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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, as someone who had the somewhat frustrating experience of introducing a debate in your Lordships' House some seven or eight years ago on childcare, may I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness and the Government on the Statement and all the intentions which lie behind it. However, if we look at the soil in which the roots of our social work system feeds, we come, do we not, to the training of social workers? In this respect, the Government are to be particularly congratulated on their decision to phase out or abolish

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CCETSW--the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. Will the noble Baroness tell the House what progress the Government are making to replace CCETSW with a system of validation of social work courses which produces more practical social workers with a genuine respect for human nature and less respect for outdated notions of social engineering? She will find that this is not just a question of money. It is a question of the content of the courses which the Government have agreed is pretty dreadful.

In this respect, the Minster indicated that the Government also agree that too many children may be taken into care. The Orkneys syndrome comes to mind. And so I hope the Government will stand up to the ideology which is being produced in large part by these courses and encourage more placements of children with suitable families rather than having them taken into care, whatever the colour of the family or the colour of the child concerned.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the Government have announced that they are to establish a general social care council to regulate the social care workforce for the first time and to register staff. Department of Health Ministers have said that they propose that childcare staff will be among the early registrants. That is one of the organisations which should become a driving force to increase the level of training and qualifications across the social care sector. We have several initiatives under way in that sphere, including the development of a new post-qualifying award for professional social workers. The first candidates will begin training in January 2000. We are setting aside funds for training for other childcare staff to national vocational level three, which will start this year and continue for a further two years.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I have been sickened by the events that took place in those homes. I feel that we all bear a responsibility for what happened. We should never forget that those children had already undergone a traumatic event in their lives, otherwise they would not have been in care. My concern today is the discretional care for those aged between 16 and 18. We should think very carefully before we support any lowering of the age of consent. If a homosexual relationship was established between a member of staff and someone in that discretionary care area he was looking after, would he fall outside the proposed legislation?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we recognise the concerns that have been raised as regards the potential for the abuse of trust if consensual sexual relations occur between a person in a position of trust and a young person aged 16 or 17 in his care or under his supervision. That is an area which the inter-departmental working group on preventing unsuitable people working with children, to which I referred earlier, is considering. The Government will need to decide whether new legislation is needed in that specific area in the light of the proposals from that group.

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Registration of Political Parties Bill

4.26 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Serota) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [The register]:

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 10, at end insert--
("(3) The Secretary of State may by order transfer the functions of the registrar under this Act to such body established by statute or the holder of such office so established as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: Clause 1 of the Bill requires the register of political parties to be maintained by the registrar of companies. The registrar of companies is not in fact a particularly appropriate person to handle the responsibility of maintaining the register under this Bill. The existing duties of the registrar are largely administrative and record-keeping and the registrar has no functions comparable with those to be exercised by him under this Bill.

Control over the names of companies is the responsibility not of the registrar but of the Secretary of State under Chapter II of the Companies Act 1985. It is not obvious that any other existing office holder would be more appropriate for the maintenance of the register of political parties. The use of the registrar for the purposes of the Bill may therefore be acceptable in the short-term but not acceptable in the long term. Therefore, sooner or later, a new office or body will need to be created for that purpose.

Since Second Reading, the report of the Neill Committee on standards in public life on the funding of political parties has been published. Of course, I am a member of that committee. The committee recommended the setting up of an election commission for various purposes, including the monitoring of donations to political parties and spending limits. The Jenkins Commission has also recommended that certain functions should be exercised by an election commission.

The election commission seems to be the obviously appropriate body to carry out the functions of the registration of parties. This amendment has been included in order to raise for discussion the question of the transfer of the registrar's functions in due course to the election commission.

I recognise that the appropriate course for doing so is not by way of this amendment but to transfer that jurisdiction by an amendment to Clause 1 which establishes the election commission. I should make it clear that for that reason, I do not intend to press the amendment. However, I seek an assurance from the

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Government that they will give favourable consideration to the transfer of those functions from the inappropriate hands of the registrar of companies to the appropriate hands of the election commission or a similar body which may be set up--and I trust will be set up--to carry out the functions proposed in the Neill Committee's report.

Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 are purely consequential but Amendment No. 43, which is also grouped with Amendment No. 1, is a variation on the theme of the election commission. The returning officer is clearly the right person to take the initial decision on whether a description selected by a candidate is one which is likely to cause confusion with a registered political party. At present, under this Bill, that decision would be subject to judicial review. But judicial review inevitably involves some delay and certainly involves considerable expense. It would be better to provide, as a first step, a right of appeal to an independent body which can hear the appeal quickly and informally and will impose rules consistently throughout the country. Here again the election commission is the appropriate body for that purpose. It can, for example, have members standing by during the nomination period to hear appeals arising from the decision of returning officers more or less instantly.

Here again, I recognise that the proper procedure will be to include such a right of appeal in a Bill establishing an election commission, but Amendment No. 43, like Amendment No. 1, is put down as a marker and in order to seek the Government's reaction.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Henley: I rise very briefly to say to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that I have considerable sympathy with Amendment No. 1 and its consequential amendments. I should like to comment on Amendment No. 43; in fact I might even have put my name to that amendment, but it seems that my Liberal Democrat colleagues were not at all keen on dirtying their hands by allowing me to be associated with their amendments. Indeed, all their subsequent amendments were put down in blocks of four names to prevent my attaching my name to them, as I did to a later amendment, Amendment No. 21. However, I do say to the noble Lord that if he wants my support I am always prepared to offer it on certain occasions.

I have only one point that I want to make in relation to this amendment to Clause 1 of the Bill. Clause 1(2) suggests that,

    "The register shall be maintained by the registrar or other officer who performs the duty of registration of companies in England and Wales under the Companies Act 1985".
It seems somewhat odd to me, in these days of devolution, that we should be using an officer who registers companies in England and Wales, when we are registering parties throughout the United Kingdom. Although I imagine this will not affect parties which are based in or have their headquarters in London, parties such as the SNP might have considerable misgivings about having to register with a body which operates principally in England and Wales. The same might be

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true, for example, of federal parties and the Liberal Democrat Party, as with separate organisations in different parts of the United Kingdom.

I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that it would be more appropriate that some other body should be given the task of establishing the register and that the body which registers companies in England and Wales is not necessarily the appropriate body to do this.

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