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5 May 2009 : Column 76

I looked into the matter covered by the hon. Lady’s new clause 20 in detail when I read it. Our belief is that, aside from the odd drafting issue about the exact role of the key worker, which we do not need to go into today, the existing statutory law and guidance in the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 achieves the objectives that she sets out. The statutory guidance is clear that section 47 of the 1989 Act should always involve a social worker undertaking separate interviews with the child wherever appropriate. It is also clear that seeing the child alone is not enough, and that the child must be observed interacting with their family and, if appropriate, with other adults or care givers. We will revise that statutory guidance later in the year to make it absolutely clear that if at any point the parents refuse to allow the child to be seen alone, the local authority has powers under that Act to apply for an emergency protection order to require parents to comply with any request to produce the child. The Act authorises the removal of a child in those circumstances if necessary. Current statute therefore provides the powers that the hon. Lady seeks in the new clause.

Turning to amendment 15, I place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and the Joint Committee on Human Rights for their contribution and their positive comments about the education of young offenders. We believe that in the Bill, and more generally through the children’s plan, we are meeting our obligations under the convention on the rights of the child. We appreciate the scrutiny and proposals of the Joint Committee. I would not want a piecemeal approach that applied the convention to children’s trusts differently from the way in which we approach the obligations of schools, local safeguarding children boards, children’s centres and GPs. We need wider discussion on the Green Paper on rights and responsibilities, which is coming up shortly, but I do not believe that pursuing the amendment would be the right thing to do at the moment.

The Conservatives’ amendment 54 suggests that more bodies join the children’s trusts in addition to the list of groups that are already on them, which is being extended in the Bill. It proposes that a series of groups should join, the first of which is short stay schools. Such schools have a management committee, which takes on some accountability and responsibility separate from that of the local authority, and I am happy to repeat the commitment made by the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), that we will add the management committee of short stay schools to the list of relevant partners in the guidance that is coming shortly.

Sure Start children’s centres do not have governance arrangements separate from the local authority, like those of a school. They are more places where a range of services are brought together. We therefore think it more appropriate for the local authority to be the representative body on the children’s trust rather than individual Sure Start children’s centres. In the case of extended schools, the situation depends on how the private and voluntary sectors and schools provide the services in question. It would be hard to define which body other than the local authority should represent extended services on a children’s trust.

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Finally, in the case of GPs, we made it clear in the child health strategy that there would be a lead GP with child-related expertise on the children’s trust in each area. Our view, and that of the Secretary of State for Health, is that extending the duty to co-operate to GPs at this stage would weaken rather than strengthen our ability to ensure health engagement. The primary care trust, as commissioner, should play that role. I hope that I have covered the points that have been made about Opposition new clauses and amendments, so I shall return to the new clauses that I have tabled.

Mr. Graham Stuart: May I take the Secretary of State back to the survey that I conducted recently on social care placements? The good news is that 86 per cent. of the universities that I surveyed thought that placements were good or excellent. The bad news is that only 24 per cent. thought that they were sufficient in number. They attributed that to a lack of reward for social workers and local authorities for taking on placements and, critically, to the fact that the Government have stopped making it necessary for local authorities to report how many placements they provide. May I ask the Secretary of State to respond to those points?

Ed Balls: I am not sure whether that quite fits into the new clauses and amendments that we are debating, but in our statement a few weeks ago we said clearly that we accepted Lord Laming’s recommendations. Tomorrow we will give some more detail—not new policy—about how we will take them forward. The reform of social worker training is being considered by the social work taskforce, and I have made clear commitments about it. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I will ensure that his survey of placements goes into the taskforce’s work. I thank him very much for his contribution to the debate.

I turn to new clause 22. Lord Laming recommended that the Government should

We are taking powers in the Bill to meet that recommendation. We shall not bring forward any detailed proposals on new statutory targets or which indicators should change until we have had much greater and lengthier consultation with local authorities, social workers and the social work taskforce. I am happy to consult Members of all parties as part of those discussions. However, if we did not take the power set out in new clause 22, we would have to postpone taking that action for many months and also postpone our revisions to “Working Together”. That is why we have decided to bring forward the enabling power now, but it must be followed by debate, consultation and secondary legislation, which will follow in the autumn.

