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Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]

Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Greg Pope, Hywel Williams
Brennan, Kevin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
Hughes, Beverley (Minister for Children, Young People and Families)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie (Bromsgrove) (Con)
Loughton, Tim (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
Russell, Christine (City of Chester) (Lab)
Southworth, Helen (Warrington, South) (Lab)
Timpson, Mr. Edward (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
Turner, Mr. Andrew (Isle of Wight) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Williams, Mark (Ceredigion) (LD)
Mr. C. Shaw, Mr. M. Hillyard, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 24 June 2008


[Mr. Greg Pope in the Chair]

Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]

10.30 am
The Chairman: Good morning. I would like to begin with a few announcements. Some Members have beaten me to this—Members may remove their jackets during Committee sittings. It is warm in here. I remind Members to switch mobile phones, pagers, BlackBerrys and so forth off, or to silent. I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the room. I also remind Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I and my fellow Chairman do not intend to call starred amendments.
The Committee will be first asked to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper, the debate on which is limited to half an hour. We will then proceed to a motion to report written evidence, which I hope can be taken formally. If the Committee agrees to the programme motion, we will begin scrutiny immediately.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I beg to move,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 24th June) meet,
(a) at 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 24th June;
(b) at 9.00 a.m. on Thursday 26th June;
(c) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 1st July; and
(d) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 3rd July;
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 9; Schedule 1; Clauses 10 to 39; Schedule 2; Clauses 40 to 42; Schedule 3; Clauses 43 to 45; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 p.m. on Thursday 3rd July.
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr. Pope, following an encouraging Second Reading which reflected the widespread commitment on both sides of the House to the issues in the Bill.
I understand that there was accord in the usual channels regarding the programme motion. I draw hon. Members’ attention to the fact that we will not be sitting on Thursday afternoon of this week. We were only too happy to agree to that, to accommodate the needs of Members of the Opposition. With those brief pleasantries, and in this perhaps not typical Wimbledon weather, I thank you, Mr. Pope, for allowing us to remove our jackets.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I welcome you, Mr. Pope. I do not think that I have served under your chairmanship. I am sure that you will be exceedingly fair and accommodating. I am particularly pleased that the Minister is leading for the Government. He and I are veterans of these things, going back to the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and other legislation.
I am particularly pleased to be joined on the Opposition Benches by an ace team of veterans. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight was on Committee considering the Children Act 2004 with me, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove who will be joining us later—she sent her apologies—was on the Childcare Act 2006. There is also a debut Committee performance by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, after his excellent maiden speech in the debate on the Bill last week. He brings to the Committee a wealth of experience from many years on the family court circuit in the north of England. He also has great experience of fostering in his own family. I am sure that he will end up teaching all of us a thing or two.
I endorse the Minister’s comments on the excellent Second Reading, and point out that this is a pretty uncontentious Bill. It was amended for the good in the Lords, and we seek to support it as much as possible and to speed its enactment. There are areas where we want to add detail, and we want to tighten up some of the good intentions, which I think all members of the Committee will agree with. It will be a constructive debate and dialogue.
The way in which the amendments have been ordered means that there is an awful lot of activity at the back end. There are not that many amendments, and they are mostly probing or technical ones, but there are no fewer than 32 new clauses. There are almost as many new clauses as amendments. Things that might have been seen as amendments have been turned into new clauses on a whole host of subjects, including independent reviewing officers, advocacy, residential placements and some of their terms of scrutiny, and teachers and governors having responsibilities in schools. There are also some new clauses that we have tabled. One is on having a welfare checklist, which we would like to see at the heart of the Bill.
We would also like to see proposals on the role of a chief social worker. We might have debated that at the beginning, during our considerations of the first six clauses, but in your wisdom, Mr. Pope, you have decided that we should come back to that new clause later.
We are keen to move through the early clauses as speedily and constructively as possible, because new clauses have been tabled by not only the Opposition, but the Liberal Democrats and some Government Back Benchers, and we are keen to leave sufficient time to debate those fully nearer the end of our proceedings. On that basis, we are happy with the programme motion. However, rather than having only an hour during the final sitting to debate 20 new clauses, it would be nice to pace ourselves accordingly and give them the proper debating time that they merit.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): This is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, Mr. Pope, and it is a pleasure. I am pleased that the Minister is leading for the Government, as we have met before in other Committees. I would also like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion, because not only does he bring valuable experience of schools, which relates to an important aspect of the Bill, but we feel that there should be some Welsh input from the opposition parties, as most of the Bill will apply to Wales. I am looking forward to the Committee’s proceedings and hope that they meet my expectations, because we are primarily in agreement that we need to do much better for vulnerable children. Having the opportunity to make a positive contribution to young peoples’ lives is a privilege, so I hope that all of our debates will be in that spirit.
We made a number of points on Second Reading that we want to take forward and in relation to which we want to have more detailed debate. Many of our concerns require clarification and pushing further. On Second Reading, I said that so much is dealt with in guidance and regulation that Committee is the only chance for us to get in there and ensure that the guidance and regulations will be implemented. Implementation will be the key to all of this. We can have all of our grand words, but unless we get it right and get the messages out to the wider world, we will not make the difference that I am sure we all wish to achieve.
Question put and agreed to.
That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—[Kevin Brennan.]
The Chairman: Copies of any memoranda that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room, although none have been received so far.

