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Earl Howe: My Lords, I too thank the Minister for the obvious thought that he has devoted to this matter.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

28 Mar 2000 : Column 703

6.45 p.m.

Clause 21 [Regulation of establishments and agencies]:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 26:

    Page 11, line 9, at beginning insert--

("(A1) Regulations may impose in relation to establishments and agencies any requirements which the appropriate Minister thinks fit for the purposes of this Part and may in particular make any provision such as is mentioned in subsection (1), (3) or (4).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee there was a lengthy debate about the regulation-making powers under Clause 20 (now Clause 21) of the Bill. Noble Lords then raised a number of valuable points, and I am pleased to table this group of amendments today in response to them. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, welcomed the power to make regulations to secure the welfare of persons cared for, but he urged the Government to define more clearly what they meant by "welfare". He was concerned that the clause might not extend to the promotion of health and the protection of health. We have taken that on board and included a specific reference to those aspects of welfare in Amendment No. 28.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, argued that there was a need for clearer prescription by way of regulations regarding acceptable behaviour management for adults as well as children,

    "so that assault is no longer legitimised in the name of restraint".--[Official Report, 13/1/00; col. 791.]

I believe that that is absolutely right. There is a need for such regulations, and Amendment No. 28 will allow us to make them. I hope that in due course the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will be willing to work with us on the detail of the regulations.

Having been prompted by your Lordships to consider these issues further, we believe that it is important to ensure that the powers to make regulations to secure welfare should extend to persons cared for by all the various establishments and agencies regulated under Part II, not just care homes, children's homes and residential family centres, as at present. Accordingly, we have amended Clause 21(1)(e) and hope that it commends itself to noble Lords.

We believe that these amendments demonstrate the necessity to ensure that the regulation-making powers are sufficiently comprehensive. The effect of Amendment No. 26 is, therefore, to broaden the scope of the powers in Clause 21(1) to make it clear that the list of possible regulations is not intended to be exhaustive. Similar introductory words are already included at the beginning of subsection (3). Amendments Nos. 56 and 57 make similar provision in relation to Clause 45, which provides the power to make regulations about the way in which local authorities carry out their fostering functions. Finally, Amendments Nos. 30 and 35 to 39 are all consequential amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness David: My Lords, my name is added to Amendment No. 28 which is in this group. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has spoken to

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it. I apologise for arriving a little late. I thought that Amendment No. 25 was being debated. I feel very strongly about Amendment No. 28. I am glad that the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Rix, have also added their names to the amendment. I tabled the amendment as a result of a letter that I received from a Mrs Wright who lives in Cambridge. I hope that the Minister is listening; he is now.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I was confused. My noble friend refers to Amendment No. 28, but I believe that she is speaking to Amendment No. 29.

Baroness David: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister: I speak to Amendment No. 29. I received a moving letter from a Mrs Wright who lives in Cambridge. She had a child who suffered from meningitis at the age of 18 months. As a result the child was disabled and doubly incontinent and required total care, which her mother gave her for 10 years or more. She was then put into a home which proved totally unsuitable. The mother writes:

    "It was clear that there was a fundamental problem from the outset. The senior social worker who selected the four children for the newly opened facility, had placed together an incompatible group. Two young people were wheelchair bound and unable to communicate, one other was ambulant and a little unpredictable, while the fourth had autistic-type problems, was hyperactive and prone to sudden violent and destructive behaviour. Both I and the parents of the other wheelchair bound child tried by every means available to have the situation sorted out. We failed. Eventually my daughter was bitten by the autistic child twice, even though staff were present in the room at the time. Neither they, nor the child himself should, in my view be held liable.

    "There appears to be no clear reference to this problem in the Bill. I have discovered that client to client abuse is endemic in all systems where the most vulnerable are cared for unless they are in one to one (or more) care. I was a parent governor of a local special school where it also occurred. It affects all age groups. It affects day centres, sadly again, not covered by this Bill".

I understand that from today day centres will be covered eventually.

I want an amendment to the Bill which shows that there is some concern about peer to peer abuse, not only for children but also elderly people who can be very nasty to each other. The lady who wrote the letter suggests an amendment which I have altered slightly. It would help and give comfort to all those people who have suffered, as she did, from feeling so frustrated and in despair. I hope that the Minister can do something about the situation.

