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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we would be even richer if we had a pound for every new instruction, guidance and diktat that the noble Lord would wish to give to local authorities.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, we have debates to come on foundation hospitals and other such matters after the Queen's Speech. I am sure that we will have great debates on the level of micro-management.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord knows that I cannot possibly anticipate legislation in the next Session.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I know—but we on these Benches are entitled to speculate.

I shall leave the issue there on this occasion because it may be that our amendment needs to be altered. But the concern is still there. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, tried valiantly to allay some of our concerns by referring to how performance management would make the difference. I remain unconvinced. We shall have a further debate on this issue at Third Reading, but in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 115 [Inquiries by local authorities into representations]:

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 110:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 110, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 112. I shall be brief. These amendments to Clause 115 seek to give legislative cover for advocacy services for looked after children. They require local authorities to provide independent advocacy services for looked after children when representations are made under the Children Act. The other amendments in the group, with the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in the lead, are variants on this theme.

We had an interesting debate in Grand Committee which revealed a high level of agreement—not least from the Minister himself—that advocacy services were needed for looked after children. At that stage, the Government, while accepting that they could not introduce advocacy services without primary legislation, were resisting our modest amendments designed to give them the powers that they would need once there was agreement on the way forward. We on these Benches could not understand that position. I am, however, delighted that the summer has seen another Damascene conversion in Richmond House and that the Government have tabled their own

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Amendment No. 115A. I shall say no more about my own amendments because I want to hear what the Minister has to say about his amendment.

However, when the Minister speaks, I hope that he will address three points. First, will he explain why the new clause, while headed "Advocacy services", does not contain the word "advocacy" anywhere in the text? It is, after all, a word that has been used in other legislation without any trouble. Will he confirm that this new clause will unambiguously enable advocacy services to be provided?

Secondly, will the Minister say why his amendment has no reference to independence, which is a feature of the other amendments in the group? Will he agree that a looked after child needs to be helped by someone who is independent of the authority against whom the representations are being made? How is that independence to be guaranteed?

Thirdly, the new clause is yet another regulation-making power. Will the Minister say when the draft regulations will be available and, even more importantly, when the Government intend to implement this new provision?

I hope that when the Minister has spoken to his amendment I shall be able to withdraw my own. But these questions are very significant in determining whether the Government's amendment is good enough. In the mean time, I beg to move.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I need add hardly anything to what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has said. As in Committee, she has encapsulated the issues and the concerns involved in this matter. I shall speak briefly to Amendments Nos. 111, 114 and 115, which stand in my name.

Amendment No. 111 seeks to ensure specifically that children who have left care—care leavers—have assistance when they seek to make use of the complaints procedure in the Children Act. Amendment No. 114 seeks to ensure that children in care have assistance and independent advocacy when they seek to make use of the complaints procedure. Amendment No. 115 seeks to ensure the independence from the local authority of the advocacy service provided.

I share the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes—particularly the lack of reference to independence in the Government's amendment.

Perhaps I should go back slightly and say that I warmly welcome the fact that the Minister has come forward with his amendment. The amendment seeks to introduce requirements which we had not previously sought—for example, a requirement for local authorities widely to publicise the assistance available. That is a very welcome innovation.

But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, there are concerns in regard to independence and as to why "advocacy" does not appear in the amendment. Can the Minister assure the House that the current

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arrangements for independent advocacy will continue under the new arrangements? I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, in speaking to these amendments, I should like to indicate that I shall not be moving Amendment No. 113. I can be brief because the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has already made the key points. Will the advice and assistance be independent? Does "assistance" include advocacy?

I wish to ask some further questions. Who will provide this assistance? What kind or class of person will they be? Will they be professionals; will they be from CAFCASS; will they be friends, or what? Could this assistance be given by volunteers, for example, or by organisations which employ volunteers to support children in this particular way, or could it be given by family members? If it is to be given by professionals, who will pay for it?

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for helping me to see how to speak to Amendment No. 115A when trying to deal with the other amendments. I am learning daily how to do these things.

The issue of independence is vital. There should be a very great degree of independence from the local authority—although local authorities in some areas have attempted the practice of providing services to other local authorities. I hope that organisations such as the National Youth Advocacy Service and A Voice for the Child in Care, which have worked hard to ensure a voice for advocacy for children, are heard and are able to provide some of these services. I believe that independence is crucial and that the Government believe that, given some of their past policies. I refer to the setting up of the CAFCASS scheme, following some of the difficulties with the panels of guardians ad litem; to the National Care Standards Commission; and to the implementation of regulation within local authorities. I could continue.

I am a former director of social services, so I believe that social workers do an extraordinarily good job. I have spoken on their behalf in this House previously. However, I also know that it is extraordinarily difficult to take a position from inside a local authority against one's employers. There are still difficulties in relation to whistle-blowing and other such issues. That is why independence is crucial.

Independent advocates often help in the informal stage of complaints under Sections 24D and 26 of the Children Act in ensuring that the matter never gets to a formal procedure. One of things that I have learnt from talking to children is that they do not really want to make a complaint; they want the issue that is bothering them resolved. Sometimes it becomes a complaint, but often it is about resolution. I hope that the independence provision will help them to have someone outside the sphere of the local authority to speak on their behalf and to gain a resolution that is in their best interests.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Listowel

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and the other amendments proposed. There are many good things about this welcome Bill. As it is debated and occasionally amended, it seems to get better and better. There are no fewer than six amendments seeking more or less the same provision—plus the Minister's amendment, for which I am sure everyone is grateful. Not to have a built-in and, I emphasise, transparently independent advocacy system to represent what are often the very different interests of the young person concerned would seem both to violate the intentions of human rights legislation—clearly, in today's world, where there is so much interactivity and belief that people should express their own views—and not to be in the best interests of the child concerned as defined in the Bill.

It has long been one of my ambitions to see implemented a provision which I believe first appeared in the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. This allowed for the appointment of a personal friend—no doubt a volunteer—for each young person in care without family contacts who would, no doubt, over time gain the confidence of the youngster concerned. By definition, such a person would be independent of the local authority concerned. Those are vital qualifications in terms of what we are discussing. But sadly, to date, fewer than a third of those eligible to have such a friend have one. I realise that this scheme is not part of this particular discussion. But had such a system been fully enforced, there might well have been less need for the kind of advocacy for looked after children for which these amendments call. I hope that the government amendment will be sufficient to satisfy all of us. I look forward to the Minister's response and to his reassurance on this point, as I am sure do the proposers of the many amendments.

6.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I should like to add our support to Amendments Nos. 111 and 114 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. Almost everyone who advises children suffers in one way or another from conflict of interest. I do not exempt myself as a parent from that judgment.

Usually, when one is listening to children or young people, what they need most of all is time to go on talking until they can hear themselves think. That cannot be arrived at until there is someone who is prepared to listen to them who has absolutely no axe to grind about the case that they arguing. It seems to me that nothing other than independent advocacy can come anywhere near guaranteeing that. It is needed not only in cases of dealings with the local authority and in proceedings relating to divorce. I am sure that it is needed in cases dealing with contact. In fact, it needs to be available all round the field. Those who contribute to it provide something very valuable.

I was glad to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said in praise of social workers. It needs saying. They have been used as the whipping-boys and whipping-girls of the world for far too long. But everyone still has an interest until we get to someone whose only interest is in listening. That is what these

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amendments are driving at. It is a very valuable thing to try to do, and a very difficult one in which to succeed.

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