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26 Oct 2012 : Column 1189

House of Commons

Friday 26 October 2012

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

9.33 am

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I beg to move, that the House sit in private.

Question put and negatived.

Family Justice (Transparency, Accountability and Cost of Living) Bill

Second Reading

9.34 am

John Hemming: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is indeed a privilege to propose legislation in a private Member’s Bill. When I found out, through the usual process of an immediate torrent of lobbying phone calls and e-mails, that I had the opportunity to promote the sixth private Member’s Bill this Session, I was certain about what I would like to propose. I spent some time considering it, however, and was pleased to receive an offer of assistance from Ron Bailey, who has considerable experience of private Members ’ Bills and assisted me greatly in a number of ways, particularly in meetings with groups outside Parliament. I also declare an interest as chair of the Justice for Families campaign, which campaigns for improvements in this policy area.

My conclusion was to propose legislation that would improve life for children and families. I was aware that there is a serious problem with the quality of expert evidence in family court proceedings, so that had to be part of the Bill. I was also aware that there are problems with the treatment of children in care, so that issue had to be included in the Bill. Additionally, I have for years been concerned about the impact of increasing energy prices on families, and that is also part of the Bill. I am concerned about how certain procedural aspects and judicial proceedings assist public authorities in covering up malfeasance by public officials, so in one sense this Bill could be called the “No more cover-ups Bill”.

When I tabled the name and short title of the Bill, I was unaware of events and issues that have arisen over the summer and make the urgency of this Bill much greater, and I will come to those points later.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that in putting together three elements in the Bill, he seeks to use this opportunity to get three bites of the cherry?

John Hemming: This is about justice for families in the wider sense. Our society should be based on making life better for families in this country, and making people’s lives easier through better judicial proceedings, fewer cover-ups and cheaper energy bills is all about justice for families.

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Over the summer, I worked mainly outside Parliament to consult bodies interested in these matters. As a result of those consultations, I aimed to compromise and ensure that, in a very contentious area, my Bill had support from a broad swathe of opinion. I managed to do that; the only collective group set in opposition is the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): May I back the hon. Gentleman on that point? Mothers across my constituency have asked me specifically to support this Bill because they feel that it contains the measures they need to help them through the court system.

John Hemming: I thank the hon. Lady for that support. Many people wish to see the Bill proceed, and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services is the only collective body I know of that is opposed to it.

The group 4Children said that it supports many of the aims of the Bill, in particular the emphasis on the role of the extended family in supporting vulnerable children and children in care. It stated:

“Our family commission in 2010 called for all families facing family court proceedings to be offered a family group conference, so we warmly welcome in particular the provisions in part 1 of the Bill.”

The British Association of Social Workers said that, although it will not support the Bill formally, most elements relate to good practice, and we have made changes following consultation with it. I have also spoken with the Government who, even if the House gives its assent to Second Reading today, remain in control of the Bill’s progression. For a Bill Committee to meet will require a motion tabled by the Government.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has mentioned a number of organisations that support his Bill. He named one group that does not, but did not say why. For reasons of clarity and inclusivity, will he elaborate on why that group has concerns about the Bill?

John Hemming: I circulated a copy of a letter from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services that stated merely that it opposed the Bill although did not explain why. I have provided all its reasons for opposing the Bill—perhaps it will give me other reasons. One aspect that would cause concern is the independent scrutiny of children in care that is built into the provisions, but the association has not explained why it opposes the Bill. I circulated a copy of its letter to all Members, and I would be happy to read that out if the hon. Gentleman would like me to do so.

Mr Ellwood indicated dissent.

John Hemming: No—the hon. Gentleman is quite happy. This is a contentious area, and it is challenging to find a measure that will take the issue forward without any stakeholder raising a major concern. The Bill is substantially supported by the people to whom things are done—the children and the families—but the people in overall control, the directors, are not so enthusiastic about it, but they will not explain why.

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I have always said to the Government that I am willing to compromise on the details of the Bill. I am sure that the Government agree with me on the objectives, and some of the clauses have been deliberately phrased to facilitate improvement in Committee, because that is where we need to work on the details of how to deal with the issues in the Bill. As is often the case, there are siren voices in Whitehall calling for delay and suggesting that everything could be dealt with in a later Bill. That implies that there is no urgency and gives the impression of a bureaucratic machine attempting to repel all boarders on the basis of “not invented here” syndrome. Is that an adequate reason to prevent the progress of the Bill?

The previous Government, admittedly of a different hue, made attempts to deal with the issue of transparency in 2005 and in 2009. Although those changes—made through statutory instruments—made improvements, they were not adequate and problems remain. The creation of the independent reviewing officer has not protected children in care well enough. The problem is essentially that an employee of a local authority is not independent of the local authority. Whitehall still does not recognise the managerial conflicts of interest to which employees of public agencies are subject.

The question for the House and the Government is, why now? Why not listen to the siren voices calling for delay and the Sir Humphreys calling for the Bill to be exterminated on Second Reading? Earlier this year, Professor Jane Ireland’s study of expert evidence raised concerns about the quality of psychological reports in two thirds of family court proceedings. However, things have moved on.

During the summer, the Slovak Republic became officially concerned about the way in which Slovak citizens had been treated by the English and Welsh family courts. On 23 August, a statement was published on the Slovak Justice Ministry website which, translated by Google Translate, is headed, “Declaration on adoptions case of Slovak children without the relevant reasons in the UK”. The key to this declaration, according to JUDr Marica Pirošíková, who is the Slovak Republic’s representative at the European Court of Human Rights, and to JUDr Andrea Císorová, who heads up the central authority in the Slovak Republic—their equivalent of our Official Solicitor—is that the decisions forcibly to adopt Slovak children, who are Slovak citizens, living in the UK away from their families, are illegal. In case hon. Members do not know, JUDr is the abbreviation for doctor of law for Slovak citizens. The Slovak ambassador has also expressed his concerns to me, and I have been told that the Slovak Republic has identified 40 cases in the English courts, involving 89 children, in which it is unhappy with the lawfulness of the process.

It is worth spending a little time to explain how all of this works. Under the international conventions on child protection—the Hague convention and Brussels II bis—the courts in the area in which a family is habitually resident are the courts that have jurisdiction in respect of the laws for child protection. England is out on a limb in comparison with the rest of Europe in having a child protection system in which the most likely outcome for a child under five leaving care is to be adopted. In the year to 31 March 2011, 5,200 children under five left care in England, 1,900 were adopted, 1,110 were subject to residency orders or a special guardianship order and

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only 1,100 returned to their parents. That is a substantial shift from 1995, when it was the norm for children to return to their parents. There is no sense arguing about the merits of that at this point. The key to the transparency aspect of the Bill is to ensure that there is greater academic scrutiny of the merits of such decision making, which, essentially, is absent at the moment.

Over the summer, we have had a change in that the Slovak Government have publicly expressed concern about 40 cases, involving 89 children, but they are not the only Government to be concerned. Justice for Families has recently had contact with Hungary, the Czech Republic and Latvia about cases. Two weeks ago, a case was reported from Haringey in the London-based newspaper Polish Express, obviously in Polish. This case has all the symptoms of similar Slovak cases and I would not be surprised if the Polish Government became involved in the near future.

Yesterday I received a letter from Isil Gachet, who is the director of the office of the commissioner for human rights in the Council of Europe. It refers to concerns raised with the commission about the process for the placement of children for adoption in the UK. The key part of it is that the commissioner for human rights, Mr Nils Muižnieks, had received information from various sources on this case. It states:

“The Office of the Commissioner is therefore closely following on the situation regarding the placement of children and adoptions in the UK. However, I would like to stress that the Commissioner’s mandate excludes the possibility for him to investigate into specific cases.”

It also draws attention to an inquiry on human rights and family courts by the Council of Europe.

If the Government seriously wish to argue that there is no urgency in introducing greater academic scrutiny in family court proceedings, they need to explain how they can ignore—

Mr Ellwood: I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument carefully. He started by mentioning the “not invented here” syndrome, which I have also come across and which is very frustrating, but is he aware of what the Government are doing? The Minister may wish to intervene later to confirm this, but I understand that in January the Government are planning to look at provision for families and children in the law courts. Has the hon. Gentleman taken that into account?

John Hemming: I accept that the Government are progressing issues. To be fair, I have been working on these proposals with bodies outside Parliament, so I have not gone into the minute details of the Government’s proposals. My concern comes back to the issue of academic scrutiny, although other aspects come into it as well. I wish to see progress in this area, but I am not too bothered about how we achieve that. I would prefer it if the Bill were considered in Committee. If a lot of the clauses are dropped in Committee because that seems appropriate, so be it. What is important is that we achieve the outcome of a reliable judicial system with decisions taken on the basis of the best academic knowledge available at the time. That is not what we have at the moment. It is the outcome I am focused on—getting a better system—and I am not particularly bothered about how we do that.

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If the Government are to oppose the Bill, they need to explain how they can ignore the serious concerns of other countries. In June, we were aware of the maltreatment of girls in care and the prosecutions that had resulted. However, the true enormity of the magnitude of abuse of children in care over many decades, not all by Savile, had not been revealed at that point. I was personally aware of the cover-up at Haut de la Garenne, and I highlighted that in September when I referred to the banning of the US journalist, Leah McGrath Goodman, who had been excluded from the UK in an attempt to stop her reporting on the saga at Haut de la Garenne. I did not, however, know exactly what had been covered up. The Government may try to argue that the existence of the independent reviewing officer means that there is no urgency about making any changes. However, the cases in Rochdale and Rotherham, as well as the case of the children in A and S v. Lancashire county council, demonstrates clearly that the existence of an employee of a local authority who is called “an independent reviewing officer” is not sufficient to protect children from abuse while under state control. Can we really accept that there is no urgent need to ensure that children in care are listened to? The recent report from the children’s rights commissioner revealed that children in care had been running away—and one was living in a cave—because they had not been listened to.

A further issue, which has arisen since June, is the revelation of the cover-up at Hillsborough. I would not claim that the Bill would definitely have prevented that: however, the provisions on judicial review will make it easier for more ordinary people to ensure that public authorities do what Parliament has said they should do and facilitate the revelation of cover-ups at an earlier stage. Making it an offence to threaten and prevent people from talking to regulators or elected representatives would help to prevent cover-ups, many of which succeed because people are intimidated into not reporting things to the appropriate authorities.

Lorely Burt: We understand that more public figures are to be questioned in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. Does my hon. Friend agree that his Bill might have been a great help in this instance? Had it been around, the children might have been listened to, not punished for reporting the abuse?

John Hemming: Indeed, some of the children were punished for complaining; that is the scandal. If one aspect of the Bill would prevent cover-ups, it is the part that would make it an offence to punish or threaten somebody to prevent them from talking to their MP or going to the police. In America, that is an offence, but in England it is not, and that allows bullies to use all sorts of techniques to prevent people from complaining.

