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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I hope the noble Earl will allow me to intervene. I think that because a lot of the debate about the consultation paper that we have issued has concerned matters to do with staffing ratios and room sizes, people may perhaps have had the impression that the paper is only concerned with those aspects. I think that a reading of the document will also indicate that it is concerned with other indicators of quality. Clearly, when we come to consider the results of that consultation we shall have to take into account the comments raised by your Lordships about the need to have indicators of outcome of quality and not just issues to do with staffing and size of room. However, I do think that size of room and staffing are also important issues.

Earl Howe: Yes, I entirely agree. It is the fact that there are other quality indicators that means that so many care homes out there would fail to meet the standards in one way or another if Fit for the Future? were to be enshrined in regulation or at least in ministerial direction. It is not simply room size and staffing ratios that are proving the problem for a number of places.

I think that this has been a very useful exchange. I will read carefully what the Minister has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendments Nos. 51 to 53 not moved.]

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 54:

    Page 11, line 5, at end insert--

("( ) All regulations applying to the care of children away from their homes may--
(a) ensure that those providing such care are under a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their charge;
(b) ensure, so far as is practicable, that children's wishes and feelings are ascertained by those caring for them on all matters affecting them and are given due consideration, having regard to the children's age and understanding;
(c) secure that children have ready access to--
(i) confidential information and advice;
(ii) help from an independent advocate; and
(iii) complaints procedures with an independent element;
(d) prohibit corporal punishment and other humiliating or otherwise inappropriate forms of punishment, including the deprivation of food, drink, clothes, sleep and contact with relatives or the imposition of distinctive clothes or labels;
(e) prohibit children's restriction of liberty as a method of punishment or control, unless secure accommodation has been approved by the Secretary of State and a court order has been obtained under section 25 of the 1989 Act;
(f) prohibit the use of medicine or the withholding of medicine as a method of punishment or control;
(g) take active measures to prevent and deal with bullying;
(h) make provision for the periodic review of the child's placement and welfare.")

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 54, I wish to speak also to other amendments in the group. Perhaps I may make two apologies in reference to this group of amendments. I intend to speak to each of these amendments in turn. Clearly, there are a large number of points to be made on these amendments and it will take me a little time to go through them.

Principally, I wish to apologise on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady David, who is unable to move these amendments. I was very pleased to attach my name to the amendments. The noble Baroness has been unavoidably detained on other business.

First, I shall deal with Amendment No. 54. This is an attempt to give some degree of consistency across the regulations governing the lives of children who are placed away from home. It seeks to list the basic safeguards to which all children should be entitled when living away from home. All except for paragraph (g) on bullying strategies currently apply to children looked after in children's homes but not all other institutions. The duty to take steps against bullying now applies to schools but not residential homes. The obvious merit of listing these safeguards in primary legislation is that they secure consistency across regulations and are much more visible, with the result, it is to be hoped, that all children and all staff are aware of them at all times.

It is profoundly unsatisfactory that children in the care of local authorities or otherwise placed away from home are protected only by regulations offering a

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variety of rights and safeguards. Many such children experience changes in placement. Why should the change in placement mean that their needs or rights change? Why should these rights be embedded in rather obscure regulations about which frequently even the adults in charge do not know?

I move to Amendment No. 60, which is designed to secure that local advocacy services and independent complaints procedures may also be regulated. It attempts to introduce regulation-making powers in relation to two crucial local services for children affected by the Bill-- independent complaint procedures and independent advocacy services. There are regulations under the Children Act requiring complaint procedures by local authorities and voluntary organisations accommodating children, but Part II services covers a much wider group of children.

The Government have confirmed the importance of both these services and yet do not give the Secretary of State powers to regulate them in the Bill. The purpose of this amendment is, therefore, simply to enable the Secretary of State to make regulations without recourse to further primary legislation in the future.

Turning to Amendment No. 108, it is well recognised that the Bill has come into being as a result of an appalling series of scandals arising from the treatment of children living in institutions and other placements away from home. One important safeguard against the abuse of such children is to provide them with advocates who are entirely independent of the services the children receive. We have already had some discussion as to that in Committee. Their only function is to listen to the children and promote their interests.

The need for independent advocacy has been confirmed by the official reports in this area. For example, the Warner Report. Residential Care: a positive choice, proposed that children in all forms of residential care should have access to an independent advocate. The Scottish review, Another Kind of Home, recommended that children,

    "should be able to call on someone to act as their advocate".

