Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clement-Jones: Before the noble Earl responds, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. I do not know whether it was the noble Lord, Lord Laming, or the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who said earlier that there is guidance and there is guidance. It would be very helpful if the Minister could explain what the legal effect of such guidance would be. What is its status? Does it have the status of a circular? Is it something that is binding on a local authority? It may be that the Minister already knows the type of guidance and the legal status it has. It may be something that he may wish to consider and come back to us on at Report stage.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Lord is right: there is guidance and there is statutory guidance. Statutory guidance means that the local authority has to act in accordance with that guidance or, if it does not do so, it must have a good reason. Guidance is rather less prescriptive than that. In relation to minimum standards in the area to which noble Lords have referred, in other words in relation to finances, we have not made a decision as to which kind of guidance that should be. The debate today helps me to reflect on that particular issue.

Earl Howe: Once again, I thank the Minister for a helpful reply. I am glad that he and his colleagues in the department are ready to embrace the concept of minimum standards and I take on board what he said about finding some sort of suitable benchmark to arrive at an appropriate sum of money, or at least an appropriate level of support in either monetary terms or in kind.

On that practical question, I am perfectly happy to trust the Government to reach an equitable result. What I find more difficult is to rely on local authorities to implement the guidance once they get it. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said about

10 Feb 2000 : Column CWH62

that. It really will make a difference how that guidance is framed. This has been a very useful short debate and no doubt this will be considered further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 28A:

    Page 9, line 18, at end insert ("and the Scottish Parliament").

The noble Earl said: The bulk of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill relates solely to England and Wales. However, Clause 6, which removes entitlement to income-based jobseekers allowance, income support and housing benefit from 16 and 17-year old care leavers, applies to Scotland as well. The intention is to transfer DSS resources to local authorities along with unspecified duties to support care leavers. No account is taken, it appears, of the different legal status of young people in Scotland. None of the positive measures included in the Bill relates to Scotland. Instead, the Scottish Executive has announced the establishment of a through-care and after-care working group to advise Ministers how unified resources might operate for the good of young care leavers.

In a debate in the Scottish Parliament on 12th January, the Deputy Minister for Children and Education, Peter Peacock, stated:

    "When we implement the changes will be entirely at our discretion".

In the light of that, I believe the Government should undertake that Clause 6 of the Bill should not come into force in Scotland until the through-care and after-care working group has reported and the Scottish Parliament has considered the new arrangements.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister to clarify the respective responsibilities of the UK and Scottish Parliaments where benefit entitlement, which is a reserved power, is being replaced by new local authority arrangements, which are a devolved power. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Earl returns to Scotland. Perhaps I may first say that social security is a reserved matter under Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. For that reason it is not appropriate to lay regulations on social security before the Scottish Parliament as it would not be competent either to amend or confirm them.

That raises a wider question about the inter-relationship between Scotland and England. We are absolutely determined that there should be no gaps in provision. The Bill before the Committee provides that English and Welsh children who move to live in Scotland will be able to claim social security benefits in Scotland, and that Scottish children who move to England or Wales will not become eligible or relevant children, but will continue to be able to claim benefits.

Should the Scottish Parliament decide to legislate for these children, which we hope that it will, subsection (7)--which another amendment before the Committee earlier sought to amend--gives the

10 Feb 2000 : Column CWH63

Secretary of State power to make regulations in respect of these children, to ensure consistency of outcome across Great Britain.

Apart from the question of social security benefits the issues which the Bill addresses are devolved matters for Scotland. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, suggested colleagues in Scotland are considering what new arrangement they might themselves adopt--and the working group meets today--and it could be that it will decide to enact similar legislation.

Whatever they decide, we have been careful to take account of the implications of there being, potentially, different arrangements in place on opposite sides of the Border. In particular we have been careful to ensure that no child moving across the Border, either before or after these new arrangements come into effect, will find himself without the means of support.

Existing legislation means that it is not possible for local authorities on either side of the Scottish Border to take on responsibility for each other's looked after children.

Transitional arrangements, before any Scottish legislation is enacted, will be that English children will remain eligible for benefits if they move to Scotland and Scottish children will remain eligible for benefits if they move to England.

Different arrangements will be needed when Scottish legislation is enacted, and the benefits rules in Clause 6 of this Bill come into effect there. That is why this Bill includes a provision at new Section 23A(5) for the Secretary of State to prescribe that children who have been looked after in Scotland but who move to England would have a responsible authority based on where they live in England. This power would be used once Scottish legislation was in place. We anticipate that any Scottish legislation would include a similar provision in respect of English children who move north.

I hope that reassures noble Lords that we have ensured that there will not be a gap. Obviously we hope that Scotland will move to similar legislation as quickly as possible.

8 p.m.

Earl Howe: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation, and it is good news that what one might term reciprocal arrangements are at least at the planning stage. Do I understand correctly, therefore, that Clause 6 could be brought into force south of the Border at a different time from it being brought into force north of the Border? Is that the consequence of what he has just said?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Certainly, that is so in relation to Scotland, if it decides not to legislate and therefore continues the current scheme whereby benefits are available to young people. Clearly in

10 Feb 2000 : Column CWH64

relation to English children and young people who will be affected by the change in the law by April 2001 when the new regime comes into being, you will have a different situation. You will also have a different situation where English children and young people who move across the Border into Scotland will continue to be able to receive benefits, because the law does not allow the responsible authority concept to extend over the Border; so the noble Lord is quite correct.

Earl Howe: I am grateful to the Minister. I was clearly concerned that there might be a situation in Scotland where for a period at least there would be no provision whatsoever for support of care leavers.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl. It is quite clear that there will be provision; it will just be different provision. English children going over the border will have to receive the provision as it now is, rather than under the provisions of this Bill.

Earl Howe: I am most grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 28B not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

[Amendments Nos. 29 to 31 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Interpretation, commencement, extent, Wales and short title]:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 32:

    Page 10, line 19, at end insert--

("( ) Subsection (7) does not affect the power to make further Orders varying or omitting that reference.").

The noble Lord said: This is a technical matter arising from Welsh devolution. As noble Lords may be aware, all of the Secretary of State's functions under the Children Act were transferred to the National Assembly for Wales by a transfer of functions order which was made last year under the Government of Wales Act. The question which then arose was how to deal with subsequent amendments to the Children Act, which confer new functions which are intended to be exercised in Wales by the national assembly and in England by the Secretary of State. To cut a long and rather technical story short, in the end it was decided to make it absolutely clear that the reference to the Children Act in the transfer of functions order was to be treated as referring to the Children Act as amended by this Act. That is now reflected in Clause 8(7) of the Bill. I beg to move.

10 Feb 2000 : Column CWH65

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page