We should protect people’s right to complain. Interestingly, a key clause in the first amendment to the US constitution is the right to petition all aspects of the state. It means that the courts cannot prevent people from talking to elected representatives. That sort of provision is perhaps in article 5 of the Bill of Rights, but we do not really enforce it in law. We have many situations in which people are intimidated in an attempt to prevent them from complaining. Yes, some complaints are wrong, but it should be for the police to decide if a report is wrong, not for somebody else to decide to punish children for complaining about their maltreatment.

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Nadine Dorries: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that large organisations, as we have seen recently with the BBC and various parts of the NHS, breed a culture almost of intimidation? We have seen the problems that whistleblowers have, and we have seen it in other areas too. Big organisations, particularly those belonging to the state and Government, seem to breed this culture of intimidation to prevent people from protesting.

John Hemming: That is very true. If Parliament wishes its laws to be enforced, it needs to protect people who want them to be implemented, but at the moment we do not so. We have seen it with the Savile saga, but that is not unique. Let us remember all the bullying and threatening that went on to cover up Hillsborough. That is another example of a cover-up that succeeded in part through intimidating people.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I support the hon. Gentleman. We had a case some years ago—I will not go into it now, because this is an intervention—involving the NHS in Coventry and a doctor who was a whistleblower. The whole thing ended up in court, and he is still suspended.

John Hemming: That is the problem. Unless we allow people to complain and we protect people’s right to complain, the rule of law cannot apply, because we do not know that somebody has infringed the law. This applies in all areas.

If the Government decide to knock out all but one of the clauses, leaving only protecting the right to complain, that will be progress. There are many clauses, but they do not all have to go through. I would like a lot of them to progress, but, at the end of the day, the Government are in control. There is no doubt about that. If we keep only one, however, let it be the one about the right to complain, protecting whistleblowers, preventing cover-ups and protecting children who complain. These children were not only ignored but punished—their punishment was only the withdrawal of privileges, but still that cannot be right. Parliament cannot tolerate such a thing.

Nadine Dorries: It is true that children who complain must be protected, but we are not only talking about the removal of privileges from children. Adults can lose their jobs, livelihoods, careers and homes, if they decide to do the right thing, take the higher moral ground and complain. Their punishment prevents others from coming forward, and that is how the culture grows and the cover-ups happen.

John Hemming: The hon. Lady is exactly right, and we almost endorse that by our laxness in protecting people with valid grievances.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The hon. Gentleman, who raises some important issues, said that his Bill contained many clauses but that he was not particularly bothered which ones went forward. Why is energy efficiency part of the Bill? I do not know whether he was after the world record for a Bill with the widest scope, but what on earth does energy efficiency have to do with all these important issues?

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John Hemming: It is about improving the quality of life for families, and it fits within the short and long title of the Bill. We are here to improve the quality of life for families. I think of the Longitude Act 1714, when Parliament took action to encourage innovation that produced all the work of the Royal Observatory. That is a good example of how Parliament can improve things. I do not think that anyone will disagree that reducing families’ energy bills will improve life for families, and that is what the Bill is about. I will come to that in more detail later, however.

Philip Davies: To help the hon. Gentleman, I was wondering whether it would be in his best interests to focus on what he felt was most important in the Bill, which presumably is the stuff he is talking about now, rather than spraying far more widely and possibly running into trouble in Committee and on Report.

John Hemming: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that on Report it might be quite challenging, because people might wish to stop the whole Bill in order to stop certain aspects of it, but that is a decision for later. As it stands, the Bill contains many useful clauses, all of which would achieve positive things for families and people in this country. I would like them all to progress on to the statute book, but I am realistic and will have to work with the Government. I will also need the House’s support on Report, because without that the Bill will not get on to the statute book. I have to be realistic about that. The clauses are in the Bill, however, because they are good clauses for families in this country.

I was talking about Hillsborough. The siren voices of Whitehall should not be listened to. Action is needed now. The Bill cannot progress after Second Reading without the Government’s support, so they should not fear its progressing beyond today. I am happy to work with them and to compromise in order to improve the lives of children and families, but we must start now.

The Bill has three parts, which at first sight might appear different but which all have an underlying philosophy centred on the word “justice”. The general theme and overall purpose of the Bill is to help ensure justice in three areas: in the family justice system, which includes the Court of Protection; in related areas where there are injustices that need to be dealt with; and for families who suffer the injustice of cold homes and fuel poverty.

Part 1 concerns the family justice system and the work of children’s services authorities and related matters. The interim report of the family justice panel found in 2011 that the system was not working and that it had identified much the same problems as the previous seven reviews of family justice carried out since 1989. The House of Commons Justice Committee reported on 14 July last year and spoke of its doubt about the current system’s ability to cope with future challenges. Both the Munro review of child protection published last May and the final report of the family justice review published last November highlighted the need for urgent reform. The latter said:

“We found general agreement with our diagnosis: a system that is not a system”.

A clause-by-clause explanation of the Bill will illustrate some of the improvements to the system that it seeks to make.

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Clause 1 deals with the point at which most families will commence contact with the family justice system or their local children’s services authority. This will currently be at a case conference or, more accurately, a child protection conference—a meeting of professionals who decide what steps the local authority should take in respect of a child who might be deemed at risk. However, children, if old enough, and their families might be excluded from the meeting or might not see the reports being discussed, so decisions may be taken without their input. This means that the meeting will not have as much information as possible when making difficult decisions, such as to take children into care.

Another practice, called family group conferencing, is now developing. This approach involves the children, where old enough, the families and, where appropriate, the wider families, and it has widespread support in the social work and child care fields.

In evidence to the family justice review, the British Association of Social Workers said:

“Some aspects of the Public Law Outline have also helped to promote more positive engagement with families (i.e. there has been increased use of Family Group Conferences which can be very effective in empowering of families if used appropriately and practitioners have received the necessary training to equip them to undertake this work). These reach out to engage in a way that says to families, ‘you have the knowledge and expertise, we want to work with you to make things better for you and your family’. There should be increased roll-out of this approach. It requires very little adjustment in terms of skills, but it does require a different attitude/values set.”

Barnardo’s told the House of Commons Justice Committee inquiry into the operation of family courts that a

“better option”


“a requirement to have family group conferencing…our experience of one”

such service

“was that for 27 families for whom care proceedings were considered none of those children went into care.”

Page 93 of the Justice Committee’s report concluded:

“We were very impressed by the account of Family Group Conferences in Liverpool. It is a matter of regret that a service with an apparent 100% success rate is being cut back.”

Subsections (1) to (3) of clause 1, while not abolishing child protection conferences, as they may be deemed necessary at times, establishes as the norm the wholly different approach of a family group conference by requiring that families are offered such a facility. A family group conference is defined as

“a family-led decision-making meeting, convened by an independent co-ordinator…in which a plan for the child is made by the family, involving the child (if old enough), the parents, and potentially extended family members and friends which addresses any concerns about the child’s future safety and welfare”.

Subsection (2) then gives the family six weeks to come up with a family plan for the child, and this is submitted to the children’s services authority, which has to approve or disapprove it. In the latter situation, under subsection (3), the children’s services authority is required to “try to reach agreement” with the family on a revised plan. If this is not possible, the view of the children’s services authority will prevail, but pursuant to subsection (4) the child or the family can appeal that decision to the scrutiny committee of the local authority.

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This is in line with the view of the former children’s Minister, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who told the Education Select Committee on 12 June this year:

“This is particularly important when it comes to adoption proceedings and other forms of permanence, where…the consequences are far reaching. I am…conscious…as to what further safeguards we might…institute…a sort of appeals mechanism.”

Subsection (6) provides for emergencies by stating that the children’s services authority is not under an obligation to offer a family group conference

“in the event of emergency action being required to protect a child”.

Subsection (5) deals with the provision of information to children and families. Since 1999, Government practice guidelines for children’s authorities, entitled “Working Together”, state that

“the local authority has a responsibility to make sure children and adults have all the information they require to help them understand the processes that are followed when there are concerns about a child’s welfare.”

In practice, this may not be happening. According to page 5 of the Norgrove family justice review of November 2011:

“Children and adults are often confused about what is happening to them. The need to address this will rise.”

Page 4 of the Adoption UK response to the family justice review states:

“From the perspective of adopted families Adoption UK often hears of limited information and explanation being provided to families about what will be happening and why.”

Paragraph 2.26 of the Munro review of child protection states that families

“are confused…and they don’t understand the processes”.

Gingerbread’s evidence to the Justice Committee, reported under question 78, on 25 January 2011 was:

“We surveyed about 453 single parents…over half found the system dreadful and poor; about 73% find it difficult to navigate.”

The House of Commons Justice Committee investigated in some detail the need for guidance to be given, especially because of the increasing number of litigants in person. It reported the unanimous view of judges that this slowed things down, thus causing severe wastage of court time, and so concluded:

“This will require guidance to be developed to accommodate the challenges posed by a larger number of litigants in person.”

Subsection (5) of clause 1 deals with this matter by requiring:

“Any child or parents or other relatives of the child attending a Family Group Conference must be given in advance a publication explaining the childcare system and how it may affect them in the future and referred to an independent advice and advocacy organisation.”

We recognise that in these difficult times the cost implications are important, and in this regard, I draw attention to the words of the BASW quoted earlier:

“It requires very little adjustment in terms of skills, but it does require a different attitude/values set.’

As regards the staffing impact, the results of the family group conference approach, quoted by Barnardo’s, are also relevant: no children were taken into care, so less spending of money resulted.

The Munro inquiry highlighted a report from Oxfordshire county council children’s services authority:

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“These types of evidence-based programmes are expensive to set up but there is increasing evidence that, by avoiding the need for looked after children to move to more intensive and expensive placements, they not only provide better outcomes for children and young people, but are cost effective…Collectively in Oxfordshire, these intensive programmes have contributed to lower than average numbers of Looked After Children and resulted in identifiable savings within the existing Children and Young People’s budget. They have helped to address general recruitment issues for foster carers, resulting in an 11 per cent rise in fostering. All types of carers (including foster carers and adopters), have reported improved levels of support, resulting in improved long term stability (67-75% in 2009/10), reduced adoption breakdowns and quantifiable savings in excess of £400,000.”

Nadine Dorries: I would like refer to his comments about the importance of making information available to those going through the system. I can quote a constituency case, although not a name, of parents and adoptive parents being told during the process of contact with the previous family not to miss a contact session because they will not get their placement and the child might be taken from them. It is important that parents, adoptive parents and foster parents have something in writing—in an easy to understand way—about what exactly to expect from the system, so that when this culture of slight intimidation or bullying kicks in, they actually know what their rights are in the process.

