Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]


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Beverley Hughes: I will not list for the hon. Lady the various current regulations, because I want to focus on the steps we are taking, which I think will achieve what she wants to achieve in a different but equally effective way. She will be aware of the duty to co-operate in sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004, which applies to a range of health bodies and other agencies. The guidance that flowed from that and the power to issue statutory guidance were not implemented in relation to primary care trusts and health bodies. Guidance was issued to health bodies but it was not statutory—that power was not switched on.
I give the hon. Lady an assurance that we intend to issue new statutory guidance in relation to the powers in sections 10 and 11. The revised guidance will be statutory for primary care trusts, strategic health authorities, NHS foundation trusts and local authorities. It will cover assessments of the physical, emotional and mental health of looked-after children, health plans, the involvement of qualified medical practitioners in assessments and reviews, the time scales for completion of assessments and reviews, health promotion, the provision of child and adolescent mental health services for looked-after children—which the hon. Lady rightly says is important—and the roles and responsibilities of health bodies and local authorities in improving the health of looked-after children. For the first time, the guidance will have the statutory bite that has applied to other agencies under sections 10 and 11 of the 2004 Act.
In addition, we are using some of the architecture of the national health service to build in a focus on looked-after children. The statutory guidance will be complemented by the new joint strategic needs assessment, the new NHS operating framework for 2008-09, and the national indicator set for local government. For the first time, the NHS operating framework includes keeping children well, improving overall health and reducing health inequalities as one of the top five priorities for the NHS. That marks the beginning of a new chapter in the journey of the NHS to a focus on more preventive services for children and young people.
Let me explain how we will monitor that. In addition to our existing data collection, there is a new indicator on the emotional health of looked-after children. That will be particularly important in driving up the supply of CAMH services. Under the children’s plan, we asked Jo Davidson, the director of children’s services for Gloucester, to undertake a review of CAMH services. The call for evidence closes tomorrow, I think, and Jo Davidson will report in the autumn on what more needs to be done in that regard.
Annette Brooke: Can the Minister give a time scale for publication and implementation of the revised guidance? I am talking about the statutory position. When will that happen?
Beverley Hughes: It is part of our process of either revising existing guidance or, in this case, introducing revised guidance with a new status. I do not have information on the specific time with me, but I might be able to get that if I keep talking long enough-albeit without wishing to delay the Committee. Otherwise, I can write to the hon. Lady. I am not clear on where it is in our list of work to be done on guidance, but I can tell her that it will be published before the end of this year—in 2008. With that, I hope that the hon. Lady feels that the points she made have been covered and she will withdraw the motion.
Annette Brooke: Again, the test will be in the monitoring to see what difference statutory guidance makes and whether we will need to return to the matter at a later date. I would just like to leave the Minister with a thought about the availability of therapeutic treatment across the country. There has been a long-term campaign on that by the NSPCC—I am an ambassador for the NSPCC, so I ought to declare that interest. I know that not having therapeutic treatment escalates problems and leads to further incidents in society. I thank the Minister for the fact that we have the statutory guidance. I hope that that will result in change, but I feel that we have a long way to go and we may well have to revisit this issue. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 28

Limitation period
‘In seeking to bring a claim for damages in relation to any injury sustained during any period in which C was a looked after child, the limitation period for bringing such a claim shall be—
(a) three years from the date of becoming 18 years of age;
(b) three years starting from the date he discovers, or ought reasonably to discover, that he has a legal claim; or
(c) 10 years from the date of the act or omission which gives rise to the claim,
whichever is the latest.’.—[Mr. Kidney.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Kidney: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
Limitation periods provide cut-offs on people’s ability to bring cases to court. There are limitation periods in criminal courts and civil courts. There are different limitation periods for different behaviours and there are different rules about disapplying limitation periods and extending them. The Law Commission was asked to examine the state of the law in 2001 and concluded that the law was needlessly complex, outdated and, in some respects, unfair. It gave as an example of complexity and unfairness sexual abuse cases. Unfortunately, many sexual abuse cases that have come to the public’s attention over the years have related to children who were abused in public care. They are particularly powerful cases, because the public feel that very vulnerable children, whose protection the public were charged with, have been let down a second time. We are seeing that all over again at the moment in the cases being investigated in Jersey.
