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I advise the hon. Gentleman to provide evidence.

John Hemming rose—

Kevin Brennan: I am not getting into a personal dialogue with the hon. Gentleman because I need to refer to other hon. Members.

If I may, I shall move on to talk about some of the other contributions. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong) has great expertise in this area and she showed that this evening. She acknowledged what the Government have done so far and she played a large part in it, particularly in relation to some early intervention projects, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned, although he neglected to mention that many of them were introduced on the Government’s initiative and with Government support centrally.

My right hon. Friend also encouraged me to be ambitious about pilots in relation to social pedagogy. I can tell her that we share very strongly her interest in and commitment to social pedagogy, and we will shortly announce the successful tenders for developing social pedagogy pilots in children’s homes in England. More than £1 million is being allocated for those pilots.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) made a number of comments in her usual thoughtful way. In particular, she referred to the issue of private fostering. The strengthened notification scheme introduced by the Children Act 2004 has had only two years of operation, so we contend that it has not operated long enough for us to assess it properly. It was also mentioned by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham.

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We are not at this stage convinced that a registration scheme would offer safeguards in a way that notification cannot. We believe, as does the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, which works extensively on private fostering arrangements, that we should seek to ensure that the current arrangements are operated effectively and evaluate them more fully before introducing a new registration scheme. I am sure that we will discuss that topic further in Committee.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole also raised the issue of variations of rates in care, which I am sure we can also discuss in further detail in Committee. Furthermore, she mentioned the UK Border Agency and the Lords amendment. We have certainly heard the points made by Members of the House and by peers in the other place in relation to that amendment. In the light of that, we will consider our response. I am sure that that is another matter that we shall discuss in Committee.

Like other hon. Members, the hon. Lady also raised points about advocacy, which I am sure we will debate in great detail in Committee. She quoted a little selectively from the Select Committee report, on the point that care needed to be taken with the pilots. I do not know why she omitted the previous sentence in the report:

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr. Timpson) graced us with his maiden speech, and paid tribute with great eloquence, and I am sure sincerity, to his predecessor. In my ministerial capacity, I received a letter from my late hon. Friend two days after she passed away, which started: “Dear Kevin, Thank you for your response to my recent letter”—I will not mention the subject—“it is totally useless.” That sums her up. The hon. Gentleman also told us with great sincerity about his personal associations with children in care, and spoke effectively and passionately about the recruitment of social workers. I am sure that he will make a great contribution to the House.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) for her usual passionate support of advocacy. She will make her voice heard throughout the rest of proceedings on the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) spoke about an issue that is not in the Bill, namely smacking, although she will probably tell me off for calling it that. We changed the law on the matter in 2004, and I must emphasise that in the review from she quoted, the majority of parents did not support a ban on smacking. In the absence of evidence that the law was not working, the Government decided that there was no case to change the law.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe raised an individual case, which has been highlighted in the media, in relation to adoption. Obviously, I cannot comment on the individual circumstances of the case, although I have read those media reports. All I can say is that local authorities, under the law and under the guidance, must find a placement that meets the needs of the child. A child should not be denied the opportunity of a loving family only on the basis of the ethnic background of prospective adopters. The Government’s policy is quite clear: it was set out originally in 1998 in the local authority circular, “Achieving the Right Balance”. It has not changed—the matter was
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debated under the 2002 Act—and local authorities should comply with that. I cannot emphasise that too strongly.

As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Helen Southworth) spoke with great eloquence and passion on these subjects. It was a great pleasure to be at No. 10 Downing street with her earlier today to launch the action plan for runaway children. With parliamentary colleagues across the House, she has played a huge part in pressing the Government to take action. I congratulate her on that. She spoke movingly of the need to make sure that the transition out of care is properly managed. I spoke to the Fostering Network lobby today on some of the issues raised in her speech, and particularly about the “staying put” pilots, which will enable people in the 10 areas I mentioned today to stay on until at least the age of 21. We will debate in further detail in Committee the reasons why at this stage we need to collect the evidence to get that policy right.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) who, as ever, contributed with great eloquence to our debate and raised a number of extremely important issues, with which I do not have time to deal in great detail now. Suffice it to say that we will take on board his point about secondary legislation, but we will need to consult on the regulations.

On that basis, given the short time available to me, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time .

Children and Young Persons Bill [ Lords] (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursu ant to Standing Order No. 83A(7) (Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

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children and young persons bill [ lords] (money)

Queen’s recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pu rsuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Social Security

Question agreed to.