John Hemming: The hon. Lady is entirely right. One of the difficulties that sometimes arises is that people are told to do one thing at one stage, but when they have done that, they are told that it was the wrong thing to do. If things could be put in writing so that people knew what they were supposed to do, they should not then find that they are punished for sticking to it. That happens far too often. There are too many cases where people are not given adequate information.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): From the way the hon. Gentleman sets this out, it sounds as though there is a substantial element of arbitrary power. Will he reassure me that his Bill would eliminate all such areas of arbitrary power so that people could have certainty?

John Hemming: The hon. Gentleman is right that there is too often an element of arbitrary power. The difficulty flows from insufficient academic scrutiny of the whole process—in other words, things are left to the discretion of individual practitioners, all of whom have their individual attitudes. When someone moves from one practitioner to another, the arbitrary power will often be exercised in a different way. I spoke about this to Professor Sue White, a professor of social work at Birmingham university. She is concerned about the change in practice that does not seem to be evidence-driven, but she is not allowed access to family court proceedings unless she is actually involved in the individual case. The ability to do proper peer-reviewed research on the decisions taken and what is happening on the ground is simply not there. The system just goes on.

I try to look at the reports from a scientific point of view, and find that some of them do not hold water. As I said, Professor Jane Ireland’s work pointed out that two thirds of the reports she looked at were either poor or very poor, which is not adequate for the purpose of making life-changing decisions. That lack of intellectual rigour leads to arbitrary power, as the hon. Member for

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Wycombe (Steve Baker) says. The introduction of intellectual rigour would make that go away and get us back to the rule of law rather than some people having massive discretion. At the moment, we do not have the rule of law setting out what should happen in these situations. That is what gives rise to many different problems in many different areas.

Nadine Dorries: It is worth mentioning that the change of case worker, social worker or court worker happens frequently, so arbitrary power is exercised in a number of different ways, often resulting in huge delay, which is not in the best interest of any of the children involved in the cases.

John Hemming: The hon. Lady is right. Delay does cause a problem, although speeding things up and not getting things right is another problem. The most important thing is to get things right. When that has happened, that is the time to do things reasonably quickly.

I now return to the Bill and look beyond the issue of family group conferences. Clause 2 looks at the wider issue of scrutiny—academic scrutiny and the like—to which I have just referred. One issue is that of people having other people with them. McKenzie friends are generally allowed to attend court, but it can be a very intimidating process for families. If a young mother is not allowed to take her own mother to court with her for support, the court will not be a very good environment.

A case in, I believe, Finchley involved a Czech family, but the court would not allow a representative of the Czech embassy to attend the court hearing. That strikes me as very strange. Given that it is possible for a person to talk confidentially to almost anyone and ask for advice, why is it not possible for one or two people to sit with that person in court? It would make the whole process more effective, because it would provide psychological support.

Family courts sit in secret. It is generally accepted that anonymity is required, and that demands a certain amount of secrecy. It is not possible for the newspapers to publish all the details of a case. It is true that one of the Slovak cases is being discussed publicly on prime-time television in the Slovak Republic, but if it were on YouTube, YouTube would be subject to a court order to prevent the television programme from being seen in England. I think that the principle of anonymity is reasonable, but beyond that, dangers arise. The lack of academic scrutiny, which I mentioned earlier, is critical.

Steve Baker: It seems to me that it is not necessary to have secrecy in order to have anonymity. Does the hon. Gentleman propose any measures that would make it possible for the necessary information to be available to academics, so that trials would not be secret but anonymity would be protected?

John Hemming: That is the purpose of clause 2(2), which allows academic research to be involved in family court proceedings. The former children’s Minister said that we needed more transparency in the courts, and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has said that it supports efforts to make the family

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courts more transparent if they do not make it more likely that children will be identified. The Bill achieves that sort of balance.

Proceedings in the family court can be daunting and intimidating for people taking part in them. The report of the recent family justice review by Professor Norgrove found that

“the common complaint”


“that the courts are daunting and intimidating places for families”.

Detailed research by the London Safeguarding Children Board established that when families arrive in court to see a large number of lawyers and professionals lined up,

“professionals need to understand how intimidating it is”

for parents

“to be so ‘outnumbered’.”

Clause 2(1) permits parties to have two friends with them to support, advise or advocate on their behalf. In fact, only one of them, the McKenzie friend, will advocate, and obviously if a lawyer is present a lay person will not be required. Much of the evidence that I cited in relation to clause 1(5), including the conclusions of the Justice Committee, demonstrates the need for that.

Clause 2(1) also ensures that the confidentiality of the proceedings is maintained by making the two friends subject to the same confidentiality rule as the party to the proceedings. The protection already exists; the Bill merely provides for someone to be present to offer support—not necessarily to advocate or offer advice, but simply to be there. That is important. Why should a young mother, aged 19 and threatened with the removal of her child, go to court alone? Why can we not allow her mother to go with her? What is wrong with allowing her mother to sit next to her? What is wrong with allowing a representative from the Czech to accompany a Czech citizen to court? Why do we allow so few people to go there?

Clause 2 (2) deals with accountability by permitting the involvement of bona fide academic research in proceedings in the family courts. The Justice Committee concluded that, while family courts sit in private to protect the anonymity of children,

“there is a danger that justice in secret could allow injustice to children”.

That point was made by Professor Jane Ireland, who carried out research on the quality of expert evidence used in the courts. Her study showed that there was a risk of injustice because one fifth of expert psychologists were not deemed qualified, and two thirds of the reports reviewed were “poor” or “very poor”.

In a recent case in the Court of Appeal, it was ordered that a child should be removed from his family on the basis of incorrect evidence concerning his injuries. The Principal Registry of the Family Division ordered that the toddler be returned to his parents after it was established that he was vitamin D and calcium deficient and had undiagnosed rickets. The issue of vitamin D is very relevant. An excellent firm of solicitors in Birmingham, Brendan Fleming, has helped to identify about eight vitamin D-related cases in which miscarriages of justice are likely to have occurred. It is probable that children have been removed from their parents because mum had a vitamin D deficiency and was breastfeeding at the

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time. It is currently contempt of court to allow an expert medical person to look at all the documents and write peer-reviewed reports. Why is that? How does preventing the more intelligent people from reviewing the paperwork improve justice?

Subsection (2) also recognises the need to keep proceedings confidential, stating that

“any publication of the research removes all identifying details and… it shall be a contempt of court for any person receiving or publishing information pursuant to this section to reveal the identity of any person whose details he has received.”

The Bill protects anonymity while ensuring that there is an intellectual challenge, and that is surely a massive improvement.

Clause 2(3) relates to grandparents and other wider family members of the child. Subsection (3)(a) enables such people to attend the part of a hearing that involves consideration of whether the child should be placed with them. Currently, a court will decide not to place a child with a grandparent when that grandparent is not present. There has been a great deal of debate about whether grandparents should be allowed to be party to court hearings. The problem is the huge amount of paperwork, which creates a massive burden. However, merely allowing grandparents to be present and to participate in discussion of whether or not they would be adequate carers for their grandchildren would not pose a major problem, and would allow any erroneous concern about their ability to look after the children to be corrected at that point rather than being dealt with on the basis of a report written by a representative of the local authority.

Nadine Dorries: In the event of a crisis, children are often placed with their grandparents in the immediate instance, and the grandparents then find that they are not allowed to participate in the court process that leads to a decision on the child’s future.

John Hemming: Exactly. I understand the reasoning behind not allowing everyone to be a party, and then lawyers being a party, and so forth. However, not allowing a child’s grandparents to be in the courtroom and answer questions about the problems of looking after that child cannot be right. It cannot achieve anything for the child. Ultimately, we should be focusing on the children and what is best for them. In most cases, it is far better for children to be cared for by their grandparents than to be placed with foster carers. In practice, children are often cared by their grandparents as part of normal life. That is not deemed to be in any way exceptional.

Nadine Dorries: The hon. Gentleman is being incredibly generous in giving way.

One of the problems, and the reason so many grandparents have to go to court, is the fact that they are not recognised in the benefits system. Foster parents receive far more financial help, as indeed do parents. The grandparents have to go to court in order to attempt to qualify for such help, and, as the hon. Gentleman says, they are prevented from giving any information about the child during the process.

John Hemming: Kinship caring happens anyway without state funding, but it is much cheaper than foster care at £800 a week, as well as being generally better for the

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child’s identity in the long run because the child remains within the wider family. Clause 2(3)(b) relates to grandparents who have a long-term involvement with their grandchildren and have information that can assist the court, which is a slightly different pattern.

Subsection (3) recognises that children may be inhibited from giving evidence in front of certain people. It therefore provides that a judge may exclude the grandparents from the part of the proceedings in which the child is giving evidence if, in the judge’s opinion, their presence would inhibit the child. Obviously, there are difficult circumstances in which such discretion is needed.

Subsection (4) allows grandparents to have

“direct and indirect contact with their grandchildren if the child so wishes without this contact being supervised”

unless that is not in the best interests of the child. That is intended to rectify a problem that has been highlighted by many grandparents.

In their response to the Norgrove review of family justice, the coalition Government said that

“a child’s ongoing relationships with their grandparents and wider family members should be considered when making arrangements for a child’s future.

The Government supports the Review’s recommendation that the importance of relationships children have with other family members should be emphasised”.

The Conservative older people election manifesto 2010 promised to:

“Reform family law to provide greater access rights to grandparents when families break up…

“Grandparents should be one of the first ports of call when a child needs to be taken into care, but at the moment they are not…We will change that”.

That has not been done yet. Labour’s 2010 manifesto stated:

“we will ensure that grandparents and other family members are always given first consideration for adoption or fostering.”

All I am proposing is that they are part of that decision, so if it is suggested that the child should not be placed with them they will be allowed to argue with that proposal and explain where any misunderstanding may exist.

Subsection (5) proposes to amend the Children Act 1989 to require that children taken into care by their local authority are placed near their home, unless that

“is not in the interest of the welfare of the child”.

It does so because of the plethora of evidence showing that placing children far from their home puts them in greater danger. A London Evening Standard report on 12 September said:

“The Standard today exposes the scandal of London children being ‘exported’ to care homes across the country where they are at increased risk of abuse.

Almost two thirds of youngsters taken into care are sent outside their borough and…maltreated and introduced to drugs.”

It goes on to say that police warn that this places the children “in greater danger”.

BBC Radio 4’s “The Report” programme said on 31 May:

“The leader of Rochdale Council says children should no longer be sent to care homes in the borough because their safety ‘is not being guaranteed’.

There are 41 children’s homes in Rochdale, which house vulnerable children from all over England.”

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It also said that last year

“an inquiry into Lancashire’s 101 children's homes…found the council and the police had little knowledge of some of the…homes…It also estimated 21,000 children…were being cared for in areas outside their home local authority.”

It reported Councillor Steen’s view that

“placing vulnerable girls, who are susceptible to grooming, so far away from home, can lead to them”


“‘invisible...so they cannot be monitored or helped.’”

