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House of Lords

Tuesday, 2 July 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.

Food: Food Banks


2.36 pm

Asked By Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the criteria for the issuing of food vouchers by Jobcentre Plus branches for use at food banks.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, Jobcentre Plus offices do not issue food vouchers. Some Jobcentre Plus offices have an agreement with their local food bank for referrals, but some simply signpost claimants to a variety of available local provision, including by local authorities, depending on their immediate needs. We gave Jobcentre Plus district managers the freedom to make local links with food banks.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply, but does he agree that because the provision of food banks by major retailers is driven down by the Courtauld agreement, whereby retailers have very few food surpluses, the signposting by job centres to food banks will not be a way of providing food to those in emergency need? Will he ensure that his department monitors the referral and re-referral of signposting, so that by the time universal credit, which I support, is introduced, his department will have a full picture of those in food need and proper account will be taken of it?

Lord Freud: My Lords, I must emphasise to my noble friend that food banks are absolutely not part of our welfare system, in which we have other means of supporting people. There is local provision, and following the devolution of part of the Social Fund to local authorities, local authorities are now responsible for setting up local welfare provision. To the extent that they are interested in using third-sector groups, including food banks, that is entirely up to them.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, April this year saw the demise of the discretionary Social Fund and the passing of responsibilities to local authorities. We know that funding for local authorities was not ring-fenced and we learnt last week of a further 10% cut in their budgets. Does the Minister not accept that this, taken together with harsher benefit sanctions regimes and a longer wait for benefits, will mean that the use of food banks will only increase? Despite what he said, is it not a fact that under this Government food banks are looking to be a permanent part of the welfare provision of this country?

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Lord Freud: My Lords, there is actually no evidence as to whether the use of food banks is supply led or demand led. The provision of food-bank support has grown from provision to 70,000 individuals two years ago to 347,000. All that predates the reforms. As I say, there is no evidence of a causal link.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a lot of mythology about food banks? This movement was started by the Christian churches—people reaching out to people who are not necessarily long-term unemployed but who have found themselves in a position through no fault of their own. There are abused women who have been given local flats by housing associations but who still do not have money until their benefits come through, and this is where groups of people, operating through the churches —it started in Salisbury—can do so much good. One of the benefits of them for people like me is to make sure that we do something for our fellow men. Can my noble friend confirm that this is nothing at all to do with the welfare system and is pure charity?

Lord Freud: My Lords, yes, local provision that reflects the requirements of local areas is absolutely right. Charitable provision is to be admired and supported.

The Lord Bishop of Truro: Are the Government prepared to concede that there may be a link between benefit delays, errors and sanctions and the growing number of people using food banks? If so, what action is planned to address this?

Lord Freud: My Lord, as I said, it is difficult to make causal connections. The Trussell Trust has said that one reason why people have come to it is benefit delays. I checked through the figures and in the period of that increase the number of delays that we had had reduced. It went up by four percentage points over the past three years, and our delays now stand at 90%. It is difficult to know which came first, the supply or the demand.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, what is a supply-led food bank?

Lord Freud: If that sounded like jargon, I apologise. I meant that food from a food bank—the supply—is a free good, and by definition there is an almost infinite demand for a free good.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: Given that there is so much uncertainty about the figures, the noble Baroness asked whether the Government were going to monitor this. What kind of research or monitoring can the Government undertake to be sure of the figures and the impact of the various factors?

Lord Freud: My Lords, as I said, food banks are not part of the welfare system. We have designed our welfare system to support people with advances of

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benefit where they require it. It is not the job of the DWP to monitor this provision, which is done on a charitable basis.

Baroness Parminter: My Lords, the refusal of crisis loans is one of the reasons why people are turning to food banks. Do this Government intend to scrutinise the provision of crisis loans, given that the funding for them has recently transferred to local authorities and devolved Administrations?

Lord Freud: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the DWP is retaining advances of benefit within the core benefit system. The crisis elements of the Social Fund—the community grants—are going towards local welfare provision by local authorities. This happened in April. My information is that that transfer has landed well.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: My Lords, does the Minister really think that people want to go to food banks or that those who are providing them really want to do so? I visited the food bank in Consett recently, and the person running it said to me, “Please, please, tell the Government that this is because the benefits system is now inadequate and people are desperate. That’s why they’re coming”.

Lord Freud: My Lords, as noble Lords know, we are very concerned about the existing benefits system, which is very complex. We are introducing the universal credit, which is designed to make work pay but also to direct more funds to the poorest people. That is exactly why we have introduced that initiative.

G8: Eurozone and UK Growth


2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Barnett

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions the Prime Minister had on the issue of economic growth in the eurozone and the United Kingdom at the recent G8 summit.

Lord Newby: My Lords, the G8 summit economic discussion focused on the issues that matter—jobs, growth and mending our economies. The UK’s approach to supporting the recovery through fiscal sustainability, active monetary policy and structural reforms was shared by all other G8 members.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I am not sure whether that means anything. However, can the noble Lord tell me whether it means that the Prime Minister explained that there was nothing in last week’s review to help growth? In practice, we may, happily, get some over the next year or so but the Bank of England has reversed its former forecast for 2015. In fact, as the Chief Secretary has said, the expenditure for infrastructure will not start until 2015, so what on earth did the

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Prime Minister tell the summit about what we are doing to enhance economic growth, which is so vital, between now and 2015?

Lord Newby: My Lords, the noble Lord has no doubt seen the report today from the British Chambers of Commerce, which shows that services and manufacturing report confidence rising to levels last seen in the last pre-recessionary period. Service exports reached levels not seen since 1994, and the proportion of the BCC’s members who are exporting rose in a year from 32% to 39%.

Lord Lang of Monkton: My Lords, as recent statistics show that for every public sector job lost five private sector jobs have been created in the past three years, and as unemployment in this country is around 8% and falling, whereas in the eurozone it is 12% and rising, and as we now know that the recession caused the fall in GNP of over 7% under the previous Government’s crisis, can I commend to my noble friend that the Government continue with the policies that are slowly but surely yielding genuine results?

Lord Newby: I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for that suggestion, which I shall pass on to my ministerial colleagues in the Treasury.

Lord Peston: I know I do not have to tell the noble Lord not to count chickens, and I know I do not have to remind him that good news may be good news but let us wait for things actually to happen. However, to be serious about this subject, surely what is needed is for Britain to get back on to its long-term sustainable rate of growth and, better still, to raise that long-term sustainable rate of growth. Neither of those things can possibly happen for the next three years, despite what the noble Lord opposite said about supporting current policies. Would it not be a good thing if, instead of the individual countries of Europe all going their own separate ways, we at long last had, as was intended when we set up the Common Market, a joint European economic policy? I think that that would lead to major growth throughout this continent.

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Government support the efforts being made within the eurozone to develop closer economic co-ordination and they obviously also support some of the measures announced at the last EU summit, which will, to a limited extent, support the combating of youth unemployment.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, on the other hand, is not the only hope for economic growth to get our political class and its over-regulation off the backs of our productive industry and commerce? Therefore, are not the expressions “economic growth” and “eurozone” a contradiction in terms?

Lord Newby: No, my Lords, I do not believe they are.

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Baroness Kramer: My Lords, the summit also addressed the issue of the international tax regime. Will the Minister recommend to this House the website www.fairtaxmark.net, which ranks companies as part of its campaign for greater transparency and fairness in corporate taxation? It is rather sober reading for the Government to see who pays tax and who is transparent, and it is most helpful to us as consumers, since consumers and the Government need to work together on these issues.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend and I do commend the website to Members of your Lordships’ House. However, I also point out that at the G8 summit significant progress was made on tax transparency, whether in promoting the standards of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, promoting a new global standard for automatic information exchange, or making more information available on beneficial ownership. These are big changes on which the UK is taking the lead.

Lord Kinnock: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the economies of Germany and other countries are far more regulated than ours and are performing far better than ours in terms of sustained growth and exports? Does he accept that it can hardly be regulation that is the fundamental cause of the problems confronted by our people now? Is it not more to do with a stranglehold on consumption, and can he tell us how the further constriction of consumption can possibly help in generating the additional growth that we need to restore the performance of the United Kingdom?

Lord Newby: My Lords, the key thing now is to drive unemployment down by continuing growth. That is the way in which consumption will rise. A key element of that is making sure that interest rates stay at a low level, which is the centrepiece of what the Government have been seeking to achieve. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that one should not count chickens, but I think that he is almost wilfully failing to count those very small chickens that may be poking their beaks out into the sunshine.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, at the summit, did the Prime Minister take the opportunity to discuss with the President of the United States the strategy that it has pursued over recent years? The United States has had a 6% growth rate over that period. That is the growth rate that the Chancellor predicted for us in 2010 and, of course, we have achieved negligible growth over that period. Is it not quite clear that the Government have to change the strategy that they have been following and failing on over the past three years?

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Prime Minister has had very constructive conversations with the President of the United States around the key pillars that will provide the basis for growth: an active monetary policy, addressing global imbalances, restoring medium-term fiscal sustainability, and structural reforms.

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Property: Under-occupancy Charge


2.53 pm

Asked by Lord Greaves

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest assessment of the impact of the under-occupancy charge on properties with spare bedrooms.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, both an impact assessment and an equality impact assessment have already been published. It remains too early to say how people are reacting to this change. The DWP is conducting a formal two-year evaluation of this policy, running from April this year to March 2015. In the short term, an outreach exercise is being undertaken with approximately 78 local authorities to monitor implementation and to ensure that the support provided to local authorities and claimants has been sufficient.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, two years is too long for many people, and the evidence is already coming in. Is it not true that, in many cases, the discretionary housing payments available for people with special needs, especially disabled people who need an extra bedroom, are being provided by local authorities on a short-term, temporary basis, and therefore that these people will still be trapped with rents that they cannot afford in the longer term? Is it not also the case that many councils and housing associations are already reporting that, in order to relocate and rehouse people who wish to move to smaller accommodation, the demand, compared with the supply, is such that it will take several years, and these people, too, will be trapped with higher rents than they can afford?

Lord Freud: My Lords, the purpose of DHPs specifically for the disabled in heavily adapted houses and homes is to make sure that they can stay there indefinitely. Clearly, it would not make sense for people to move when there would be a high cost of adapting a new premise. As I have said, it is too early to know what is happening in different local authorities. The information I have up to now from our intensive interrelationship with local authorities on this matter is that there is a great deal of variation in outcomes.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Minister assumes that the Government will make £490-odd million of savings from the bedroom tax on the assumption that most tenants will stay put and take the hit. That is where the saving is coming from. However, all the evidence from housing associations, including my own, and local authorities shows that something like 30% of tenants will move, largely into the private rented sector, where rents, and therefore housing benefit, will be higher. Does the Minister accept that to send 660,000 families into misery for the sake of something like £50 million of net savings in the public sector is not only cruel but profoundly indecent?

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Lord Freud: My Lords, the estimate of the annual savings is about £500 million a year. As to the circumstances in which people move into the private sector, clearly it is more expensive generally in the private sector than in the social sector. However, one has to look at the whole of the transaction. Such a move will free up a large apartment or home in the social sector, which will then be made available for a large family on the waiting list. There are 1.8 million families on the waiting list, a group that we can now start to fit into appropriately sized houses.

Lord Naseby: Is my noble friend aware that, as a former chairman of the housing committee in the London Borough of Islington, I wish that there had been a Minister in 1968 who had taken such care and trouble over the changes that were implemented in that year? Should the House not reflect a little on the care that my noble friend has taken and give the procedure time to settle down, in the confidence that if there are quirks to it they will be dealt with?

Lord Freud: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s support. It is important that we see how people respond. We are expecting a behavioural response and people to change their behaviour. We are watching what is happening very closely. I will make appropriate responses when I know what is happening, but it is too early to do so now.

Lord Martin of Springburn: The Minister talks about freeing up property. He will know that, unfortunately, throughout the United Kingdom, there are estates where property is considered hard to let. By these proposals, will he not force couples out of properties and run the risk of those houses lying vacant? That will not help improve the environment for the people who live on such estates and are trying to make a better life for themselves.

Lord Freud: My Lords, as I have said, the early indications are that there is quite a lot of variation around the country. There are clearly some estates with genuine difficulties and we need to watch the situation very closely.

Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, are there not still anomalies with children with disabilities being exempt and yet, when a child with a long-term condition reaches 18, suddenly the rules change and the family becomes liable for this tax?

