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(" . The Standards Board for England may pay to any member of the Adjudication Panel for England such remuneration, fees or allowances (if any) as the Secretary of State may determine.").

    Page 67, line 21, leave out ("each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").

    Page 67, line 29, leave out ("either of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").

    Page 67, line 41, leave out ("for England").

    Page 67, line 47, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

    Page 68, line 7, leave out ("concerned").

    Page 68, line 11, leave out ("for England").

    Page 68, line 16, leave out ("for England").

    Page 68, line 18, leave out ("for England").

    Page 68, line 24, leave out sub-paragraphs (5) to (7).

    Page 68, line 36, leave out second ("each") and insert ("the").

    Page 68, line 38, leave out ("for England").

    Page 68, line 41, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

    Page 68, line 45, leave out ("each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").

    Page 69, line 3, leave out ("either of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").

    Page 69, line 8, leave out ("entries are inserted") and insert ("entry is inserted").

    Page 69, leave out line 11.

    Page 69, line 12, leave out ("entries are") and insert ("entry is").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

An amendment (privilege) made.

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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Whitty.)

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I cannot let this moment pass without a few brief remarks. It is a remarkable fact that there have been 438 government amendments to the Bill. The Bill, as it came to us, had 51 pages. If one analyses it, there has been one government amendment for every five and a half lines of the Bill as it came to the House. I used to think of this Chamber as the Government's "think again" Chamber. I am desperately afraid that it is becoming the Government's thinking Chamber. The Bill is the better for the amendments, but it might have been better if a little more care had been taken beforehand.

I should like to place on the record my gratitude to the Government Front Bench for the way they have treated us as their opponents across this Dispatch Box. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is invariably courteous. For a man who does not have local government experience, he has a remarkable grasp of detail. He has picked up the subject extraordinarily well. Indeed, he is difficult to catch up. I am grateful to him and to his colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, for the courtesy they have shown us and the attention they have paid to the arguments we have presented. I am happy to support the Motion.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, if I take only 15 seconds to thank all noble Lords involved in the Bill, I am sure that they will not feel that they have gone unthanked, but will probably thank me more for allowing us to proceed.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their courtesies. I believe we are all agreed that the Bill is the better for the provisions agreed in this House--with one rather notable exception this afternoon, if I may introduce a controversial note. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, it is true that I have no local government experience, I did actually spend, along with my friend and noble friend Lord Burlison, 13 years representing a large number of workers who had the misfortune to work for a number of local authorities. I therefore have some knowledge of the subject, although from a different end of the telescope. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Royal Assent

The Deputy Speaker (Viscount Simon): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Representation of the People Act,

Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (Amendment of Rules) Act.

9 Mar 2000 : Column 1243

Children (Leaving Care) Bill [H.L.]

8.4 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Further duties of local authorities towards children whom they are looking after]:

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 16, leave out from ("seventeen") to end of line 20.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, we debated at the start of Committee stage one of the most important issues--indeed, one of the pivots of the entire Bill--the definition of "eligible child". Our understanding from the Government is that the prescribed period referred to in new paragraph 19B(2)(b)--the period which will determine whether or not a child leaving care is entitled to the support from local authorities for which the rest of the Bill provides--will be a minimum of 13 weeks after the age of 14. In Committee, I argued that the Government had a duty to justify the 13-week criterion. In particular, I suggested that a hard and fast cut-off point of 13 weeks--or, for that matter, any other period--risks disadvantaging some children, either by separating them from their families when that need not happen or, perhaps more seriously, by denying them the support they badly need or deserve when a return to the family is not possible.

I recognise that the three-month criterion was specifically advanced as a proposal in the Government's consultation paper, but the one consistent message in most of the responses was a wish to see clearly defined eligibility criteria in place. Whether there was widespread agreement about the proposed period of 13 weeks is another issue. My understanding is that opinions varied on that point quite considerably. In plumping for 13 weeks, the Government have sought to do no more than to strike a balance. In so doing, I believe that they must recognise implicitly that a period of 13 weeks, while it carries the merit of pragmatism, will never be a perfect solution for all conceivable situations for children in care.

In his reply, the Minister emphasised that the power to make regulations conferred in new paragraph 19B(2)(b) provides Ministers with one significant advantage above all: flexibility. I recognise that. The Minister indicated that the close way in which the Bill will be monitored when it becomes an Act will enable Ministers to make changes to the eligibility criteria should it become apparent that too many deserving cases are slipping through the net.

