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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Clause 113 was introduced at the Report stage in the other place in response to concerns that had been raised during Special Standing Committee about a problem that had arisen as a result of a recent judgment of the Court of Appeal, A v London Borough of Lambeth. The judgment meant that local authorities no longer had the power to provide accommodation to children in need and their families under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 when accommodation was not available from any other source. Clause 113 is intended to deal with this problem with the ultimate aim of safeguarding vulnerable children and their families without placing unacceptable burdens on the system.

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Subsequently, there was a further judgment from the Court of Appeal in the case of W v London Borough of Lambeth, which appears to overturn the earlier judgment. The original case may still come before this House and it is possible that this House might uphold the original judgment. In the light of this continuing uncertainty, Clause 113 was considered to be all the more important to provide clarity and certainty about the law in this area.

Historically, Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 had been considered by the Government and by local authorities to empower councils with social service responsibilities to assist children in need and their families by providing them with accommodation or, more often, help with the cost of accommodation, such as payment of a rent deposit or the first month's rent, where help was not available from other sources. That picks up the point raised by my noble friend, which was considered to be an important safety net provision for particularly vulnerable groups, including those families considered to be intentionally homeless, those needing emergency accommodation, or older children who, while needing accommodation, do not need the more intensive support provided by foster care or institutions.

The Court of Appeal held in A v London Borough of Lambeth that provision of or payment for accommodation lies outside the scope of Section 17. Since then, the judgment in J v London Borough of Enfield has made clear that councils are able to use their power under Section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 to provide financial or other assistance towards the cost of obtaining accommodation.

In the most recent case, W v London Borough of Lambeth, the Court of Appeal held that accommodation was within the scope of Section 17 but, as I have explained, that might not be the last word on the subject. Moreover, the Government's view is that while Section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 is an acceptable stop-gap, it is not entirely equivalent to the position historically thought to exist under the Children Act.

The clause is therefore intended to clarify the position and to confirm the power for local authorities to provide accommodation under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which was thought to exist prior to the Lambeth judgment. Subsection (1) amends subsection (6) of Section 17, to make clear that local authorities can provide assistance in kind, accommodation, or, in exceptional circumstances, cash.

I listened with great interest to my noble friend. I hope there is not a loophole but I will take this away and look at it and come back to her on the specific points she has raised. But I hope she will accept that this is a genuine attempt to clear up a potential loophole which may have inhibited local authorities giving just the kind of support that she raised.

Baroness David: I am grateful for the Minister's reply and pleased that he will look at this further. The national council asked me to raise the matter and I

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shall ensure that it knows exactly what the Minister has said. If there remains anxiety, we can bring something back on report.

Clause 113 agreed to.

Clause 114 [Inquiries by local authorities into representations]:

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 114:

    Page 66, line 2, at end insert—

"(1B) Regulations may be made by the Secretary of State requiring the local authority to arrange for the appointment of an independent advocate on receiving representations under subsection (1)."

The noble Baroness said: I rise to move Amendment No. 114 and I will speak also to Amendment No. 115. Amendment No. 114, amending Clause 114(1), further amends Section 24D of the Children Act 1989. It allows the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring local authorities to appoint independent advocates when representations are received about the services provided by them. Amendment No. 115 is similar but applies to Section 26 of the 1989 Act, which draws in complaints under this Bill.

In the Special Standing Committee in another place, the Minister said that the Government were sympathetic to the issue of independent advocacy, but that they were still consulting on the issue and wanted as much flexibility as possible. We certainly support flexibility because the needs of children are unlikely to be met by a one-size-fits-all policy. We accept that formal advocacy services such as those that have been introduced in the NHS may not be appropriate for young people and that a more diverse range of advocacy might be appropriate including, for example, peer advocacy.

These amendments merely empower the Secretary of State to make regulations about independent advocacy—they do not constrain the Secretary of State in any way. I hope the Minister will give an update on the Government's consultation exercise and say when the results will be published. If they are serious about independent advocacy—and I hope the Minister will confirm that they are—these amendments give a legislative framework. That, in turn, should allow for those services to be implemented quickly, as soon as the Government are clear about the way forward. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I support all these amendments. They reflect an aspect of Amendment No. 7, moved by me, which frankly is totally spent now and will not reappear in any form on Report. It has been superseded by far better amendments. It was a probing amendment and it served its purpose.

There is one point. I was concerned with the quality of representation, and I was suggesting that somehow or other the Lord Chancellor should have a hand in this. His department has the facility to ensure a certain standard of quality which is not uniform in my branch of the profession. Different people also have different forms of expertise. A Secretary of State, as such, has not the same means of assessing the requisite skill and

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competence as would the Lord Chancellor's Department. I merely ask that some consideration be given, that maybe one should consult the other, or that there should be some satisfactory means to ensure competent representation.

