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The extensive consultation that informed the recent publication of the first ever national Childrens Plan set out the value that children, young people and families place on a positive experience of childhood. The concept of well-being runs through the Childrens Plan and builds on the changes implemented through the Every Child Matters reforms. A strengthened focus on play, social and emotional skills and talent, for example, will all be important in enhancing opportunities for children and young people to enjoy a happy and healthy childhood.
The Secretary of State has for many years carried out activities for the benefit of children. In particular, he is already required by Section 10 of the Education Act 1996 to promote the education of the people of England and Wales. The significant developments in government policy over recent years through the Every Child Matters agenda have seen the Secretary of State recognise the need to look more closely at the holistic needs of children and the wide range of matters affecting a childs life, happiness and prospects other than just his or her education.
We believe that the time is now right to recognise in statute the broader responsibilities of the Secretary of State for the well-being of children. This duty is in line with current duties on local authorities and schools to promote the well-being of children. It also reflects the Secretary of States general policy responsibilities in a manner that complements the operational responsibilities of local childrens services and brings a consistent focus on childrens outcomes at every level of the system.
In addition to the well-being duty for all children, this amendment gives the Secretary of State a power to promote the well-being of care leavers over the age of 18 and others under the age of 25 as provided for in regulations, to recognise the importance of supporting vulnerable groups of young people through their transition into adulthood at a national level as well as through the existing corporate parenting responsibilities of local authorities.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: As we are discussing the first of the Government's significant changes to the Bill, I thank the Minister for listening carefully to all that was said at Second Reading and during our deliberations in Grand Committee. We have before your Lordships' House today a much improved Bill. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for the extraordinary care and attention that he pays to answering our concerns at length and in much detail in his letters. We are very lucky to have a Minister of his integrity and ability dealing with issues that involve some of our most vulnerable and challenging children and young people.
I also take this opportunity to place on record our thanks to Jake Vaughan in the Government Whips Office. I sometimes think that his job is almost impossible. It is daunting to be faced with a much altered Bill just a few days before Report. To be faced with it when the House is going into recess tests even the best humour. We were therefore most grateful for the concession to recommit the whole Bill to Committeea rare happeningso that we had the opportunity to listen to the Minister and to reflect on what he has to say and on the implications of the changes before Report.
We warmly welcome the addition to the Bill of the Secretary of States general duty to promote the well-being of children in England in line with his current duty to promote the education of the people of England and Wales. Given the responsibilities of the new department, it makes good sense. We are particularly pleased that the new clause gives the Secretary of State a power to promote the well-being of care leavers. Will the Minister clarify the practical ramifications of such a general duty? As much of the Bill is concerned with placements and with decisions about a childs welfare taken at local level, how much of an impact will this general duty have on those decisions? Will he also say whether the Secretary of States duty to promote the well-being of children will apply to children in the asylum and immigration system?
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I echo the noble Baronesss thanks to the Minister for his very careful response to all the points that we made in Committee; we are very grateful for the lengthy and detailed letters that we have been receiving. I also echo the noble Baronesss thanks to Jake Vaughan in the Government Whips Office for being very patient about what has been going on in the past week or so.
We also welcome the Governments amendments, which bring the Secretary of States functions in relation to well-being into line with those of local authorities and governing boardsfunctions that were set out in the Education and Inspections Act that was passed not very long ago in 2006. Given the importance of the role played by the Secretary of State and his department in dictating the terms according to which education, training and care are delivered in this country, it is appropriate that the Secretary of State should be subject to the same objectives and constraints as those who are on the front-line of delivering those services.
We are also very pleased that well-being is being extended to parenting. This recognises the very important role of parents and parenting in the well-being of children. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is in his place todayI think not; he is still on holidaybut we have all played a substantial part in this issue. Perhaps I should declare an interest here as vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Parents and Families. We are also delighted to see included in the amendment care leavers over 18 years of age, who are particularly vulnerable. Again, this is very appropriate.
We do, however, have a number of queries and questions for the Minister about the amendments. First, does the duty of well-being also apply to the Secretaries of State for Justice and for Home Affairs in relation to the children of illegal immigrants, of asylum seekers, of those held in detention centres and of those held in custody? Secondly, are there no equivalent provisions for Wales? Thirdly, does not proposed new subsection (4)(a) on the well-being of care leavers receiving services also apply to care leavers not receiving services? Does it apply both to those who have been actively receiving services and to those who have not?
