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Lord Brett: My Lords, the last part of the noble Lord’s question concerns an area in which the Government are actively proceeding—that is, tackling the whole area of illegal money lending. Independent research suggests that 165,000 consumers and households in Britain are using illegal lenders and that some £40 million is loaned but £120 million is having to be repaid. In 2007, the money lending project was rolled out and the Government have committed £11 million to it. Since then, 410 illegal money lenders have been identified. Formal investigations have been commenced into 319 of

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those, 48 proceedings have been instituted, 28 prosecutions and enforcement actions are in the pipeline and a further 90 will be investigated shortly. The estimated value of the loan book total is £6 billion. Two hundred and forty-three victims have been referred to alternate legal sources of financial support and more than 10 victims have required other support, such as rehousing and protection. Therefore, the Government are taking action on this and, of course, the Consumer Credit Act 2006 considerably strengthened the OFT’s action in this area.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, for all his protestations of sympathy, the Minister is surely aware that just before Christmas it was slipped out on the DWP website that the Government were planning to scrap interest-free emergency loans for the unemployed, replacing them with loans with a store-card level of interest of up to 27 per cent. Does he accept that he cannot blame this on the market?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I think that there has been some mischief, not so much in that question but in the questions posed before Christmas. People’s memories may be selective but I recall that, immediately after that announcement was made, Ministers in the other place went on record saying that that was not the case and that Social Fund loans via credit unions would not be subject to interest.

Israel and Palestine: Gaza

Question

11.30 am

Asked By Baroness Northover

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, with more than 1,000 people now dead in Gaza, many of them civilians and children, the urgent need for a diplomatic solution is clear. We, along with the international community, will continue to call both publicly and privately for an immediate halt to all violence and urgent action to alleviate the humanitarian situation, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1860. Robust and immediate ceasefire is the only way in which the current situation in Gaza can be addressed.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply and for his directness not only today but also on Monday. As the deaths in Gaza now surpass, as he said, 1,000, one-third of whom are children, and with the bombing today of the headquarters of the UN relief organisation UNRWA, does he agree that Israel’s actions are utterly disproportionate and completely counterproductive to its long-term interest; and that, for the sake of Gaza, the region and the wider world, we need not only an immediate ceasefire, to which he referred, and an end to the blockade of

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Gaza, but a far stronger and fairer international pressure to work with all parties, without preconditions, to bring forward a just resolution to the situation in the region, thus reducing the likelihood of further deaths on either side?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, let me first assure the whole House as well as the noble Baroness that we utterly condemn what has happened today to the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza city. There is absolutely no excuse for it. It reminds me all too well of a similar attack in 2006 on a UN observation post in Lebanon. This does nobody any credit. Our sympathies go to the families of these victims as they do to all the victims of this conflict. On her second point, it is evidently the case that achieving a ceasefire—and beyond that, a lasting peace—requires that the issues and causes of both sides are fully addressed.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, given the rejection of the latest UN resolution by Israel, will Her Majesty’s Government seek the suspension of the EU-Israel trade and association agreement? Further, will they stop the export from this country of military goods regardless of whether they are lethal or non-lethal or dual-use? Finally, will they withdraw Her Majesty’s ambassador from Tel Aviv?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as I said in the previous debate here on this matter, our military exports to Israel are of a non-lethal kind. Israel remains an important ally and partner; so withdrawing our ambassador or in other ways cutting off our ability to dialogue with Israel would, I think, be utterly counterproductive. We have to find a way of working with Israel on this. I also have to add that Israel has its own very large arms industry. So I do not think that taking steps beyond what we are already doing would have the effect that the noble Lord would wish for.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords—

Lord Sheikh: My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that there is time for both noble Lords. Shall we hear from my noble friend first?

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I was in the south of Israel just a short time ago, and rockets and bombs were falling everywhere. We were rushing in and out of air raid shelters; people were being killed, and properties destroyed. In my view, at that time Israel had to take action in order to protect its people and in order to deal with this. It was an utterly unacceptable situation. I commend the key role played by the Foreign Secretary in drafting the UN Security Council resolution to help end the violence. But what assurances can my noble friend give that a new ceasefire agreement will be better than the previous one—that it will achieve a lasting calm, improve the chances of peace in 2009 and save people on both sides from suffering in the way that they are?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, all in this House agree with my noble friend that the circumstances of

