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I believe we are all agreed that prevention, support and early intervention are the right way forward to improve outcomes for children. My noble friend Lady Howarth of Breckland has made that argument many times over, and the Conservative paper on social workers, No More Blame Game, makes just that point in its first paragraphs, yet the recent research published by the University of East Anglia and commissioned by Her Majesty’s Government highlights numerous shortcomings in current child protection work, so we absolutely must not make the situation any worse. I hope the Minister can assure me and the House that the necessary steps will be taken to consider the impact of social work practices on the wider workforce. I look forward to his reply.

I have a further amendment in this group, Amendment No. 44. It was drawn to my attention by one of the Clerks in the Public Bill Office that there

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might be a possibility of introducing the social work practices without conducting any pilots at all. That is the loophole that my amendment seeks to cover.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I commend the amendment, to which I have put my name, for serious consideration by the Government. We shall come later in our deliberations to the United Nations convention, but underpinning all that we do should be our commitment to it. Therefore, local authorities should be expected to do everything possible to fulfil the objectives of the Bill.

Not for the first time, nor, I suspect, for the last, I respectfully underline—I hope that Liberal Peers present will forgive my making this point—that putting aspiration into a bill is one thing; if we are serious about this, we must use all our endeavours to persuade our colleagues in local government to make it a reality, and there will be a bill attached. If the nature of local politics is how one can keep the rates down better than anybody else, we will not be able to do these things. Therefore, there is a job of education to be done about how we have to be prepared as a community to pay for the services and the objectives which we are say are worth while. With that reservation, I support the spirit of the amendment.

I have not put my name to the amendments on evaluation, but they are pretty innocuous and the Government should consider them seriously. I say again that it is one thing to set out on a course, but the setting out on a course is not the fulfilment of the objective. So often, intention becomes a substitute for effective results. Therefore, it is important to have built into legislation arrangements for how we monitor how far what we in good faith try to do is delivering the goods. There is a lot of good sense behind the amendment; I hope that the Minister will, in his usual, thoughtful way, be reassuring in his reply.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, those of us who attended the meeting with the Minister on social work practices and how they were to be rolled out will be very impressed with the amount of work that has since been done by the Minister. I support the amendments for the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, set out; that is, that the commitments in them are not in the public domain and it is important to have them read out. I, too, am attracted to the idea of a report to Parliament on the success or otherwise—one hopes, the success—of the piloting arrangements, as well as to the requirement that the evaluation be carried out by a body that is independent of the appropriate national authority and of any local authority. I fully support the amendments and endorse that, too, of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, this is quite a dramatic move forward. It seems an excellent and interesting departure, which I think that most of the House will support. However, it is dangerous to go beyond the pilot project until there has been an evaluation of the downside as well as the upside of this new

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departure. For those reasons, I support those who have said that Clause 4 should not become law until there has been an evaluation of the pilot projects.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, the Minister knows that I am not an enthusiast of the new pilot projects, which probably puts it mildly, and which was epitomised by a moment in the meeting that he kindly held. I pay credit to him for his constant attempts to make transparent and clear what is happening on the ground. I am grateful for that. It was that moment when the person running the scheme said, “No, we don’t have all the answers. That is why we are running the pilots”. Experimenting with children’s lives is too dangerous.

I support some of the words of my noble friend Lord Listowel. If the pilots go forward I hope that they will take a holistic approach to these issues as they do not divide into pieces. You do not have a bit of time to deal with prevention; a bit of time when children get into danger when you have to deal with child protection; and a bit of time for rehabilitation. These problems with children run in and out of those professional areas of work during their lives in care. Therefore, I hope that the pilots will evaluate how social workers can deal with problems holistically so that we do not divide the work and lose our best social workers because the easier part is creamed off and the difficult problems that end up before the court or in a child abuse inquiry—I have been through three so I know the toll they can take—are left to those slogging away in the local authority.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, we very much support the Government in their initiative on social work practices to see, as the Minister said on Second Reading, whether giving social workers more freedom and flexibility will enable them to deliver a more personalised service and create more continuity for children in care. That is what we are all seeking and we have to give these new social work practices a chance.