The Warner inquiry report, Choosing with Care, said that children in children's homes should,

    "have the support of their own advocates when pursuing serious complaints against staff".

The Utting Report, People Like Us, commended the use of independent representative services such as that provided by A Voice for the Child in Care.

The safeguard of independent advocacy has been recognised by the Government in their Quality Protects programme, under which authorities are encouraged to provide independent advocacy services, but until such services are a statutory requirement children will be dependent on the goodwill and energy of individuals in the statutory and private sector. This amendment is designed to ensure that the current patchy service of locally based children's rights advocates and national advocacy services is transformed into comprehensive provision for all children who are living away from home.

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I turn to Amendment No. 167. It is necessary to describe the powers and duties of the children's rights director in primary legislation--that is what the amendment attempts to do--so that this position can develop as the strongest possible defender and protector of children's rights. We had our earlier discussion about the possibility of a children's commission, but that does not at present form part of the Government's thinking.

Much of the thinking behind the Care Standards Bill as it relates to children is built upon the knowledge that thousands of children living away from home have been so badly neglected or abused in the past. We cannot waste this opportunity to develop a substantial national figure in the form of the children's rights director. who will ensure that children are never again failed in such a comprehensive way.

Finally, it is important in the composition of the commission that there is a member who has special responsibility for children's rights issues and also a member who has special expertise in disability and special educational needs as they relate to children. That is what Amendments Nos. 152 and 153 are designed to achieve. I beg to move.

The Earl of Listowel: I should like to comment on Amendment No. 108, which deals with the right to an independent advocate. I completely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said. I would simply add that recently the Minister was kind enough to assure me that he had considered carefully with his advisers my questions to him and that my questions had affected his thinking. That is exactly the assurance that looked-after young people need. They need to know that their concerns are properly considered and play a part in decisions made about them. The right to an independent advocate would provide them with that assurance. I hope that the Minister will give the amendment sympathetic consideration.

Lord Laming: I very much hope that the Minister will look favourably on Amendment No. 54. I say "look favourably" because I have a reservation about paragraph (e). From time to time--sometimes more often than that--any good parent has to restrict the liberty of a child. The way in which paragraph(e) is worded undermines, in a way with which I do not feel comfortable, the authority of staff to control children and young people. However, I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the general thrust of Amendment No. 54.I hope also that the Minister will support Amendment No. 108. We have referred on a number of occasions to the need for these vulnerable young people in care to have access to an independent advocate. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred to a number of authoritative documents that recommended access to independent advocates for children and young people in care. This is an opportunity for the Government to enact legislation to make that a reality for these young people. If the Government are able to accept Amendment No. 108, which I hope will be the case, Amendment No. 60,

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dealing with the need to have regulations to inform that piece of legislation, follows on from that. I very much hope that Amendments Nos. 54, 108 and 60 will find favour with the Government.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: We had earlier discussions about the Bill as it affects the rights and welfare of children. The group of amendments is also about that important subject. The protection of children and the promotion of their best interests are among the strongest driving forces behind the reforms that the Bill will put in place.

I hope to be able to assure the Committee as to the strength and comprehensiveness of the provisions for safeguarding children and protecting their interests that the Bill will put in place. We are all aware of the cases where the current systems have failed, and where children have been harmed. Many Members of the Committee have of course been intimately involved in the inquiries into such cases. We are mindful of the forthcoming report of the Waterhouse inquiry.

Perhaps I may begin with Amendment No. 54. I welcome the opportunity to confirm the Government's commitment to ensuring the safety of children living away from home. A large part of that will be delivered by the regulatory system requiring children's homes and other places to meet strict standards for children's welfare. The Government have carefully considered Amendment No. 54. We fully support the motives behind the amendment, but believe that it is mostly unnecessary. By and large, the powers which it seeks to introduce already exist within the Bill or existing legislation. However, the amendment has brought to our attention the fact that the Bill probably does not give us all the powers we need to make regulations to protect children and promote their welfare in establishments and agencies covered by the commission. That is, in particular, the case in relation to children in hospices and private healthcare establishments. We will look at this point further and bring forward a government amendment in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, raised an important point about the need to bring the regulation-making powers together so that there is clear understanding of the protection available for children living away from home. We will consider, when drafting the national minimum standards, how that can be achieved.

