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However, the Bill does not establish a council but two separate bodies, one for England and one for Wales. Each will be organised differently. No mention is made of Scotland or Northern Ireland. We have a United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing and a British Medical Association. This clause gives the impression that for social care staff the United Kingdom does not exist. Already questions are raised as to whether the existing social care qualifications meet European standards. Are we to settle for up to four different councils which are separately and differently organised? Even worse, the Bill provides no machinery by which councils can exchange vitally important information or act in concert.
I well understand the implications of devolution, but surely it is possible for the Government to find a solution whereby, in a matter of such importance and sensitivity, it is possible to have a United Kingdom arrangement for the regulation, registration and deregistration of social care staff. It is no use noble Lords from time to time, understandably, expressing
Baroness Pitkeathley: In rising to speak I declare an interest as chair of the General Social Care Council Advisory Group. In that capacity, I agree with the noble Lord that this is a vitally important part of the Bill. I understand entirely the concerns that lie behind the amendment. In a different scenario I might have been disposed to agree with him. The noble Lord is aware that I try to agree with him when I can. However, we must understand that devolution is a reality and that social care is a devolved function. Therefore, it is not possible to agree to the amendment. But I assure the noble Lord that all members of the General Social Care Council Advisory Group feel as strongly as he does about this matter and are determined to ensure that as far as that group is concerned there is a common approach, understanding and set of standards among the councils to be established. The guiding principle is the protection of vulnerable adults and the right of service users to a standard that applies across the United Kingdom. On that, I am sure we can all agree.
Lord Clement-Jones: That was extremely useful clarification from the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. Like the noble Baroness, I have some sympathy with the intent underlying the noble Lord's amendment. However, clearly it is a devolved matter. Therefore we are referring to maximum co-operation and commonality of approach. In a sense we need to live with the devolved system and make it work in the best way we possibly can for those affected by the staffing of the establishments and agencies which are the subject matter of the Bill. When the Minister replies, can he give us an outline of the expected composition of the new GSSC? Can he also state the intended composition of the equivalent body in Wales?
It will be important to take account of the health aspects of care even though that may not be central to the GSSC's remit. Can the Minister confirm that ensuring a balance--I know that that is one of his favourite words--of members of the council will include medical representation?
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I listened to the debate with great interest. It is highly complicated and specialised and I hesitate to intervene. Can we be sure that there would be an absolute duty on the central council to pass on details of someone who behaves in a thoroughly unprofessional and undesirable way in one part of the devolved kingdom to the other bodies? Unless such a provision is in the Bill, it will be difficult to dislodge such a person when he moves from one place to the next. I recognise that in a sense it condemns an individual twice but it seems of little use to have the co-ordination proposed if such practical detail is not included in the Bill.
Baroness Barker: It is a most helpful debate. It is important to recognise that the problem identified by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, has existed for a considerable time. Social work departments in Scotland already come under a different regime from their counterparts in England.
I speak as someone who has spent considerable time in Scotland. It is of equal concern to the Scottish bodies to know that people registered in England who cause offence do not escape across the border. The noble Baroness's point about the need for co-operation between the different bodies responsible for registration north and south of border is valid and under the new devolution procedures it will not be difficult to discuss the issue with our counterparts in Scotland.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: It has been an extremely interesting debate. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, I feel that we missed his presence during the many happy days we spent debating the Scotland Bill.
The decisions to have separate councils in England and Wales were announced in Parliament two years ago. It is the intention to have a separate regulatory body in Scotland. Scottish Ministers have recently issued a consultation document, Regulating Care in Social Work Services, which contains their legislative proposals for a Scottish social services council. I also understand that Ministers in Northern Ireland are considering their position on these matters.
That said, I entirely accept the spirit behind the noble Lord's amendment. It would be very unfortunate if, contrary to the interests of service users and the public, the regulation of social care workers were subject to significant and unnecessary differences between the four countries.
The logic of devolution is that all four councils can properly adopt different approaches. However, all the countries are committed to alignment where that is possible. The commitment has already been demonstrated; for example, the four UK countries have already commissioned the initial drafting of the codes of conduct for social workers as a joint exercise. That is an excellent foundation on which to go forward.
In due course, we intend to bring forward an amendment to the Bill which will place a duty on the new English and Welsh councils to collaborate. If possible, we will provide for them similarly to collaborate with any future regulatory bodies which may be created for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In the consultation document, Regulating Care in Social Work Services, Scottish Ministers have said that the Scottish social services council will have a reciprocal duty placed on it. The extent of this collaboration will be to a degree for the councils themselves to decide, but we would expect them to consider in particular, first, collaboration on the standards of conduct and practice; secondly, consistency in the standards of education and training
In relation to the composition of the membership, the intention would be a lay chair with a balanced membership of service users, carers and the public. There will also be employers, professional associations, trade unions and educational interests with a membership of 15 to 20. I hope I have demonstrated that we are alive to any potential problems. The preliminary discussions between the four countries seem most promising in terms of ensuring the necessary co-operation.
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