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Lord Carter: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for her very clear explanation of the order. I did not entirely understand one point. Paragraph 2(2) leaves out of the order the contracting out--or the privatisation--of secure homes. When the Minister replies, perhaps she will amplify the last point that she made about the new order which the Government intend to bring in. She referred to,

I presume that those are not homes which are secure homes. Perhaps she will clarify that point, because those are specifically left out of this order for reasons that I fully understand. If she will explain that, I shall be grateful.

From these Benches we are pleased to support the order. I have a few questions on clarification. What are the cost implications, if any, for the local authorities? Are they related to costs or efficiency? How will emergency referrals be handled? Will the contracts let be based on the number of places provided with some spare capacity allowed, or will the contracts be let on some other basis? I imagine that there are occasions when those homes are used for temporary accommodation while children are awaiting fostering. Presumably there will have to be some leeway in the contract to allow either for temporary use or for emergency referrals.

Will the Minister also tell the House what arrangements will be made for the education of the children where the management is contracted out? Will the contract have specific educational provisions or are those to be the responsibility of the relevant education authority? If there is an overlap between the two, how will it be handled?

Finally, and most crucially, what are the inspection and supervision arrangements for these contracts? Who will be finally responsible for ensuring that the requirements are met which we all accept? We have had some unfortunate episodes in children's homes in recent years. I am sure that the Minister is satisfied, but we should like it on the record that contracting out will not lead to a greater risk of such unfortunate incidents.

The children in these homes have come from disturbed and disadvantaged backgrounds. We should not add to the burdens on them. I am sure that that is not the intention of the order. If the Minister will explain those points, and, in particular, the open and controlled environment, I shall be grateful.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for his thoughtful contribution, and the questions that he posed. I shall do my best to deal with those anxieties. I shall leave his first concern until the end.

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The first question that the noble Lord asked me was how local authorities will meet the cost of placing children. There should not be any costs. The revenue costs of running children's homes already fall on the local authorities, which may charge other authorities placing children. Central government also pays local authorities in respect of certain types of placement. That will continue. However, if there are cost implications regarding the management, those will be offset by savings in not having directly to manage the homes.

The noble Lord was concerned about emergency referrals and spare capacity. If the judgment of the local authority is such that some spare capacity is needed, there is no difference between allowing for spare capacity in local authority-run homes and those subject to contracted out management. They may all be part of the contract and one would expect it to be covered by the contracting out services within the home.

One would expect the education and question of where the authorities place the children to be arranged through the contracts. We are certainly not trying to change the regime in any way.

The noble Lord is right to bring attention to the importance of inspection. I am pleased to tell him that inspection arrangements for children's residential care are being considered as part of the 1995 review, which deals with all inspection and regulation arrangements. But in the meantime, as the purchasers, local authorities will wish to satisfy themselves about the level and quality of care service which is provided. The contract, in effect, will be a powerful tool that the local authority can exercise.

Section 70 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act does not allow secure homes to be contracted out but the Government intend to enable contracting out of secure and controlled community homes when the legislative time allows. As I understand it, the controlled homes are a historical anomaly; they were the old approved homes. They are not covered by the secure homes legislation to which I referred at the beginning of my speech.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me that the measure before the House today will allow local authorities greater flexibility in the delivery of an important service. Residential care remains a significant element in looking after those children who, for one reason or another, are in the public care. For, while the number of young people placed in residential care has reduced in recent years, those who are placed are often the most difficult and disturbed. We owe a duty to them to ensure that high quality services are available and that those services represent value for the taxpayers' money. The contracting out order achieves this by ensuring that all the safeguards currently in place will remain, added to which the wealth of experience of the voluntary and private sector can be brought to bear on this area of provision. I hope that I have managed to reassure the noble Lord on the matters that concerned him. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until twenty minutes past eight.

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Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.31 to 8.20 p.m.]

Family Law Bill [H.L.]

Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 19 [Interpretation of Part I etc.]:

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 96:

Page 10, leave out line 8.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential on the decision of the Committee that Clause 6 of the Bill introduced into the House should not stand part. The essential part of Clause 6 has now been incorporated into Clause 4 in such a manner as no longer requires the definition in Clause 19. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 96A:

Page 10, line 13, at end insert--
(" "mediation" means family mediation conducted by a person accredited as a mediator in family mediation to an organisation which is concerned with such mediation and which is approved for the purposes of this Part by the Lord Chancellor.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I seek to speak on the National Family Mediation Service. There has been so much misunderstanding concerning both the service and those who work in it that I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I give a full explanation, including a definition of the family mediation service.

Family mediation is a process in which an impartial third person--the mediator--assists couples considering separation or divorce to make arrangements to communicate better, to reduce conflict between them and to reach their own agreed decisions. The issues to be decided may concern separation; the divorce; children; finance; and property. The mediator has no stake in any dispute, is not identified with any of the competing interests and has no power to impose a settlement on the participants, who retain authority to make their own decisions. Couples enter mediation voluntarily to work together on the practical consequences of family breakdown and to reach proposals for settlement which may then be endorsed by their legal representatives--that is important--and the court, wherever appropriate. Mediation offers an alternative to negotiation by solicitors and to adjudication through the courts, but is not a substitute for legal advice.

There are three routes to the mediation service: one, as a result of an information session; two, referral from a solicitor; and three, a direction from the court.

Those working in the mediation service are carefully chosen and, if accepted, are trained. Having trained, they work; and for the first few months their work is supervised. Many mediators are professionals: probation

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officers, solicitors, and in some cases doctors; and there are lay people who are interested in the work and suited to it.

It is with sadness and regret that I hear some people talk about mediators as "the do-gooders". I remind such people that, for instance, members of the Magistrates' Association are not necessarily professionals; they are not necessarily trained in the first instance, and all are volunteers, drawing only their expenses. I suggest that mediators fall into the same band.

Mediators receive training. A college for mediation has been set up under the guidance of Dame Margaret Booth, a former judge. The role of the college is to make recommendations as to the content of the courses, their standard, and a high structure of accreditation. Other professions have a college: there is the Royal College of Nursing, the BMA, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and many others. As with other colleges, this amendment seeks approval for a body which aims to raise standards, produce a programme of training and provide accreditation.

I fully appreciate and well understand the noble and learned Lord's desire not to regulate professions such as mediation. I shall, however, be interested to learn what it is that persuades him that granting approval--quite a different matter--to a body concerned with mediation for the purposes of Part I would require him to act as a regulator for that body. I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he does not consider it right that the mediation service is approved--not regulated, approved--as is the case with other professions. I beg to move.

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