The clause explains that this is a general duty to reflect its target nature, recognising that the Secretary of State will be entitled to take a wide range of matters into consideration. The letter continues:
The new duty will enable the Secretary of State to deliver the Childrens Plan more effectively and to ensure that the expenditure he incurs in certain contractual arrangements is in
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What plans does the Secretary of State have in mind? Is there likely to be a conflict between these and the Every Child Matters agenda? For example, taking the analogy with education, can a Government required to promote the general well-being of children and young people justify imposing an academy on a community which has decisively rejected such a proposition?
The Government amendment rightly links the Secretary of States duty to promote well-being back to the five Every Child Matters outcomes for children and young people enshrined in law in s. 10(2)(a)-(e) of the Children Act 2004. Barnardos does not think that the current support systems fully contribute to young care leavers achieving the five outcomes outlined in the Every Child Matters agenda; and we would welcome steps taken by the Secretary of State through the new duty to address this. The following illustrate how care leavers achievement of the five outcomes can be compromised.
Barnardos welcome the proposal to provide extra money for child trust fund accounts, but recognise this will only impact on a small percentage of the care population, those born on or after the 1st September 2002. Barnardos would like older children in care to have similar opportunities to develop assets for use when they reach 18. In addition Barnardos believes there should be a minimum level of leaving care grant for each young person, consistent across all local authorities.
Lord Williamson of Horton: This substantive new clause was proposed by the Government after we completed the Committee stage or, more accurately, thought that we had done so. It is fair to say that it was not signalled at that stage, but the Minister has written to those of us who participated in the earlier debates in Committee and has set out his reasoning today in moving the amendment. Although we have to react quite fast to the changes now being made to the Bill, I salute the Minister for taking a radical approach to the points that were made at the earlier stage and for coming forward with a comprehensive solution.
Although by nature I am hesitant about giving additional new duties, functions and potential action to the Secretary of State in legislation, I believe that in this case the new clause provides a guarantee for the well-being of children, in particular for those persons receiving services under Sections 23C to 24D of the 1989 Act. It may sound a little patronising to say so, but this is a longstop provision, described by the Minister in his letter as complementary to the duties on local authorities and governors of schools. I do not regret that; on the contrary, I welcome it.
to which some noble Lords referred in Committee, but is the Minister satisfied that the phrase will sufficiently define what is needed and not go too wide? Does the phrase in fact exist anywhere else in United Kingdom legislation? I rather doubt it, so I would welcome a comment from him. However, as I have said, I support the new clause and, if it comes to it, I will certainly vote for it.
The Earl of Listowel: I am still digesting the impact of this proposed new clause, but on the face of it the provision is very welcome. In the past, there has been concern that too much responsibility in this area has been passed down to local government and not enough taken by central government. This is reflected in the failure to improve outcomes sufficiently in past years. In principle, giving the Secretary of State new powers in these circumstances is welcome; in practice, we should think about what will happen when the social work practice pilot report returns.
The concern is that, while we hope that this will improve continuity of care for children with a care order in the care system and that it will attract more social workers to work with children in care, thus preventing the high turnover currently so often experienced by these children, it might undermine the work done to support and intervene in families before children become legally subject to the duties of local authorities. Moreover, it might exacerbate the current situation, with which we all familiar, of a high threshold of intervention in families because of the lack of social workers and what are sometimes poor levels of support for social workers. That was strongly reflected in the research recently commissioned by the Government from the University of East Anglia,
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To my mind, this new clause is reassuring in that these new responsibilities will put the Minister in a better position to look across the board to ensure that any interventions proposed do not help some children to the detriment of others. I look forward to learning more about these matters from the Minister in his response.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I, too, welcome these amendments and I commend the Minister for his careful perusal of the detail that we went through in Grand Committee. I have just two points to make. First, some years ago we spent a lot of time trying to introduce the concept of well-being into legislation. I recall the noble Baroness on the Liberal Benchesthe noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rather than her colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildfordpressing for this kind of phraseology in another Bill. We therefore warmly welcome it, although I am not sure that we know what the definition is and what it will mean in practice, a point that I shall come back to. I wish that the new clause were being inserted not before Clause 7 but before Clause 1. That would put into proportion the whole of this part of the legislation and take the heat out of the debate among social workers about practices in childcare. It would also give a whole-concept framework for children in terms of the 1989 Act and following through. I know that one of the Ministers hopes is that he can latch these two pieces of legislation together more fundamentally, so that well-being is then the central core.
