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6.48 pm

Annette Brooke: The Bill is important, and I hope that it will deliver exactly what we want. The process seems to have been long, starting from the Green Paper and then the White Paper. Throughout the process, listening to children and young people in care has been important and has informed parts of the measure. I look forward to young people continuing to be consulted as it is implemented, and to their wishes and feelings continuing to be respected. Perhaps more than on other measures, I have been aware of the dialogue with young people about the Bill. It is incredibly important.

It is a sad irony that many young people come into care because of problems not of their making, and end up with their own problems because of the care system. The problems are well documented—we could go through the statistics for the poor outcomes. However, we must ask ourselves whether we have found the solutions.

Throughout the process, we have tried exceedingly hard and discussed all the main issues. We have spent a lot of time talking about the importance of kinship care, early intervention and family support for both the family and the individual child. We have also been talking a lot about supporting education and ensuring continuity if there is a relationship with a social worker.

I share the concerns expressed about the importance of maintaining support up to the age of 21. Perhaps that is mainly an aspiration, but we must not lose sight of it. Let me also express my regret that time constraints today have prevented us from commenting on some of the important recommendations in the United Nations report published on Friday.

Finally, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams), who brought his teaching experience to bear in Committee. I would also like to thank everyone who served on the Committee. It was a good Committee, with good responses from the Ministers. As usual, I hope that the words will be translated into regulations that will make a real difference. I welcome the idea of having a progress report each year, and thank all the Ministers and the Chairmen of the Committee.

6.51 pm

Mr. Kidney: It is inevitable that on Report we focus on the areas of contention, but at least on Third Reading we can remind ourselves of the good things that got much less of a mention earlier in the day.

A good starting point is to remind ourselves that although our noble Friend Lord Adonis has moved on to another Department, he can look back with pride on the improvements in the Bill that he personally steered through the other place. I am thinking particularly of the new statutory duty for all Ministers to promote the well-being of children and young persons, and of the welcome new duty for local authorities to secure a sufficient and diverse range of accommodation for looked-after children. My noble Friend will be able to look back with pride on his contribution towards those two improvements on the current situation.

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All of us in the House and in government can be proud of the achievements that we hope to see as a result of the Bill: the new duty on local authorities to ensure visits to looked-after children; the designated member of staff at schools to ensure that pupils do better in school; the new encouragement of young people from a care background to go to university, with financial and other support; and the assistance for those who want to seek a career in a vocational setting.

The changes to the power of local authorities to give cash to family members who look after children are welcome. I know, too, that the Every Disabled Child Matters coalition was pleased with the introduction of breaks for carers who look after disabled children. Finally, a small but noticeable improvement appears later in the Bill for grandparents and other family members who want a greater involvement in the upbringing of their child family members, namely the possibility of applying to court for an order, including a residence order. There are therefore some important changes to the law that we can all be pleased about.

However, as several hon. Members have said, it is one thing to pass the law, but another to see the practice that follows. We all have a responsibility to continue our scrutiny after today, to ensure that the implementation is just as good as the passing of the Bill. Perhaps a starting point is not only to say thank you to those who have achieved so much so far for that vulnerable group of young people, but to offer them words of encouragement to keep going.

So, to the ministerial team and the officers in the Department: thank you, but keep going. To those in local government, including the elected representatives, the officers and the employers, such as the social workers and the residential care staff: thank you, but keep going. To the private sector contributors, especially in the foster care sector, and the great network of foster carers who look after children: thank you, and keep going. I want to encourage parents and children’s family members, as well as the children themselves, to think that there is support for them. They must not give up. To them I say, “Thank you for what you do. Keep going.”

If any hon. Member asks why we pass such legislation or why we take an interest in how it is implemented afterwards, the answer in this case is surely that we are talking about a group that is clearly identified. It is reasonably small in number, comparatively speaking, yet the vulnerability and the suffering of those young people are immense. We all feel a passionate desire to improve their situation for the future.

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Lastly, I extend an invitation to hon. Members who are not already members to join the associate parliamentary group on looked-after children and care leavers, if they want to continue to take an interest in the subject, meet young people who are in care or who have left care, and listen to them discuss directly their experiences and ideas. They are amazing people with great ideas and talent. They should have a wider audience.