Lord Freud: My Lords, we rely very heavily on discretionary housing payments to ensure that we have a way of dealing with the difficulties and challenges faced by particular groups and families. That is the way we have chosen. Local authorities can look at the particular circumstances and apply those funds as appropriate.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the bedroom tax does not take account of the size of a bedroom. Two children under the age of 16 of the same gender are expected to share, whether or not the room is a

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single, and indeed even if only a single bed will fit in it. Can the Minister tell us what behavioural response is expected from families in those circumstances, other than to buy bunk beds?

Lord Freud: My Lords, clearly there has been slight exaggeration about some apartments and homes. Local authorities will look very carefully at particular homes to make sure that they are in the right category, but it is up to a family that is in such circumstances to look for a more appropriate place to switch into. I must make the point that the turnover of people in the private sector is enormous by comparison to the very low turnover in social housing. This is not healthy for anyone, and certainly not for the economy.



3.01 pm

Asked By Baroness Berridge

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent demonstrations and civil unrest in Egypt.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, over the last few days we have witnessed some very large demonstrations in Egypt. Although they have been largely peaceful, we remain concerned about reports of violence and in particular by the large number of reported rapes and sexual assaults. We urge everyone to do all they can to prevent this. We call on all sides to work together to resolve the current situation in a manner that brings stability to Egypt and helps it complete its transition to democracy.

Baroness Berridge: I thank my noble friend for her Answer. As more than 14 million Egyptians from both rural and urban locations took to the streets, this morning President Obama telephoned President Morsi to say that democracy is about more than just elections. The time period outlined by the demonstrators runs out this very afternoon. What will Her Majesty’s Government do today to support the Egyptian people, who are attempting to ensure that the January 2011 revolution delivers a Government who respect the social, political and religious rights of all Egyptians?

Baroness Warsi: I agree with my noble friend. It is absolutely right that democracy goes beyond just elections. As noble Lords are aware, there has been an ongoing issue about the Egyptian constitution. There has been much toing and froing, both in relation to that and also to the electoral law, which has passed between the emergency Shura Council and the Supreme Constitutional Court. We urge all parties to engage with the democratic process. It is important that democracy is allowed to succeed, and we urge protestors to protest peacefully and ensure that they are engaged in the democratic process.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, is the Minister able to give us any clearer intelligence about precisely what the Egyptian defence Minister meant when he said that the Egyptian army would intervene within 24 hours if there was no resolution of the conflict between the protestors and the Morsi Government? Does she agree that the last year has been a year of lost opportunities? Does she also agree that the attempts to impose Sharia law, and the failure to protect secularists and the substantial Coptic community in Egypt, are two of the reasons why protestors are again in Tahrir Square?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord is of course familiar with the reports in the press about what the defence Minister said. However, it has helpfully been indicated that there is no intention for there to be a military coup. It is anticipated that this period may allow President Morsi to engage with and reach out to members of the opposition. We have concerns—and indeed have made statements—about the imposition of religious controls through the constitution. I had discussions with both the Sheikh al-Azhar and the new Coptic Pope in February of this year, during which these concerns were raised. It is important that freedom of religion, which includes the freedom not to have a religion, is absolutely respected within Egypt.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, perhaps I may follow that up. The vulnerability that the religious minorities of Egypt have experienced since the departure of President Mubarak was brought home during the visit last week of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to Cairo, where he met and heard from the leaders of a number of Egypt’s religious communities. Can the noble Baroness tell us what is being done to encourage and support religious leaders who build relationships across divides to provide a public voice for calm and non-violence, and what guarantees have been sought to protect Christian minorities in the event of an escalation of violence?

Baroness Warsi: The visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Egypt was timely, and of course we are concerned about the ongoing violence, especially the violence which occurred in April at the Coptic church, St Mark’s Cathedral. We are engaged in a number of projects in Egypt through the Arab Partnership. Some £1.7 million has been allocated for 2012-13, and many of the projects involve grass-roots work with community organisations from different faiths to create a sense of understanding. It is important that the discussions and dialogue remain open, and I understand that there is an ongoing dialogue between al-Azhar and the Coptic Church.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the detail of her response about an acute problem where demonstrations are growing in size and deaths have been recorded, where the army has threatened intervention, and where President Morsi says that he has no plans whatever to change policy, despite resignations from his own Government. Formal statements have been made by President Obama, and the United

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Nations has issued two statements. Mr Hague has encapsulated our Government’s position in 140 characters —he has tweeted. He says that he is concerned, and so am I, but I wonder if that is the way to express the gravitas of the United Kingdom in these circumstances. What advice has been given to our ambassador on an engagement with the contending forces to achieve a democratic and pluralist settlement that reflects a serious view from this country?

Baroness Warsi: I take issue with what the noble Lord has said. He will be aware that the Prime Minister was one of the first leaders to go into Egypt after the revolution. The Foreign Secretary has visited, as has the Minister with responsibility. We are incredibly engaged in the process, as is our ambassador. I think that the noble Lord will also agree that it is important that we are not seen to be deeply involved in telling the Egyptian people how they need to resolve this matter. We express our concern, we support them through projects and we make known our views. However, I do not think it is always necessary to engage in involvement by interfering in every aspect of local democracy.

Communications Committee

Membership Motion

3.07 pm

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

That Baroness Scotland of Asthal be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of Lord Bragg, resigned.

Motion agreed.

European Council and Afghanistan


3.07 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“I would like to make a Statement on Afghanistan and to report back on last week’s European Council. I visited Afghanistan on Armed Forces Day to pay tribute to the extraordinary men and women who risk their lives every day to serve our country. We should remember in particular the 444 who have lost their lives in Afghanistan. I hope that the whole House will welcome the decision to use money from banking fines to build a permanent memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire so that our generation and every future generation can remember and honour the sacrifice they have made for us.

We are in Afghanistan for one reason: to protect our national security by stopping that country being used as a base from which to launch terrorist attacks against our people and against our allies around the

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world. That requires a security response, resisting Taliban insurgent attacks, driving out al-Qaeda and training Afghan forces to take on this task for themselves. It requires a political response, supporting the Afghans to build a more peaceful, democratic and prosperous future, including a peace process. And it requires a diplomatic response, working in particular with Pakistan, which has a vital role in fighting terrorism in the region.

Let me take the three in turn. On security, four years ago three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots against the UK had links to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today it is less than half. British and international forces have stopped Afghanistan acting as a safe haven for al-Qaeda, and Afghan forces are now taking the lead on security right across the country. At the weekend I went to Camp Bastion, Lashkar Gah and the forward operating base at Durai. The British forces I met are absolutely clear about the capability, confidence and leadership of the Afghan forces, which are already delivering 90% of their own training. All of the 1,000 police patrols in central Helmand each week are now conducted alone, without ISAF support.

It is this growing capability that enables us to draw down our troops. Our numbers in Afghanistan have already reduced from 9,500 to 7,900. By the end of this year it will be around 5,200. Until recently we were in 137 different bases. We are now in 13 and by the end of the year it will be four or five bases. By the end of next year, when Afghan forces take on full security responsibility, there will be no British troops in any kind of combat role at all. Beyond 2014, small numbers of British troops will remain to help the Afghans deliver their national army officer academy. This was a request of the Afghan president himself. We will also contribute £70 million a year as part of international financial support for Afghan security beyond 2014.

A strong security response must also be accompanied by a strong political response. In Helmand we have been working for many years to support the development of better governance, local justice, public services and the chance for Afghans to build sustainable livelihoods that do not involve drugs. There are now 130,000 children in school, including 30,000 girls—something that would have been impossible under the Taliban—and 80% of the population can now get healthcare within 10 kilometres of their home.

At the national level, the political process is moving forward too. At the weekend, President Karzai assured me of his commitment to the first peaceful democratic succession of power in living memory following next year’s elections at the end of his second and final term. Over 50,000 new voters have already registered, including over 10,000 women, and Britain is supporting this with £4.5 million of aid specifically targeted to increase women’s participation.

This progress in Afghanistan is a challenge to the Taliban. The combination of the successful build-up of the Afghan national security forces and progress on the ground demonstrates that the way to a role in Afghanistan’s future is not through terror and violence but only by engaging in a political process. So I welcome

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plans to begin direct talks with the Taliban. The peace process must be Afghan-led but we should do all we can to support it. It does not signal any weakening of our security response, but if we can persuade people that there is a legitimate political path for them to follow then we should do so.

We also know that the problems in Afghanistan will not be solved in Afghanistan alone. The support of neighbouring countries like Pakistan will be vital. On my visit to Pakistan I was greatly encouraged by the commitment of the new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. His election was the first democratic transition in that country from one elected government to another. It represents, I believe, a precious sign of progress in Pakistan. We discussed our trade, economic and cultural ties. We also agreed to work together in countering extremism and radicalisation, investing in education, tackling poverty and dealing with all the issues that can fuel terrorism. Building on the trilateral process that I have been leading between the UK, Afghanistan and Pakistan, I welcomed the Prime Minister’s commitment to working with Afghanistan in defeating terrorism across the region.

Let me turn to last week’s European Council. This was rightly focused on sorting out Europe's economy by doing what we are doing in Britain: getting a grip of spending and supporting private enterprise to create jobs and growth. On spending, the Council finalised with the European Parliament the seven-year budget deal that we successfully negotiated in February. It agreed new flexibilities between different years and between different budget headings but, crucially, the deal delivers for the first time a real-terms cut on the credit card limit for EU spending for the next seven years. There was no change to the agreed deal, which set spending at €908.4 billion across the next seven years. That compares with €943 billion in the past seven years.

However, in this process, there was a further attempt to unpick the British rebate. In February, after repeated attempts to water down the rebate, we reached a clear deal that it would remain unchanged. That was reflected in the Council conclusions that I reported back to this House. So the discussion that took place was not necessary and it is frustrating and frankly unacceptable that we had to go through it all over again. The proposal was to remove our rebate on agricultural spending in new member states, and it would have cost the British taxpayer more than £1.5 billion. It has now been categorically rejected. We will continue to get the rebate in the years ahead on the same basis that we do now. It is fair. It is right and, unlike, the previous Government, this Government will not agree to weaken it or give any part of it away.

At the Council, there was a particular focus on tackling youth unemployment by supporting the private sector to create jobs and tackling the burdens that hold back our businesses from competing in the global race. We agreed that the European Investment Bank should increase its lending by 40%, with more finance for small and medium-sized businesses. We agreed to do more to help young people who are not working to acquire the skills that the private sector needs through proper educational training, very much along the lines of Britain’s £1 billion youth contract, and we

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agreed to scrap unnecessary EU regulation that ties up our businesses in red tape when they should be growing and creating new jobs. To give additional detail and urgency to the Commission’s work, we will establish in the UK a new business task force with six of our best business leaders to take a fresh and ambitious look at the impact of EU regulation on our companies.

It is vital that we expand our trade and increase overseas investment into the UK. That was one of the reasons why I was the first serving British Prime Minister to visit Kazakhstan on Sunday and Monday. Since the year 2000, that country has grown at an annual rate of between 8% and 9%, per capita income has doubled and it has the potential to be the sixth largest oil and gas producer in the world. My business delegation signed deals worth more than £700 million—all of which will help to create and sustain jobs right here in the UK.

Finally, the Council welcomed Croatia, which became the newest member of the EU at the weekend. We also agreed to start negotiations on accession with Serbia, and on a stability and association agreement with Kosovo. When we remember what happened in the Balkans within our political lifetimes, it is a remarkable achievement that these countries are now joining or preparing to join the EU with a sense of peace and stability. Britain is proud to support them.

Each of those steps at the Council was about doing what is right for Britain and right for Europe. It is in our national interest to get spending under control, to make Europe more competitive and to expand EU membership to the Balkan States. Openness, competitiveness and flexibility are vital elements of the fresh settlement that I believe is needed for the European Union. We want more of a say for national parliaments and powers to flow back to member states not just away from them. This is a new settlement that I intend to put to the country in a referendum within the first half of the next Parliament, a referendum that will give the British people the in/out choice they want and which my party will offer at the next general election. It is a referendum that my party will be voting for in this Chamber on Friday, and I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.19 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement given earlier today in the other place by the Prime Minister on the recent EU Council meeting. I welcome the Statement.