Lord Rix: My Lords, I should like to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David, having also received correspondence from Mrs Wright outlining her direct family experience of poor care standards. It was, indeed, a horrifying and saddening letter.

One cannot fairly implicate people with emotional and behavioural difficulties for their attitudes and actions towards their peers, and one cannot guard against every eventuality. But one can expect establishments to put in place clear strategies to minimise client to client abuse, and one can expect

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establishments to follow clear and professional procedures should abusive situations arise. I hope that the Minister will be able to address this matter through regulations and guidance.

Perhaps I may take the opportunity to thank the Minister for Amendment No. 28 and for tidying up the regulation-making powers in relation to the control and restraint of adults, and the control, restraint and discipline of children. We have what we asked for, and that is always--nearly always--a pleasant experience. But I am old-fashioned enough to acknowledge the word "discipline" in relation to children, and experienced enough of the horrors which result when adults are treated like children to welcome the fact that discipline is not mentioned in relation to adults.

Mencap and I will be delighted to co-operate with the Minister in the drafting of the regulations.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 29 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David. With their great experience in these matters, the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, have made an important case for an addition to the powers under this section. At the same time, I wish also to thank the Minister for the extensions he has made in terms of the definition of welfare and other aspects, in particular meeting the aims of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in Committee. That is helpful.

I realise that it is easy to keep extending the provisions of the subsection. However, practical experience as demonstrated by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, indicates that we should consider seriously some measure such as that provided in the amendment.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, having listened to the story told by the noble Baroness, Lady David, perhaps I may ask a question. Should not the wishes of parents be taken into consideration; and should social workers play God? It is a serious situation. The wishes of the parents should be considered. I should be grateful if the Minister will respond. Social workers have made so many mistakes lately, as reported in the press this week.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I express support from these Benches for Amendment No. 29. It highlights an issue of deep concern. I am sure that the situation of the lady, Mrs Wright, to whom the noble Baroness referred is one of many. I hope that something can be done to address these issues and that the Minister will be sympathetic.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, first, perhaps I may answer the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. Yes, where appropriate the views of parents must be listened to. On her general point about social workers, yes, social workers do make mistakes, but before we rush to condemn the whole social work profession we should also acknowledge that many do a very good job under very difficult, trying circumstances. It is important to acknowledge that. Of course we want to

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drive up quality in the profession. That is why the Bill is so important. The general social care council will be crucial in ensuring a more rigorous professional approach to the profession, and will improve public confidence in the profession.

I am glad to acknowledge all the points made by noble Lords about a less publicised aspect of abuse but none the less a disturbing one. The phenomenon which I understand is called peer abuse is, I am afraid, not uncommon. Nor is it confined to establishments where people with a history of violent behaviour are cared for, although the risks may be greater in such settings. Both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, have drawn attention to specific cases raised with them.

All of us would have to sympathise very much with the concerns of that mother as to how her child could have been mistreated by another child in the home without something being done to prevent it or deal with it. I assure my noble friend that we are very much aware of the issue and are committed to ensuring that the regulatory system recognises and is able to tackle this aspect of abuse. We intend to address the issue through regulations. We shall require care homes, children's homes and residential family centres to have proper procedures in place to guard against peer abuse. It will be necessary for them to ensure that all staff are made aware of individuals with physically or verbally abusive behaviour. It will be important that staff take all appropriate steps to prevent harm to other service users, ensuring that service users are not put at risk of harm for whatever reason. That will be a central tenet of the commission's regulatory activity.

We have not yet started work on the content of the regulations. We shall want to draw on good practice where it already exists. For example, I am aware that some schools have already produced excellent protocols for dealing with bullying and that in the education field enormous advances in containing bullying have taken place in the past few years. We may well be able to draw on that progress. But, of course, as with all our regulations we shall consult widely with service users and we should welcome contributions to the debate from noble Lords.

On my noble friend's proposed amendment, the Bill as drafted already allows for such regulations to be made. Clause 21(1)(d) provides powers to make regulations to secure the welfare of service users. It is the Government's intention that this power will be used to safeguard service users from abuse, whether it is perpetrated by staff or by other service users.

I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue. I hope that the assurance that I have given will allow her to withdraw the amendment.

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