6.55 pm

Mr. Timpson: Briefly, I join other hon. Members in welcoming the main body and thrust of the Bill, although some opportunities have been missed, which have been highlighted and which were gone through with a fine-toothed comb in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton).

I bring two such issues to the attention of the House and urge the Government to continue to look at them closely in the near future: the registration scheme, and the treatment and support of children in custody who have lost their looked-after status having come from voluntary accommodation. That is a serious issue that needs urgent attention, and I put the Government on notice that we want some action on it sooner rather than later. However, the message from the Committee was one of moving forward for the children who are the most vulnerable in our society. There is no doubt that we have managed to achieve steps in the right direction.

I am also delighted to hear that the Government acknowledge that these measures are the first step, and that there is still a lot of work to do to try to ensure that we provide the support and the service for the most vulnerable children in our society.

On that note, there are two particular aspects of children in care into which the Government need to channel their energies: first, those who are on the cusp of care and are in danger of falling into the care system—we need to try to support them and their families to prevent that from happening, because to this day we still have more than 60,000 children in the care system—and, secondly, children who want to move out of the care system and are on the cusp of a new life. We need to support their long-term future. If we can achieve that, we will have gone a long way to fulfilling our responsibilities—as Members of Parliament, as parents and as responsible members of society.

I welcome the Bill and I am glad that it is a step in the right direction. I look forward to the progress being put into action.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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Leicester City Council (Market Charter)

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

6.57 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): I am delighted to have this opportunity to raise a matter that is greatly important, albeit in quite a small way, to many of my constituents. At a time when all political parties agree that we must reduce congestion, unnecessary driving and food miles, we have an extraordinary anomaly surrounding the rival markets policy of Leicester city council.

I think that all political parties would wish to see farmers markets encouraged, where people can buy local food from local farmers. One hopes that the food is healthier and better produced, and it certainly has less embedded carbon in its transport. Typically, farmers markets are particularly strong in meat and vegetables, but many other items such as bread and cheese are often sold as well. I am delighted to say that Leicestershire Food Links organises those markets around Leicestershire, and although the markets suffer setbacks from time to time, they are growing in popularity, as indeed they are around the country.

I would have hoped that all of us wished to encourage the local buying of local food from local producers. Sadly, Leicester city council—those at the council are probably not bad people, although the council is Labour—takes a different view.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): Cheap!

Mr. Robathan: It is true. The council states that there exists a 12th-century charter, given by a 12th-century king—it could have been Henry II or possibly even the wicked King John—that allows Leicester city, which presumably refers to a predecessor of Leicester city council rather than the current organisation, to impose restrictions on markets to be held close to the city centre. I should stress that nobody can find the charter, although allegedly a copy exists. Leicester city council believes that it is allowed to ban any market within 6 2/3 miles of the city market. I do not know how that slightly odd measurement came about, because after all measurements were made in miles and furlongs.

It being Seven o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Mr. Robathan: As I was saying, in medieval times, measurements were made in miles and furlongs rather than 2/3 miles, which does not quite fit in. Furthermore, the copy of the charter makes no mention of a distance from the city centre. It is suggested that 6 2/3 miles is the distance that a herd of cattle could be driven in a day or a decent walk for a medieval villein, serf or peasant—I would have thought that they could have gone a bit further, but never mind.

The fact remains that the city council believes that it has the legal authority to impose restrictions and ban markets within 6 2/3 miles of the city centre where the
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city market is located. Blaby, in my constituency, is well outside the city boundaries. I have no problem with the city market, and when I go into Leicester—rarely—I often go there to shop. I certainly wish the market and its traders no ill.

I understand, however, that increasing competition from supermarkets and new commercial shopping centres is probably affecting market trade. There are large supermarkets—Morrisons, I believe, on the old cattle market and a new development called Highcross—which must inevitably be in direct competition with the market, whereas farmers markets, held typically once a month, are not an enormous threat to custom at the city market. Apart from anything else, to drive into the city from my constituency village of Blaby takes some time. Traffic and congestion are often bad and one would have to pay to park on getting there. All those are deterrents to people who might wish to buy potatoes and sausages in the city market. Therefore, the idea that the farmers market in Blaby and the city market are in competition is palpable nonsense.