Let me start with Afghanistan. I pay tribute to our troops for the extraordinary job that they have done over the past decade. I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House in remembering all those who have lost their lives as well as their families and their loved ones. It is right that the Government have set a date for the withdrawal of our forces. However, it is also important that the international community, including the UK, continues to make a contribution to Afghanistan’s long-term security post-2014. The advances made in Afghanistan, outlined in the Statement, must be safeguarded.

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I have some questions about post-2014 arrangements, political stability in Afghanistan and co-operation with Pakistan. Can the Leader provide more detail on the specific nature of the role of the UK Armed Forces after 2014 and what tasks they will have responsibility for, beyond officer training? What objectives will determine the length of stay of any residual UK force?

On political reconciliation in Afghanistan, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of a proper political process. Will he tell your Lordships’ House what prospect there is of getting the political talks on track, including with the Taliban, and on what timetable?

Turning to relations with Pakistan, I join the Government in recognising the vital bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United Kingdom. We join the Government in expressing the belief that the UK will also need to build strong working relations with the newly elected Pakistani Prime Minister, especially in regard to the future of Afghanistan. Across this House there is wide support not just for an inclusive political settlement within Afghanistan but also for a regional settlement involving Afghanistan’s neighbours. At the Chequers summit on Afghanistan and Pakistan five months ago, the communiqué committed to building,

“a peace settlement over the next six months”.

Will the noble Lord inform your Lordships’ House what progress there has been since then and what more can be done to achieve this goal?

I now turn to the European Council. I join the Leader in welcoming Croatia’s entry into the European Union and the start date for EU-Serbia accession negotiations and the association agreement with Kosovo. This is good for the peace and stability not just of the Balkans, but of our continent as a whole.

On the European Union budget, the other place was right to vote for a real-terms cut last October. We on these Benches support the recent agreement on the European Union budget and rebate, including the European Parliament’s agreement.

On the rebate, I quote the Prime Minister when he said:

“In this town you have to be ready for an ambush at any time and that means lock and load and have one up the spout”.

Is not the pattern of events slightly different from what he suggests? The Prime Minister said that he was “ambushed” and that there were attempts to unpick the rebate. Is it not the truth that it was he who put it on the agenda of the European Council and that Britain was in a position to veto a change at any stage? If that is the case, the Prime Minister was hardly “ambushed”.

I now turn to the discussions on youth unemployment. It was supposed to be the main subject of the summit but I notice that it was a very small part of the Statement. It is right that the European Union is now focusing proper attention on the plight of young unemployed people and the need to give them hope and work. I should point out that the catalyst for this initiative was not the centre-right Governments of the European Union but the left, led by President Hollande. There are 26 million young people looking for work in the European Union, and 6 million unemployed young

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people. Nearly 1 million of those young people are here in the UK. That is, shamefully, one in five young people looking for work. Targeting the extra resources to tackle youth unemployment is welcome. However, do the Government really believe that the response was equal to the scale of the challenge?

The Prime Minister said at the press conference after the summit—and again today in the Statement—that the Council agreed to take action,

“very much along the lines of Britain’s … youth contract”.

That is worrying indeed. Last year, the Prime Minister launched the youth contract, which he said,

“is going to do enormous amounts on youth unemployment”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 9/5/12; col. 24]

Will the Leader of the House explain why, according to a survey of 200 employers last week, not a single one has used the youth contract to hire a young person? How many people have been helped into work through the youth contract.

Frankly, this summit did not mark the recognition, long overdue, that the current economic approach in the European Union is leaving millions of young people without employment or prospects and fearing for their future. Of course we should look at EU regulation as the Government propose, but does the Leader of the House really believe that this is the solution to youth unemployment, including in Britain? The European economy is struggling and the British economy has not grown as the Government have been promising it would since they came to office. There are nearly 1 million young people still looking for work here in Britain. Long-term youth unemployment is up by 158% since the Government took office and the Government’s youth contract is failing. It is clear that this Government can hardly argue effectively for action in Europe on youth unemployment when they are so transparently failing on the issue here at home.

3.25 pm

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I obviously echo the noble Baroness’s tribute to our Armed Forces, which she quite rightly made at the start of her response. On her questions about Afghanistan and the continuing commitment of the UK beyond 2014, no decisions have been taken beyond helping to deliver the officer training academy, which was referred to in the Statement, and the accompanying force protection. The existing funding commitments have already been set out. That is the Government’s position on what will happen beyond 2014.

I agreed with what the noble Baroness said about the importance of support for a proper political process. In terms of that process and keeping the political talks on track, it was clearly the case that the initial opening of the Doha office was done in a way that caused a setback to those talks. Nevertheless, it is important that we should try to continue with that process and make progress as fast as we possibly can. We are very keen to see early meetings between the Taliban and the US, and between the Taliban and the Afghans, on terms that all sides can accept. I hope that will move forward. We know from our own experience that peace processes are often long, complex and very

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bumpy, and this will obviously be no exception, but we have been working with our international partners in support of an Afghan-led peace process for some time and we will continue to do that.

On the noble Baroness’s specific question about whether there has been any progress since the Chequers regional peace summit communiqué, and in particular the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, at Chequers there was an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan that they would work more closely across a broad range of areas. Since February, co-operation on border relations and on military issues has enabled some quicker resolution to some cross-border tensions. There has also been some positive co-operation to resolve issues to do with refugees, so there have been some tangible steps.

Back at Chequers, both the Presidents committed themselves to doing what they could to work towards peace in Afghanistan over the next six months. The news that the Taliban has released a statement distancing itself from international terrorism is a step—no doubt a small one, but it is a step—in that long, difficult road to peace. The Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship is difficult, which is why we are working with both sides to try to improve it, and I agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of our Government engaging with the new Government in Pakistan to try to help bring that about.

The noble Baroness rightly welcomed the accession of Croatia and referred to Serbia and Kosovo. So far as the rebate is concerned, I am delighted to hear her support for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s successful negotiation of the overall multi- financial framework and the rebate. I would gently remind her and the Benches opposite that they told him that he did not have a cat’s chance of pulling it off. I think that they rather hoped that he would not pull it off, but I am delighted that they now support that and the measures that he has taken to try to introduce a bit more financial control into the EU budget, as we are doing over here. On the specific point about unpicking the rebate, it is the case that that was a straightforward ambush of the Prime Minister. He had no interest whatever in the rebate being unpicked but along came some people in the early hours of the morning and tried to do so. Fortunately, he managed to resist that and the situation is now clear.

So far as youth unemployment is concerned, I obviously agree with the noble Baroness about the scale of the challenge across the EU, and indeed in our own country. Clearly, we think it is far too high, both in the EU and in the UK. Youth unemployment is down just over 40,000 this quarter and 60,000 last year, but we are not complacent about that. One hundred thousand young people have started a work placement under the youth contract and we know that youth unemployment fell faster last year in the UK than it did in the USA, Germany, Canada, France and Italy. There is a lot more to do, but there has been some progress and I agree with the noble Baroness’s point about the importance of looking at EU regulations. I would not argue that it will make all the difference, but as part of a range of measures—whether apprenticeships or encouraging traineeships to try to

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reduce all possible burdens on business so that the private sector can create the jobs that young people need—I think that this is a step worth taking.

3.30 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, from these Benches we join in the tributes to the service men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.

I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. The Prime Minister has mentioned the importance of the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship in combating terrorism. The noble Lord knows that 53 people were killed while Mr Cameron was in Pakistan and 2,500 have been killed this year alone in Pakistan. Would it not be truly ironic if, through the Taliban peace talks, Afghanistan is stabilised, yet Pakistan’s home-grown Taliban continued to wreak havoc? Can he tell the House what discussions the Prime Minister might have had with regard to the security and stability of Pakistan when he met Mr Sharif?

On 24 October 2011, in a similar European Council Statement in the other place, the Prime Minister said that he could not see a need for an in/out referendum. In fact, he said that legislating now for a referendum, including on whether Britain should leave the EU, could cause great uncertainty and could actually damage our prospects for growth. Today he talks of openness, competitiveness and flexibility, which are vital elements of the fresh settlement that he thinks is needed for the European Union. Can the noble Lord tell us what his thinking is in calling for an in/out referendum this week? Can he tell the House what has changed to date in the eurozone crisis? What other substantial markers of belief have encouraged the Prime Minister to make such a volte face from his previous position?

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, on the security situation in Pakistan, my noble friend is right to point out the problems that that country faces, and the relationship between the problems there and in Afghanistan. In the trilateral relationship between the UK, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is right that we do what we can to minimise problems in both those countries. I take her points and she is right to remind us of those figures.

Only the Conservative Party is offering an in/out referendum, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister feels that it is right to draw attention to that as the clear choice that people will have at the next election.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, can I ask the Minister a very direct question about the budget? We have been hearing about budgetary crises every time we get a report back from a summit. Is it not about time now that the British Government took a positive act in Brussels to bring the budget under control at the beginning of the budget process? That starts when the Council of Ministers has the first reading of the budget and starts applying a process of zero-based budgeting to a selection of budget lines so that we know exactly where we want cuts, and then have the resources for those areas such as Europol where we want to see increases. The idea of playing it as a game

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on a snakes and ladders board, where you have only ladders and no snakes, is what is leading to the present budgetary imbalances. I ask the Minister not to give a commitment other than that he will talk with his right honourable friend the Prime Minister and with Treasury Ministers about whether it is now time to start a process of zero-based budgeting so that we can establish budgetary priorities afresh.

Lord Hill of Oareford: On the broad question of budgeting, I am sure the noble Lord will accept that to have secured a real-terms reduction in the budget for the first time ever represents a significant achievement by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, the process of agreeing budgets—with the flexibility between years, the different lines and the political compromises that are inevitably essential—is a nightmarishly complicated process. The noble Lord did not ask me to give an undertaking, and I do not think that I or anyone else would be able to reform this labyrinthine process, but I certainly undertake to make sure that his comments, which I know are meant to be helpful in making sure that there is rigour in budgeting, are taken back so that people can consider them properly.

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, during the past year, there have been increased incursions by Spanish naval vessels in British waters at Gibraltar. More recently, Spanish vessels fired on a British sailor in those waters. It is reported by the media that the Prime Minister raised this matter with the Spanish Prime Minister—of course, Spain is an EU partner. Was the matter raised with the Spanish Prime Minister, and if so, what was his response?

Lord Hill of Oareford: The Prime Minister raised this matter with the Spanish Prime Minister and protested about the incident to which the noble Lord refers. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it clear that he felt that that behaviour was completely unacceptable and he asked Spain to carry out an investigation into the incident.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean:My Lords, how confident are Her Majesty’s Government that women in Afghanistan will enjoy full political rights and that they will be able to take a full part in civil society in that country? The Statement says that 130,000 children are now in school, including 30,000 girls. That implies that 70% of school-aged girls are not in school. Will the Minister tell us in percentage terms the figures for girls in school and whether girls are now being allowed to go to university? This was the case a few years ago, but the situation seems to have deteriorated.

Lord Hill of Oareford: The noble Baroness will not be surprised to know that I do not have those percentages in my head, but I will see what I can find out about them and I will write to her about whatever I uncover. There has been progress in the way that she said in drawing attention to those figures. She is right to draw attention to the guarantees and commitments about the future and the right of women to vote and participate in elections. All I am able to say is that I know that we are giving as much encouragement and support as we

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can to make sure that that process goes forward before the elections. For those who, like her, want to make sure that that situation persists in the future, the most powerful lever is the £4 billion of aid that outside countries give to Afghanistan, but we would all be foolish if we were to pretend that there was a simple thing that we could do to guarantee it. Like her, the Government are very concerned, and I know that the Foreign Office and DfID are doing everything they can to argue in the way that I know the noble Baroness would expect them to argue.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does not hope attempt to triumph yet again over experience in this Statement? The Prime Minister says:

“we agreed to scrap unnecessary EU regulation that ties up our businesses in red tape when they should be growing and creating jobs”.

He goes on to announce the setting up of yet another business task force,

“to take a fresh and ambitious look at the impact of EU regulation on our companies”,

and so on.

What does the noble Lord say about the need for unanimity among all 28 members before we can retrieve a comma from the treaties of Rome, let alone a regulation or a power already ceded? I have written a few of those on the back of an envelope. What does this do for immigration, rubbish collection, post offices, light bulbs, car premiums, working time, our fishing industry, and financial supervision for the ruin of the City of London? Is this not just more wishful thinking, which is completely meaningless while we stay in the European Union?

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is the voice of experience, I will have to be the voice of hope. I take his point that one has to keep grinding away at these things over a long period of time. History suggests that, as was the case with our rebate negotiations, one has to keep on battling away.