In May this year, a joint inquiry by the all-party group on runaway and missing children and adults and the all-party group on looked after children and care leavers called for urgent action to be taken to reduce that practice of sending children far away from their original areas. Subsection (5) provides that urgent action.

Nadine Dorries: The hon. Gentleman is talking about vulnerable children in care who become invisible and are susceptible to grooming. They not only become invisible, but they lose the networks that they could turn to for support and disclose things to. These children are away from their family, friends, teachers, school, neighbours and community, so even if there may have been somebody to whom they could disclose that grooming was taking place, they have been completely taken away from that comfort zone.

John Hemming: I agree entirely with what the hon. Lady says about the networks issue. There are so many reasons why this is wrong, but it happens. Urgent action has been called for to fix it, and the Bill provides that.

That leads me successfully to clause 3, which deals with the issue of children in care. We all now know, and it is becoming increasingly obvious on a daily basis, that children in care are not safe. There are always going to be children in care homes, but they are not safe. At the moment, the independent reviewing officer is actually an employee of the local authority. We have talked about how public bodies have a bullying management style, and people are often pressurised. We have talked about how whistleblowers are not protected—the independent reviewing officer’s job is to be a whistleblower in a culture that reacts against whistleblowers.

Clause 3 states that

“if a child in the care of an authority has made a complaint of serious harm—

(a) that complaint shall be investigated and determined by an independent body”.

There is considerable evidence that local authorities have not investigated or have ignored complaints by children in their care.

On 24 September, The Times reported that

“confidential papers showed a decade of abuse in South Yorkshire.”

It said that

“police and child protection agencies have held extensive knowledge of this…for ten years.”

It continued:

“Girls were collected from…residential homes…in Rotherham… Internal care reports and individual case files show that countless girls were betrayed by…police and social services…Confidential

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documents…reveal how one young girl known by social services to have been abused…was offered classes…to engage her in education.”

It also said:

“As long ago as 1996, a social services investigation uncovered concerns that girls were being coerced into ‘child prostitution’ by…men who regularly collected them from residential care homes.”

It also stated:

“A July 2010 independent review for the Rotherham Safeguarding Children Board…described the offences as ‘child sexual exploitation at the top end of seriousness’.”

Last month, Mail Online reported that Rochdale council and police had had

“127 warnings about sex abuse”.

Its headline contained the words “gang raped dozens of children, finds damning report”.

The article continued:

“NHS warned Rochdale Borough Council…on dozens of occasions over six years about sex abuse risks”.

There are numerous other examples of this.

In the Lancashire case—A and S v. Lancashire county council—Mr Justice Jackson concluded that children in care had “suffered real, lifelong damage” but that the council’s actions

“did not come under independent scrutiny.”

Jon Fayle, chair of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers, told Parliament that

“the local authority cannot always be trusted to act in the child’s best interest.”

He also said that having an “independent scrutineer” is “essential”. It is also the wish of children to have an independent complaints system. As Maxine Wrigley, the chief executive of A National Voice, told Parliament:

“an independent person to help you, particularly to make a complaint…seems very important to young people.”

Subsection (4) would make it an offence to discriminate against children in care or care leavers. There is considerable evidence that such discrimination is widespread. A care leaver told us:

“I have twice lost my job when my employers have come across my upbringing, despite having more professional experience and qualifications than my managers. We are viewed as mad, bad or sad.”

Another told us:

“I lost my job and at the Employment Tribunal the barrister told them that as a result of being ex-care I would have a residual tendency to fabricate.”

In July, the current children’s Minister, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), launched a report by the all-party group on looked after children and care leavers. It said:

“There was also concern raised that the attitude of teachers towards children in care remains mixed, with some children being labelled as troublemakers simply because of their looked after status.”

A documentary entitled “Barriers to Employment”, made in 2010 by the young people themselves, reported:

“Young care leavers face discrimination from employers because they are stereotyped as being prone to crime”.

The Who Cares? Trust website states:

“The discrimination faced by children in care is brought to life time and time again through our interactions with young people.”

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A lot of these things were raised with me by a group of professional care leavers, who had managed to succeed having left care over a number of years. One of them was Ivor Frank, who was brought up in care but is now a family court barrister. His concern was that no remedy was available for care leavers; there was no way they could adequately challenge the system.

It is worth examining what happened in the A and S case. They were two children in the care of Lancashire county council. They were known as “statutory orphans”: they had been freed for adoption before 2005 but had never been adopted. As at 31 March 2011, about 1,300 children had been freed for adoption or placed for adoption more than two years before that date without having then been adopted. If we are going to worry about the adoption of children placed for adoption, we should be examining the situation of those 1,300 statutory orphans. They have been told, “Your parents are no longer your parents” but they have not been found any other parents.

In the case of A and S, when the older boy got to be an adequate age, he found a solicitor who then acted on his behalf. We should not have to wait until these children get to 16—if the NSPCC, as advocate, feels that something is going wrong, it should be able to get an independent review and, if need be, to take the case to court. That is why subsection (2) proposes a scheme whereby a “litigation friend” can be appointed for a child to take the issue to court. The A and S case was not looked at by the court from the time they were placed in care until about 10 years later, because nobody took it back to court to challenge the authority. An independent reviewing officer was in place, but the local authority obviously does not want to be challenged. In practice, it was concluded that human rights had been abused to the extent of not only maltreatment but the breaking of article 3—the no-torture article. There was inhumane treatment of the children when they were in care—we are not talking about before they went into care.

This issue about a remedy being available for children in care does not mean that everything has to go to court, because it is the facility for something to be taken to court that makes people respond. If the local authority feels it can just fob everyone off and ignore them, it will do so and nothing will happen. However, if the local authority knows that someone can take the matter to court if they want and the authority will be forced to deal with it, it is more likely to respond. That is why subsection (2) is important. If the Government do not like subsection (2), it can go away under statutory instrument at the point at which the Government have found a better way to deal with the issue.

There is no alternative but to have an independent mechanism by which a child can complain—potentially, the general practitioner. If the GP feels that a child in care is not being looked after adequately and there is a serious problem, the GP should be empowered to take that through a proper process that could end up in court. The difficulty with the system at the moment is the eternal question of quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The organisation responsible for the quality of care is the local council. In other words, the council is responsible both for providing the care and for monitoring its quality. We should all know that that sort of system does not work and cannot be allowed to continue.

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On criminal records, children in care complain that the police are often called for things that they would not be called for if the children were not in care. A relatively recent prosecution involved a child who threw a bowl of cereal at the carer at breakfast. The real problem is that that prosecution follows the child through life. Events that would have been ignored normally end up in a criminal record for assault. When the child becomes an adult, tries to find a job, gets a Criminal Records Bureau check and is told, “You assaulted someone when you were 13,” it comes across really badly. In fact, the child might just have thrown a bowl of cereal. To be fair, that might not happen that often, but it is the sort of thing that can happen when a child is upset. People do get upset from time to time. A parent would generally not take that through the legal system.

I do not suggest in the Bill that we should force people not to take such things to court. All I am saying is that such things should not follow children through the rest of their life just because they got a bit upset when they were 13. That creates an environment where children get used to a higher level of interaction with the authorities, and that is not a good thing. So clause 3 deals with children in care.

On adoption without parental consent, clause 4 basically says that when parental consent is dispensed with for an adoption, the courts should explain why and give the reasons, because normally they do not. In section 1(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, Parliament laid down legal safeguards to which the courts must have regard that include the child’s wishes, where old enough, and needs; the lifelong effect of the child’s losing contact with the birth family; the harm that the child has suffered or might suffer; the child’s relationship with their relatives and the value to the child of its continuing; the ability of the relatives to provide a secure home for the child; and the wishes of the relatives. Parliament has decreed that that must be considered by the judge, but that does not happen a lot of the time. Clause 4 would ensure that that is considered.

Dr Roger Morgan, the Children’s Rights Director for England, told Parliament that children have a strong message: always look to see whether there are family or friends. That is what children say. If a decision is to be taken to move a child from one family to another, the court should explain the basis of that decision, not just say, “We think that it’s a good idea,” which is normally what the judgments say.

On the other duties of local authorities, clause 5 basically talks about improving the relationship with grandparents and deals with the duties of local authorities and other bodies when children are in care. Although clause 5 would maintain the position established by the Children Act 1989 that the welfare of children is of paramount importance, it would also require the local authority to ensure that the child has access to and contact with both parents and grandparents, unless such contact was not in the interests of the welfare of the child.

As pointed out previously, clause 5 is in accordance with the coalition Government’s policy and in the manifestos of the Conservative and Labour parties. I would personally prefer to go further. A quite serious problem is developing with the assessment of grandparents. At times, the same assessment is used for grandparents as for foster carers. As part of the consultation, we excluded from the Bill a

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clause that would have said, “If the grandparents of looked-after children have looked after them adequately, do not assess them,” but I should like to see that in law. If we go round assessing everyone all the time about everything, we achieve nothing.

What often happens, as in the example given by the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries), is that children are removed from grandparents because they have not been assessed, when in fact there is no evidence of a problem. Obviously, there are circumstances where, perhaps historically, those grandparents have a bad record of looking after children and have been subject to child protection proceedings. However, just to say simply that all grandparents need assessments is not right. Again, as part of the consultation in an attempt to make the Bill less contentious, that proposal was dropped.

On the provisions that relate to the administration of justice, these are again similar issues, some of which are dealt with by the family courts and the Court of Protection, but they are also dealt with more widely. I have previously talked about the right to report wrongdoing, but this goes beyond the whistleblowers charter; it is the business of ensuring that, for instance, the police who threaten the hon. Lady’s constituents in an attempt to stop them reporting problems to her would be committing an offence. If we wish the rule of law to apply, we cannot tolerate people being prevented from complaining. If they are prevented from doing so, the authorities do not know that the rule of law is being breached and therefore no action can be taken.

Clause 7 is one of two “no more cover-ups” clauses. Subsection (1) would ensure that people have the right to complain to regulators, whether the police or anyone else. I have encountered a number of court orders that have been purported to prevent people from complaining to regulators. In fact, notwithstanding the Family Proceedings (Amendment) (No. 2) Rules 2009 No. 857, it is still a contempt of court to report experts who are clearly talking nonsense to regulators at times. However, similar constraints have existed on reported crimes. If such orders are appealed to the Supreme Court, they are likely to be struck down, but it is quite difficult to take cases through the appellate system, hence protection is needed at a lower level.

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Can the hon. Gentleman clarify the relationship with the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 and say why those who want to report issues to regulators are unable to do so under that Act?

John Hemming: I understand the Public Interest Disclosure Act as it relates to employment proceedings and particularly to court orders whereby people are banned from reporting things to the Financial Services Authority. One of the difficulties with a court order that prevents someone from talking to someone else is that it stops not just publication but possibly the reporting of a crime.

