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National Insurance

2.57 pm

Lord Skelmersdale asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, there are currently 76.8 million national insurance number accounts on the customer information system, of which 55.1 million are active.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. The Minister will be aware that, between January 2004 and April 2007, 896,170 national insurance numbers were issued to non-EU citizens. However, excluding the first quarter of 2007, for which figures are not yet available, only 270,700 work permits were issued. They cannot all be students, so why the discrepancy of around half a million?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I do not recognise the latter figure, but we should understand that there has been a significant increase in recent years in national insurance number registrations for foreign nationals. Those figures represent only inflows; they do not represent outflows—people who have left the UK and are no longer here, working or otherwise. I should also say that the existence of a national insurance number does not give anyone the right to access benefits and indeed does not represent a right to work in the UK.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the number of NINOs allocated to overseas nationals is in the public domain on the DWP website. The figures show that, in the past few years, the proportion of people who have recently registered their national insurance numbers

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and who claim out-of-work benefits has declined from something like 11 per cent in 2000 to 3 per cent in the past two years. Does that not show that the foreign nationals are making a very important contribution to the British economy, which has enabled us to outstrip the rest of Europe?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. The proportion of foreign nationals who access the benefits system is small and, as he said, has declined in recent years. We should recognise that economic migration has significantly benefited the UK economy. Currently, something like 7 per cent to 8 per cent of those in employment are foreign nationals, but we know that growth has been boosted because we now have the lowest unemployment for 30 years and the highest employment for about the same period.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, while acknowledging that foreign nationals make a contribution to the British economy, surely the Minister must accept that those foreign nationals have to be legal. What is the discrepancy between national insurance numbers issued to foreign nationals who are legal in this country and those issued to foreign nationals who are illegal?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, this Question is about the national insurance database, which is not focused on whether someone is legal in this country; other systems are focused on dealing with that. If that were not the case, there would have to be arrangements whereby, every time someone left the UK, they would have to be deleted from the system, which would open up opportunities for significant fraud. The national insurance database issues unique identifying numbers, so that we can tell what an individual’s contribution record has been over the relevant years. That is the purpose of the database. Robust changes have been made to ensure that, when national insurance numbers are issued, illegal immigration is screened out. Since 2006, a national insurance number has been issued for someone seeking employment only when they have the right to work. That is the right task for the national insurance process, not the broader task.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that this shows how porous the system is? Will he confirm that employers are still allowed to create temporary numbers for payroll purposes for new employees who are not in possession of a P45 or similar? Does that not present a considerable loophole? What safeguards exist to ensure that no one can be issued with more than one number as they change jobs?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, robust processes are in place, which is why the number on the database is higher than the number of adults currently in the UK. Once someone is on the system, they are not taken off, which is a key way of preventing fraud. The DWP does not support the issuing of temporary national insurance numbers and does not issue them. In certain

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circumstances, if people reach employment before a national insurance number has been allocated to them, the employer will use a basis to identify those individuals until the national insurance number is issued. Only one national insurance number is issued to each individual. In the unlikely event of duplication, one would be removed from the system. The process is for only one national insurance number for each individual.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, surely it is not deleting the redundant numbers, rather than deleting them, that gives scope for fraud.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I disagree, my Lords. Another key reason for holding numbers on the system is that, when people have died, there may be opportunities for the survivor’s partner to access benefits on the basis of the contribution records of the deceased person.


3.03 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, with the permission of the House, my noble friend the Leader of the House will repeat a Statement entitled “European Council Meeting” at a convenient point after 3.30 pm.

Business of the House: Standing Order 47

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Wednesday 19 March to allow the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Children and Young Persons Bill [HL]

3.04 pm

Report received.

Clause 2 [Restrictions on arrangements under section 1]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I apologise for bringing this amendment back to the House, but on reading the Minister’s answer last time, one issue remains which we would like to probe further. In his reply in Grand Committee, the Minister made it clear

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that TUPE regulations would apply to groups of social workers transferred from local authority employment to private social work practices. He went on to say:

This implies that whether staff are transferred is a decision for the local authority, but it is also clear from our discussions about social work practices that the Government clearly wish to see such practices being started up by private individuals or companies recruiting staff not necessarily by transferring them from the particular local authority, but from outside.

It is difficult to see how local authorities can do this without breaching their obligations under TUPE. If a local authority outsources social work functions, TUPE automatically applies. Staff currently employed to carry out functions which are to be outsourced must be offered the chance to transfer, and if they transfer, TUPE applies. It is only if they object to the transfer, when they are deemed to have resigned, that TUPE does not apply and no compensation is payable.

I have three questions to put to the Minister. First, can he confirm that, for the pilots, these rules will apply and that where social work practices are established outside the ambit of the local authority, staff currently fulfilling the relevant functions would have the opportunity to transfer to the pilot and that TUPE would apply? Secondly, will TUPE continue to apply when the pilots cease if this model is extended more generally? Thirdly, what happens to staff who object to being transferred over to the pilot? Will they be deemed to have resigned and therefore forgo any compensation? Obviously these matters are of concern to staff who are likely to be affected by these changes, and it is important that both they and their employers, the local authorities, understand the full implications of these experiments before they are set up as pilots. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, I can make it clear to the noble Baroness that local authorities must discharge all of their duties, responsibilities and liabilities under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations before entering into a contract with a provider of social work services. Those TUPE undertakings apply in the normal way. They will not be in any way different for social work practices from those in respect of other transfers of undertakings. On the issue of the willingness of staff to transfer, the duties which fall on the transferring employer under TUPE to inform and consult employee representatives will bite automatically on local authorities contracting with social work practices. I hope therefore that the kind of situation she envisages will not arise.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, it seems to me that this is not the same as other situations where TUPE applies, which is usually when the particular function has been permanently