Perhaps I may turn to Amendments Nos. 60 and 108, which deal with advocacy for children. Advocacy is about effectively articulating the child's view, right or wrong. It is not about what the advocate thinks is best or in the child's welfare. Advocacy is grounded in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which assures to children capable of forming their own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them. Although Members of the Committee have suggested that current provision is patchy, it would be right to acknowledge much of the good work undertaken by advocacy services provided

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directly by local authorities or contracted by them to voluntary organisations. In addition, we are fortunate to have a number of national advocacy organisations which undertake important work with a wide range of children. The Department of Health has funded these organisations to prepare national standards for children's advocacy services. These were made the subject of extensive consultation last year and are due to be published in the spring.

Listening to children is a major theme of the safeguards review and the Quality Protects programme. Children's participation is a priority area for special grant under Quality Protects. This is a major initiative to improve service to children. It has at its heart children's participation and children's rights. A comprehensive programme of work with local authorities was launched last year.

We issued guidance to local authorities in October 1999 which stressed the importance of local authorities securing independent advocacy services for looked-after children. Local authority plans to develop these and related services are due to be returned to the department by 31st January 2000 and regional development workers are available to work closely with authorities on these issues.

Indeed, in taking forward children's participation as a basic principle underlining most of the Quality Protects programme, the Quality Protects project team within the Department of Health has focused on issuing good practice guidance to local authorities; commissioning a training pack for front-line social services staff to improve practice; arranging regional seminars for children; and working with representative agencies from the area of advocacy as well as national agencies to address, as far as is practical, their main concerns.

I have spoken at length because I believe that already we are making good progress in that area. However, to seek to regulate the provision of independent advocacy services is unnecessary. As I said, we have issued guidance on those services, consulted widely on national standards and are actively promoting that area through the Quality Protects initiative. Against that background we do not consider it necessary to regulate in this area.

The second part of Amendment No. 60 significantly duplicates current provisions available in the Children Act 1989 as to complaints as well as the powers in this Bill at Clause 20(3)(j) to make regulations requiring all registered providers to establish complaints procedures.

I turn briefly to Amendment No. 108. I am advised that using the terminology,

    "all children ... who are living away from home",

would cover a wide range of children. Not only would that cover all "looked-after" children, wherever placed. It would also extend to other children where currently local authorities do not have a role; for example, where a child, following separation or divorce, moves from one parent to another.

13 Jan 2000 : Column 806

I turn to Amendments Nos. 152 and 167 which, in their different ways, are concerned with how the national care standards commission will, as a body, reflect the rights and interests of children in its management and governance. The proposal in Amendment No. 152 for a specific member on the commission's board with responsibility for children's rights, would, I feel, go against our intention as to how the commission will be managed and governed.

The commission must have the right balance of members to ensure that it undertakes its work effectively. It must be able to command the confidence and respect of the users of the services and their representatives as well as those who deliver them. Appointments will be made on the overriding principle of merit so as to achieve a board with the right balance of skills and background. We are not persuaded that there should be specific seats set aside for those from any specific interest or group. We shall, of course, ensure that some members of the commission have significant experience of children's social services and related issues.

If one were to make children's rights and welfare the responsibility of a particular member there would be the risk of marginalisation of this issue. It is important--this applies to many, if not all, public bodies--that all members of such a body should have the interests of all the registered services and their users at heart.

Amendment No. 167 seeks to pre-determine the role of the children's rights director by specifying responsibilities and functions on the face of the Bill. The Government's approach has been not to specify such responsibilities in primary legislation because of the risk that we may not get it quite right. The responsibilities to be carried out by the children's rights director will require further consideration and consultation and the role will no doubt develop and change according to how the commission settles into its important responsibilities.

Perhaps I can repeat a point I made in Committee only three days ago: this is an extremely important post. It will ensure, we believe, that the issue of children's rights and safeguards are given the highest priority by the commission. It strengthens the Government's commitment to improve children's safeguards. For that reason, we have said that the children's rights director's functions should be specified in regulations. We shall not leave the commission to decide what the responsibilities should be, but we expect that the role of the children's rights director will include a number of functions listed in the amendment. From what I have said I hope that the noble Lord will understand our determination to view this as an important appointment and one consistent with the whole thrust of the Bill.

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