On the point about reducing regulations, this was agreed, I think, in the Council back in March. Some small progress has been made by the Commission. However, the Prime Minister was very clear that the process was not as fast or as extensive as he would like, which is why he made another charge at the Council last week. I think it is worth setting up our own task force—I probably share some of the noble Lord’s scepticism about all sorts of task forces everywhere—to try to come up with some ideas of our own to show the way, looking specifically at the effect of regulations, how they might be reduced and how that might lead to more jobs, particularly in the context of young unemployed people, as we discussed earlier.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, turning back to the very welcome progress report on Afghanistan, would my noble friend ask the Prime Minister to ensure that in any future discussions about developments for Afghanistan, regional leaders in other parts of Afghanistan are fully engaged in these discussions through the central authority?

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Lord Hill of Oareford: That sounds an extremely sensible point to me. I am not an expert in the area or in those complex discussions and negotiations that need to go on, but I will certainly make sure that my friends at the Foreign Office are aware of the extremely sensible point that my noble friend has made.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, can the Minister clarify the numbers post-2014, because they are not at all clear? The MoD must have done this work already. How many personnel are we talking about for the defence academy? What is this protection force that we are talking about? It sounds a very open-ended thing to me. What sort of numbers are we talking about and where would they be? On what date will we give up Camp Bastion? Will we be abandoning it or handing it over to the Afghan authorities or to the Americans? Will we provide any air assets post the end of 2014? It is really rather important for us to get our minds round these numbers and issues.

Lord Hill of Oareford: I take that point. The noble Lord has illustrated one of the recurring problems in this House: that it is full of people who know what they are talking about. It makes my job extremely difficult. I will see what specific numbers I can find and I will be happy to circulate them. I know that the numbers envisaged are small. The numbers on the continuing support that would be made available to the national training academy are extremely low, but I take the noble Lord’s point about wanting specificity. If I am able to get better particulars, I will do so and will write to the noble Lord.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, the Leader of the House made several references to the post-2014 budget in Afghanistan. Does he accept that possibly the single most effective way to guarantee long-term post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan is to ensure that the rights of women are embedded in society in the new Afghanistan?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with that point, which is a variant of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. In so far as we are able to do that, it is clearly Her Majesty’s Government’s intention to lend every effort to bring that about, as the noble Lord says. I cannot, for obvious reasons, guarantee that in a far-off country with a very different history and culture we can undertake to deliver that. However, I know that it is very much our intention.

The Earl of Sandwich: What will Afghan children remember about our intervention in Afghanistan over the past 10 years? The Statement implies that we are going to leave an entirely military legacy post-2014. Can the Leader of the House assure us that there will be a reconstruction conference? Investment must come in when ISAF goes out. We will have to shore up this country for several years to come, building up employment and jobs in particular.

Lord Hill of Oareford: I would hope that they might remember the efforts of a country to spread education, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister

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pointed out, the efforts of a country to spread and protect the rights and education of women, and the kind of efforts to which the noble Lord refers to help to get the economy working in a way that is not dependent on the awful trade in drugs. I can certainly reassure the noble Lord that, as I understand it, foreign Governments intend to carry on with a generous package of aid to try to help with precisely the kind of reconstruction, and getting Afghanistan on to a more secure footing, of the sort to which the noble Lord refers.

Baroness Goudie: My Lords, I welcome both Statements. On Afghanistan and the peace talks, under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 of 2000 and its amendments it was agreed that a number of women should be at the peace table. President Karzai does not really negotiate or deal with women, even those in his parliament. What are the Government going to do about that?

Secondly, there have been a number of honour killings, both in Pakistan and on the borders of Afghanistan, mainly of young girls and their mothers. Girls are now going out and about, and leaders and their families do not think that this is appropriate. We are seeing cases of this daily in the press. This is an issue which the Prime Minister has to take up as part of the peace process, and as part of our giving aid to Afghanistan.

Lord Hill of Oareford: On the general point of trying to use our political and financial influence through aid, to try to emphasise the noble Baroness’s points, we will certainly do that. On the specific point of her first question, I need to find out whether there are specific bits of information on that, and what has happened, so that I might help her with it.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: How much will the new European budget settlement cost British taxpayers each year in both gross and net terms? On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, I should point out to the Leader of the House that the hostility shown by the French at the summit gives some indication of the difficulties that the Prime Minister will have in altering the existing European Union treaties.

Lord Hill of Oareford: I am afraid that the only figures I have to hand are those about the overall size of the budget over seven years and the reduction in it. I will need to come back to the noble Lord with more detailed figures on the effect on Britain year by year, if I can get them.



3.49 pm

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, Second Reading is not time-limited but if Back-Benchers were to keep their contributions within seven minutes, the House would rise around 10 o’clock.

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Children and Families Bill

Second Reading

3.50 pm

Moved By Lord Nash

That the Bill be read a second time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): My Lords, it is my great privilege to open the Second Reading debate of the Children and Families Bill. When I came into this job, I swore that I would do what I had successfully done over the previous 30 years: keep control of my diary. I gave that idea up at lunchtime on my first day. A visit that I had asked to make some time ago appeared serendipitously in my diary yesterday—I say serendipitously because it had been fixed a long time before we knew that the Second Reading of the Bill would be today. This visit was to the Avenue School, a special school in Reading run by Dame Sue Bourne, and was a very moving experience. They do wonderful work at this school with children with severe SEN, many of whom are severely disabled. It was a privilege to see the wonderful ways in which they are improving the lives of those children—substantially, to judge by the smiles on many of their faces. As I left, Sue gave me the dragonfly pin that I am wearing, which is in memory of all the children who have been at the school and who have died, so I said that I would wear it today. The memory of that visit will stay with me throughout this debate.

The Government are determined to make sure that we put the needs of children at the heart of everything we do so that, regardless of background, every child has the chance to fulfil their potential and succeed. Too often we hear stories of services failing children and families who need their help the most, trying to get them to fit in with the system rather than the other way around. It is crucial that we get the legislative framework right, so that services transform the way in which they work for children and families, focused keenly on their needs. That is what the Bill seeks to do.

The measures in the Bill will have a direct and significant impact on the lives of children and families across the country, so it is right that it is subjected to the most thorough scrutiny and debate. In the other place, the debate has been constructive and comprehensive. Every part of the Bill has been scrutinised thoroughly by a standing committee and has been passed with the blessing of the whole House. This is in part due to extensive pre-legislative scrutiny of the majority of the Bill. This process, as I am sure noble Lords would agree, clearly improved the legislation. I offer my gratitude to Members in this House for their scrutiny of Parts 1 and 5 of the Bill as part of their work on the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the House of Lords Select Committee on Adoption Legislation. I also thank members of the JCHR for their more recent report across the Bill, which I am sure will inform scrutiny in your Lordships’ House.

Perhaps the most significant improvement that the Bill has seen to date is the amendment brought forward by the Government to introduce a duty on health bodies to provide what is set out in an education,

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health and care plan. This amendment to Part 3 of the Bill was widely welcomed and will make a real difference to the lives of children and young people with special educational needs and their families. It is my ambition that the scrutiny in this House builds on that progress in an open and constructive way.

I turn to the provisions of the Bill in more detail. Delays in the current adoption system mean that it currently takes on average 21 months to place a child, and a child’s chances of adoption reduce by almost 20% for every year of delay. This is clearly indefensible and needs to change. The Government’s adoption reforms will sweep away barriers that have stood in the way of finding children stable, loving homes earlier. The Bill contributes to this by requiring local authorities to consider a fostering for adoption placement as soon as they are considering adoption for a child; by removing the explicit requirement to have regard to a child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background when matching a child and prospective adopters; and by enabling the Secretary of State to require some or all local authorities to outsource their adopter recruitment and assessment function.

The Bill would also better support approved adopters by piloting greater access to the adoption register, by improving the information on offer about adoption support services and by introducing personal budgets to give adopters more choice and control over the help that they receive.

In addition, the Bill puts the role of the virtual school head for looked-after children on a statutory footing. This is just one important step that we are taking to ensure that every local authority redoubles its efforts to drive up the educational attainment of children in their care.

Children also face unnecessary delays in the family courts, something that the family justice review recognised as part of its work to consider radical reform of the current systems for family law. A child waits over 42 weeks on average for their care or supervision case to be resolved. This is not acceptable and we agree with the review’s recommendations that more needs to be done to address delays and ensure that a stable placement for a child is found as quickly as possible. To that end, the Bill includes measures to introduce a maximum 26-week time limit for completing care and supervision proceedings, to ensure that expert evidence is used in children’s cases only when necessary and to remove bureaucracy and focus a court’s consideration of a care plan primarily on those issues that are essential to its decisions.

Part 2 also includes proposals to ensure that the needs of children remain firmly at the centre of the private family law system. The Bill, through the parental involvement clause, will make it absolutely clear that both parents should be involved in their child’s life after separation, where it is safe for the child. I wish to be clear that this change does not affect the existing principle that the welfare of the child must be the court’s paramount consideration in all cases. In addition, we hope that mediation, information and assessment meetings will encourage more parents to agree arrangements for their children outside court. The

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introduction of the child arrangements order will help ensure that arrangements are focused on the child’s needs.

The reforms to special educational needs in Part 3 are ambitious and present us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the lives of children and young people with SEN. The reforms put children, young people and their parents at the heart of the system, strive for higher aspirations for children and young people, and have a stronger focus on improving their prospects in life. The new system will provide, for the first time, one system from birth to age 25 by promoting earlier identification of needs and extending comparable rights and protections to all young people over 16; require local authorities and local health bodies to work together to plan and commission services for children and young people with SEN, bringing a real commitment to working together across agencies; and introduce a local offer so that parents can find, in one place, clear and accessible information about the local support that is available to them.

At the end of the new, more streamlined and co-ordinated assessment process for those with the most complex needs, the Bill introduces education, health and care plans from birth to age 25. These plans will have a new and important focus on outcomes, including employment and independent living, with joined-up support from education, health and social care.

The Government are committed to reforming childcare and supporting working families by boosting quality, increasing the affordability of provision and removing obstacles for providers where this does not impact on quality and safety. Part 4 plays a part in achieving this. It introduces childminder agencies, allows childcare providers to request a paid-for re-inspection by Ofsted and seeks to remove current bureaucratic requirements on local authorities and governing bodies. On Report in the Commons, the Government also brought forward a new clause to introduce tax-free childcare paving legislation, as was included in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech.

Part 5 covers the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. It will clarify the power and remit of the Children’s Commissioner, empowering the commissioner to stand up for the rights and interests of all children, particularly those who are vulnerable. For example, it will give the commissioner a statutory remit to promote and protect children’s rights, and will introduce changes to make the commissioner more clearly independent from government.

Parts 6, 7 and 8, which are led by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, introduce greater choice for employees, ensuring that employment law meets the needs and wishes of modern families. The Bill will give working parents more choice and flexibility in how they share leave and pay in the early months of their child’s life. This is a radical new system of leave that will support fathers in getting more involved in their child’s life and enable working parents to take leave together and better manage their caring responsibilities and work commitments. The last section of the Bill supports family life by providing a right for all employees to request flexible working.

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Before I conclude, I draw noble Lords’ attention to some commitments made by my honourable friend the Minister for Children and Families on Report in the Commons. Most notably, with regard to adoption, we wish to clarify that local authorities must consider placing the child with a relative or friend before they consider a fostering for adoption placement. Also, to provide further reassurance on this measure, we will introduce new safeguards through regulations to make sure that a local authority notifies the child’s birth parents when considering a fostering for adoption placement.

In Part 3 of the Bill, the Minister has listened closely to the debate to date on the support available to young offenders with SEN. On Report, the Minister undertook to identify further improvements to the support that this vulnerable group of young people receive while in custody to complement the trans- formational reform of education in custody being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice.

A number of noble Lords, while welcoming the intentions of the Care Bill which is currently before this House have raised concerns about the situation for young carers. The Government have heard these concerns. As my honourable friend the Minister also indicated, we intend to look at this issue in detail with noble Lords during the passage of the Bill.

I know that Members of this House have views, and considerable expertise, on how we should be addressing the issues that I have mentioned and others. I look forward greatly to discussing them over the coming months. The Bill demonstrates this Government’s commitment to making a real and enduring difference to the lives of all children and families, an ambition that I am sure is shared by all here today. I commend it the House and I beg to move.