The Law Commission said that the law should be reformed, and in 2002 the Government said that that was a good idea and they would do that, but still there has been no reform. Several hon. Members, myself included, have been asking parliamentary questions about the Government’s intentions. Last year—2007—the Government told me in written answers that they would start to reform the law at the beginning of 2008. When I asked a written question at the beginning of 2008, they said that they had not got round to it yet and they might do so later in the year. Now we are in the second half of the year and still there is nothing.
It might be fun for me to criticise the Government for being slower than they said they would be, but it is now several years since they said that they would amend a law that has been shown by the Law Commission to be complex and unfair. Still there are cases of people who have been deprived, by a limitation period, of the ability to bring a claim for compensation for sexual abuse sustained when they were in public care. Potentially, other people will suffer in future years until we amend the law. I am therefore trying to provoke a debate through new clause 28, at least in respect of children in care—I recognise that limitation periods apply much more widely than simply to this group of people and this type of case—to see whether the Minister can tell me whether the Government will finally make some progress.
Kevin Brennan: There are three reasons why I am resisting my hon. Friend’s new clause. I hope that I can also say something at the end on his final point.
First, the current law contained in the Limitation Act 1980, as interpreted by the recent House of Lords ruling in A v. Hoare, already achieves much of what the new clause is designed to achieve. Indeed, the current law is in many ways more generous to claimants. I will write to all members of the Committee to outline my reasons for saying that—
3.10 pm
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
3.51 pm
On resuming—
Kevin Brennan: I was on the first of the 47 points—I correct myself, three points—that I was going to make in response to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford.
My first point was that the current law is more generous to claimants than the new clause would be in practice. I said that I would write to my hon. Friend and Committee members to outline why that would be the case.
Secondly, there is no need to create a special limitation category for looked-after children. My hon. Friend acknowledged that in his remarks, and I shall be happy to elucidate in my letter.
Thirdly, any reform of the law of limitation in this area should be undertaken as part of a wider exercise addressing the whole topic. I sensed from my hon. Friend’s comments that in tabling the new clause, he was trying to stimulate action by the Government on the reform of the law of limitation. I can confirm that it has taken longer than expected for the Government to issue the consultation in this area. However, it will be issued as soon as possible—hopefully, in the near future. If it is deemed to be appropriate, based on the consultation, the Government will consider legislating in this area. On that basis, I ask him to consider withdrawing the motion.
Mr. Kidney: There are some inadequacies in the drafting of the new clause so I will not press it to a vote. As the Minister says, the issue is not simply limitation periods as they apply to former children in care; a wide range of cases are affected. Some hon. Members will recall that there is a lot of interest in this matter in relation to health and safety at work cases for people who develop conditions such as mesothelioma many years after they have finished work. There are questions about when the limitation period stops them from making claims against employers arising from events that happened many years back.
There is a need to review the law in this entire area, as the Government said it would in 2002. If we have helped to speed things along a little by making this proposal and by the Minister making inquiries of the Ministry of Justice about where it is with its proposals, we will have done some good. I would like to stress to the Committee that in my capacity as chairman of the associate parliamentary group on looked-after children and care leavers, I still come across dreadful cases of people who have suffered atrociously, first by going into care, secondly by being sexually abused when in care, and thirdly by their experience of the legal system, because they could not make a claim for compensation when they finally realised that a claim was possible.
This is an urgent and pressing matter and I hope that the Minister will write not only to me and members of the Committee, but to the Ministry of Justice to hurry it along. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 31

Duty to assess provision of independent advocacy services
‘(1) A local authority must prepare assessments of the sufficiency of the provision of independent advocacy services (whether or not by them) for looked after children for whom they are responsible (“advocacy assessments”).