Clause 1

Power to enter into arrangements for discharge of care functions
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Kevin Brennan: It would be remiss of me not to mention the array of talent that I have with me on this side of the Committee, including my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, who has a tremendous amount of experience in these matters and, indeed, was greatly involved with the genesis of the Bill through the “Care Matters” White Paper that was published last June. There is also a wealth of experience behind me, including my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, who I am sure will do all that he can to help us achieve the Opposition’s strictures on debating the Bill in full and going through all of the new clauses.
In the past, Opposition Members have criticised the Government for their handling of what have sometimes been called—by myself included—“Wallace and Gromit” Bills, because the track is laid as the Committee proceeds. With this number of new clauses, perhaps the Opposition could be accused of something similar, but all of these are serious and important matters that need to be debated in full. With the aid of all members of the Committee, I am sure that we will be able to do that.
The Bill and White Paper are structured around four key principles. The first is ensuring good parenting from every person involved in these children’s lives. The second is giving young children a voice in the decisions that affect their future. The third is ensuring stability and continuity and the fourth is raising the aspirations of children in care. Part 1 will enable us to pilot social work practices. It will allow local authorities to delegate some of their social service functions to more autonomous practices that will be charged with putting the principles into practice.
We are all aware of the many problems faced by looked-after children. We have heard of cases of children seeing as many as 30 different social workers and going through nine or 10 care placements within a few years. We cannot expect young people to set out on the path to success that we are all aiming for if they are living from one month to the next and are reluctant to make ties, whether to social workers, schools or foster carers, lest they be broken. That experience of care often comes on top of horrific experiences such as abuse and neglect. The outcomes for looked-after children are far too poor.
The White Paper sets out action that we will take on a number of fronts. One of those is to test whether the social work practices introduced under part 1 provide the right framework and deliver significant improvements for children and young people in care. I will set out how the clauses in part 1 fit together because they are intimately connected. That will give a broader view of what we are trying to achieve.
Clause 1 provides that local authorities can delegate their social service functions relating to looked-after children and care leavers to social work practices, referred to in the Bill as
“providers of social work services”.
The thinking behind that is to give social workers a sense of ownership and control over their work. That should stimulate greater innovation and support better relationships with children. Social work practices might be a good thing for social work as well as for our most vulnerable children. That is why we are committed to giving local authorities, which are dedicated to providing improved outcomes for their children in care, the opportunity to try this new approach.
As provided for in the later clauses, we intend to run a set of tightly-controlled pilots for evaluation purposes, lasting initially for two years. Those pilot arrangements are likely to continue in place while the decision is made whether to roll out the model more widely. My Department will select the local authorities that will pilot social work practices and will assist with the set-up and operation of the pilots in partnership with the sector. Crucially, that will include the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which is already closely engaged. Together, we will develop tools for the pilots, including a model contract, a payment structure and a proactive contract-management approach to support effective operation.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Children’s Rights Alliance for England is concerned about the possible loss of human rights protection for children in and leaving care because of contracted-out services? Is it his view that the architecture of the Bill preserves their human rights protections or is it within his contemplation that they will lose them under the pilots?
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Prepared 25 June 2008