4.01 pm

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this important Children and Families Bill and welcome him to the Dispatch Box for his first major task as a Minister—steering the Bill through your Lordships’ House. I look forward to debating with him during our proceedings.

It is good finally to have a Bill on aspects of children’s well-being from a Secretary of State who so far has shown little interest in children’s lives outside the classroom. Indeed, he has presided over the decimation of many children’s services, all much needed by vulnerable children. I am sure, too, that Members on this side, at least, will be commenting on the disastrous impact on vulnerable children and young people of the Government’s wider policies on welfare, employment and cuts, with falling incomes and higher prices stretching family budgets to the limit. These will cause real hardship for ordinary families that will see child poverty rise again by 2015. There is nothing, sadly, in the Bill that will alleviate those hardships.

I, too, followed the debate on this Bill in the other place with great interest. I agree there was much agreement on all sides on many welcome measures in the Bill. I am sure we will conduct the debate in your Lordships’ House in a similar vein. However, it was noticeable that, apart from two very welcome government

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amendments, the Ministers there resisted any of the sensible proposals put forward, including many from Mr Robert Buckland, the Conservative chair of the All-Party Group on Autism. I give the Minister notice that we will return to the amendments we think are essential to address shortcomings in the Bill. I am sure he will be more prepared to work with colleagues across the House as we seek to improve it.

The Minister has outlined the key measures and I will begin with those we can broadly support. The provisions in Parts 6, 7 and 8 for shared parental leave, time off work for antenatal appointments and flexible working all build on the progressive record of the previous Labour Government and we welcome these next steps. However, we would like to widen access to leave for parents—especially, as the Minister himself said, for fathers—because these measures may turn out to be highly restrictive, with only 2% of eligible fathers expected to be able take up the new changes. Coupled with recent data from the TUC which show that less than 1% of fathers have taken up the additional paternity leave that was established in 2011, we clearly need something of a step change for fathers.

Part 5 strengthens the role of the Children’s Commissioner, also established by the Labour Government, and we welcome these proposals, too. However, the existing functions of the Children’s Rights Director, which are to be incorporated into the commissioner’s remit, include the power to take up individual complaints from children, and we want to discuss how we can ensure that this safeguard is not lost.

Although we have no problem in principle with the proposals in Part 4 for new childminder agencies, they will need careful examination. There are two obvious concerns here. First, childminders in agencies will no longer be inspected directly at all by Ofsted. Instead, the agency will be inspected on its quality assurance processes. We know what happened in Haringey when Ofsted undertook these arm’s-length desktop inspections —it gave Haringey a satisfactory rating shortly before baby Peter Connelly died.

Secondly, the Childcare Minister said in a meeting last week that the agencies would be responsible for the training and development of their childminders but that there would be no new money. She envisaged that the cost would be passed to parents, but we know that the high cost of childcare is currently very difficult for parents to meet. Also, while the vexed issue of childcare ratios is not in the Bill, we will want to ensure that in future no Government can attempt to change these important ratios without recourse to Parliament. We also believe that local authorities have an essential economic, as well as social, role in assessing the sufficiency of childcare in their areas, and we do not want to see this repealed as the Government propose.

We welcome measures in Part 2 of the Bill to improve and streamline family justice. However, while we very strongly support the continued involvement of both parents, the child’s interests must remain paramount. I welcome the Minister’s assurance today that plans in Clause 11 for shared parenting will not dilute this paramountcy principle. We will want to probe the

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practical implications of that, as we would not want to see any apportionment of children’s time to satisfy shared parenting.

We agree that the 26-week time limit is an important benchmark to make sure that court proceedings are carried out as quickly as possible. However, we want to see safeguards to ensure that complex issues are not overlooked and particularly that siblings are not needlessly separated.

I come now to the parts of the Bill about which we have more substantial concerns. Part 1 builds on the reforms introduced by the Labour Government to improve the adoption system. It is unacceptable that on average it still takes almost two years for a child in the care system to be placed for adoption. We agree that that has to change and we welcome attempts to reduce unnecessary delay in adoptions. However, the best interests of the child must come above all other considerations. We are concerned that the Minister in the other place envisages that a child can be placed in a new fostering for adoption placement as soon as he or she enters care. That seems possibly counter to careful assessment and good-quality decision-making.

We also feel that the Government are not right to imply that adoption is the only, or possibly always the best, solution for every child. Many children are not adopted and there is little in the Bill to improve outcomes for them. Fostering gets very little mention, and there is disappointingly little on improving the lot of children in the care system, although we welcome putting virtual school heads on a statutory basis. The majority of children return home, often with no continuing support, and we would like to raise that during the passage of the Bill.

We would also like to see more emphasis on the importance of contact between adopted children and their birth families. I very much welcome the Minister’s statement today that local authorities will have to consider the possibility of kinship care as the first option in every case and give priority to contact between sisters and brothers. That is something that we were going to pursue.

Finally, there are concerns across your Lordships’ House about the changes to consideration of ethnicity. We agree with the Lords Select Committee on Adoption Legislation that these should, appropriately, not be abandoned but be part of the welfare checklist.

We come to the reform of the special educational needs system in Part 3 with the establishment of integrated health and care assessments and plans and the publication of a local offer of services in every area. The aspirations of the Green Paper to improve the system across the board for all disabled children were widely commended. However, we fear that the Bill as drafted cannot hope to meet those aspirations. This is also the conclusion of the Special Education Consortium, the Every Disabled Child Matters alliance and, indeed, all the children’s organisations with which we have had contact.

I will outline why we share this conclusion. First, the measures in the Bill do not apply to all disabled children. Those who do not have a special educational need or who are detained in youth custody will be excluded. I would be very interested to discuss with

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the Minister his reference to some new ideas for how those in youth custody might be embraced by these or similar provisions. However, how can the exclusion of children with disabilities be justified? Children with a major physical disability—for example, a visual impairment or a complex health problem such as cancer or diabetes—have just as much need for services integrated across education, health and social care as children with special educational needs. The barriers to their educational progress can be just as serious.

Secondly, while the education, health and care plans assessment will be a step forward, albeit for a minority of children, and we welcome the Government’s change of heart in making health as well as education enforceable in the plans, there clearly needs to be a parallel duty on the third element in those plans, the local authority social care services, so we will want to raise that again.

The rights of children and parents to request an assessment is a positive change, as is the continuation of plans through further education and apprenticeships. However, parents need a single route of appeal on all three elements of the plan. As the plan is drafted, parents may have to go down three separate appeal routes simultaneously, and clearly that is not acceptable. The draft code of practice makes clear that this new system, welcome as it may be, will apply to only a tiny minority even of the population of children with special educational needs, compared with the 13% of SEN children statemented currently. Other SEN children —some 1.4 million—together with all those disabled and seriously ill children who do not have special educational needs will have to depend on the local offer to get support. For these children and their families, there will be no practitioner to forge the integration of health, education and care, despite the fact that many will need this. Parents will have to do it themselves, and yet this is one of the major problems with the current system that the Green Paper promised to address. The local offer gives no guarantee of services, only a list of what might be available and which is not enforceable. The Government do not want to specify what should be in a local offer, so parents face the same postcode lottery as they do now. Those are the headline issues. There are others, particularly the abolition of school action and school action plus, without any clarity as to what will replace them. This is a major change because it will erode many current entitlements for the majority of children who will not be eligible for an education, health and care plan.

Finally, as the Minister has acknowledged, there is widespread support across both Houses for young carers and for the parents of disabled children to be given the same entitlements included in the Care Bill for adult carers of disabled adults. The Minister in the other place agreed to look at it, and the Minister said that this has been done. I had hoped that we might get a progress statement today but, if not, I am happy that they are on the case and I hope that we may get further details during our debate.

The issues in the Bill are of the greatest importance to some of the most vulnerable children and families. The Bill is a tremendous opportunity for us to improve substantially their experiences, life chances and outcomes. I know that, right across the House, Members will

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want to secure the best outcomes for these children. We look forward to working with colleagues and with the Minister to make this Bill the best that it can possibly be.

4.14 pm

Lord Storey: My Lords, I welcome this much needed Bill. It brings together important proposals, making a big advancement for families and, above all, our children. For the first time in a generation the Government are tackling some of the major barriers that children and families face. We on these Benches are fully committed to giving disadvantaged children the best possible start in life. Reforms to special educational needs provision will help families to secure access to the support they deserve, new virtual heads will support the educational achievements of looked-after children and the proposals for shared parental leave and flexible working are a real step forward. The Bill also makes strides in reforming the family justice system, aiming to cut delay and encourage greater mediation.

I shall be so bold as to congratulate the Government on bringing the Bill forward. In so doing, I pay tribute to the previous Minister of State for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, who dedicated a significant amount of her time to ensuring that it reaches the statute book. It will stand as a testament to her hard work and perseverance. I also thank Ministers from both Houses for being prepared to listen and for having an approach that is both open-door and open-minded.

Like many Members, I have been amazed by the number of briefings I have received concerning the Bill. This not only illustrates how important it is to a myriad of different groups but also shows how much people care. That should not come as a surprise; after all, as we have heard, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change children’s lives for the better. I am sure that as the Bill passes through your Lordships’ House in the autumn many issues will be raised and, where appropriate, amended.

I wish to concentrate on several areas that I hope the Minister will reflect upon later today. I welcome the new education, health and care plans, which replace statements and learning difficulty assessments, but, regretfully, they do not currently apply to young people in custody. We know that a third of young offenders have a SEN statement, compared to only 3% of the general population. Young offenders are among the most vulnerable members of our society and need all the support that we can offer them. Given that children in custody are particularly disadvantaged in this respect, it is illogical that they are being left out. I suggest that we extend the new plans to young offenders, otherwise we will miss a unique opportunity.

We learnt on Report in another place that, although the Government are committed to supporting young offenders in this way, the stumbling block to providing such support is conflict with the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. The Government acknowledge that the current situation is not working and I suggest that we use this opportunity to make provision for young offenders with SEN. I hope that the Minister will examine this area so that we do not miss this important opportunity.

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A child’s health condition does not stop at the school gates. Parents need to know that schools are places of learning that can cater for the needs of all young people; places where children with health conditions are both understood and cared for. Whether a child is diabetic, epileptic or severely allergic to something, schools must be able to support their needs. Take the example of a child with, say, a nut allergy. Unless appropriate care is taken, the child is at risk of a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. Simple approaches can be taken by the school—ensuring that staff are EpiPen trained; ensuring that EpiPens are easily accessible and signposted; and displaying photographs of children with food allergies in the school kitchen and staffroom. Of course many or most schools do such things as standard, but many do not.

I have offered one example but the same may be said of children with diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, migraine, chronic fatigue and congenital heart defects. Indeed, in my own city of Liverpool, a young primary lad died of a sudden cardiac arrest. That school and family established the Oliver King Foundation and, with the support of the local media, are now putting facilities in every school in the city.

A child’s condition should have no impact on their ability to study. Though different from SEN, if medical needs are not managed properly they will surely impede a child’s education in much the same way. Too many schools fail to follow guidance in this area. Moreover, existing legislation is poorly designed for such purposes. Considering that there are no specific requirements to provide the necessary support for all children with health conditions, an amendment that places a clear duty on all schools seems to me to be eminently sensible. Indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State recently indicated that practices in schools need improving. In Committee he said that guidance on managing medicines will be published this year, thus clarifying schools’ responsibilities. Does the Minister think that this is sufficient?

I turn now to the issue of young carers. Despite the good intentions in the Care Bill, there is now a yawning gap that leaves young carers in an unjust position. Young carers are children and young people who provide ongoing and regular care to family members while they themselves are in education. The 2001 census identified 175,000 young carers in the UK, 13,000 of whom care for more than 50 hours per week. The 2011 census identified a similar number, up to 178,000. However, there was an 83% increase in the number of young carers aged five to seven. These young carers often undertake inappropriate and burdensome responsibilities, and all too often they do not receive the support that they need. This of course results in poor educational outcomes. The Bill offers significant scope to improve the long-term life chances of young carers by enabling a whole-family approach, but I suggest that the rights and responsibilities need to be made clearer for young carers and practitioners alike. I know that Ministers are sympathetic to young carers’ needs, and I therefore look to amendments coming forward to provide this much needed support.