Nevertheless, apparently the market traders are concerned that they should not lose their supposed position of market dominance over others. For that reason, they have persuaded the city council to enforce the charter. To be fair to the city council, it has recently allowed an extension of the number of farmers markets to one a month. The Minister, who thought I was being partisan earlier, might wish to know that the previous Liberal Democrat administration, supported by the Conservatives, would not allow one a month. Therefore, it is not a partisan issue.

The magnanimity shown recently by the city council is only on the condition that the farmers market pays £300 for each day that it holds a market. The House will understand that that is a large amount to be paid for a small event, and it threatens the viability of the farmers market as a whole. At the same time, the Blaby social centre, which is akin to a village hall, holds a table-top sale to raise money for the social centre, which is a charity. I am sure that all hon. Members in the Chamber—I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby)—have similar charitable events in their constituencies. That table-top sale typically earns between £60 and £80 on each occasion. Unbelievably, Leicester city council charges £20 for the privilege of holding that table-top sale.

It is self-evident that in mediaeval times the layout of Leicester city might have been somewhat different, the buildings were different, there were no forms of transport other than by horse or horse and cart—possibly donkey—there were restrictive practices, and payments were made and taxes levied by means such as the charter. Life was altogether a little different without recourse to Topshop, Sainsbury’s or Marks and Sparks. If anybody could produce the charter, it would be an interesting and historic document that should be placed in a museum, perhaps on the site of the city market.

Nobody is ever going to accuse me of being a moderniser—I would be most grateful if my party leader did not hear that—but sometimes traditions become outdated and inappropriate. The charter is being used to restrict consumer choice and trade and has no justification whatever in the 21st century, even if
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there was apparently a test case in 1979 that upheld the right of Leicester city to dictate to others where they should have markets.

In a radio interview yesterday, a Leicester city councillor told me that the council had a legal duty to uphold the charter. That sounds a pretty spurious explanation to me, and, indeed, the fact that the council is willing to waive the restriction in return for funds suggests that the letter of the law—which I do not think exists anyway—is not being observed.

I wrote to the chief executive of Leicester city council last spring. She replied on 7 May that

She also wrote that the

and that

I have struggled to find any reasonable justification for the rival markets policy. I very much doubt whether it is genuinely legal; it seems to me to be more a question of custom. I cannot believe that any reasonable person considers that Leicester city's jurisdiction should restrict consumers’ choice and trading outside Leicester city. In short, the whole thing is nonsense: it is ludicrous.

Furthermore, the council is acting in entirely the opposite direction to a public policy that many Members in all parts of the House would wish to be pursued—the desirability of buying local produce from local producers locally, for instance at farmers markets. Indeed, I believe that on the one hand the Government give money to support farmers markets, while on the other—with its holistic policy—Leicester city council takes the money away as a tax. Incidentally, there is taxation without representation here.

I ask the Government to examine the position and make a very simple ruling—I suspect it would not require any primary legislation—that the charter, should it exist, be annulled. We elect Governments to govern, and I do not think that this would be a difficult case to fight, but I hope that, if there should be a ridiculous legal challenge from the city council or market traders, judges—who sometimes disappoint me—will have enough sense to throw out the challenge.

If Leicester city council objected to such a course, I would ask it what possible justification there was for the operation of a rival markets policy outside the jurisdiction of its civil authority. I would suggest to my aggrieved constituents that the current situation might be worth testing in law. I cannot believe that the council or Leicester city market traders would be so foolish as to bring an injunction against a farmers market, or even better, a charity table-top sale; but I believe that, if they were so stupid, the case would be easily dismissed by any judge who took a sensible and pragmatic view of life.

Again, I ask the Government to examine the position. It does not require a great deal of time, effort or bureaucracy, and it certainly requires no money. It requires a simple ruling, and possibly a simple order or statutory instrument—I am not sure that it requires even that—to ensure that my constituents and local farmers in Leicestershire can hold farmers markets or
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charity table-top sales wherever they want in my constituency, without the interference of a local authority that has no jurisdiction over the area except via a spurious and outdated charter.

I shall end on that note. I wish to hear what the Minister has to say. I am also delighted to see that the former leader of Leicester city council, the hon. Member for Leicester, South is present. If he wishes to speak, I shall have no objection if the Minister too does not object.

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