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Israeli citizens in those towns are tragic and those people deserve to be protected. In that case we have never argued that a proportionate response was not legally available to Israel to defend its citizens. The issue is the current disproportionality of the response. Secondly, as my noble friend rightly says, it is critical that any ceasefire is backed by steps that will remove the causes of this—both arms smuggling and the humanitarian blockade of Gaza from the other side. We have to address in a major way the short-term and long-term roots of the conflict.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, a statement was issued in the Times yesterday by Jews for Justice for Palestine, signed by almost 600 leading Jews. What is the Minister's assessment of that statement?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my assessment of the statement is that I feel very happy to be living in the UK this time. I was living in the US when this last happened, and everyone took much more predictable positions. People were not willing to look at the conflict itself to see that, however strong a supporter of the state of Israel one is—I include myself in that number—it does not justify this kind of attack, which sets back Israel's situation in the world.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath:I am sorry, my Lords, but we have reached the set time.

Health Bill [HL]

First Reading

11.36 am

A Bill to make provision about the NHS Constitution; to make provision about health care (including provision about the National Health Service and health bodies); to make provision for the control of the promotion and sale of tobacco products; to make provision about the investigation of complaints about privately arranged or funded adult social care; and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Darzi, read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (Disclosure of Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2009

Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

11.37 am

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.



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Business of the House

Timing of Debates

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

11.38 am

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, we will have two Statements repeated today. Immediately after the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, my noble friend Lord Adonis will repeat the Statement on Britain's transport infrastructure, followed by my noble friend Lord Myners’s repeat of the Statement on Equitable Life.

Local Government: Children’s Services

Debate

11.38 am

Moved By Baroness Shephard of Northwold

Baroness Shephard of Northwold: My Lords, I am delighted to have the chance to open this debate. I am delighted, too, that so many distinguished and experienced speakers have chosen to take part. We will certainly benefit from their collective wisdom, as is customary in your Lordships' House.

I should perhaps declare some interests in that I have in the past been a teacher, an education administrator, schools inspector, local authority chairman of education and social services, health authority chairman and magistrate. More recently, I have had relevant ministerial responsibility. All in all, I have been involved at the interface of health, education and social services for the best part of 40 years. In the whole of that time, I have consistently believed that although structural change in public services is sometimes imperative, it is at our peril if we heap change that is too frequent, ill thought-out or introduced for its own sake on to the professionals on whom ultimately all public services depend for their functioning. If we do that, we risk also undermining their self-confidence and expertise.

The tragic case of Baby P in Haringey, which was reported last month, shocked the nation. It was all too reminiscent of the equally tragic case of Victoria Climbié, who died, also in Haringey, in February 2000

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from torture at the hands of her carers and in the full view of social services, health services, housing agencies and the police. The Government responded swiftly and with all-party support to the Climbié case. They appointed the noble Lord, Lord Laming, to conduct an inquiry into what had gone wrong.

The inquiry report, which was published in 2003, was exemplary in its insight, thoroughness and expertise. It found evidence in Victoria’s case of failures in accountability, leadership, management, communication between agencies, and professional skills. It proposed, among much else—I will be brief on this, because I know that it is familiar to noble Lords—setting up at national level a children and families board and a national agency for children and families, and at local authority level an interagency committee for children and families and a management board for services to children and families, chaired by the council chief executive and with a director accountable to it. It also proposed that:

“The relevant Government Inspectorates should be jointly required to inspect the effectiveness of these arrangements”.

The report did not propose a wholesale reorganisation of local government. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, is markedly cautious in the report about structural change. He said:

“I am convinced that it is not just ‘structures’ that are the problem, but the skills of the staff that work in them ... I am satisfied that organisational structure is unlikely to be an impediment to effective working. What is critical is the effectiveness of the management and leadership”.

However, what we got after the Climbié case was structural change and the reorganisation of local government on a huge scale. The Government were determined to respond not only rapidly but visibly to the inquiry. The Children Act 2004, following the 2003 Green Paper, Every Child Matters, required local authorities to set up children’s services departments by merging their education and children’s social services functions with some health functions. Authorities were also required to set up children’s trusts and local safeguarding children boards and to appoint a director of adult social services, thereby splitting social services. It was a thoroughgoing, costly and energy-consuming reorganisation of local government, although I am bound to say that it was never acknowledged as such. I think it was called restructuring, regrouping, re-emphasising: anything except what it was—a reorganisation.