I sympathise with the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, because it is always good to free up thinking and encourage new initiatives. But it would be difficult to evaluate one-off pilots and the cost would be open-ended. However, I hope that any successful initiatives in local authorities would be shared through good practice. What mechanisms are there to disseminate good practice?

I understand that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and others, are concerned that arrangements between private providers and local authorities are effective and do not adversely affect other aspects of local authority care provision. That is an understandable concern, but we believe that the pilot schemes already have mechanisms for thorough scrutiny and that duplicating this research would be an unnecessary expense. Will the assessment of the pilots take into account their impact on other services?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for her support for the pilots on social work practices. Amendment No. 5, tabled by

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the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and Amendment No. 6, spoken to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, seek reassurances that the evaluation of the pilots will focus on what happens not only within the social work practices themselves but in the wider workforce in the local authorities concerned. I am happy to give those reassurances.

The evaluation of the pilots will encompass the quality of service both in the social work practices and in the local authorities concerned, including local authority child protection services; it will take into account turnover of staff in both organisations; it will assess the capacity of the local authority to be a good corporate parent under the social work practice role; it will draw out the impact on local authority staffing and finances; and it will look at the effectiveness of interagency working, including access to a range of services. In short, it will be a robust evaluation that will do everything that Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 would have it do. I hope that that meets the concerns that have been raised.

Through Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, seeks to ensure what she calls a level playing field for the evaluation of social work practice pilots. Amendment No. 3 would permit any local authority that wishes to implement a new initiative for improving services for looked-after children to do so with the permission of the Secretary of State. I assume that Amendment No. 3 is also intended to provide that the local authority in question should be given a similar amount of funding as the local authorities piloting social work practice to ensure a like-for-like comparison.

The Government understand the theoretical concern behind these amendments but we do not think there is a real issue here in practice—simply giving the figures makes the point. The total budget for the social work practice pilots is approximately £6 million over three years. Over that same period total local authority spending on children’s services runs into the billions. There is nothing stopping any local authority using its share of that spending to pilot any other arrangements it wishes within the law, and it does not require the permission of the Secretary of State to do that. Even if we look just at projected increases in spending, the social work practice budget is tiny. In the Comprehensive Spending Review for 2008-11 we are making about £300 million available specifically for improvements to services for children in care, which dwarfs the £6 million provided for social work practices.

Furthermore, local authorities wishing to introduce innovative new ways of organising social care services for children and families have just had the opportunity to bid for up to £200,000 extra a year through the Children’s Workforce Development Council remodelling social work delivery pilots project. This is broadly the same amount that will be available to local authorities participating in the social work practice pilots. We expect the development council to publicise the results of those pilots, therefore acting as a spur to best practice more widely in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris,

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asked us to do. So we really do not think that there is an issue here in respect of level playing fields.

Amendment No. 44, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, together with his Amendment No. 6, would require the Government to publish and lay before Parliament a report of the evaluation of the social work practice pilots within three years of Royal Assent to the Bill. In Grand Committee I explained at length why the appropriate piloting period should be five years rather than three, and I thought that the case for five years was generally supported at that stage. It will be roughly a year after Royal Assent before the pilots are up and running. We want to ensure that social work practice pilots have a full two years of operation before an evaluation report is prepared, which means that we are looking at three and a half years at a minimum before the report of the evaluation could be published. It is important that we do not get into a situation where the evaluation report is rushed or ill considered because the evaluators are struggling to meet an artificial deadline set down in primary legislation. That is the reason we have gone for the five-year period, but if it is possible to produce the evaluation report in a shorter time, we will do so.