There was a murder in Australia, and the police there concluded that, notwithstanding injunctions, they could investigate that crime, but the police here concluded that they could not do so because the case was subject to a super-injunction. The Bill deals with that situation.

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I am not 100% on the Public Interest Disclosure Act, but I believe that it is mainly to do with employment proceedings.

We have a number of examples. A doctor was prevented from providing evidence to the General Medical Council to demonstrate that another doctor was treating patients wrongly, because of the law of confidentiality. That cannot be right. The GMC needs to decide on the evidence that it has.

Stephen Barclay: On reporting doctors to the GMC, it is very odd that, for example, the GMC does not see the complaints data held by the Department of Health or Care Quality Commission, but I think that issue is being looked at. Such things can be reported, but the legal risk would sit with the doctor. In other words, doctors are protected by PIDA in reporting to the GMC, but they are often bound by special severance clauses or other confidentiality clauses, which are covered by other litigation. Doctors are covered by patient confidentiality in other respects, not confined by PIDA, but the legal risk sits with doctors, who are often reluctant to take that legal risk.

John Hemming: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I could cite a specific case. I have not got the reference on me, but I could give it to him by e-mail later if he is interested. The case involves a published judgment where the court had a court order saying that the doctor is not allowed to provide evidence to the GMC. There is a High Court order to say that that evidence must not be provided. That cannot be right. If that order got to the Supreme Court it would be struck down, but there is a problem with the appellate process and a real challenge with all these things.

Clause 7(2), perhaps the most important part of the Bill, is to prevent cover-ups. Most substantial cover-ups involve people being threatened or pressed to prevent them from complaining to regulators. That clearly happened with Hillsborough and the Savile paedophile network, where children were punished for complaining. Although details of what sort of offence should be involved needs to be left for consideration in Committee, this absolutely key change is needed. The USA already has in its criminal code elements that protect complainants from the prosecution apparatus.

On “Matters relating to court proceedings”, clause 8(1) deals with the problem that the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) faced. The judiciary do at times make use of defamation law, which is entirely right, but people should not face criminal proceedings for making truthful statements about the operation of the legal system.

Clause 8(2) deals with the imprisonment of people in secret for contempt—quite a few people are in prison for contempt. The Official Solicitor is supposed to protect their interests, but nothing much seems to happen. I wrote to him and asked him, “What do you do about people who are in prison for contempt?” and he did not tell me anything—he just said, “I suppose we’re supposed to do something.”

Deborah Paul, a London mother, was imprisoned earlier this year. Those who are aware of her case believe that it was an oppressive act. There is no formal report. Although in theory the step of imprisonment is supposed to happen in open court, in practice, a court

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flashes into public session in the blink of an eye and goes back in camera—it might as well not bother. Clause 8(2) would protect contemnors from oppressive imprisonment and the abuse of power by the court.

Clause 8(3) would assist in dealing with cover-ups. For people to challenge public authorities, they need particularly deep pockets. The problem is the uncertainty about what costs they face paying if they lose the application. The court has developed through the common law protection in limited circumstances. A more general application of a pre-emptive costs order would allow people to challenge bodies such as the GMC or local authorities about wrongly given planning permission without having to bet the farm. I would wish for an element of one-way cost-shifting for judicial review, but in the interests of compromise and so that progress is made, I have suggested a smaller shift towards the power of the individual against the state.

Clause 9 is on the activities of the Official Solicitor. As it stands, the Official Solicitor is accountable merely to secret court proceedings. I know of a number of cases in which people have wrongly had their mental capacity removed—they are then submitted to the decisions of the Official Solicitor. RP v. UK—I made an application to the European Court of Human Rights to assist RP and her brother—demonstrates how cataclysmic a wrongful removal of mental capacity can be. RP’s GP and a second expert have indicated that she had mental capacity and was not too stupid to instruct a solicitor, but the system—all the way through—wrongly treated her as somebody who did not have mental capacity.

In order to appeal, a party needs a transcript of the judgment. However, that is often far too difficult to obtain—I am having problems with a constituency case in that respect. The official recording is frequently lost. The simple solution to the problem would be to allow people to take their own recordings, so that they can produce their own transcript.

On clause 11—“Right to assert litigation capacity”—when somebody has been deemed too stupid to instruct a solicitor and has normally had the Official Solicitor appointed as a litigation friend, it is almost impossible to get a solicitor to act to challenge such an appointment. The clause would make it clear that someone can challenge the appointment of a litigation friend. The proposal in RP v. UK that the Official Solicitor should be asked to review the appointment did not work in the case of Lee Gilliland, a gentleman in Bristol who had his mental capacity removed because he did not trust public authorities. He found himself evicted without notice, because the Official Solicitor did not tell him he was about to be evicted.

I would happily accept in Committee that clause 12 —“Ambit of reasonableness and capacity”—is too advanced and progressive for the English system, but it is worth considering. It would make the lives of those who have limited capacity much better. It is based on a clause from a province of Canada that tries to limit the controls exercised on people who are deemed not to have capacity. I am particularly concerned about the imprisonment of people using mental capacity. The deprivation of liberty safeguards are clearly inadequate in that they are overwhelmingly subject to conflicts of interest. I remain concerned about a constituent who was, in my view, wrongly imprisoned using that mechanism in order to prevent the investigation of a crime. However, the issue needs detailed consideration in Committee.

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Nadine Dorries: Given that there are court transcribers, one would assume that anybody attending the court would have a right to the transcript of a judgment. Not only is it not possible always to get a transcription, but when it is possible, it takes a considerable time. In that considerable time, the appeal is in abeyance and kept waiting—it cannot be lodged.

John Hemming: The hon. Lady is entirely accurate, but in addition, the tape recording gets lost.

Nadine Dorries: Conveniently.

John Hemming: Whether it is convenient or not, the fact that the tape recording is lost does not help the process.

In part 3, clauses 13 and 14 aim to reduce fuel bills by being more efficient. When I visited the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, I was impressed by the efforts of Parliament in the 18th century to encourage the development of advanced timekeeping technology in the Longitude Act 1714. That was an early demonstration that Parliament can, through statute, achieve positive outcomes in the development of technology. As someone whose academic qualifications are in science—my first degree is an MA from Magdalen college, Oxford, but I specialised in atomic, nuclear and theoretical physics—I sometimes feel that the physical laws are treated as insufficiently important in the public sphere. I take the view that the laws of physics will always trump the laws of economics, and do not understand a reality in which that is not true.

Two key laws are relevant to energy policy—one is the law of conservation of energy, which is also known as the first law of thermodynamics, and the other is the second law of thermodynamics. The first law says that we cannot get any more energy out of a system than we put in. If we take the chemical energy in a hydrocarbon such as methane, ethane or propane, and oxidise or burn it, no more energy can come out than goes in. We can get a mixture of energy out. We could get a physical force such as torsion to provide motive force, or electricity plus heat, or just heat—and, of course, any residual chemical energy.

Of the second law, Lord Kelvin says:

“It is impossible, by means of inanimate material agency, to derive mechanical effect from any portion of matter by cooling it below the temperature of the coldest of the surrounding objects.”

That means that there is a limit to how much work, such as torsion, can be obtained by burning a fossil fuel or other hydrocarbon. The rest of the energy goes as heat. Interestingly, the maximum efficiency of an ideal heat engine—the Carnot cycle—is calculated as the ratio of temperatures in degrees Kelvin.

The combined-cycle gas turbines that we use for a lot of electricity generation manage an efficiency of 55% in generating electricity and 45% in producing heat by having two heat engines running in series. Attempts are made to make use of the waste energy from power generation by combined heat and power schemes by circulating hot water. Clause 13 develops a strategy for smaller-scale combined heat and power schemes, so that more like 90% to 95% of the chemical energy in the

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gas can be effectively used, rather than the current maximum, which is more like 50%, particularly when transmission losses are taken into account.

The Bill also involves passive flue gas, which is another step in converting more of the chemical energy into heat for warming water rather than its going out into the air. Clearly, therefore, if we get almost twice as much useful energy from the energy source, over time, we would reduce energy bills by around half, which is a good outcome for families and fuel justice. The economic models that have been issued show that there is no cost to the public purse. If implemented properly, the measure would simply achieve a result. The aggregate cut of energy bills from the use of passive flue gas would work out at about £1 billion a year for the whole country, which is a substantial saving for families and an improvement in fuel justice. All those measures are cost-effective for the consumer and the taxpayer.

However, it is important that a critical mass is created so that the market can make appropriate investments in technology. If we manage to halve energy bills and reduce the winter heating bill, we would reduce fuel poverty. The mechanism improves fuel justice for families.

Stephen Barclay: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point on using energy more efficiently rather than simply producing more of it, but the Liberal Democrats are pushing hard for some of the most costly forms of renewable energy production. Does he support a greater subsidy for better energy usage as opposed to such a large subsidy for production?

Mr Speaker: Order. May I just say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) that his dilation on these matters so far has been dazzling? We are all seeking to come to terms with the intellectual ferocity that he has deployed. In responding to that intervention, I hope he will not stray too far away from the core of his most interesting Bill.

John Hemming: I shall follow your guidance, Mr Speaker. We have strayed quite substantially from the Bill, because it does not propose any subsidies. It merely says that we should, through statute, guidance and regulation, improve efficiency. That does not require Government funding or subsidy; it can be entirely funded through the private sector. There is no debate about subsidy because none is proposed.

Mr Ellwood: In response to your guidance, Mr Speaker, I shall try to be more specific. Britain has lagged behind other European countries in the level of insulation in our dwellings and seeking to improve it is an honourable pursuit. However, I am confused by the fact that the hon. Gentleman is pursuing code level 6 insulation when the Government’s target is code level 3. Code level 6 is clearly higher, but would add an additional cost of about £30,000 to any dwelling that will have to come from somewhere—for example, from the local authority or the Government. Why is he saying code level 6 when the Government are saying code level 3?

John Hemming: The idea is to move in that direction over time. In Committee, I might accept that we could stick with the Government’s limited objectives—[Interruption.] Yes, without subsidy. The key objective

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is to do this without a subsidy. The Bill does not require additional public funding; its aim is to improve the lives of families and family justice in the widest sense.

Lorely Burt: The Bill requires the aim to be achieved by 2020. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a sad thing, with all the innovations that are being worked on at the moment, if we were unable to move as far as code level 6 by then?

John Hemming: I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. This issue will clearly need detailed discussion in Committee.

Stephen Barclay: I share the desire of the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) to reach code level 6 and think that it is good to have such an aspiration, but the cost would either fall on those who require affordable housing—the hon. Gentleman’s party speaks frequently on the need for more affordable housing, a view which I share—or be met through diverting subsidy. I accept that the Bill does not require any subsidy, but surely an aspiration to meet code level 6 would lead us to take the view that we might need to reapply the subsidy from one area to another. Perhaps that should happen.