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transferred out into another organisation. As I understand it, these practices are pilot schemes and therefore the pilot will come to an end. Can the Minister detail what protections will be in place to allow staff to return to the local authority at the end of the pilot?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, if they are staff who are initially covered by the TUPE protection and a further transfer takes place afterwards, they will be covered by that protection as well.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. It clarifies a situation about which some people have been worried. A slightly different situation arises when there is a pilot, as the noble Baroness mentioned, and this will reassure staff who may be affected as a result. I thank the Minister for his response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Effect of arrangements under section 1]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendment No. 2:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these amendments are all of a minor nature and are intended to ensure technical clarity. Amendment No. 2 ensures that Clause 3(3) flows as a grammatical proposition and that its meaning is clear. Amendments Nos. 41, 45, 46, 53, 56, 59, 61 and 62 relate to the exercise of delegated powers and to the commencement of provisions in the Bill in relation to Wales. Amendment No. 49 is a minor drafting correction. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 6 [Piloting and expiry of arrangements under this Part]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 3:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 6. This group of amendments seeks to ensure that other experiments in social care provisions for children are set up at the same time as the pilots for social work practices described in Clause 6, that any evaluation compares all these experiments and not only those relating to the social work practice pilots, and that the evaluation is robust and looks at a representative sample of experiments across different types of local authorities.

We had a lengthy discussion of social work practices in Grand Committee and these issues were raised during that debate. Since that time, we have all had an opportunity to read the report from Professor

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le Grand, Consistent Care Matters, which proposes the setting up of these pilots. In his letter dated 11 January, the Minister reinforced the assurances that he gave the Grand Committee about the process of evaluation of pilots. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for these reassurances.

Nevertheless, some doubts remain. It is not clear that establishing private practices of independent social workers, modelled on GP practices, will address the problems of freeing up social workers from bureaucracy and prevent the rapid turnover and changes of personnel on which all have remarked as being a bane within the service. Given the need for the local authorities to retain the role of the corporate parent, there are dangers that the proposals will fragment the child’s journey through the care system and militate against the drive towards multidisciplinary teams bridging the areas of health, social services and education. As Professor le Grand remarks in his report, better leadership and leadership structures within the local authority can lead, and have been demonstrated to lead, to considerable improvements in performance and practice among local authorities.

It is for this reason that we put emphasis on the need to test out different models rather than only one model before making decisions on what does or does not work. In his letter of 11 January, the Minister drew attention to the Children’s Workforce Development Council experiments on new approaches to social work delivery and we are pleased to see that these are going ahead. Amendment No. 3 is designed to ensure that other experiments can go ahead under proposed new subsection (2A); and proposed new subsection (2B) is designed to ensure that that these are put on an equal financial footing with the social work practice pilots.

Amendment No. 4 stipulates that the piloting of any such experiments should be considered alongside the pilots of social work practices, and that a rollout of these practices should not go ahead until a full evaluation has been completed and reported upon to Parliament. Amendment No. 5 sets out the terms of the evaluation, including the need for it to be undertaken by a body independent both of the Secretary of State and his department and of the local authorities involved, and for it to consider experiments that have been undertaken in a full cross-section of local authorities.

The Minister’s letter of 11 January was reassuring on many of those points, and we were much encouraged by what it said. The letter itself is not in the public domain, however, so it would be helpful if he could repeat for the record some of the assurances he gave us in that letter; for example, about the nature of the evaluation process and the range of local authorities likely to be involved in experiments. These are important issues and we are anxious to get his reassurances on the record. I beg to move.

3.15 pm

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, as we have heard, the case for wider access to independent advocacy for this group of children has been made for more than a decade, since Sir William Utting concluded—should the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, speak instead of me?

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Noble Lords: No.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, Sir William Utting concluded back in 1997 that looked-after children need independent advocacy as a source of protection and as a means of ensuring that their voices are heard within an otherwise closed system. More than 10 years later, current developments in Jersey remind us of what can tragically happen when children’s voices are not heard. Of course the Government are right to strive for a situation in which all professionals who come into contact with children actively seek and listen to their views, but that is not sufficient. There is so much that is good in the Bill—we just need to travel a little further. An independent advocate has a unique role: to represent the child’s views, free from any other competing responsibilities. From that position, the advocate can build a relationship of trust with the child, and trust, as we know, is vital if we are to keep children in care safe.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I shall speak to my amendment—

Lord Judd: My Lords, I rise briefly—

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment No. 6 in this group. I am grateful to noble Lords who have shared in raising concerns about the social work practice proposals, and I thank the Minister for his preparedness to listen to these anxieties. The Minister’s replies in and outwith the Chamber have helped me to see the potential virtues of the proposed practices and I look forward to seeing the results of the pilots. However, full consideration has to be given to the impact of these social work practices on the wider social care workforce. My amendment would oblige Her Majesty’s Government to do that.

The danger is that social work practices might strip the best social workers, and the funding, from child protection and family support. Unison highlights how unattractive child protection already is, with social workers often portrayed as child-stealers. The British Association of Social Workers recognises the problem and proposes one solution to it. This area is of most concern to me.

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