My second question concerns the wide range of duties on the Secretary of State and how those duties will link in with the local authority. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to a long list of issues raised by Barnardos and other groups. I shall not repeat them but they are practice issuesnot necessarily policy issueswhich will have to be implemented by the local authority. I am sure that inspections will bring to the fore some of the issues and I should be interested to know how Ofsted might develop a more rounded approach towards helping those who are attempting to change practice as well as bringing the necessary criticisms to the fore. One of the difficulties is that, unless the regulator takes a rounded approach, there is a blame culture rather than a development culture. I shall be interested in the interrelationship between the Secretary of States new duties, which I welcome, and the practice issues that have to be carried out by the local authority.
My third point relates to finances. We have heard a great deal about the way in which the finances will be put together. However, as it is not yet clear in my mind, I ask the Minister what funding will be ring-fenced to ensure that this work can move forward. What will be left for the local authority to set its priorities, alongside its many other priorities, in order to ensure that children generally, and in particular children in care, receive the services that we are working towards?
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I, too, congratulate the Government on the major thrust of the amendments. They seem to have taken into account a great deal of the detailed debates that we had earlier. Obviously the proof will be in the pudding. There is to be a Report stage and so we will have rather longer to absorb the full meaning of these provisions. In particular, I support what my noble friend Lady Howarth said about the relationship between how this will work out in practice and the wording. We can all applaud thoroughly the fact that well-being is included in the Bill in this form; we have been asking for it for a long time and there is a much greater understanding of what it means. There may not be the total detail but the holistic approach towards what we understand to be a childs well-being is becoming clearer by the minute. I support the comments made by Barnardos, which raised some important issues, as other noble Lords have mentioned. With that proviso, I support the amendment and look forward to the Report stage.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: I, too, welcome the new clause. It is, indeed, a sea change. It may not bring about something rich and strange, as the immortal Bard puts it, but it is nevertheless a tribute to the sensitivity, patience and understanding of the Minister, which he has shown at every stage of this legislation. The term well-being is well chosen. I do not know whether there is any statutory definition in any other legislation but I would have thought that it cannot be a thousand miles away from the reference to the welfare of a child that occurs dominantly in Section 1 of the Children Act 1989.
Another matter that may well arise in relation to many of these amendments is that it is made perfectly clear that the general duty on the Secretary of State is limited to children in England. I would be grateful if the Minister could kindly let me know whether there is currently any intention for the Welsh Assembly to create a parallel in Wales. I suppose that that very probably is the case.
I make a point en passant that reflects on all the matters that have been devolved by this House in favour of the Cardiff Assembly. Nothing constitutionally prevents this House, as the mother Parliament, from passing legislation that may be utterly contrary to what might have been done in Wales, although I do not think for a moment that we would intend to do so. On Scotland, a formal undertaking was givenI think that it is called the Sewel undertakingthat, having devolved a certain area of jurisdiction, the House would not seek to interfere in that area any longer. During the passage of the Government of Wales Bill through this House in 2006, I was given an undertaking by the relevant Minister that a parallel undertaking would be given concerning Wales. I have not heard anything formally in that regard, but I would not suggest for a moment that the Government were acting other than in perfect good faith on this matter. Unless I hear anything to the contrary, I assume that such an undertaking is now current and will be observed.
Lord Adonis: I am grateful for all the complimentary remarks that have been made, both about me personally and about the Government Whips Office, which has sought to accommodate the
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I was asked a large number of questions. I shall seek to answer as many as I can, although I may have to respond to some in writing. I am glad that there has been a general welcome from noble Lords in response to the new power set out in this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, asks whether there is a precise parallel for the phrase,
I am not aware of a precise parallel, but I can tell him that Section 14 of the Education Act 2002 gives the Secretary of State power to give financial assistance to support parenting, including support for prospective parents. Therefore, this builds on powers that exist in current legislation.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Sharp, asked whether the new duty applies just to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families or to other Secretaries of State. I can tell them that the duty is in relation to all government departments with regard to policy on children, not just to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned asylum and immigration children. All relevant government departments will need to have regard to well-being in forming policies. However, the new duty sits alongside other legal duties on Secretaries of State, who will need to balance all their legal duties when developing policy and taking action on specific cases.
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