John Hemming: That might be a debate for Committee. These are all issues of important detail, but the nub of the Bill is not to look for further public subsidy but to focus on how we can reduce people’s energy bills without it.

Mr Ellwood: I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying and his knowledge about all these matters of family law and so on is hugely impressive, but we must tie into current legislation and thinking. The Government have made a commitment that by 2016 all new homes will be zero-carbon and I must make it clear that the target for code level 6 already stands as a voluntary target.

John Hemming: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The Bill sets a target for 2020 and perhaps in Committee we will feel that we should extend it. Those debates must be held in detail, however, and the principle must be improving efficiency in an cost-effective manner. We are discussing issues of detail, but we need to make progress down this route.

Earlier, I emphasised how the news over the summer highlighted the urgency of taking the actions in the Bill. I conclude that the Bill should urgently make progress to Committee. I am entirely happy to work positively with the Government to make steps towards a better future for children and families and I therefore ask Members to support the Bill.

10.53 am

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) on presenting the Bill to the House and on how he has gone through a number of clauses in detail.

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed some of these issues in the past, including the problems I have had with constituency matters as regards the courts and local authority departments. I speak as the Member for

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Heywood and Middleton but also as one of the Rochdale borough MPs and a leader of Rochdale borough council before I came to this House. The hon. Gentleman referred to a recent case in Rochdale that received global coverage, and the local council’s safeguarding children board recently presented its initial report. Members will appreciate why I have a great interest in these matters and strongly support the Bill. I congratulate him on his choice of subject.

A second independent report from Rochdale’s local authority will become available quite soon. The safeguarding children board’s report was transparent and hard-hitting and strengthens the case, in my view, for improvements to child care and the protection of children in not only Rochdale but other local authorities across the country. It presents some 15 recommendations, which are now a matter of public record, that are designed to develop a much more effective strategy for family care.

Members might be interested to hear some of the recommendations and how they might affect local authorities across the country. More than 10,000 staff in agencies throughout the borough have received briefings in respect of recognition and response to sexual exploitation. More than 1,500 staff have had face-to-face training with plans to reach the whole work force by the end of this year. Awareness-raising workshops have been given to almost 10,000 children in local secondary schools and there are plans to deliver similar sessions for parents in schools and community centres. Training for staff who work with young people at risk of child sexual exploitation is happening, too.

The formulation of a multi-agency strategy to ensure a more co-ordinated response to child sexual exploitation is also part of the recommendations. Improvements to the way in which Greater Manchester police and other criminal justice organisations deal with victims of child sexual exploitation is at the top of the list and staff numbers will be increased in the Sunrise team, which is a multi-agency team jointly funded by all agencies and created to prevent and tackle child sexual exploitation. The new procedures to be followed when staff refer possible child sexual exploitation cases are an important recommendation, as is the introduction of one point of contact for referrals of concern. All referrals to children’s social care services for children over the age of 12 will be screened for early signs of child sexual exploitation. More guidance will be issued to professional staff, which is an important point, and there will be more training, too.

Greater Manchester police and the council’s licensing authority will work more closely together and regular multi-agency information-sharing meetings will be held to ensure that services share concerns about possible victims, abusers and hot spots in the borough and develop appropriate responses.

Stephen Barclay: The hon. Gentleman is correct to highlight the importance of training and multi-agency work, but is not one of the difficulties the lack of accountability? The buck does not stop with any single individual in tragic incidents such as that which occurred in Rochdale. What would he like to see happen to improve accountability? It is great to train 1,000 or 1,500 people, but we also need to address the accountability of individuals.

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Jim Dobbin: I fully understand and I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have the report with me and if he wants to take a look at it at some stage, he will see how the council intends to tackle that problem, which it recognises as important. I should also point out that the leader and chief executive of Rochdale council have both appeared in front of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and further senior staff are due to appear in due course.

Stephen Barclay: Has any individual lost their job as a result of the events in Rochdale? Does he believe that any individual should lose their job? It is all very well appearing before a parliamentary Committee, but what are the real-term consequences for those who are accountable?

Jim Dobbin: That is certainly an important question that people are asking. The difficulty is that many of the staff involved have retired, as these cases arose a number of years ago. Recently, the head of the department concerned resigned, so things are happening there, but at present the local authority is reviewing the whole process. It still has another report to come out; after that, it will be fair to accept that members of staff may well lose their jobs because of the affair. That is a possibility, but I do not want to pre-empt the decision of the local authority.

I have referred to better staff training. Partner agencies, such as the police, community groups and schools, must be better co-ordinated. Criminal justice organisations should be encouraged to support young people who have been exploited, throughout the entire process—when reporting the crime and making statements; in pre-trial preparation; when they go to court; and after the trial. The recommendations refer to holding

“Regular multi agency information sharing meetings”

to ensure that possible victims and abusers are identified, and proper responses are developed; at present, none of that is happening anywhere, as I understand it. The Rochdale case is not the only one; this is a problem across the country—and indeed the globe, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, said.

I illustrate the need for this Bill by referring to a constituency case. A constituent, Mr X, came to one of my surgeries to complain that the local social services children’s unit was threatening to remove the youngest of his five children. The child had cerebral palsy. The other four children were well looked after and were doing very well at school. The department refused to accept that the child’s cerebral palsy was the reason for his unhappiness at school. Even though a consultant paediatrician, with whom I was acquainted, diagnosed cerebral palsy, the diagnosis was questioned by the department and the professionals. They had to bring in an independent paediatrician to verify that the child had cerebral palsy. That was verified, but even then there were question marks. I knew that the parents were a caring, loving couple.

The social worker complained to the family court judge that Mr X was seeking my intervention. The judge ruled that Mr X could no longer seek any help from his Member of Parliament. I raised that issue in the Chamber with the then Solicitor-General, who appeared to support what I said, and thought that the ruling was wrong. When she checked, she found that the judge was

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within his rights to rule as he did. That is why I am pleased that that issue is tackled, as I understand it, in the Bill. Eventually, the department backed off, but not before Mr X had a massive heart attack and died. It is my view that the worry about the threat of his son being removed, and the possibility of his other four children being removed, caused his death.

Members may remember the perceived satanic abuse cases that suddenly appeared on a council estate in my former council area. That followed similar episodes in the Orkney islands a number of years ago. Professionals were encouraging a theory that some families were involved in satanic abuse. A number of children were removed from their families. The courts tackled the issue, and eventually ruled that there was no evidence to prove the claims, and the children were allowed back to their families.

I use those local experiences as examples of why I support the Bill. I am convinced that there is a need for changes in departments that are responsible for the protection of children, and that family courts need to respond to these challenges in parallel; that is most important. I am absolutely amazed that the Association of Directors of Children's Services opposes the Bill. I hope that it will eventually see the error of its ways and bring itself into the 21st century.

Lorely Burt: My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) was a little coy when he was invited to speculate on why that august body did not support his Bill. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) has any idea why it does not.

Jim Dobbin: I can only guess. I feel that the ADCS is absolutely acting as a protective body, and it is protecting its membership; I think that is the only reason it has made that statement. We will not know otherwise until it clarifies why it has taken that stance.

I have been appointed the United Kingdom’s delegate to the “One in Five” campaign, which is a sub-group of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development. It is to hold a major conference on trafficking and child abuse.

John Hemming: To go back to the hon. Gentleman’s point about preventing children from being maltreated, trafficked and so on, does he agree that they need an advocate who is not employed by the local authority?

Jim Dobbin: Indeed. That is an extremely important point, and I assume that will be part of the Bill.

John Hemming: I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me a second bite at the cherry. Yes, it is part of the Bill to ensure that somebody who has no vested interest in concealing malpractice is an advocate for the child.

Jim Dobbin: The “One in Five” campaign is convening at a conference in Moscow in November, which I will take part in, and if the hon. Gentleman agrees, I will refer to his Bill on that platform.

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11.7 am

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I want to make three points. First, I shall draw attention to a particularly troubling constituency case relating to a grandparent’s access to his grandson—an issue that the Bill speaks to in part, but I would like further clarification on the subject. Secondly, I want to address the point that arose in exchanges with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) about accountability and the multi-agency approach, and points raised in the last exchange about the introduction of new champions; I want to ask whether, for all the benefits involved, that would not add a further layer of complexity and confusion. I shall seek clarification from him on that in his closing remarks.

Thirdly, in the wake of recent hearings held by the Public Accounts Committee, I want to look at points relating to the cost of living and lower fuel bills, a particularly pertinent issue in the fens and North East Cambridgeshire, the constituency that I have the privilege of representing, where there is a long tradition of independence. As a result of that independence, many local parents do not take up, for their children, the free school meals to which those children are entitled; that has an impact on our schools’ funding. There is the same issue of independence in the elderly community with regard to fuel. Fuel poverty is an acute issue in many rural villages in the fens. The Bill covers that issue, and I shall touch on it.

On the first point relating to grandparents’ access, I think we would all accept that the role of grandparents in society has changed greatly. I want to highlight the case of a constituent. His daughter split from the father of her child. The father is known to have a number of difficulties. The daughter moved away to live near the grandfather. As she was a single mother, with a grandfather very nearby, the grandfather became a quasi-parent—the quasi-father. He had a huge amount of access to his grandson. Very tragically, his daughter died so the relationship of the grandfather to his grandson became even more acute but, because of the limited rights that he had as grandfather, the child has now moved to a different part of the country. The grandfather does not have rights of access, yet the unsuitability of the father is such that the child is currently subject to a child protection plan. For many months a lack of improvement in the care has been noted by protection officers but despite this, very little seems to happen. At a recent court hearing the failure of two expert witnesses to turn up meant that the case was delayed further.

With each month that passes, not only is the grandson playing truant from school, not only are other problems arising because of the unsuitability of the father to care for the child, but the relationship between grandfather and grandson, which was once so strong, is becoming frayed because the grandfather cannot get permission for the grandson to spend time with him. Getting a passport so that he could take his grandson on holiday proved a real ordeal because the father, who was not engaging, had to sign the passport.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley is right to draw attention to the need to reflect in his Bill the fact that the role of grandparents has changed from previous generations, but there is a lack of clarity—perhaps the hon. Gentleman intends to address that in Committee —about how the Bill would work in the real-life case

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that I draw to his attention, where the mother who was the primary carer has died. The case is not one in which, with parents still in place, the question arises whether the grandparent should have more or less access, but is one where he is the more suitable prime carer of the child than the father, who is known to the family courts and who has experienced difficulties, and where the inappropriateness of that care is reflected in the child’s truancy from school and other measurable metrics.