I pay due heed to that comment. Obviously, I should like to take it at face value. Therefore, I must ask the Minister how the system will be monitored in practice. How complete a picture will the Department of Health have of the pattern of discharges from care across the country and how quickly will those statistics become available to it? I hope that the Minister will reassure me on that matter. I should like to believe that the Government will be in a position to react and respond quickly to any worrying data which may emerge. If that is the case, we can be confident of local authorities

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being left in no doubt that a failure to abide by the spirit of this legislation will, in the end, lead them nowhere. But we need to know from the Minister that close monitoring is feasible and that it will be carried out. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I strongly support the spirit of the noble Earl's Amendment No. 1. Indeed it was grouped with a not dissimilar amendment of my own at Committee stage. The essence of it is the kind of assurance that the Minister can give us. In a sense, there is room for argument, as the noble Earl said, as to whether 13 weeks is the correct point. In the early stages one has to make a decision about the correct point, but it is absolutely vital that, if there is abuse and local authorities are discharging young people too early from care so that they do not become eligible and do not have all the liabilities that attach to young people who have been in care for 13 weeks, we should know that, and we should know it soon. It is essential to have information-gathering mechanisms in place. These mechanisms should not become operative three years after the Bill has been in operation but should be part of regular monitoring operations so that the department has that information to hand and will take steps if abuse is demonstrated. It is those kinds of assurances that are sought tonight, and I very much support the noble Earl.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, may I first thank both speakers for their constructive comments. I well understand the concerns which were raised at Committee stage about the eligibility criteria. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has pointed out, there is a balance to be drawn between, on the one hand, open-ended criteria which would have the effect of embracing children who do not need support and which would risk diverting the energy of local authorities away from children who do need it. On the other hand, we clearly need to avoid criteria being drawn so tightly that they exclude children who ought to receive the support that this Bill envisages.

Also, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has intimated, we want to ensure that we have enough flexibility so that, if in practice the eligibility criteria are found wanting or we find some perverse incentives in the system which at the moment are not envisaged, we can act quickly and effectively. I believe that the Bill allows for this but I also accept that it is right for me to give reassurances as to how we intend to monitor the situation.

First, I want to reassure noble Lords that we do intend to monitor the effects of the criteria very closely. Let me say straightaway that if there is evidence of abuse or of the sort of problems that were referred to at Committee stage we will take the necessary steps to make effective adjustments to the regulations.

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The intention is to monitor the working of the legislation through the framework which the Government have set for the overall performance of social services authorities. We will be able to gauge the particular effect of the qualifying period through the Department of Health's statistical collection on children looked after by local authorities. This database can be used to monitor trends in the lengths of time care leavers have been looked after, and to spot changes in those trends after the implementation of the Bill, including, for instance, the length of time that children have been looked after from a particular age. For instance, if 30 weeks was to be the actual figure, it would be necessary to identify whether there were an abnormal number of children who were spending 12 weeks in care. Another example would be that of an abnormal number of children leaving care at the age of 15. I quote those as just two examples where we should be able to pick up those kinds of trend and look into the reasons for them.

If, as we intend, the Bill is implemented in April next year, we would expect to have robust data available towards the end of the year 2002--say, about 18 months from the date when the Bill comes into operation. The data we shall be using will be derived from a one-third sample of all local authorities in England, which, I am assured by those who know about statistics, does give a good overall estimate of trends. Where in addition there are concerns about individual authorities, these will of course have been identified through a wider performance assessment framework, through the inspections by the social services inspectorate of individual local authorities, the joint SSI audit commission reviews and annual reviews of social services by the Department of Health's social care regional offices.

I hope I have reassured noble Lords that we are as anxious as they are to ensure that this Bill delivers what we want it to deliver and that we do have the ability to monitor what is happening. If we come across instances where we see that the eligibility criteria are not coming up to scratch, we have the ability to take fairly quick action.

8.15 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, that is a very helpful and full reply and I am grateful to the Minister for it. I personally have not been in any doubt as to the Minister's commitment to seeing that this particular provision works properly. It has no doubt been a difficult balancing exercise for him and the department to arrive at a sensible conclusion. This is something that clearly we shall all have an interest in, watching over the months ahead following the Bill's enactment. I can only say that the commitment of all of us here to see the entire Bill work should not be doubted. I am grateful to the Minister for the trouble he has taken and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9 Mar 2000 : Column 1246

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