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Lord Clement-Jones: This is a useful opportunity for the Minister to assure us about the fees that may be charged by CSCI under the clause. The Social Services Inspectorate does not currently charge local

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authorities for the provision of inspection services, but the National Care Standards Commission does. The Bill provides charging powers for CSCI to cover the former SSI and NCSC functions. Needless to say, local authorities are concerned that CSCI will be charging them for standard social services inspections, which would be a change to former practice. What reassurances can the Minister give us?

Lord Warner: As the noble Lord said, the clause provides a power for CSCI to determine and levy fees on local authorities when carrying out any review or inspection of local authority social services. We believe that it is important that CSCI as a body is independent of the department. That is common ground across the Committee. Part of that is its ability to raise revenue through fees. The Secretary of State will have no involvement in the setting of those fees. That will allow for a clear and more direct relationship between the inspecting body and the local authority.

There have been concerns that an independent body will be able to levy high fees on local authorities, but I believe those concerns are unfounded. In the first instance, the commission will be required to consult appropriate persons before setting the scale of fees. We consider that such appropriate persons would include bodies such as the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Social Services, which would have a clear interest in the nature of any charge levied on local authorities, as well as the local authorities themselves. We also expect that such a consultation process would take place before the publication of any revised schedule of fees.

Subsection (6) also provides a power that would enable the Secretary of State to make regulations that would allow an independent person or panel to review the charge that CSCI has set, if it has set an unreasonable charge in individual cases.

We want CSCI to be able to demonstrate its independence and the value of its work by charging reasonable fees where appropriate. There are safeguards in the Bill and the provisions in the clause will enable a proper balance to be struck.

Lord Clement-Jones: I thank the Minister for that helpful response. It is not a cast iron situation, but subsection (6) gives some redress to a local authority faced with unreasonable fees. As the Minister says, we hope that from the outset the consultation process will ensure the right level of fees.

Clause 84, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 85 and 86 agreed to.

Clause 87 [Right of entry: supplementary]:

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland moved Amendment No. 358ZA:

    Page 36, line 8, at end insert—

"( ) interview in private, or solicit written or verbal expressions of opinion from, any child or group of children who consent to be interviewed or to express their views, as the case may be;"

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The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 358ZA. I wish to ensure that inspectors can freely seek children's views when inspecting welfare in services for children. That may affect vulnerable groups other than children, such as other adults in care.

The Children's Rights Director, Roger Morgan, to whom Parliament has given the specific job of continually ensuring that the commission properly listens to children in all that it does, has recently asked both children and inspectors what they consider to be key elements of effective inspection. Children said that inspectors must listen to children. I agree with them; I am sure that everyone does. Inspectors confirmed that listening to children is an efficient source of evidence for judging whether they are safe and properly looked after. I agree with that, too, having been involved in situations where children were not listened to. The Children's Rights Director will now be carrying that forward for us into the future integrated inspection framework envisaged in the Green Paper. I hope that the Children's Rights Director will continue regardless of any future commissioner discussions, although I recognise that the Minister might say that that is an argument for another time and another place.

I am concerned that there are two limitations in the Bill on how far inspectors can listen to children effectively. First, Clause 87 refers only to interviewing in private; yet other ways of asking children's views are needed on inspections, such as the use of surveys, group discussions, inviting children to consultation days and electronic means of seeking views. We need to be assured that inspectors can use all those ways, and more, and not be limited only to interviewing children in private. I do not read the very specific term "interview in private" as covering all those other ways of asking and listening to children.

The second limitation is that the Bill gives inspectors the power to interview, and therefore to seek views from, only children accommodated or cared for at premises to which inspectors have a legal right of entry. That is not good enough. Inspectors also need to be able to seek views, in reasonable and practicable ways, from, for example, foster children who live, or are cared for, in the homes of their foster carers, not in any premises to which inspectors have a right of entry.

As it stands, having a power only to seek views from children who live where there is a power of entry means that inspectors can only legally ask foster children for their views and experience of fostering in a fostering service that they are inspecting, and if they ask permission of someone else first. That alerts anyone about whom the children may want to talk. That cannot be right. Inspectors have their own power to seek the views of children when inspecting other services, such as children's homes, schools and colleges, subject only to the consent of the children themselves. They need the same power to talk to foster children.

As the Minister will understand, my probing amendments are intended to ensure that inspectors can always ask children for their views and experiences,

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when inspecting their safety and welfare, in more ways than private interviews, and regardless of whether the children live or are cared for at premises being inspected. That is needed to safeguard children.

I am not asking for powers that inspectors do not already have in relation to other children's services. Under the inspection of schools and colleges regulations, under the Children Act 1989, inspectors have already been given the power to ask children for their views in more ways than private interviews.

I am not asking for inspectors to have any right of entry to private houses, such as foster carers' homes. That would not be appropriate and would go beyond the powers that they already have in other settings. But, together with the Children's Rights Director, I have talked to groups of children from foster homes about their experiences, with great and vivid backgrounds. My amendment would give inspectors the power to seek children's views by those and other reasonable means. I would be pleased to hear the Minister's view. I beg to move.

Lord Warner: I appreciate the concerns that lie behind the amendment. We are aware that concerns have been expressed that the powers in the Bill are not sufficiently wide to enable CSCI to interview groups of children receiving local authority services or to elicit information from them, with consent, regardless of whether they are accommodated at premises to which there is statutory access. We consider that the concerns are misplaced.

Under Clause 87(1)(c), a person authorised by CSCI to enter and inspect premises is already able to interview in private any person accommodated or cared for at those premises who consents to be interviewed. We are advised that there is no reason why this power would not allow an employee of CSCI to interview any child or group of children in private already. The reference to conducting an interview in private was included in the Bill to make it clear that the commission could interview in private if it and the person being interviewed thought it appropriate. There is no reason why it must interview in private.

Solicitors advise us that verbal or written expressions of opinion can already be solicited from children who consent to be interviewed under the provisions of the Bill. CSCI has powers at Clause 88(1) that allow it to require any person to provide it with information that is necessary or expedient for the purposes of its functions under Chapter 5. That would enable any person authorised by CSCI to obtain the details from a local authority of any children from whom they believed it would be necessary or expedient to elicit information, for the purposes of assessing how well a local authority was carrying out its children's social services functions.

We are advised that there is no need for an explicit power in the Bill to enable CSCI to use this information to contact children to elicit their views about the services they are receiving. They can already do that to the extent that they consider it necessary to

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judge the quality of services. Obviously, what form the contact will take—a letter or telephone call, for example—will depend on CSCI's judgment of what is appropriate in individual cases.

Amendment No. 376A is also unnecessary. The Bill will already enable employees of CSCI to elicit views or information from children receiving inspected services without the permission of another party, such as a local authority. That is the case regardless of whether the child concerned is accommodated in a premises to which the inspectorate has a statutory right of access, such as a registered children's home, or whether they are accommodated in a private home under fostering arrangements.

The specific issue of whether the children's rights director would be able independently to contact children in foster care, including private fostering, and pre-adoption arrangements had been raised with the department by the NCSC. I can confirm that the provisions already in the Bill will allow the CRD to collect information about where such children are living and to contact them to seek their views, when he judges that this is necessary in individual cases to enable him to assess the quality of services provided. Since the Bill already allows for such things, the amendment is unnecessary.

I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness and that she will withdraw the amendment.

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