The noble Earl attributes his Amendment No. 44 to the clerks’ exercising their vigilant eye on the Bill’s provisions. He seeks to elicit a commitment from me that the Government will undertake pilots and will not simply move to make the social work practice model available to all local authorities, which could happen theoretically simply by commencing Clause 6. I give him that commitment. We intend to make a commencement order to commence Clauses 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 for the purposes of piloting social work practices shortly after Royal Assent once we have identified which local authorities will take part in the pilots. As I have made clear before, we will not commence Clause 4 unless a decision is made on the basis of the evaluation of the social work practice pilots to make the model available more widely. I believe that the concern of the noble Earl is fully met in the assurances I have just given.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his reply. It is important that there are comparators for these pilots. As he said, and as he reassured us in his letter, the pilots being carried forward by the Children’s Workforce Development Council will be fully funded. I accept his assurance that this is the case and that they are funded on a basis that is roughly equal to the pilots on social work practices. It is also important that we obtain an assurance that the evaluation will be holistic and will look in the round at the impact of the social work pilots on the provision of other social work services by local authorities. There is a great danger that the pilots might be seen to leave the corporate parenting role of local authorities somewhat bare, and it is important that one looks at how far the local authority is able to carry forward these other functions at the same time.

While, in some sense, I would have hoped that we might have got a slightly fuller repeat of the letter that

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the Minister sent on 11 July—was the letter available widely to Members of the House and was it made available in the Library?—he gave us good reassurances in that letter, and I am grateful to him for that. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

European Council: 13-14 March 2008

3.35 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the European Council held in Brussels that I attended with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on 13 and 14 March. I begin with the most immediate concern that the Council addressed: the need to ensure that, faced with global financial turbulence and what the Council identified as a deteriorating global economic outlook, high global oil and commodity prices and volatility in exchange rates, we continue to do all we can with co-ordinated action at a European and a global level to maintain stability and growth.

“All European member states agreed to measures for greater financial market transparency: first, prompt and full disclosure of exposures to structured products and off-balance-sheet activities; secondly, more rigour in credit ratings; thirdly, improvements in valuation standards, particularly for illiquid assets; and, fourthly, a strengthening of risk management under the capital requirements directive.

“Given the globally transmitted nature of the risks, it is clear that many of these recommendations—the changes to credit rating agency operations and assessments, risk management and disclosure by global financial institutions and the changes to capital adequacy rules and arrangements for valuing financial instruments, which have now also been proposed by the American Administration—can best be implemented at a global level.

“In welcoming this international dialogue as the first step in reform, I can tell the House that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is today writing to members of the International Monetary Fund, the G7 and the Financial Stability Forum to call for agreements on co-ordinated international action on transparency and disclosure, better risk management and action on credit rating agencies when the G7 and the IMF meet from 10 to 12 April.

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“In line with the approach of other major central banks, the Bank of England has this morning announced a further £5 billion liquidity support to financial institutions, and a new group has been set up to improve liquidity in the mortgage market.

“At the European Council, I made clear that, while our economy is resilient and the fundamentals are strong, we will at all times remain vigilant and, particularly at this time of global uncertainty, we will continue to take whatever action is necessary to maintain economic stability.

“The Council also discussed, and I strongly welcomed, a new approach to the rising number and economic power of sovereign wealth funds, now worth $2 trillion, but potentially soon to be worth $10 trillion. Our new approach of calling for a voluntary code of conduct based on best practice, openness, transparency and corporate governance is one that will enable funds to show that they are commercial in their operations.

“The Council also discussed food and energy price inflation and agreed further steps to monitor worldwide inflationary pressures. We agreed that the current global financial turbulence was not a reason to postpone the fundamental economic reforms that are essential to building a more competitive European economy, and that we now need to press ahead with the liberalisation of markets and with new investment in knowledge and innovation. This includes further liberalisation in the energy, post and telecoms markets, where market opening could generate between €75 billion and €95 billion of potential extra economic benefits and create up to 360,000 new jobs.