As I referred to earlier, this Bill is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide children and their families with real support for special educational needs. Education,

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health and care plans are at the centre of that support system. For the first time, SEN will be coupled with health and social care provision in a single global agreement. I am pleased that the Government have taken note in this area, and specifically that they have guaranteed that health requirements will become part of the plan. However, should I fear the same fate that has befallen our so-called “national curriculum”? The plans must do what they say on the label. They must entitle the holder to expect all the provisions that they detail: education, health and care. Will the Minister confirm this, so that we may give parents and young people greater confidence in the system?

In order to make the system truly joined-up, surely we should go that extra mile and realise the equal importance of there being one easily identifiable route of redress for families, should things go wrong. A single, accessible and understandable point of appeal is necessary. We must not create a system that forces families to navigate a vast and complex complaints system across three agencies. I look forward to hearing what the Minister intends to do in this regard.

I was delighted to receive a Written Answer from my noble friend the Minister, detailing how essential it is that teachers’ training prepares them to teach children with a broad range of special educational needs. I suggest that all teachers must be equipped with the skills to identify and support children with special educational needs, which should include specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. It really is not good enough that we have a teaching profession that is not universally trained to understand the issues. There should be teachers in each school or each group of schools who are qualified to test for and identify dyslexia. Although I praise the work of SENCOs in schools, there is an urgent need for all initial teacher training programmes to include a mandatory module on dyslexia and other hidden disabilities. I hope that the Minister will reflect upon this point, and I know that my noble friend Lord Addington will press this important issue further.

When a young person enters higher or further education, their plan will not be “passported” with them. Although I welcome the extension of legal protections for young people with SEN up to the age of 25, as currently drafted, higher education institutions are excluded from the new framework. As I have been assured that the Government’s intention is to create a single system which supports the highest aspirations, surely this goes against the spirit of the Bill? It has the potential to cause delay, and will no doubt create unnecessary bureaucracy. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider that the plan should follow a young person, whichever setting they move to.

Finally, I followed with great interest the childcare ping-pong—or, as the Mayor of London would no doubt call it, the “whiff-whaff”—regarding reforms to childcare ratios. I now presume that it is game, set and match to the Lord President of the Council in this regard. Equally important is the need to give careful reconsideration to the introduction of a childminder agency system. The introduction of such an arrangement would mean that experienced childminders could be lost. Indeed, 71% of childminders have “outstanding” grades. They have built their own businesses and are

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now on a level footing with daycare centres. Currently, childminders are inspected every three years by Ofsted, but only every four years if they achieve “outstanding” status. However, as we have heard, under these proposals the agencies as organisations will be inspected while only a cross-section of their registered childminders will be inspected. There is a danger that childminders with less satisfactory standards will be afforded a higher status by virtue of their membership of a highly rated agency. When a parent chooses a registered childminder, they should be confident that the grade of the childminder reflects their talents. Can the Minister confirm that all childminders will be inspected by Ofsted, and not merely a cross-section of those who work for a particular agency?

As I said at the outset, the Bill is progressive in its aims and potentially life-changing for children and families in this country. By the way, when I was talking about the Oliver King Foundation, the word I could not bring to mind was “defibrillators”, so I was referring to defibrillators in every school. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that the Government intend to revisit our areas of concern and, in so doing, ensure that the very promising provisions contained within the Bill will truly give families the support that they need when they need it most.

4.26 pm

Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, I welcome the Children and Families Bill and the potential that it presents to provide a real choice of educational opportunities for disabled children, young people and their parents. The Government stated in their Green Paper, Support and Aspiration:A New Approach to Special Educational Needs and Disability, that they wanted a greater choice of education provision than what is currently available. However, the reality is that choice of education provision remains something of a myth. In 2013, disabled students are still the only group that can be prevented from choosing to be educated in mainstream education. Disabled children and young people can be placed on the roll of a special school against their wishes and against the wishes of their parents, even when those parents have clearly expressed a preference for mainstream education.

The lack of choice for disabled children with SEN and their families is as real now as it was eight years ago when the Disability Rights Commission investigation took place in 2005. The charity, Working Families, which represents the parents of disabled children who were involved in the investigation, said:

“Parents of disabled children may be faced with a very limited choice of schooling locally. They may encounter difficulties in ensuring their disabled child is educated alongside their siblings if there is no appropriate provision”.

When parents opt for a special school place for their disabled child, there is no evidence that this indicates a preference for special schooling. In 2009, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education submitted written evidence in the form of a memorandum to the Joint Committee on Human Rights when it was looking at children’s rights. It stated that:

“The idea that parents do have a choice, under the present system, is in any case a myth. Children in segregated schools are often there because they have been rejected by their local mainstream

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school (if indeed they ever got as far as the door). Many parents who ‘choose’ a special school placement do so because they believe, or have been told by professionals, that mainstream provision is not possible for their child. In other words, that mainstream provision is currently structured in a way that it cannot respond to the diversity of learners. This means that many parents do not have the ‘choice’ of mainstream at all, rendering a special school placement an unwelcome inevitability. To say that they have chosen this is misleading and, potentially, insulting”.

Parents placing children in special schools do not see this as equality of choice; on the contrary, it is rather the outcome of discrimination that surely goes against both the spirit and the wording of the Equality Act public sector equality duty. This duty makes it very clear that statutory bodies, including the Government, local authorities, schools and colleges, are under a proactive duty to promote equality between disabled and non-disabled pupils in terms of both accessing and participating in mainstream education. An Alliance for Inclusive Education member who is a parent said:

“Unfortunately and against all my beliefs we have had to opt for a special school … If you segregate with disability then you are saying that these children should not have the same opportunity as so called normal children which in my view is discrimination”.

Local authorities are key in making choice in education, since they have the power to place children and young people with SEN on the roll of special schools. The reduction of funding available to local authorities and the increasing number of special schools being funded by the Department for Education through the academies and free schools programme will lead to greater numbers of disabled children and young people with SEN being placed in special schools. A disabled child on the roll of a mainstream school is likely to require the local authority to pay for additional SEN support directly from the local authority’s education budget. However, the cost to the local authority of a DfE-funded special academy school placement is nil, as spending comes directly from the department. The choice will therefore be driven by the need to balance the books, rather than by duties under the Equality Act. If the Government want real choice, there is a need to remove the local authority’s power to name a special school against the expressed wish of a family. This change needs to be reflected during the new education, health and care assessment and planning process, which will replace existing statementing.

The Children and Families Bill covers only the placing of children and young people with SEN in a mainstream school or college building. It does not cover what children and young people with SEN will learn while attending. Since the Academies Act, increasing numbers of children and young people have lost their entitlement to a national curriculum as academies are no longer required to offer it. The result is that children are denied access to a broad and balanced curriculum and are increasingly being placed on special courses. Effectively, instead of increasing choice, there is already a restriction of choice cascading down from post-16.

The Learning and Skills Council report in 2008 found that disabled people with learning disabilities were four times more likely to be enrolled on a segregated course rather than a mainstream accredited course, whether at college or sixth form. Since the report was published, little has changed. The Down’s Syndrome Association has expressed concerns that children with

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Down’s syndrome have been placed into discrete courses for students with learning disabilities and difficulties, without the opportunity even to consider mainstream accredited courses. If the Government want to promote greater educational choice, they must include a choice of courses.

As a vehicle for providing more choice, the personal budgets that will be made available for young people with SEN and their parents is welcomed. For the first time, children and young people with SEN will be able to use a direct payment instead of depending on the SEN provision to be arranged by the school, college or local authority. This will have an impact particularly on further education, as it should mean that young people will be able to purchase the support that they need while attending a course of their choice. However, for students in schools or post-16 there is still a snag, because they will need consent from the institution before they can make use of the personal budget, as required under the Special Educational Needs (Direct Payments) (Pilot Scheme) Order 2011. The unfortunate reality is that in today’s financial climate it is very unlikely that colleges and schools will provide consent for a personal budget request made by young people or their parents, as this will mean a reduction in their own budget. If the Government want to promote choice, then the parents and young person requesting a personal budget should be given one, as is the case currently with social care personal budgets. Only when young people have a personal budget will their choice increase—a real choice over which mainstream courses they want to attend.

For the Government to promote a genuine choice of educational opportunities, they need to remove and not increase the barriers that prevent children and young people from participating in mainstream education. If the Minister believes in choice of education provision, he should first consider the local authority’s power to frustrate children, young people and parents from exercising their choice of mainstream education provision. Secondly, the Minister should reconsider the options for schools and colleges to refuse families and young people with SEN the option of seeking a personal budget in lieu of support provided by the institution.

The reason why I am so passionate about this is because more than 30 years ago my parents fought for the same things that many parents fight for today. It is really challenging for young people who are trying to balance so many different options and for parents trying to make the right choices. It is vital that we allow parents to have real choice.

4.33 pm

The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, there is much to welcome in this Bill, especially the important changes for looked-after and adopted children. I add the support from this Bench too for the broad ambition of the Bill to extend a greater level of choice, participation and long-term support for young people with special educational needs and their families. I declare an interest as a former chair of the Children’s Society and I am delighted that my successor, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, will take part in this debate.

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I want to touch briefly on three particular areas: care leavers, young carers and children with special educational needs. First, I am concerned that we may have missed an important opportunity during the passage of the Bill to make a much-needed change for care leavers. These are young people who are in need of special attention and ongoing support as they transition into adulthood. One particular category of care leavers who are seriously disadvantaged is those who are subject to immigration control. Many of those young people are here on their own with no parent or legal carer looking out for them and have come here from places such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea to seek sanctuary. They have often lost their loved ones. They have experienced unimaginable violence and abuse. Some may have been recruited as child soldiers or have been exploited in multiple ways. However, when they come to the United Kingdom for safety, too often they are denied the protection they need due to the decision-making process within government departments. They can be left in a limbo where they are not recognised as refugees, but cannot return home because it is too dangerous for them to do so. As they turn 18, they get caught by immigration restrictions which put them at risk of being made homeless and going hungry.

A report by the Children’s Society entitled I Don’t Feel Human was published in 2012 and highlighted this issue by showing how young people who had come to this country on their own as unaccompanied children were ending up destitute and homeless. This was because they were being cut off from the local authority support as they turned 18 due to their uncertain immigration status.

Many of those young people are destitute and resort to self-harming and attempt suicide out of sheer desperation about their situation. We need to do what we can to ensure that those vulnerable young people continue to get the support they need as long as they are here. Would the Minister be open to exploring making an amendment to Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to ensure that it does not apply to lone children and care leavers?

I want to say a brief word about young carers. The recent census from 2011 stated that there were approximately 166,000 young carers in the United Kingdom, but there is reason to believe that that is just the tip of the iceberg, as many young carers remain hidden from the view of the professionals. I know from my experience how many of them live lives that are profoundly restricted, demanding and exhausting, bearing responsibilities well beyond what is reasonable for their years. When the Children's Society looked into the long-term outcomes for young carers in its recent report, Hidden from View, it found no strong evidence that young carers are more likely than their peers to come into contact with support agencies, despite government recognition that that needs to happen. That research also found that young carers are 1.5 times more likely than their peers to have a special educational need or a disability. Young carers are more likely than the national average to be not in education, employment or training between the ages of 16 and 19.

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That is why I welcome what the Children’s Minister in the other place said when he made a clear commitment to consider how legislation might be changed so that rights and responsibilities are clearer to young carers and practitioners alike in this important area. I also welcome his commitment to a “whole family” approach to the assessment of care needs. It is therefore important and encouraging that the Children’s Minister and the Minister for Care Services have come together to ensure that both the adults’ legislation in the form of the Care Bill and the children's legislation which we are discussing today can work together to allow for whole-family approaches.

Can the Minister update us on when we might see any proposed changes to legislation to support that approach? I would also welcome any update from the Minister about the work that his department is doing to support the linking of assessments across adult and children's services.

Finally, I would like to say a word about children with special educational needs. I welcome much that is here, but share the disappointment of the consortium of national specialist colleges that many of the amendments tabled in Committee in the other place proved to be unsuccessful. In particular, can the Minister provide greater clarity on the composition and functioning of the Section 41 list of providers that young people will be able to request for inclusion on their education, health and care plan? Can the Minister ensure that there is positive affirmation in the Bill that young people will be entitled to an education, health and care plan up to the age of 25 and ensure that local authorities will not end these plans too early?

On these Benches we warmly welcome the fact that the Government have chosen to give legislative priority to a number of very important issues that affect children and young people. We look forward to making our contribution to shaping this Bill in its passage through this House.

4.40 pm

Lord Lingfield: My Lords, my comments today are concerned only with those aspects of the Bill, mainly in Part 3, that deal with children and young people with special educational needs.

