Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the noble Earl said, and I am reassured. A point of principle was involved. I felt that there should be a reduced status. I believe that the noble Earl has told me that that is implicit in the Bill. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Clause 17 [Duty of local authority to child looked after by them]:

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 6:

After Clause 17, insert the following new clause:

("Duty of persons with parental responsibilities to notify change of address to local authority looking after child.

.—(1) Where a child is being looked after by a local authority, each natural person who has parental responsibilities in relation to the child shall, without unreasonable delay, inform that authority whenever the person changes his address.
(2) A person who knowingly fails to comply with the requirement imposed by subsection (1) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of level 1 on the standard scale; but in any proceedings under this section it shall be a defence that—
(a) the change was to the same address as that to which another person who at that time had parental responsibilities in relation to the child was changing; and
(b) the accused had reasonable cause to believe that the other person had informed the authority of the change of address of them both.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in speaking to this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 32 and 62. These amendments apparently bring in a new clause but it is of course a transfer of the provisions from the 1968 Act. It is right that there should be a duty

12 Jul 1995 : Column 1800

placed on people with parental responsibilities to notify their change of address to any local authority looking after their child or children. It is possible to imagine circumstances in which the local authority could lose touch with parents. Whether the child can be reunited with the family is not material; it is simply appropriate that the local authority should be able to reach the parent for so long as the authority looks after the child and the parent has the parental responsibilities.

While the duty is on the adult to notify any change of address, the clause is as much related to the child and the child's needs. It is certainly appropriate to have it in the Children (Scotland) Bill, and the amendment brings in the necessary substantive clause. The other amendments make appropriate references in Schedule 5 to effect the necessary repeal in the 1968 Act and in Clause 104, making clear that it extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

These amendments offer a further enhancement of the Bill. It is preferable that provision of this type should be in the Bill rather than the 1968 Act. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 7:

After Clause 17, insert the following new clause:

("Welfare of child and local authority's consideration of his views

.—(1) Without prejudice to the provisions of section 17 above, where under or by virtue of this Part of this Act, a local authority decides any matter with respect to a child, the welfare of that child throughout his childhood shall be their paramount consideration.
(2) In making any such decision a local authority shall have regard so far as practicable to the views (if he wishes to express them) of the child concerned, taking account of his age and maturity; and without prejudice to the generality of this subsection a child twelve years of age or more shall be presumed to be of sufficient age and maturity to form a view.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 7 is not new. I am returning to it because I believe that the Bill will be weakened without it. A clear statement is needed about how the local authorities shall approach the needs of children who live in their area but are not being looked after by them.

In Scotland we are bound by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Therefore, I cannot see why the Minister has so far resisted the amendment. It would confirm what local authorities must do as they comply with that convention. Acceptance of the amendment would effectively cross-reference the convention and this new social work legislation. If the proposed clause is not included, social work practitioners who have a good grip of the legislative base will wonder why it is not included, especially as the convention must be complied with in any event. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, I am rather surprised by this amendment because the welfare of the child is very clearly specified in Clauses 16, 17, 21, 34 and 35 and there is even a provision for a review of it in Clause 30. I feel that the welfare of the child could not be emphasised more strongly in the Bill.

7.15 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, this familiar amendment was moved by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and

12 Jul 1995 : Column 1801

Kellie, on Report, when I gave him a full explanation of the Government's position on this matter. The UN convention does not place a duty of paramountcy in respect of all children. That may clarify the noble Earl's position.

I think that we have to differentiate rather carefully between public intervention in the life of a child or family and the simple provision of support services. The noble Earl's clause would bite wherever and whenever a local authority were considering any action under Part II. I believe that writing such a sweeping provision into primary legislation would run a very serious risk of creating such a heavy and onerous requirement on local authorities that they would find real difficulty in meeting its terms and delivering their services—and in meeting priority needs. It is too prescriptive and would require a degree of consultation and interaction between the authorities and individuals which would probably prove impracticable.

I believe that the best of what the noble Earl seeks will be obtained through good practice, with guidance wherever necessary, but these are not matters for the Bill and I hope that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, once again I am grateful to the noble Earl for his explanation. This was a point of principle. I am reassured that local authorities will be able to proceed in the way that I would like them to. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 [Manner of provision of accommodation to child looked after by local authority]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 20, line 8, after first ("of") insert ("the definition of that expression in").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is essentially a drafting amendment to clarify the definition of the families with whom a local authority would not place a child they are looking after. It puts beyond doubt that families where the persons have parental responsibilities for the child or with whom the child has been living would not come within the scope of Clause 25. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 34 [Welfare of children in accommodation provided for purposes of school attendance]:

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 25, line 30, at end insert ("and to ensure that strategies to prevent bullying and abuse are in place").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment is concerned with the purpose of the inspection of independent and private schools.

During the passage of the Bill through this House, I received communications from nine parents concerning independent schools throughout the UK with which they have been involved. Two letters were from parents who were very happy with the performance of the schools which they had selected. The other seven were written by parents who were far from happy with the schools.

12 Jul 1995 : Column 1802

In every case the child or children had been removed from the schools in question and most were settled elsewhere.

I have tried to draw some useful conclusions from that sad exercise. The first must be a personal conclusion. As a prep school boy in Dunbar and an average pupil at Eton, I do not recall the kind of incidents which parents have recounted. I know that the memory is selective but there is determined recall, perhaps through the initial layer of happy memories. At the risk of whitewashing Eton, I believe that its system of having a well-constituted housemaster who is effectively in charge of the whole life of the pupil and a work tutor who is continuously responsible for the boy's academic work provides the type of supervision necessary to ensure that an unhappy child is identified and assisted quickly before the problem becomes out of hand.

Similarly, arranging for each pupil to have a room of his own has enormous merit. It makes routine conversations with the authorities easy and natural. The provision of a broad range of leisure and recreational opportunities is also a great help.

These schools are total institutions and they must provide an active programme and supervision for each of the 168 hours per week. In similar vein, the Scottish prison service has addressed that problem by introducing a personal officer scheme.

Secondly, parents who wrote to me have complained about bullying, lack of supervision, lack of a full programme, initiation ceremonies, harsh interrogation and lack of ability to meet the needs of overseas pupils, in particular for those for whom English is not a first language.

Thirdly, some parents complain that they have not been treated as equal partners in the upbringing of their children. It is as though they had been disenfranchised as parents when they handed over their children to the school in loco parentis. I wonder whether that is not inevitable. I have to say here that, as each school offers a unique system, parents have to be careful about what they are buying because they are in fact buying a specific product. Perhaps there is a need for less optimistic advertising.

Fourthly, parents have complained about the lack of an effective complaints system, both internally and externally. Recourse to the school's lawyers seems to come early on in the process at present. Perhaps there is also a deficiency in the record-keeping systems of some schools. Fifthly, some parents have complained that the board of governors or its equivalent rarely seems willing to do anything other than back the headmaster and protect the good name of the school. Perhaps such people should review their own role.

Sixthly, I would comment that not all children are suited to boarding school life, especially dormitory life, and that parents must be realistic about their child's likelihood of survival in a boarding school. Seventhly, I am surprised to a degree by the call from parents for greater state control in the independent sector in education. On the face of it, I thought that they had selected such schools because they were outside the

12 Jul 1995 : Column 1803

state system. In conclusion, this sorry state of affairs requires close liaison and inspection by Her Majesty's inspectors. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page