“We discussed the need for an economic reform strategy that looks beyond Lisbon—a comprehensive strategy to improve the business environment, strengthen the EU’s economic relations with China and India, put our creative and knowledge industries at the forefront of the world economy, and make European universities leading global players, particularly through increasing their contacts with business. The next stage of the Lisbon agenda will include a review of human capital and skills in Europe and a renewed focus on competition policy in the EU single market.

“The second major issue discussed by the Council was climate change. It is essential that we achieve our ambition of a comprehensive post-2012 agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a global low-carbon economy. In December, Europe’s united front at the climate change negotiations in Bali played an important part in the historic breakthrough that agreed the need to make large cuts in emissions, and achieve a new climate deal within the next two years. Only a common European approach—a Europe with Britain not at the margins but at the centre, leading the world—can ensure a global low-carbon economy founded on a global carbon market. Building on that commitment to move towards a low-carbon economy, the Council agreed an ambitious schedule for adopting a package of

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measures to cut EU emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, or by 30 per cent as part of an international agreement.

“The Council also agreed with the UK on the need for an effective EU Emissions Trading Scheme to provide the incentives to drive carbon reductions in the most cost-effective way, and for an EU ETS cap on emissions set centrally with a clear emissions reductions trajectory to give investors the predictability they need.

“The Council also considered a report from Javier Solana, the EU high representative on foreign affairs, on the security implications of climate change, and at the UK’s request agreed to submit recommendations on follow-up action—including intensifying co-operation with countries outside Europe—by the end of this year.

“Meeting the EU’s climate change targets requires not just action to reduce carbon emissions from energy suppliers and from industry, but incentives to change individual behaviour as well. The Council will now invite the Commission—in bringing forward its legislative proposals on VAT rates, due in the summer, and working with member states—to examine areas where economic instruments, including VAT rates, can play a role in increasing the use of energy-efficient goods and energy-saving materials from, as the UK has proposed, insulation and household materials to energy-efficient electrical goods.

“The Council also agreed on the importance of achieving an effective, fully functioning and joined-up internal energy market as an essential condition for the secure, sustainable and competitive supply of energy in Europe, committing to an energy agreement by June this year. It is clear that the EU’s energy security is strengthened by a policy that takes a collective approach to third-country producers, notably Russia.

“Europe can also play an important role in ensuring stability beyond its borders, and the Council agreed to build on existing co-operation to establish a ‘Union for the Mediterranean’ to promote security and stability in the wider region and to provide a framework for co-operation between the EU 27 and other Mediterranean coastal states on political and security issues as well as economic, social and cultural affairs. That new union will be launched during the French presidency in July this year.

“We also agreed that international development issues and the achievement of the millennium development goals—and Europe’s continuing leadership as the biggest contributor of aid—would be the subject of a major discussion at the European Council in June.

“The outcome of the Council and the preparations being made for the June Council affirm the conclusions of the debate we have had in this House over the last nine weeks, demonstrating that, with the completion of the Lisbon treaty, we now have an opportunity to move beyond institutional issues to

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create a more outward-looking, flexible, global Europe and to address the challenges that matter most to the citizens of Europe.

“With 700,000 businesses, 3.5 million jobs and 60 per cent of our trade dependent on our relationship with Europe, we should do nothing to put the stability of that relationship at risk. It is only by working constructively with and remaining fully engaged with our European partners that we can address the challenges ahead.

“And as we prepare for the European Council in June and the French presidency later in the year, our aim is that European countries working together lead the way on climate change, on security, on international development and on the response to global financial turbulence. I will be discussing with President Sarkozy when he visits Britain next week how we can take these issues forward; and I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.45 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I begin by thanking the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. I do hope that, unlike at the treaty signing ceremony, the Prime Minister on this occasion managed to get there on time.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Oh!

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it was a good joke.

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