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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to the noble Baroness for her reply. I accept the points that she makes on Amendment No. 18. The difficulty is always to try to craft support and Acts for families in such a way that they do not encroach or interfere, but rather are related to listening, responding and empowering. However, in view of what the noble Baroness has said about Amendment No. 19, I am very happy to seek to withdraw Amendment No. 18. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall be very brief. Amendments Nos. 20, 22 and 32 would respectively extend the application of Clause 7(3), which is the Government's amendment about paying attention to the family and to parents, to three other groups: to the relevant partners of a children's services authority as well as to the authority itself; to the bodies which will be responsible for making arrangements for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children under Clause 8; and to any person or body carrying out an inspection or making a report under Clause 16 of the Bill. This is another group of amendments which relates to the concept that what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. If Clause 7(3) is desirable in relation to a children's services authority, why is it not also important that it should apply with equal force to those other bodies concerned with the well being of children in the Bill? I beg to move.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, in the briefest possible way, I support the amendments. I do not think that we need say any more than that, because we have had these arguments out so many times. They are all important, and if they apply to one group or authority with those responsibilities, they should apply across the board. I hope that we do not need a debate and we can accept what is proposed.
Earl Howe: My Lords, on Amendment No. 22, I sympathise totally with the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. However, it is important
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that where a child is at risk of harm from his own parents or carers, nothing in the wording of the Bill should get in the way of the local authority being able to take the action that it needs to take to remove a child from harm's way.
I do not know whether the amendment poses that sort of a risk, but expressed as it is, I am a little concerned that it might. I am prepared to stand corrected. I want the noble Lord to know how much I support the general thrust of Amendment No. 22, particularly as it relates to the promotion, as opposed to the safeguarding, of children's welfare.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, on Amendment No. 20, the noble Lord sought clarification that what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander. I reassure him that that is the case. The duty to have regard to the importance of parents is placed on the children's services authority because that is the body required to make arrangements for co-operation. The relevant partners are under a duty to co-operate in the making of those arrangements. Therefore, they are covered by what is already in the Bill. I hope that reassures the noble Lord.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, has indicated the problem that we have with Amendment No. 22. It would make the duty to have regard to the importance of parents equal to, but completely separate from, the duty they already have to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in exercising the normal functions. Amendment No. 22 would weaken rather than strengthen the duty, and it dilutes the focus of Clause 8. I am sure that is not the noble Lord's intention. It really matters that we have a single, stand alone duty in relation to safeguarding. It emphasises to the agencies involved the crucial importance of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. That is why I do not wish to accept the amendment, because it is too important to risk diluting.
Amendment No. 32 is unnecessary. The job of the inspectorate is to inspect the provision of services. We do not wantand we do not think that the noble Lord wantsthe inspectorate to be inspecting the contribution of parents to their children's well being by intruding on their privacy and their domestic premises. We cannot work out how to fulfil such a duty other than by inspection activity, and I am sure that the noble Lord is not seeking that. The new arrangements for the inspection of children's services will ensure that the views of parents and carers on services will be taken into account. It is covered in the Every Child Matters: Inspecting Services for Children and Young People discussion paper. One of the principles of the framework for inspections will be that inspections should seek the views of children and young people, and that their perspective on services will be taken as part of the evidence of the availability, quality and impact of provision.
The discussion paper explicitly states that the consultation with children, young people, their parents and carers will be a key part of the process of
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joint area reviews. On the basis that it is unnecessary, and it would lead to something that the noble Lord does not want, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
Clause 8 [Arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare]:
The noble Earl said: My Lords, the arguments for this amendment have been well rehearsed at earlier stages and I shall not weary the House by repeating them at length. We have what appears to many, including me, a giant lacuna in the Bill. In the Green Paper Every Child Matters refugee children are specifically mentioned as being children in the greatest need, yet the agencies which are charged with looking after them are excluded from the duty in Clause 8 to safeguard and promote children's welfare. I have read what the Minister said about the amendment on Report. I still find the omission incomprehensible. Why on earth should refugee children be denied the same rights and protection as other children in the UK? The Minister argued that,
"a duty to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children could severely compromise our ability to maintain an effective asylum system and strong immigration control".[Official Report, 17/6/04; col. 996.]
We need to unpack this a bit. The first point is that Clause 8 is not an absolute duty, but simply requires agencies to make arrangements to have regard to the need to safeguard children and promote their welfare in the discharge of their functions.
"We have been very careful in the way in which we have worded this clause: we do not put a duty on agencies that would make them unable to fulfil their primary functions".[Official Report, 17/6/04; col. 995.]
Nobody would argue that the primary function of the Immigration Service is not to ensure effective immigration control, just as nobody would dispute that the primary function of the police is to ensure public order and prevent crime. Yet the chief officer of police is included in the new duty in Clause 8(l)(g).
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It is important to look at the wording of the amendment because it does not ask that the whole of the IND service be included in the duty, only the relevant bodies and personnel who come into contact directly with children at key points in the system.
"would provide another basis for exploiting the appellate and judicial review systems by arguing that the detention of asylum-seeking families with children is not compatible with safeguarding children or promoting their welfare".[Official Report, 20/5/04; col. 977.]
It is a little hard to reconcile the Minister's position with the recent assertion by her noble friend Lord Bassam in debates on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants Etc.) Bill. When resisting an amendment to ensure that assessments of children's needs while in detention are undertaken the noble Lord argued:
"I hope that noble Lords are reassured that the current provision for the care and welfare of children detained in immigration removal centres is of a very high standard. We will never be complacent about the issue, and we will ensure that we are aware of the need to maintainand, where necessary, improvethe standard of care for children".[Official Report, 18/5/04; col. 748.]
Despite the noble Lord's assertions, we still have reports by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons on inspections of five immigration removal centres in 2002. Those reports have been mentioned at earlier stages of the Bill. They highlight the inappropriateness of detaining children and concerns about their treatment.
Similar concerns about the treatment of children in Prison Service establishments has led to their inclusion under the new duty in Clause 8, so we have to ask why a different approach is being taken here. We need to remember that detention is without limit of time. In fact it can be for prolonged periods. Recent figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in debates indicate that between March and April 2004, 323 people were taken into detention, 63 of whom were held for more than a week. The Refugee Children's Consortium considers the measures for ministerial authorisation referenced by the Minister on Report to be woefully inadequate. One particular case illustrates that: the Konan case. Miss Konan, who fled the Ivory Coast, was detained for more than six months with her young child. The period of detention was subsequently ruled to be unlawful for all but the initial two-week period, despite repeated authorisation by the Minister.
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If the Minister considers it appropriate to detain children and that the care for children in detention is of a high quality, will she explain why those directly responsible for the care of children should not fall under the duty in the Bill? I beg to move.
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