John Hemming: One aspect that I may not have emphasised sufficiently was that one difficulty of relying too much on court proceedings rather than a family group conference is that they create an adversarial environment, which a family group conference is less likely to do. Although it does not provide a complete solution to the case that the hon. Gentleman presents as an example, if the issues could be discussed in a family group conference rather than in adversarial proceedings, it might be possible not to create a greater rift among the parties involved, which makes it harder to achieve some form of compromise.

The family group conference approach starts out by looking at what are essentially therapeutic decisions—what is best of for the child, which is not so much a traditional legal adversarial decision as an attempt to answer the question, “How do we best achieve a positive outcome for the child in the circumstances?” If that fails, the case has to go to court. Recognising article 8 rights for grandparents in that context is helpful. The Bill tries to get issues resolved outside court first so that fewer cases end up going to court.

Stephen Barclay: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification and I agree with that intention. One of the impediments to speedy resolution of such cases is the length of time it takes to prepare court papers, with frequent delays in the court process such as the one I mentioned. I endorse the hon. Gentleman’s desire for resolution outside court. On almost all legal issues, I suspect that few hon. Members across the House would demur from that as an aspiration.

John Hemming: One of the difficulties with contact proceedings is that if things are not working, an application to court is initiated. I accept that the Government are looking towards mediation, but a family group conference, trying to get people together, is an environment in which mediation can occur. One has to look at the system and the entire process—what initiates something and what are the likely outcomes. We have tended to pick little bits in isolation, rather than look at a flowchart of the whole system. The family group conference should be where it starts, not where it goes after an application has been made to court. At that point, in a sense, it is too late.

Stephen Barclay: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that further clarification and I fully support his intention. My question is whether that fits with human behaviour. Throughout all arms of Government we often see policy put forward with the very best of intentions, but it clashes with logic or behaviour at an individual level. If, at that conciliatory meeting, all the players were coming to the table with the best interests of the child at heart, of course one would expect that approach to work and I am sympathetic to it, but how does it work where the father has previously been estranged and is known to

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have difficulties, yet the bar to removing the child from that father and placing him with the grandparent is so high, because social services see that as such a retrograde step? There can be all the nice conversations in the world; the question is whether we shift the bar at which the child is moved.

John Hemming: That comes to the question of what is in the best interests of the child. The children’s services authority has decided in the circumstances that in its opinion it is in the best interests of the child for him to remain with his father, not with his grandfather. I tend to share the hon. Gentleman’s view that that seems a perverse decision. However, that decision of the children’s services authority is not subject to any intellectual scrutiny beyond the court hearing. To a very great extent, judges are trapped and have to accept the expert opinion provided to them. The hon. Gentleman may be aware of the Daubert procedure in America, where expert evidence is taken to an expert evidence appeal. I am not suggesting that here. What I am suggesting is that there should be a scrutiny process to look at such situations. What he describes is not unique. I am aware of other similar situations—

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) could be forgiven for thinking that he was intervening on the person making the speech. I remind the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) that he is intervening on the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay). It should be an intervention, not a mini-speech. Has he just about concluded?

John Hemming indicated assent.

Mr Speaker: We are grateful.

Stephen Barclay: I am most obliged, Mr Speaker, for your very courteous intervention on my behalf, and I am more than willing to take an intervention from such a senior colleague as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh).

There are two issues that arise from the worthy intention of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley. First, as I understand it, it is the current position of the courts that the welfare of the child comes first, so proposing a new structure to achieve that aim raises the question whether that is not the existing position. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting, paradoxically, that we take an expert witness’s advice to the court, but we cannot trust that advice to be in the best interests of the child’s welfare so we need to put it to some other expert witness. Is that really what he is proposing?

John Hemming: I am not proposing in the Bill that there is, in effect, an experts appeal. I am proposing that we use the body of expert evidence and the process of peer review to improve the quality of expert evidence. The expert might find, having read the peer review of their evidence, that perhaps they should have given different evidence. The difficulty is that what is in the best interests of the child is not always that clear. We need a better review of what is in the best interests of the child, and such a review does not currently exist.

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Stephen Barclay: I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the primary aim should be to improve the quality of the expert witness advice given in the first place, rather than putting it to a second expert witness, which potentially adds a layer of confusion.

John Hemming: The second expert’s evidence goes to the same court hearing.

Stephen Barclay: Indeed. But the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion means that we would spend more and more money on experts, even though he and I would agree that what we should be doing is spending our scarce resources on the primary focus, which is the interests of the child.

John Hemming: We already have academics in place doing research, but they are not given access to that particular material.

Stephen Barclay: I defer to the hon. Gentleman’s experience as an academic—he speaks with more authority on these matters than I do—but in my limited experience of discussions with academics I have found that, invariably, what one says is different from what another says. Again, I am not sure why the academic cannot be the expert witness in the first place. The point still stands that we need to ensure that the quality of advice from any expert witness is sound.

John Hemming: How do we improve the quality of expert witness advice without peer review?

Stephen Barclay: The hon. Gentleman goes to the nub of my argument. Many of these issues go back to that iconic and hugely emotive film, “Cathy Come Home”. Taking a child from its mother is something that no one wants to see. I think that the bar has been set so high because it is felt that it is not in the interests of a child to remove it from its natural parent, in this case an unsuitable father. The blood tie is considered so precious that breaking it requires such a high bar and very rarely happens. In my example we have a grandfather who, in essence, had day-to-day contact with his grandson, alongside his daughter, who was the primary carer. He was very closely involved in his grandson’s life. Following his daughter’s death, he would have been the more suitable custodian, in my uninformed view, but the so-called experts take the view that the estranged father, purely because he is the father, is the person the child must live with, even though he allows the child to play truant, even though the child is subject to care protection and even though the grandfather is an upstanding member of the community.

John Hemming: As things currently stand, the evidence provided by expert witnesses is not subject to any process of peer review, so over time, their expert evidence will never change.

Stephen Barclay: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and will seek to make progress.

Mr Leigh: When I was a practitioner in the family courts, my general view was that the content of the evidence of so-called experts was inversely proportionate to common sense.

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Stephen Barclay: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He appears to side with my analysis of the suitability of the grandparents. He makes a serious point, as a former practitioner, about the amount of time experts often have to come to these conclusions. To be fair, the engagement of some of these experts is often so limited that it is difficult.

That brings me to my second point—I want to make progress. It strikes me that in this hugely complex area—the complexity is signalled by the range and scope of the Bill—one of the difficulties is the lack of accountability. What concerns me about the measures the hon. Gentleman puts forward is that he seems to be adding a further layer of complexity by having champions who are in some way more independent. That is another layer.

John Hemming: The guardian ad litem is already a litigation friend. It is not a question of having a new body; it is a question of having one that is clearly independent of the previous proceeding.

Stephen Barclay: Again, the lawyers present should have a duty to the court. When I qualified as a solicitor it was my primary duty to—

John Hemming: The litigation friend is not necessarily a lawyer.

Stephen Barclay: I feel that we are splitting hairs. What I am saying is that a multitude of professionals are engaged in the welfare of the child. Do they not have professional duties? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that they are compromised, or that he cannot trust that their vested interests will not get in the way of the interests of the child?

John Hemming: The evidence from the case of A and S v. Lancashire county council indicates that the independent reviewing officer was not sufficiently independent.

Stephen Barclay: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification, because he makes my point. The point is that we do not address a failure by adding more complexity; we address it by fixing it. The issues that go wrong in life are almost invariably the result of over-complexity. There is a distinction between simple and simplistic. One of the difficulties we have in child protection is the whole range of people involved and the complexity of the different organisations involved. At any one time, one person might be on holiday, another might be off ill, someone sent an e-mail, someone else spoke to someone or did not visit the child, another person has too many cases to deal with and so did not engage properly, or the expert witness did not produce a report of sufficient quality. The point is that when it goes wrong no one is accountable.

A case that rightly drew great concern across the House was that involving the official, Sharon Shoesmith. I draw attention to the fact that the courts—I do not criticise them for this decision—gave Ms Shoesmith a significant payout. When I discussed the case with my constituents at the time, they expressed great frustration, because clearly there had been a huge failure and a child had been very badly let down, but they could not work out who had been accountable.

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The hon. Gentleman’s proposal is extremely well intentioned and I share his objective—I hope that all Members do—but my concern is that it would add yet more complexity to an already complex structure.

John Hemming: My contention is that it would not add more complexity; it would merely ensure that we do not have to wait until a child is considered competent before their complaints can be heard by the court.

Stephen Barclay: Let me give a parallel example to illustrate my point better. The Public Accounts Committee had a hearing for the Care Quality Commission, the body set up by the previous Government to protect many of our most vulnerable—not those in child protection, but those in care homes. Yet for the first two years of its existence it did not carry out a single major investigation. Just one of its predecessor bodies carried out 15 such investigations in the preceding years. The commission even abolished its dedicated whistleblower line, so it passed its responsibilities to general staff, which is why the Winterbourne View case, which was flagged up by whistleblowers on more than one occasion, was missed. It took the BBC’s “Panorama” programme to bring that to light.

What I am driving at is that the answer to the difficulties we face is not the current fashion of having yet more multi-agency work and more partners getting involved and, when it goes wrong, everyone saying that it was not them or, as was suggested earlier, that someone has retired or moved on. That is not a new situation. Twice a week in the Public Accounts Committee we hear of vast sums of money wasted under various Governments, and almost invariably the official concerned has moved on. We have had three permanent secretaries of the Department for Transport since the last election. A former Chair of the PAC is present in the Chamber: my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh). I am sure he is very familiar with officials moving on—perhaps retiring—and therefore not being accountable. I support the worthy aims of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, but his proposals add more complexity to the system, and I question whether that will aid accountability.

Lower fuel bills is a particularly pertinent issue in the fens, and especially the fen villages. I take on board fully Mr Speaker’s direction that it is not the purpose of our debate today to discuss the issue of subsidies, but the best way for us to address fuel poverty is to ensure we better utilise the energy that is being produced. That is why the green deal is particularly welcome.

I should put on record a concern, however. When I spoke last week to one of the green deal assessors in east Cambridgeshire—one of the districts covering my constituency—I was concerned to learn that he is still not in a position to carry out green deal assessments of local homes, and he does not think he will be in a position to do so until the new year because the software is still not in place.

It is laudable to seek to go to level 6 of the code for sustainable homes, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) drew the House’s attention to the current provision—level 3. The difficulty is that that cuts across human behaviour. We will not get to level 6 through wishful thinking; we will not get to level 6 because it is the right thing to do and it is a

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lovely, inspirational aim. We will get there by shifting behaviours. That will come either from expecting people to pay more for their homes—which they are not able to do—or through subsidy. Subsidy will require a shift, particularly in respect of turbines, which are decimating the fens. Bizarrely, the area has now become known as the “forest of the fens”. When the forest protests erupted over a previous Government policy, many electors wrote to me about saving the forest—which is somewhat ironic given that the fens has very few forests and is predominantly flat land.

