the allowance, the carer must be providing regular and substantive care for at least 35 hours a week to a person who receives attendance allowance, an equivalent rate of the disability living allowance care component, or a prescribed level of constant attendance allowancewith industrial injuries disablement benefit or a war pension. Focusing on these benefits ensures that the carer’s allowance helps the carers of severely disabled people who need regular and substantive care.

Next Section Index Home Page