We are absolutely committed to delivering Lord Laming’s recommendation that we should have targets that properly support, encourage and incentivise the work of social workers, which is to protect children. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich is quite right: bureaucracy or processed targets that get in the way of proper practice are exactly what we need to remove, as part of delivering that objective and as part of the consultation. We want to reduce bureaucracy and focus social workers on their
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important task. For me to come along today and give details of what the end point will be before we have even had those consultations would be wrong. We want to deliver Lord Laming’s report on such matters, and the enabling power allows us to do so in due course.

The same goes for the role of lay members. The opening up of safeguarding children boards is vital. The power gives us the ability to consult over the next six to nine months on the revisions to “Working Together”, which will include much more detail about how we encourage, bring in, reward and support lay members. Again, the power enables us to take that forward this year, rather than postponing it for perhaps 18 months or longer. As part of openness and transparency, the power in Government new clause 24 for the safeguarding children board to issue an annual report to the children’s trust will be welcomed by experts and professionals, as well as by the wider public, as it will allow them to scrutinise what is being done in their local areas.

As I have said, I am keen to move forward consultatively and consensually, as far as possible. I do not want to dwell for too long on the final points that I have to make, but I want to clear up a couple of confusions. On ContactPoint, Lord Laming said in his report:

It is exactly to make children safer in future that we are implementing ContactPoint, as Lord Laming says.

Similarly, Lord Laming is clear in his recommendations about the importance of keeping serious case reviews confidential. He said in his letter to me—and repeated in his report—that

The deputy Children’s Commissioner wrote to me on 3 February to say:

On 15 March, the NSPCC said in a statement that full reports should not be made public, as sensitive information must be kept confidential to protect vulnerable children, but that local safeguarding children boards must publish comprehensive summaries of serious case reviews. I agree. I also agree with Birmingham city council, which also made its position absolutely clear.

Tim Loughton: Before the Secretary of State moves on, can he point out to me where Lord Laming says that the primary purpose of ContactPoint is child protection? That is not what he has said, but it is what the Secretary of State asserted. Also, can he tell me why he has not given the same reasons for being against the full publication of mental health reports in homicide cases as he is now applying to serious case reviews? Why are the two different?

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Ed Balls: I have tried very hard to proceed on these matters in a consensual way, and I have consulted the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and many others on them. I wish we could have agreement on all of Lord Laming’s recommendations, but all the central recommendations that were put forward are being opposed by the hon. Gentleman. I regret that, but we need to move on. I will read again what was said about ContactPoint:

That is what Lord Laming says in his report—that it will have particular concerns to keep children safe. I believe that keeping serious case reviews confidential is vital to keeping children safe. The reason why I do so, as I have said, is that that is the view of Lord Laming, the NSPCC and the deputy Children’s Commissioner. They have advised me on such matters, and I am taking their advice.

6.45 pm

Tim Loughton: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ed Balls: I will take one more intervention from the hon. Gentleman, but we need to move on.

Tim Loughton: Well, I did take rather a lot of interventions from the Secretary of State. He has not answered my question. Lord Laming sees ContactPoint and the database that was envisaged in the Children Act 2004 as a way of keeping track of children who fall out of the education, health or other systems. He has never asserted that its primary objective is child protection, and the quotation that the Secretary of State has given from his report does not say that.

Ed Balls: As I said, my aim—I think that we can achieve this with hon. Members from most parts of the House, including the hon. Member for Surrey Heath—is to move forward consensually. I regret the tone with which parts of this debate have been conducted by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). Implementing Lord Laming’s recommendations are important, and that is what the Bill does. I repeat:

It is clear what Lord Laming says in his report, “The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report”. I am absolutely confident that he, Barnardo’s, the NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner, as well as many other organisations, support ContactPoint. I really do wish that we could have a consensus that took politics out of this important issue.