Post Office Card Account

9.59 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): It is indeed remarkable that on this day, when I am due to present a petition asking for support for my local post offices, I should receive confirmation that the Government, under pressure from European Union regulations, propose to close yet another two post offices in my constituency. This is not a party-political argument, but a defence of facilities that are much needed for vulnerable groups, for the viability of our high streets and for the fabric of our communities. Again, Europe is the villain of the piece.

The petition states:


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Post Office Closures (Birmingham)

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

10.2 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss post office closures with the Minister. I have a strange feeling that this is not the first debate on the subject to which he has responded, either on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall.

Most Members and their constituents, especially in Birmingham, know that few issues arouse the emotions as much as post office closures. I know from my own experience that the implementation of the urban network reinvention programme some years ago was very badly handled. Post office closure programmes have serious implications for our neighbourhoods, not just commercially but socially. When we lose our local post offices it is about far more than services; it is about the local economy, about the viability of our neighbourhoods, and about shopping areas. For example, the Curdale Road post office in Bartley Green in my constituency plays an incredibly important social role.

According to recent research undertaken by Help the Aged, 59 per cent. of older people considered local post offices to be essential to their way of life and 61 per cent. of customers in deprived urban areas used their local post offices to access community services, while 36 per cent. went to the post office to meet their friends. Between 2001 and 2005, the proportion of elderly people who used their post offices increased. However, although it is clear that the local post office is part of the community, I accept the need for change. I am not trying to defend the status quo; it is a question of how we can make changes in a sustainable fashion.

It is in the nature of the way the House organises its debates that this one is taking place at a rather peculiar time. On 24 June, we in the west midlands will be officially told which of our post offices are to be closed. There will be a six-week consultation period. If I understand the network change programme correctly, it is not a question of the number of branches in a particular geographical region that Post Office Ltd wishes to close, but a question of which branches it intends to close.

A Member arguing against the closure of a particular post office might well be asked “If we do not close this one, which one would you like us to close?” I—and, I imagine, other Birmingham Members—would like to present some guidelines on where closures seem to us to be appropriate. There were tremendous flaws in the previous approach to reinvigorating the programme. These flaws had long-term negative impacts in my constituency and others.

In 1999, there were 18 post offices in my Edgbaston constituency. Since then, seven of them have closed. I accept that some of the closures were due to the choice of the sub-postmaster, but others were simply decided by the network reinvention programme. Let me offer two local examples. The closure of the post office on Princes corner was due to the fact that no one could be found to take it over. However, the Moor Pool estate example is different. There was a small row of shops, of which the post office and local shop provided the key anchor point. As soon as the post office was closed, the
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local shop became unviable and so did the other shops. To add insult to injury, the Post Office told us that people could always go to Bearwood, which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), but a few months later it closed that. People were then told to go to Harborne high street, where services were not expanded and we had queues going out on to the pavement. In terms of the current process, if we assume that people should go to nearby post offices, I hope that the additional work load and greater flow of consumers created is looked at, so that the remaining post offices can cope with the extra pressure.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing tonight’s debate. May I add to the point she makes about such post offices being able to cope? One of the problems with the access criteria laid down by Post Office Ltd is that they simply measure the distance of customers from post offices, not the density of population or the fact that unsustainable queues in post offices can easily develop. That should certainly be taken into account in densely populated areas such as Birmingham.

Ms Stuart: I am grateful for that point, as it takes me on to another issue of relevance in areas such as my constituency and that of my hon. Friend, which have communities with a disproportionate element of elderly people. While it might look fine on paper to say that 99 per cent. of the population are within 1 mile of a post office, for the elderly and those in residential care homes 1 mile might in fact be quite a long way. Therefore, we need to co-ordinate the programme properly in order to deal with neighbourhoods’ specific needs. There are social, as well as economic, implications.

I wish to make it very clear that I am not advocating no change. It is very easy for Opposition parties to accuse the Government of recklessly closing post offices; they have done so over the past few years, especially during election campaigns.

Richard Burden: There are no Opposition Members present now, though.

Ms Stuart: No, none. It is interesting that the Opposition Benches are completely empty for this debate. Opposition parties’ election leaflets can be quite seductive, but they have never offered any alternative.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): In my constituency, during the local election campaign the Tory candidate suggested that two post offices would close, which caused extreme anxiety in the community, unnecessarily as it turned out as both post offices are doing well, A postmaster whom I spoke to last week is very angry that a picture of his post office was placed in Opposition literature along with a suggestion that it was under threat, when there was no reason for that.

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