(HANSARD) in the second session of the fifty-third parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the fiftieth year of the reign of




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Monday, 9th June 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Sheffield.

Children in Need

Baroness Howe of Idlicote asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the duty imposed under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 "to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children within their area who are in need" is being satisfactorily interpreted by local authorities throughout the United Kingdom.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the Children Act 1989 sets out a range of duties and powers applying to local authorities with social services responsibilities. In order to have councils in England and Wales meet their statutory duties effectively the Government published statutory guidance in 2000 which set out a comprehensive framework against which the needs of a child and their families can be assessed.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that helpful reply, and congratulating her on the fact that the recent amendment to Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 indicates that local authorities have the power, if not the actual duty, to help children in need with accommodation as well as other necessities, is she aware that the Frank Buttle Trust, which has made grants to children in serious need for over 50 years, is often approached for funds by local authorities in cases where no Section 17 funds have been made available by them despite the extreme circumstances of the relevant case? Does the Minister agree that it is unacceptable that some local authorities

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should seek to evade their responsibilities in that way? Is it a matter that the Minister would be prepared to refer to the Social Services Inspectorate?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I join my noble friend in commending the Frank Buttle Trust, which does excellent work on behalf of children. Section 17 allows councils to make provision for a wide range of assistance in kind and cash. I would be disturbed if I discovered that they were evading those responsibilities as they are funded to take account of local need, but they have to follow their priorities and they have discretion to do so. On the previous occasion that the Social Services Inspectorate considered the issue it found that local authorities were providing a flexible and effective response. Almost all the soundings reported that people were extremely pleased with the service that they received. However, I certainly take note of what the noble Baroness said and I shall get back to her.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, are the Government satisfied with the progress achieved by the Quality Protects programme in relation to looked-after children both in terms of education and of care?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, when we start from such a low base in terms of looked-after children it is hard to be satisfied but I believe that we have made real progress. The Quality Protects programme is designed to transform the life chances of some of the most vulnerable children. In the past five years we have seen an increase of 25 per cent in the proportion placed for adoption, children in care being moved less frequently, and a reduction in the number of reregistrations. We are seeing some improvement in education, particularly as regards children getting one GCSE. We have a long way to go but the signs are very good.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the John Groom Organisation's recent report on young disabled people? Does she agree with me that the person most qualified to decide what the needs of

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a young disabled person are is that young person him or herself? Is she aware that the report states that many young people with disabilities feel that they are not sufficiently well consulted and that the package of care provided to them is based more on what is available than what they really need? Will the Minister comment on those findings?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, for a long time we have neglected the voice of the child. That is an extremely important point. The National Service Framework for Children has a special working group considering disabled children. It is making great efforts to ensure that those children are listened to and that their needs are put in their own words and are accounted for. The Children's Rights Director, based in the National Care Standards Commission, has a responsibility both to listen to and to amplify the voice of the child.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am concerned about a particular aspect of the need that we are discussing. Are the Government satisfied with current arrangements for the care of unaccompanied children arriving in this country and in particular those who may have been trafficked for purposes of exploitation? Do the Government accept that that is a national responsibility which should be nationally funded, and if not, why not?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, indeed it is a national responsibility. Unaccompanied children and young people who come into the UK come within the scope of the Children Act 1989. I mentioned the framework for assessment in my opening Answer. A specific section of the framework advises local authorities—it is statutory guidance so they have to take account of it—to attend to the care of unaccompanied children. In addition, Section 17 itself enables local authorities to provide assistance and accommodation. Most unaccompanied children will come into the looked-after system because by definition they have no parent or carer with them.

Earl Howe: My Lords—

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Howe! Front-Bencher!

Baroness Trumpington: Sorry, my Lords. While I am on my feet, may I ask the Minister why the Government do not give any money for the education of children who have cerebral palsy? The Dame Vera Lynn home in Sussex educates 60 such children from the ages of one to five, and Dame Vera Lynn told me on Saturday that the home receives no money at all from the Government to help it.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, it is hard for me to comment on a specific case, but I will very happily look into it. Special needs children, which includes those

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with cerebral palsy, are helped in different ways, sometimes through the mainstream system and certainly through the maintained special school system. I see the noble Baroness shaking her head; she is clearly not satisfied with that answer, so I shall look into the matter on her behalf.

Earl Howe: My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a key conclusion of the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, into Victoria Climbie was that there was a basic lack of standards in services, a failure to record notes, a failure of staff to communicate with each other, a failure of supervision and a failure of senior officers to take responsibility for their own departments? Does she accept that, in any restructuring that the Government propose over the next few weeks for social services, concentration on the basics is therefore that much more important?

Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords. The Laming report found all sorts of failures in the process of communication that must be seriously addressed. Since that report, guidance has been issued, and the checklist sent to local authorities is back with the department following the response to the self-audit. The Government will respond to the Laming report with the Green Paper on children at risk very soon.

Directory Inquiries

2.45 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the replacement of the current three-digit telephone number for directory inquiries with 16 six-digit numbers with varying charges and providing varying services represents an improvement for customers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, numbering is the responsibility of Oftel. Competition for directory inquiry services was introduced by Oftel in December 2002, so it is too early to judge the success of the scheme. Where competition has been introduced in other markets, such as Germany and the Republic of Ireland, consumers have tended to benefit from lower prices, higher quality of service and a wider range of services.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, is this form of competition not unrealistic, as all the new providers will have to use the BT database, for which they will have to pay BT a fixed annual fee plus a charge per inquiry? All that the new providers will offer is a complexity of tariffs that are very difficult to compare, as some will be based on a charge per minute, some on a fixed charge, and some on a combination of the two. Furthermore, would the noble Lord not agree that there are hidden traps in

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the new system? If the providers offer to connect the inquirer to the number that they want, they could be charged anything up to 30p a minute for their connection, whereas the BT standard rate for local calls is 3p.

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