The Earl of Listowel: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 114 which stands in my name and the name of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and to Amendment No. 115A which stands in my name.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has already made many of the most important points in relation to Amendment No. 114. The history of this amendment is that, for the past three and a half years, I believe, a children's consortium has strongly supported such provision. The consortium includes Barnardo's, the Children's Society, the Boys' and Girls' Welfare Society, Childline, Children's Rights Alliance, the NSPCC and others. Children's right to be supported and the right of children in care to have an advocate to provide a complaints process for use when they wish to make a complaint is considered the absolute, bare minimum of provision.

I should like to put the issue in context to illustrate why this provision is necessary. On Monday, the Chief Inspector of Prisons visited your Lordships' House and told us that overcrowding in prisons is now so great that many men have to double up and share a single room. She witnessed an older man with a catheter sharing with a young man who self harmed. They were sharing the same cell for 23 hours of every day. There was an unscreened lavatory. They had to perform all their functions in view of one another. There is a good chance that both had been in care. If we do not get the care system right, that is the prospect for many children in care.

The Government established an education target for children leaving care. The target was that most of those children should receive one GCSE. Unfortunately that target was not achieved last year. Most children in care have come from a background of abuse. Only 5 or 6 per cent of children arriving in care have been involved with the criminal justice system. When they leave care, however, there is a high likelihood that they have been so involved.

It is easy to criticise social services. However, I do not downplay the fact that these children are often very challenging. These children comprise a varied group, but many of them are challenging and have serious needs.

The United Kingdom has failed to meet our target for educating these children. In Germany, however, more than 50 per cent of children in care receive their Arbitur, which is the equivalent of a good clutch of A-levels. So although these are challenging children, we could do far more for them. The Government have made many welcome improvements, but there is a long way to go.

One of the main problems is the long-term under-investment in social services. Although the Government have recently made some welcome additions and made promises for the future, as the

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Committee discussed earlier, under-investment continues to be a very serious problem. These children are subject to these resource problems. They are vulnerable and their voice needs to be heard.

A woman who I very much admire managed Centrepoint's hostel in King's Cross for young homeless people, many of whom used drugs. One boy at the hostel had left care and was going to be placed in totally inappropriate and insecure bed and breakfast accommodation in Earl's Court. She obtained the help of an advocate from Voice of the Child in Care—a charity in which, as a patron, I should declare an interest—and his needs were addressed. She had nothing but good to say of the work of the advocate in that case.

Only yesterday, the Children's Legal Centre described to us the case of David, who was also a care leaver. He had a history of abuse and was in a special hostel. The local authority suddenly decided to move him from the children's home in which he was living to bed and breakfast accommodation 70 miles away. In this instance, no regard had been given to his statutory right to have his welfare safeguarded and promoted or to have a pathway plan and a personal adviser.

I shall, if I may, cite one other case. Ian and Robby are two boys whose mother died when one was about eight and the other 11. They were looked after by their aunt and sister, who could not cope with them. They were then put into care. It was hoped that they could remain with their foster family as a long-term placement, but social services decided that they had to be moved on. They planted a tree in the local cemetery as a remembrance to their mother. Nevertheless, social services insisted that they had to move. Through the help of their foster parents, they obtained an advocate, who looked at the problem with the social worker and others. A sensible agreement was reached whereby the boys could stay where they wished to be.

In all these cases, adults were the ones who enabled the boys to find an advocate so that they could use the system. When I speak to practitioners and social workers about this, they emphasise that this is the absolute minimum that is required to protect these vulnerable young people in the face of the great resource restraints facing local authorities. It is a permissive power for which we are arguing. I am going a little further than the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, or perhaps approaching care leavers in a slightly different way. My Amendment No. 115A allows a great deal of flexibility. I know that the Minister will have considered the matter carefully, and I know that he and his colleagues have been working hard on this. I look forward to his response to the amendments.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I rise to support Amendments Nos. 114 and 115 and the sentiments of Amendment No. 115A. I have worked with both NYAS—the National Youth Advocacy Scheme—and the Voice of the Child in Care. Childline has a special provision, paid for by the Department of Health, for children accommodated in care or in other institutions which allows them to call in to seek help.

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What has been clear throughout this debate is the variability in the type of help available to these children. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has described that variability. However, I do not think that the variability issue arises in relation to provision as different sorts of representatives for children are needed in different situations. I think that these organisations understand how to provide that representation. The issue arises because there is no clear framework to fix representation.

I look forward to the outcome of the consultation, in the hope that it will result in a national framework for independent representation for children which will join these organisations. I have long felt that some of them could join together. Indeed, I have spent time with many of them trying to work towards that. They would be encouraged to work more closely if the framework and the requirements were clear. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how this might develop in future.

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