Some 35 years ago the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, whom I am delighted to see in her seat today, paved the way for wide-ranging changes in the way that the state education system deals with children with special needs and disabilities. It is more than 30 years since the Education Act 1981 put in place many of the tenets of the current legislation and the system of statements of special needs. It is some six years since the publication of the second report of my Commission on Special Needs in Education, which I was asked to chair by the then leader of the Opposition, who is now the Prime Minister.

In the course of that commission, we noted that the extraordinary advances in medicine since the Warnock report and the 1981 Act mean that many more children, often with the most serious, multiple disabilities, now not only survive birth but can find much contentment in much longer lives with the proper attention, therapy, medication and—very importantly—education. During

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the commission we also heard from a large number of dedicated professionals and devoted parents, whose work on behalf of children with special needs is both heartening and humbling. Virtually every submission noted, and almost every witness from whom we took evidence believed, that radical revision of the provision for special education needs was long overdue. It is for this reason that I welcome the aim to create through this Bill a new legislative framework that better reflects the different circumstances that the decades since 1981 have brought.

In particular, I commend the Bill’s focus on extending the coverage of legislation from birth to 25 years of age, unlike the current system that applies only to the end of school-based education, at which point, to quote a parent giving evidence to us, the child will,

“fall off an educational cliff”.

It is particularly important that those in this older age group with profound and complex needs are eligible for the continuation of their plans, for there are few clear-cut educational opportunities for them and they are the ones most likely to benefit from the continued protection of their plans.

I very much welcome the Bill’s new provisions, mentioned by the Minister, to place a legal duty on health services to make the healthcare provisions specified in the proposed education, health and care plan. I believe—but I stand to be corrected—that in Scotland social care is also included.

I firmly support the provision for personal budgets and direct payments. I note with concern, however, that last month’s evaluation of the pathfinder local authorities carrying out this work at the moment reported that,

“many areas had found it difficult to develop personal budgets”,

and referred to the “limited take-up” of direct payments. In light of these assessments, I am sure that Ministers will be able to reassure your Lordships that they will redouble their efforts to address these concerns.

In his Written Statement to mark the launch of the Green Paper that preceded this Bill, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education set out his aspiration for,

“a radically different system to support better life outcomes for young people; give parents confidence by giving them more control; and transfer power to professionals on the front line and to local communities”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 9/3/11; col. 64WS.]

The expectations from the new legislation will therefore be very high among families and professionals working in this area, and among all those who seek to ensure that some of our most vulnerable young citizens are adequately supported. If they are not to be disappointed, we must satisfy ourselves that the legislation before us and the regulations and guidance that will follow it will allow these laudable aims for change fully to be met.

It is with this in mind that I want to highlight one of the main challenges I believe the Government will face in moving from what are commitments to actually implementing the legislation. I referred a moment ago to the recent evaluation report of the pathfinder local authorities. It is encouraging to note in it the efforts made by pathfinders to test the new processes provided for in the Bill, and to read that they,

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“appear to recognise the advantages of working differently, and are positive about the impact of … changes”.

However, it is clear that pathfinder authorities have had to devote considerable time and resources to developing these new processes and that while there have been some encouraging findings from them, the pathfinders themselves encompass only a small minority of authorities—fewer than a quarter of those in England. As a result, even where pathfinders are able to make progress in putting in place elements of the proposed system, there is still a huge task ahead for these lessons to be communicated, understood and implemented across the vast majority of local authorities and, just as importantly, for these lessons to inform the regulations and guidance that will follow this Bill. I do not need to spell out the consequences of this being done inadequately. Experience suggests, I fear, that in many areas these reforms will be very slow indeed to take effect.

My final point today is that we must absolutely ensure, as we seek to put in place this radically different new system to which the legislation aspires, that we do not remove the current rights for parents and children under existing legislation. This is a point to which I will wish to return, as I suspect others of your Lordships will, as the Bill progresses through your Lordships’ House.

4.48 pm

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, the social reformer Gertrude Tuckwell, writing in 1894, said:

“Among the social questions with which the nation has to deal, there is none, it seems to me, so important as … children”.

I agree, and I am pleased to be speaking in this Second Reading of a Bill which seeks to make life better for children. I know that is something which we across this House have always sought to do. However, the Bill has challenges to its implementation and I share the concerns of my noble friend Lady Hughes and those of the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield. We are experiencing severe cuts to services for families. Child poverty, by whatever measure we use, is increasing and is likely to increase further. Voluntary sector organisations point out risks to the Bill in relation to the potential fragmentation of local services, which may add to the onus placed on them, for example in relation to adoption and how the voice of the child and advocacy for children will be regarded. It will be important to assess these risks associated with delivery of the Bill; it will be equally important to monitor and evaluate progress.

There is much expertise in this House on all aspects of the Bill. I shall focus on four issues: young carers, kinship care, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England and the importance of supporting children to develop personal, social and health skills. Young carers have already been discussed eloquently by the right reverend Prelate. I simply repeat what he said by asking when proposals on young carers will come forward, given the positive response we had in another place.

Kinship care has been a long-running saga in both Houses and seems to stall regularly. Between 200,000 and 300,000 children are being raised by family members or friends, because their parents may be dead, suffering from addictions, in prison, or otherwise incapable. I have heard anecdotes from kinship carers when I was

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in a previous role concerned with drug addiction. Many carers who spoke to me were devoted and committed grandparents; some of them had given up work to care and in some cases their health and family life had suffered due to their becoming a carer in a crisis. Research has shown that children who live with kinship carers have better educational, social and emotional outcomes than those who go into other forms of care.

Grandparents Plus is concerned that Clause 1 removes the duty on the local authority to give preference to keeping children with their families. It also contravenes the right to family life and is not in the best interest of the child. The Minister indicated in the Commons at Report stage that the Government will bring forward their own amendments to Clause 1 to address these concerns. I know that the Kinship Care Alliance is keen to work with the Government on resolving this and I look forward to hearing of any progress. Other issues of kinship care include adjustment leave for grandparents and family carers, paid leave as equivalent of adoption leave, and parental leave for grandparents to support a family in emergency. We shall no doubt wish to return to such concerns at a later stage.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner is a welcome addition, if somewhat late for England and not particularly well funded, but here we are. It is surely essential that the Children’s Commissioner has the power and independence to promote child rights and welfare, including for those children who have been trafficked or are in custody, and for those seeking asylum.

I am concerned about the independence of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, in appointments and the powers to function. I have to say that I do not trust the Government to encourage independence in appointments. Some Members of your Lordships’ House have suffered from being in or tending toward the wrong political party, or being seen to be awkward, or criticising government actions. I include myself in that. For example, it surely cannot be right in a public appointment to exclude a notable sportswoman from appointment to a sports body because she criticised proposed policy in a welfare Bill. This is ludicrous. It is even more ludicrous when in one such set of appointments no women or people from ethnic minority backgrounds were appointed to an advisory board. This is not just about individuals. It is about fair principles of appointment to public bodies. I am concerned that such an important appointment as the Children’s Commissioner may be hijacked by these concerns about independence. We need to be vigilant.

Let me move on briefly to the importance of personal, social and health education in schools. We have discussed this many times. As I, the Minister, most of this House, parents and children and the industry know, PSHE is not just about sex education, even though the media would have us think that it is. PSHE is about helping young people to develop respect for self and others, communication skills and the self-confidence to learn. It includes developing a positive school ethos, and social policies such as anti-bullying, healthy eating, and positive relationships inside and outside school. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, spoke about the importance

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of policies on health issues such as long-term conditions for children, and I fully agree with him. Young people do not come separated between health and education.

PSHE provides information on encouraging skills and helping young people think for themselves about the kind of people that they want to be. The debate on citizenship introduced last Thursday by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, highlighted the importance of community cohesion and the dangers of anti-social behaviour, and of drug and alcohol misuse. These are all relevant to PSHE.

PSHE should be required provision in schools. Pupils must surely be encouraged to have a framework other than media or friends and family to explore their spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development, and to respect themselves and others. I shall seek support for an amendment to require schools to make provision for PSHE. It will be a simple amendment to paragraph 2.1 of the national curriculum framework, and I shall detail it at a later stage.

I look forward to our deliberations during the passage of the Bill. By the time it has completed its passage through this House much wisdom will have been shared, and I hope that agreements will have been reached. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

4.55 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, in what my noble friend Lord Storey called a “progressive and promising Bill”, I will largely confine myself—today, at any rate—to Part 1. I should declare an interest because I was a board member of and legal adviser to Parents for Children, an adoption agency, many years ago and am a patron—one of several who are speaking today—of PAC, which deals with pre and post-adoption support.

Under the invigorating chairmanship of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, I was a member of the Select Committee that played a sort of legislative leapfrog with the Government as they launched proposals into the public domain, so we undertook both pre and post-legislative scrutiny. What most impressed me during our work was the importance of early permanence and the increasing understanding of that and of the importance of identity: the need to know one’s identity and the need for parents to know and understand a child’s identity. It became clear to the Select Committee that many current concerns are more around practice than legislation. The logic of that should perhaps be fewer amendments, which will be a relief to the Minister. We shall see.

We heard that reforms already made to tackle delay in adoption need time to bed in, although they seem to be making a real difference. That went hand in hand with a warning that disruption caused by wholesale changes to the role of local authorities could significantly destabilise their implementation. I am far from convinced that removing local authorities from the adoption approval process is appropriate. Governments like to talk about a light touch; what is in the Bill is potentially very heavy-handed. Like others, I believe that joint working by local authorities with one another and voluntary agencies should be the focus, as well as dealing with what might seem marginal but are obviously quite significant difficulties, such as employment law, single Ofsted inspections and a number of other details.

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It is unacceptable that prospective adopters should be deterred because an authority is small or is not willing to share, but better networking and collaboration across the sector must be the answer. I am entirely with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which talks about the shortfall not just in absolute numbers but in identifying suitable adopters and the benefit to be gained from local authorities going even further in their collaborative efforts on this. I believe that goes, in part, to pre-adoption support, which I will mention later. We also need to sort out any financial disincentives arising from the operation of fees.

I am very uneasy that the provision in Clause 3, which gives the Secretary of State a power of direction with regard to local authorities without spelling out the criteria for the exercise of that power, could mean that powers are removed from local authorities without certainty that the voluntary sector can cope. I do not think this is a matter for the market.

Going back to the beginning of the Bill and to something that several noble Lords have mentioned, the Bill states that when the local authority is “considering” adoption for a child, it must before doing so consider fostering for adoption. I, too, look forward to hearing what the Minister will say on this. The more I think about it, the less clear I am about what “considering” means. It is not a technical term. The Government’s own guidance says that the point at which it is appropriate to plan for adoption varies from case to case.

I am also worried about the presumption later in the Bill that the involvement of a parent in the life of a child will further the child’s welfare. If the child’s welfare is a paramount consideration, as it is, must be and must remain, how can there be a presumption?

I will continue to sing the Select Committee’s song with regard to ethnicity. The existing framework does not prioritise ethnicity. I do not believe in legislation being used to give messages, but I think that sometimes if you repeal legislation, it does give a message. I agreed with the committee that retaining ethnicity as a factor, listing it as part of the welfare checklist, is important. It is about understanding identity. We heard from the chief executive of PAC in the following terms:

“It should not just be that there has been an attempt to find the right racial family for this child, it has not been possible, and so any family will do. It has to be a family that understands and has committed themselves to that journey”.

That is one of a wide range of issues on which both the adoptive person and the adoptive parent may need support—something that I cannot stress too strongly. I look forward to looking at how the proposed personal budgets will work, given that the availability of sources of support is at least as important. I noted that the amount of the budget comes higher in the list of matters for regulation than description of the services.

During the course of the Bill, I intend to raise the matter of access to information by the descendants of adopted persons, which I know also interests the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I do not have time to go into it this afternoon, but I understand that the Ministry of Justice is concerned about the scale of the issue. I also know the commitment of my noble friend Lord McNally to freedom of and access to information.

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I end with the issue of contact. I was very interested in a report that many noble Lords will have received recently from the University of Oxford and the University of Sussex about what is important in contact. I picked up a lot about the child’s voice being heard. I have pretty much unbounded admiration for people who foster or adopt; it is almost beyond my imagining. I also have a lot of admiration for the social workers involved and for the children who cope and contribute to their own success. It was salutary to hear the point from children during our work on the Select Committee, some of whom said, “They don’t listen to me, because I’m a looked-after child and they are professionals”. Another child said, “People listen only to what they want to hear”. In our scrutiny of this Bill, we need to listen to children very carefully.