Despite all that, I really do want to be fair to the Government, because such was the emotion surrounding the Climbié case that any Government would have wished to do, and to be seen to do, as much as possible to prevent a recurrence of such horror. The Government had all-party support. No other political party would have wished to impede what was a sincere attempt by the Government to encourage—indeed, to enforce—effective interagency working to protect children.

There have been improvements in joint working and communication, but we now need, in the light of the Baby P and Shannon Matthews cases and the recently reported Doncaster cases, to ask whether such enormous structural reorganisation was justified

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and whether there might have been adverse effects on other services and on the effectiveness of the professionals involved.

Some things are already clear. First, 150 authorities now have children’s departments. So far, in 10 of these there has already been a reorganisation of the reorganisation; namely, the creation of mega-departments including, within their children’s departments, adult and children’s social services. The rationale for that is professional in that many have argued that if you are looking at the interests of a child, you have to involve yourself in the child’s family, who may fall into the remit of adult social services. Of course, I see that. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, who is in her place, writing in the Guardian on 25 November, said of these arrangements that,

How I agree with the noble Baroness who, as ever, is full of common sense. That is one of the first results of this reorganisation.

Secondly, children’s trusts were meant to facilitate interagency working. But they were described by the Audit Commission last month as getting in the way of such working. The commission report found that there is,

Thirdly, last month, Ofsted reported that thousands of children are at risk because the number of local authorities that are failing to protect young people has doubled in a year. All this follows that huge reorganisation, which was meant to solve many of the problems. Fourthly, and even more worrying, the number of children dying from neglect or abuse seems to have increased. On 19 October 2001, replying to my adjournment debate on the subject in Westminster Hall, Hazel Blears said that one child per week was dying from abuse. Obviously, that was already an appalling figure. But in uncorrected evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee on 10 December 2008, the chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, stated that between 1 April 2007 and 31 August 2008 210 children died from abuse. That is more than three a week. Those figures, even if they refer to an atypical period, which they may, are nevertheless extremely alarming, especially if we consider the effort and the cost of putting the Children Act reforms into place.

Fifthly, Ofsted has been the subject of enormous upheaval. In 2007, it was already responsible for the inspection of childcare providers, maintained schools, FE colleges, provision for children and young people in secure settings, and services for children and young people. After the Education and Inspections Act, it took on the work of three other inspectorates, and now has responsibilities ranging from social care inspection to adult learning and FE, from fostering and adoption agencies to children’s rights. Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, said in another place that there is a feeling that Ofsted,

I also agree with that, although time is young.



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Following the Baby P case, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, has been asked by Ministers to produce a further report. His remit is to examine good safeguarding practice and its application across the country, professional development and key legal and other barriers to progress. No one could bring greater expertise to the task. But the remit is not wide enough. We need a far wider review, which will in the first case examine the effects on public service professionals of the unremitting number of policy initiatives, directives and reorganisations heaped upon their heads by this Government. In the past 11 years, there have been no fewer than nine NHS reorganisations and 17 Acts of Parliament requiring some form of reorganisation in education and social services, while three more await in the gracious Speech. Even as we speak, councils are devoting hours of time to discussing the requirement to reorganise yet again, this time to become unitary authorities. Sadly, the Department for Children, Schools and Families was unable to give the House of Lords Library a list of the White and Green Papers published in these policy areas since 1997. The Minister may have more luck in getting the information, although since according to my research there have been 69—surely a record—the department may be too busy producing the next dozen or so to answer the question. She might like to check this.

The bad professional practice and incompetent management that failed to prevent the tragic deaths of these children is obviously totally indefensible, and indeed no one here would seek to defend such practice and management. But Ministers should beware of confusing activity with action, and above all, ask themselves if overloading professionals with new initiatives and upheavals is the best way to encourage good professional practice. It is already obvious that social worker morale is at rock bottom. We need to realise that in practical terms and on the ground, constant reorganisation means while teachers, social workers and other professionals are delivering the services, those who should be leading, appraising and monitoring them are tied up in meetings.

It is high time for an appraisal of the effect on education—its ethos, standards and rigour—of the abolition of local education authorities. Some will argue that the new children’s departments enhance understanding of the whole child, but that is not the problem faced by education services today. Rather it is how well our children will be equipped by their education to face the challenge of competing in today’s tough world. Rigorously high standards and qualifications have never been more important. What effects will the enormous change of emphasis created by children’s departments have on those? We do not know, nor, as far as I know, has the question even been asked. The professional cultures of education and social services should overlap, not coincide. We have made some gains from children’s departments and we now need to ask what we may have lost.

11.52 am

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