I am going to conclude. I am grateful to the House for allowing me to bring forward these new clauses at this stage of the Bill’s progress. It is vital that we lose no time in putting in place the further reforms needed to keep children safe. I wish that we could have a consensus on the matter. I welcome the many speeches that have shown that we can indeed achieve a widespread consensus, and I hope that all the Government new clauses can be supported. I commend new clause 21 to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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New Clause 22

Targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children

‘(1) Before section 10 of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) insert—

“9A Targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children

(1) The Secretary of State may, in accordance with regulations, set safeguarding targets for a children’s services authority in England.

(2) The regulations may, in particular—

(a) make provision about matters by reference to which safeguarding targets may, or must, be set;

(b) make provision about periods to which safeguarding targets may, or must, relate;

(c) make provision about the procedure for setting safeguarding targets;

(d) specify requirements with which a children’s services authority in England must comply in connection with the setting of safeguarding targets.

(3) In exercising their functions, a children’s services authority in England must act in the manner best calculated to secure that any safeguarding targets set under this section (so far as relating to the area of the authority) are met.

(4) “Safeguarding targets”, in relation to a children’s services authority in England, are targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in the authority’s area.”.

(2) In Schedule 1 to the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 (c. 42) (social services functions) in the entry relating to the Children Act 2004—

(a) in the first column, after “Sections” insert “9A,”;

(b) in the second column, after “to” insert “targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, and to”.’.— (Ed Balls.)

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 23

Local Safeguarding Children Boards: lay members

‘(1) Part 2 of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 13 (establishment of LSCBs) after subsection (5) insert—

“(5A) A children’s services authority in England must take reasonable steps to ensure that the Local Safeguarding Children Board established by them also includes two persons who appear to the authority to be representative of persons living in the authority’s area.

(5B) An authority may pay remuneration, allowances and expenses to persons who are included by virtue of subsection (5A) in a Local Safeguarding Children Board established by them.”

(3) In section 14 (functions and procedures of LSCBs) in subsection (1)(a) after “the Board” insert “by virtue of section 13(2), (4) or (5)”.’.— (Ed Balls.)

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 24

Local Safeguarding Children Boards: annual reports

‘After section 14 of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) insert—

“14A LSCBs: annual reports

(1) At least once in every 12 month period, a Local Safeguarding Children Board established under section 13 must prepare and publish a report about safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in its local area.

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(2) The Board must submit a copy of the report to the local Children’s Trust Board.

(3) For the purposes of this section—

(a) the local area of a Local Safeguarding Children Board is the area of the children’s services authority that established the Board;

(b) the local Children’s Trust Board, in relation to a Local Safeguarding Children Board, is the Children’s Trust Board established for the Board’s local area.”’.— (Ed Balls.)

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 1

Quality of further education college buildings

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall commission an audit, to be completed by a person or body he considers appropriate, of all further education colleges in England with the objective of establishing the quality of the college buildings and facilities.

(2) The audit commissioned under subsection (1) shall be completed within twelve months and the results submitted to the Secretary of State.

(3) The Secretary of State shall publish the results of the audit submitted to him under subsection (2).’.— (Mr. Hayes.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hayes: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 11— Duty to make an annual report on progress of capital funding

‘(1) As soon as reasonably practicable after the end of each financial year the Chief Executive of Skills Funding must prepare an annual report on the condition of infrastructure of colleges of further education.

(2) The report must provide information about which applications for capital funding by colleges of further education in that financial year have received approval—

(a) in principle,

(b) in detail.

(3) The Chief Executive must send a copy of each report prepared under subsection (1) to the Secretary of State.

(4) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of each report received under subsection (3) and arrange for it to be published.’.

Mr. Hayes: It is good to make my first contribution on Report on this important Bill.

New clauses 1 and 11 reflect the profound concerns that exist up and down the country—I will not go as far as to say that there is fear, but there is certainly profound concern, disappointment and uncertainty—about the Government’s freeze on capital projects in further education. They also relate to fundamental principles enshrined in the Bill, the first of which is the ability of providers to deliver an entitlement to apprenticeships.

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