(2) The first advocacy assessment must be prepared before the end of the period of one year beginning at the commencement of this section.
(3) Subsequent advocacy assessments must be prepared at intervals not exceeding three years.
(4) The local authority must keep an advocacy assessment under review until the independent advocacy assessment is superseded by a further advocacy assessment.
(5) Regulations may make provision requiring an advocacy assessment—
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Kidney: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 32—Access to advocacy services—
‘In section 26A of the 1989 Act (Advocacy services), after subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) Every local authority shall make a report on access to advocacy services in their local area annually to the Secretary of State.”’.
Mr. Kidney: I shall be brief, because we debated advocacy fully in a previous sitting and we all agreed that advocacy in the right place is a good thing and part of a good-quality service for all children in care. Perhaps some of us on the Committee were more enthusiastic about the range and rate at which advocacy should be available to children in care, and perhaps the Ministers were not quite so keen; nevertheless, we all agreed.
There is a need to improve access to advocacy, so the new clause would require local authorities to make assessments to show that they have an adequate supply of advocates in their area and to keep that assessment under review and up to date. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South has linked that with new clause 32, which is about local authorities providing a report on access to those services.
Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that new clause 32 is far more modest than new clause 31, and in fact encapsulates the drivers that would require new clause 31. Although it is brief and modest, it represents the least the Government can do to ensure that advocacy services are available.
Mr. Kidney: I will not allow my hon. Friend to undersell new clause 32, as it makes an excellent companion to new clause 31. Together, they would ensure that local authorities had at the forefront of their mind the need for adequate provision of advocacy services for all the children for whom they are responsible.
Beverley Hughes: I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford acknowledged the important debate that we had on Tuesday, during which I set out our view on advocacy in the context of clause 11 and made it clear that listening to children is crucial to improving outcomes for them, both individually and in relation to the system as a whole, and to improving system-wide standards. New clauses 31 and 32 pick up on the related issue of how local authorities contract and make arrangements for advocacy provision, and how they should be making effective provision for those services.
I can tell both my hon. Friends that we already require local authorities to monitor their services by keeping a record of each representation received, its outcome and whether there was compliance with the time limits set out in regulations. They are also required to compile a report at the end of each financial year on the operation of their complaints and representations procedure. However, I intend to go further and through statutory guidance require local authorities as part of that report to review their advocacy services annually, to ensure compliance with national standards. We will set out that that will necessarily involve local authority staff seeking regular feedback from children about their experiences of the service.
In revising that guidance and including that provision, we will of course consult widely. We have no doubt that the expertise of third sector advocacy services and the charities represented on the National Children’s Advocacy Consortium will make an invaluable contribution to ensuring that we get that guidance right and that it takes into account good practice on how all children should be listened to, including those who are hard to reach, such as those who require additional communication assistance or help from translation services so that local authorities can ensure that their views are heard. I do not want to require local authorities to publish a separate assessment of advocacy, but I think that extending the statutory guidance in the way that I have outlined will cover the issues that my hon. Friends are concerned about.
4 pm
I will include another provision: the general quality of advocacy services that we get from those reports and from elsewhere will be included as an item in the annual ministerial stock-take of services to looked-after children that we committed in the White Paper to having every year. Moreover, when Ofsted inspects local authority services for looked-after children, as it will do regularly in a thematic review, it will take into account how local authorities, as corporate parents, are listening to children’s voices and providing for the advocacy service to enable complaints or representations to be made.
I hope that that with those three additional levers in the system, my hon. Friend will accept that we are strengthening the way in which local authorities will have to monitor the quality of their advocacy services, show compliance and take steps to improve them if that is necessary. I hope that those assurances are sufficient to persuade my hon. Friend not to press the new clause.
 
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