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the key point here is subsidy of energy forms? There is little justification for the subsidy of wind farms. There is much more justification for an up-front subsidy of nuclear power. Throughout the country vast tracts of beautiful countryside are being impacted upon by onshore wind farms. I would rather see a concentration of energy generation in fewer sites, and the only way we can achieve that is through nuclear.

Stephen Barclay: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the most welcome moves made by this Government is to give a greater local say on wind farm developments—such as at Tydd St Giles in my constituency, which has galvanised the local population. The vast majority of people are deeply concerned as we already have many wind farms in North East Cambridgeshire. Fenland now produces more energy than it requires for its own needs. The local countryside was asset-stripped of most of its rural services under the last Government, and one of the few things being added to rural communities is something they do not want. My hon. Friend is right: because of the cost and environmental impact of such schemes, we should instead embrace the big-ticket energy solutions that are going to work.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The Bill suggests a road map for ending fuel poverty; it is not an in-depth discussion of energy generation. I would therefore be grateful if the hon. Gentleman returned to the issues addressed in the Bill. I think Mr Speaker has already given a warning on this matter.

Stephen Barclay: I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as, with characteristic prescience, you anticipate my closing remarks.

The very cost that the PAC has looked at on a number of occasions is what is driving fuel poverty in the fens: the cost of production is adding an extra tariff that is particularly detrimental to my many elderly constituents. We have sought to help them through an initiative that would, perhaps, be welcomed in Madam Deputy Speaker’s constituency, too. The Golden Age Fair is run by Fenland district council and helps those living in fuel poverty to access the limited grants and other aids that are available. It does so by running a computer programme that helps to analyse people’s living costs.

I commend the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley for introducing his Bill, and I support his aims. Like me, he seeks to address some very real concerns about child protection. However, although the existing structure clearly has flaws that we need to address, we cannot do that by having more experts commenting on experts. We

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address it by ensuring expert reports are accurate—not by having more complexity, which serves to create less accountability —and by having a simpler, clearer system that will better champion the interests of the children we seek to protect. By having such a system, I hope we will ensure that my constituent, a loving grandfather, will be able to get custody of his grandson—as he wants, and as I believe is in the best interests of the child.

11.37 am

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I support the Bill. I will speak mainly about clause 1, but first let me say that clause 2’s provisions are based on the personal experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), who campaigns tirelessly and fearlessly on behalf of his constituents and others. I know how angry he was when a constituent was threatened over even speaking to him. To say he feels passionately about injustice—especially when perpetrated against those least able to fight for themselves, such as children—is an understatement.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you missed a wonderful explanation of thermodynamics, which I am sure will be to your eternal loss. We do not need an explanation of thermodynamics, however, to understand that making energy-cost savings of £1.1 billion by 2020 is an extremely laudable aim.

We are living in strange times. The Savile scandal is not only still rumbling on, but there are now suggestions that more public figures will be exposed. The press is reporting that we are now trying to substitute transparency for trust, because people no longer trust our public institutions. It seems that trust is becoming an old-fashioned word. The foundations of trust are shaken to the core when the actions of well-loved figures are uncovered—unfortunately, discovered too late for many people—and that is why this Bill is so important. We cannot have trust without transparency, and that is very pertinent to elements of the Bill.

A particularly helpful aspect proposes family group conferences which would give the extended family a say in resolving problems in a consensual manner instead of decisions being made in what can appear to be a rather high-handed manner by people who are not specifically involved with the family. Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 enshrined the rule that the court must treat the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration. Under the care and supervision proceedings in the Act, the child concerned can be taken into care only if they are

“suffering, or…likely to suffer, significant harm; and…the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to…the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or…the child’s being beyond parental control.

The Act goes on to state:

“Before proceeding with an application, the local authority should always obtain and consider legal advice on whether, in the circumstances of the case and in the light of the available evidence, the court is likely to be satisfied”

that the conditions I quoted are met

“and that an order is in the best interests of the child and that making a care order would be better for the child than making no order at all.”

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However, that is not always the case, because sometimes, as we have discussed, the expert evidence is based on opinion, which cannot be challenged. The purpose of my hon. Friend’s Bill is to ensure transparency so that the reasoning behind the opinion can be tested. He cited the example of an expert opinion in a case where a child was taken away from their mother because she took the view that the child—a baby—should be fed on demand. It is scandalous that someone could give that opinion without any kind of challenge.

The provisions on proceedings in the family court and the Court of Protection would clarify the role of the friend and/or the McKenzie friend. They would also ensure that grandparents and other members of the wider family may have a say and offer their own perspective. Grandparents have knowledge of the situation and an interest in a positive outcome. They feel strongly about family break-up, but as things stand, although they do not have any say in the family court, they are often literally left holding the baby. The McKenzie friend system assists parents in the family court, who are often in need of a legally trained friend of the family or someone who has a little more expertise and advice to give. Not every parent can afford to have a lawyer in the family court, and that is against the spirit of what it is supposed to provide. Such psychological support, whether it is practical or results merely from the person being there, can be extremely valuable.

Mr Jim Cunningham: The hon. Lady is making a very good case, and I totally agree with her. In many cases, the authorities can pay for their legal advice but the appellant cannot. She is therefore right to advocate the increasing use of McKenzie friends, if possible.

Lorely Burt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We see examples of this in many walks for life. I have been involved with a group called the Association for Shared Parenting, which provides the McKenzie friend system for parents who have been separated from their children and are trying to regain access to them. In the spirit of the big society, we should allow that sort of thing to be permitted much more widely.

On clause 2(5), it is very important that children in whose best interests it is to be in care should be placed locally where there is good reason to do so. We saw tragic examples in Rochdale of what can go wrong. In that context, the contribution by the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) was most welcome. If children are placed locally, they still have their local connections and are not so isolated and prey to the apparently flattering but ill-conceived intentions of people seeking to groom them for all kinds of nefarious activities which can ruin the rest of their lives. Under the current system of independent scrutiny of children in care, children can complain to the perpetrators. For example, if the body they complain to is the local authority, and the body responsible for the care that they are given is the local authority, I see no logical reason for opposing the possibility of separating out the two in the interests of fairness and transparency. Earlier I told my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley about the schoolchildren who complained about the molesting activities of Jimmy Savile and were actually punished for doing so. These children must be able to go to somebody independent to whom they can complain.

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As we have heard, there can be prejudice against children in care and after they have been in care. It is absolutely scandalous that a child can be branded and disadvantaged for life through, usually, absolutely no fault of their own. They need the protection that my hon. Friend offers in clause 3, subsection (4) of which addresses the prejudice that he described. The protected characteristics to which he refers, which are defined in the Equality Act 2010, are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sex and sexual orientation. It is sad that someone’s having been in care in their younger life should be added to that list, but unfortunately I can see why he thinks so. It is important that any child can make its way in the world without additional discrimination of that kind.

Part 3 contains measures on the cost of living to achieve lower fuel bills. It would require a strategy to be produced by the Secretary of State that would help to end the misery of cold homes for millions of people. I suggested earlier that my hon. Friend was seeking three bites of the cherry, but given the rarity of one’s name coming up in the ballot, we want to address all the burning issues—if you will pardon the pun, Madam Deputy Speaker—that we have been thinking about for a long time. We want it all, basically.

The Bill would provide that the Secretary of State must

“by 2020…require any replacement heating system”—

that is, boilers. Apparently, 1.3 million boilers give up the ghost every year, and they are the ones we most need to replace with the best quality boilers that can be envisaged. I say “envisaged” because we are talking about 2020. We are making improvements in the quality and efficiency of boilers all the time, so I do not think—contrary to what the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) said earlier—that a band 6 boiler is necessarily too big an aspiration.

Mr Jim Cunningham: The hon. Lady makes an important point, particularly now, as we are hitting the winter, with the change in climate, the bad weather and so forth. She is quite right, because whichever way we put the argument—and without wanting to get too political—one of the issues is that the price of fuel and heating continually goes up, but it never goes down. She is therefore making a valuable point. Most of the families concerned cannot always afford to get their boiler put right, so she has hit on a sensitive issue.

Lorely Burt: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am sure he will welcome the fact that by that time we will be in a position to use green deal funding, so as not to be a burden on the taxpayer. Although some of the technologies are not quite ready yet, the fact that we can aspire to that is an important aspect of this Bill.

In conclusion, I do not understand the laws of thermodynamics, but I do see that the energy innovations of combined heat and power, and flue gas will make a major difference to household bills in the UK, and I commend all of this Bill to the House.

11.51 am

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): May I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) on bringing the Bill before us today?

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It appears to be his magnum opus, in terms of size and breadth, and I wish him well with its progress. I am pleased to be following the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), which I thought was particularly thoughtful and provocative.

I will try to confine my remarks to parts 1 and 3 of the Bill. In broad terms, the Bill has merit. I am always instinctively concerned about over-regulation and creating more and more legislation. As a point of principle, I would very much like to spend time in this House discussing the removal of legislation, because I think we have way too much in this country. My particular bête noire is the tax code, which could do with simplifying some time soon. However, I understand that the central thrust of the proposals in the Bill is to do with family justice, particularly with regard to child protection.

In many ways, the Bill almost appears to have been structured so as to allow me to make a contribution to the debate. I am on the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change. I am also a doctor who continues to practise in quite a socially deprived part of Slough, in Berkshire, and unfortunately on some occasions I encounter evidence of child abuse. I therefore feel informed enough to comment on child protection. Indeed, in my long—perhaps too long—university career of nine years, one of my theses was 10,000 words on the psychology of the child sex offender, which I wrote in 1992. In preparing that thesis, I encountered statistics about the prevalence of child physical, psychological and sexual abuse in this country, which was really quite sobering. I am therefore not, sadly, surprised at how the figures in the Savile case are growing day by day. Unfortunately, these problems have long blighted our society, so I suspect that the figures will increase and that the number of perpetrators in the public eye will also increase.

We have had this problem for a long time in our society and we have had many systems in place to try to prevent it from happening, but I am reminded of T. S. Eliot’s prose:

“systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

He was right: we cannot design a system so perfect, however honourable the approach in trying to do so. All of us—everyone in this House; indeed, anybody who is in close contact with vulnerable people, be they children or adults—have a personal responsibility to point out when things might be slightly awry.

Stephen Barclay: I fully concur with my hon. Friend about the limits of any system. No system can ever be a panacea against future risk. Does he agree, however, that the framework in which systems should be designed should be based on simplicity and clarity? One of the risks of the Bill—this was touched on in my exchanges with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming)—is that a complex system could diminish accountability.

Dr Lee: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I agree with him. In addition to being an enemy of over-regulation and over-legislation, I am also an enemy of complexity. Complexity always makes me suspicious. Most things in life are quite straightforward and simple; it is only when people want to hide things that they make them complex.