5.03 pm

Lord Rix: My Lords, last Wednesday the Minister discussed the Children and Families Bill at the weekly meeting of the Cross-Bench Peers. I was particularly interested in Part 3 and the provisions affecting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. I asked how the local authorities who were trialling the provisions for this group—pathfinders, as they are known—were progressing, but no one seemed to have a clear idea of the present position, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, who obviously has studied the situation. I, too, have looked into this matter and believe that noble Lords might like to hear my findings.

The evaluation of the pathfinder programme’s Process and Implementation Research Report, published last month, shows that 18 months into 29 pathfinder projects, one pathfinder had still only partially developed a project plan while two pathfinders had only partially agreed a clear set of objectives and partially sorted out a project board and governance structure. Similarly, six had not fully established commitment to share education, seven to share social care and 14 to share health resources. The report highlights plenty of good practice and plenty of good will, but it also highlights slow responses in creating the kind of change that it is expected in the Children and Families Bill will happen very quickly.

Furthermore, the pathfinder group of local authorities was given additional resources and support, and volunteered to make changes. However, this current legislation is not going to provide additional resources for the remaining 297 local authorities. It is being introduced at a time when the authorities are restructuring their health and education provision to meet entirely different government priorities. It is being introduced by local authority staff, many of whom are having their services outsourced and having to establish new consultancy and contractual agreements across a whole raft of provision, and all of whom are having to deal with profound levels of financial cutback. What will their priority be? Will it be in delivering this new service, in meeting the demands of this legislation? It is extremely likely that, in many cases, local authorities will not consider this a priority and, as such, numerous children and young people, their families and the professionals with whom they work will pay a very high price.

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Education, health and care plans will replace statements of special educational needs. As currently drafted, the special educational provision set out in a plan must be secured by the local authority. The Government have amended the Bill to place health commissioners under a duty to arrange any health provision set out in a plan. However, as has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, this leaves social care as a poor relative. It remains the only part of the plan that is not enforceable.

As president of Mencap, this is of great concern to me and others, as the majority of children and young people with a learning disability need some form of care and would benefit immensely from placing the social care part of the plan on an equal footing, thus leading to the longed-for joined-up support. Without this, parents will continue to find themselves battling to secure the appropriate support for their child against a cash-strapped local authority and with the most complex demands to meet before they can obtain such support.

Clause 37, among other things, sets out what education, health and care plans might specify. Explicitly, there is mention of the future outcomes to which a child or young person might aspire. However, there is no mention of work-related outcomes. The transition from education and training into work is a difficult one for people with a learning disability and simply does not happen for the vast majority. Indeed, fewer than 7% of people with a learning disability known to social services are in any form of employment, despite the National Audit Office declaring that,

“supporting one person with learning disabilities into employment could, in addition to improving their independence and self-esteem, reduce lifetime cost to the public purse by around £170,000”—

that is per person—

“at today's prices … and increase their income by between 55 and 95 per cent”.

The Government have affirmed their commitment to continuing support to those on education, health and care plans who are undertaking an apprenticeship. However, that needs to go further. Many people with a learning disability are unable to access apprenticeships because of difficulties in achieving the English and maths elements of the framework. Supported employment is a personalised approach to working with people with significant disabilities. This support enables them to access and retain open employment, focusing on learning in the workplace and shaped around the individual’s particular support needs. It is a widely recognised and well evidenced approach, and one that the Government support as best practice. I hope that the Minister can comment on why currently this is not mentioned in either the Bill or the accompanying Explanatory Notes.

It goes without saying that I support many of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Low and other noble Lords on other areas, such as strengthening the local offer, introducing a single point of redress and protecting current rights and entitlements. The aspirations of the Bill are bold and should be welcomed. However, if they are to be realised, substantial improvements are needed and appropriate resources must be provided

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to support the relevant agencies. In addition, social care must be put on an equal footing together with education and health. I hope that the final version of the Bill does just that and that the Government do not shy away from the real improvements that children, young people, families, professionals and so many of us here wish to see.

5.11 pm

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, this Bill is large and comprehensive and, as such, it is a bit like the curate’s egg. It is good and bad in parts. One very good thing is that it provides us with a chance to debate reforms to current laws and, one hopes, reach cross-party consensus on many new issues. There are a number of parts of the Bill that I welcome and believe will improve on our current legislation. For example, there is the strengthening of the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England with the remit to promote and protect children’s rights. Any strengthening in this area is surely to be welcomed. In particular, it is to be hoped that the commissioner will have sufficient funds to carry out his or her duties and that as few constraints as are reasonably possible are placed on his or her activities and priorities. I hope that a key part of the commissioner’s role will be to raise public awareness of children’s rights, publish an annual report on the work of the commission and recommend action to improve the position of children in England wherever this is needed.

I also welcome the right for workers to request flexible working time, particularly the new timing requirement on employers to respond within three months to such a request. The proposed code of practice must not water down the guarantees and provisions that cover employees. For example, it must include a proper conciliatory meeting, the right to be accompanied at such a meeting and the right of appeal. These are fundamental rights for workers that must continue.

However, like all new legislation, this Bill has omissions, and changes will be needed as we debate. I will start by looking at the area of adoption, where I welcome the removal from local authorities of explicit duties to consider a child’s religion, racial origins and cultural and linguistic background when placing children for adoption. I also welcome proposals to cut the length of time that it takes to adopt a child. As we have heard, it takes around two years for a child in the care system to be placed for adoption. That is far too long. It goes without saying that the best interests of the child must be paramount, and speed should not come before considered decisions of the adoption of individual children. However, unnecessary delays in adoption are not in the best interests of the child, who needs a stable, loving and caring environment.

I am the grandmother of two adopted siblings, a boy and a girl, who have brought unlimited pride and pleasure to our family. Rightly, my daughter and her husband were interviewed and examined thoroughly before my grandson was adopted. But having already proved their suitability as parents for him, the same unwieldy process was carried out again when they applied to adopt his sister four years later, so she was not able to join our family until she was nearly a year

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old. This seemed to be a really unnecessary delay. If the adoption of one child proves successful, surely the suitability of the parents to adopt again is evident. I would therefore back any government action to reduce unnecessary delay in adoption.

I turn now to special educational needs and related issues. I am a little bemused and have some queries about the proposals relating to SEN. The first questions relate to the local offer to be made by local authorities regarding support for children and young people with SEN. How exactly would the children, young people and parents be involved with the offer and the personal budget? What will happen when the personal budget is spent? Who turns to whom? Would there not need to be a professional input into preparation of the budget? Finally, how can it be ensured that a postcode lottery does not develop regarding this budget?

I turn now to a clause proposed but not carried in the other place, relating to a requirement for schools to draw up specific provision for children with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or cancer, as has been mentioned by other speakers. Such children need there to be staff at school who know how to meet their medical needs. They may or may not need educational support but they certainly need medically aware staff. This can be a life-or-death issue.

About a month ago, my grandson, who has had asthma since he was very small but appeared to be growing out of it—he is now 14—had a bad attack while at school. The procedure that had been agreed between my daughter, who is his mother, and the school was not followed. The result was that my grandson had to text his mother to say that he did not feel well enough to travel home by bus, his usual way of travel. When my daughter arrived at the school by car, she found him alone in the playground, gasping for breath. She tried to drive to the doctor’s surgery where she knew that the necessary steroids were kept, but his oxygen level decreased rapidly. Instead, she drove further to the hospital, where eventually he stabilised. The teachers on duty that day had not recognised his needs. He could have died.

A clause such as that proposed in the other place is not only necessary but essential. It is also essential that specified teacher and support staff receive medical training for such emergencies. Economically speaking, this is sound and would save hospitalisation and reduce demand on already-stretched resources. Socially speaking, it is vital to ensure that all our children are as safe as possible in the school environment. I hope that we can reconsider such a clause.

5.18 pm

Lord Patel: My Lords, I wish to speak about Part 3, which is mainly concerned with the reform of special educational needs and disability.

I commend the Government for recognising that the system with which families have to contend to secure the right services for their children is adversarial and in need of improvement. The many, many charities and organisations—such as Together for Short Lives; CLIC Sargent, a charity that deals with children with cancer; Scope; the National Deaf Children’s Society; charities related to children with autism; and many

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others—have highlighted through the evidence that they have gathered that the disjointed system of care presents many challenges for the families of children with life-limiting conditions.

There are nearly 39,000 children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. Up to 1,600 children aged up to 15 and 2,000 aged between 16 and 24 are diagnosed with cancer each year. Nine out of 10 of these children feel that their diagnosis and treatment make a difference to their school lives. Many others have other serious and life-threatening conditions. Children who have different needs and require complex, individualised health interventions also need additional social care and educational support. The families of these children routinely deal with more than 30 professionals, from education, social care, health and other services. Communication between agencies is generally inadequate, adding further stress to families and children. While this is stressful for families of children with disabilities and long-term conditions, for families whose children’s lives are likely to be short it is particularly distressing. One parent said:

“It’s a minefield and you get frightened going through it. Services don’t join up and people don’t explain things to you. They don’t tell you what all the services actually do. By the time I had made it all fit together my child had passed away—that makes me sad that he could have had so much more out of life”.

Evidence shows that for these children the best outcome is achieved when there is an effective partnership between parents and services and care is co-ordinated around the needs of the child. I felt the Government had got it right when they proposed integrated health, education and social care assessment plans, improving joint commissioning between local agencies. Alas, the Bill was changed and I concur with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford. The Government have withdrawn to a position in the Bill whereby only children who have special educational needs will be able to benefit from these reforms. Why did the Government change their mind?

Many children with complex health conditions, including cancer, cystic fibrosis and many other diseases mentioned by other noble Lords would benefit from a single education, health and care plan—the so-called EHC plan—but would not meet the requirements for a SEN statement. It cannot have been the Government’s intention to exclude these children. It also flies against the recommendation made by the Education Select Committee in the other place and the Government’s stated aim to remove the graduated approach to SEN. Up to a quarter of disabled children do not have a SEN statement. What plans do the Government have to integrate assessment and services for this group of children?

Clause 30 requires a local authority to produce information on education, health and care services “it expects” to be available locally, known as the “local offer”. This has the potential to speed up access to services and to increase confidence in the system. The added provision to assist children transitioning from childhood to adulthood is to be welcomed. However, Clause 30, which deals with this, is not strong enough to ensure that the benefits of the new local offer will be realised, as other noble Lords have commented. First, a local authority will have to set out only the provision

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“it expects” to be available in the local offer. That wording is not strong enough to provide redress for parents or young people if those services are not available. Secondly, there is too much scope for variation between local areas in services that will be specified. Clause 30 would be strengthened by a legal duty to provide what is set out in the local offer, which would enable parents and young people to challenge local authorities. I hope the Minister is sympathetic to that, as the feeling is quite strong that such a duty should be in the Bill.

Also required in the Bill is a common framework to inform the development of each local offer. I am concerned, too, that the Bill’s focus on education means that a once-in-a-generation opportunity to join up services for all disabled children and young people, particularly around the transition from children’s to adult services, is being lost. Young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who may move in and out of education or leave education altogether will not have access to a single EHC plan and will lose access to support. This will include many young people who need palliative care who, owing to the complexity of their conditions, do not continue in education. This Bill, in addition to the Care Bill, which we continue to debate in Committee, will bring about two different systems for young disabled people who transit from children’s to adult services in England, depending on their educational status.

The Bill provides an opportunity to ensure that young people with complex conditions, or diseases such as cancer, up to the age of 25 continue to have access to an EHC plan, regardless of their educational circumstances. I hope that the Government feel sympathetic to this and that they take this opportunity to ensure that it happens. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

5.25 pm

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, in this debate many noble Lords have already put forward serious issues for the Minister to consider and they have suggested additions that they would wish to see. I know that the Minister will reply to their questions with his usual care and courtesy, and I myself have certainly listened to them with great sympathy. However, the Minister may have nothing to say to me, as I simply want to give a very warm welcome to the Bill. Indeed, there are some provisions in it that give me more pleasure than anything I have seen in the past 20 or so years.

I should like to mention just three provisions which are especially relevant to women, because I believe that the women of this country should celebrate them. In certain areas, they represent a huge step forward, for which we have been fighting for over a generation.