8.30 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, I think we are all agreed that this is a very important Bill, interacting as it does with so many pieces of legislation that have only recently been through your Lordships’ scrutiny. Thankfully, we have the summer vacation to study the many reports that are the result of the pre-legislative scrutiny that has already been undertaken, so when we reach Committee in October, we shall be better equipped. There are many areas of the Bill that one is interested in. It is my belief that strengthening the role of the Children’s Commissioner for England is crucial, as indeed is the voice of the child on every single issue, but I shall leave those two matters to one side.

Like other noble Lords, I will concentrate my remarks on the area of special needs. I warmly congratulate the Government on making these reforms the key priority in order to improve the lives of children and families in the UK. It is estimated that one in eight families in England has a child with special educational needs, which equates to 1.7 million children. Given these significant numbers and, one must stress, a likely growth in them as the years go on, it is of the utmost importance that we get these reforms right. We have heard about the problems faced by those with special needs in the health area. It is clear that the current legislation—the Equality Act, education legislation and so on—is not sufficient. There must be a duty on schools to take the necessary action. I am sure that we will come back to this point.

At the heart of the issue is something that Members in the other place argued for vigorously: the need to reduce the battles that families face in getting the support that they need. Indeed, I am pleased that the

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Government have stated that the explicit aim of the Bill is to end the unacceptable situation where “thousands of families” are forced to go from “pillar to post” and face,

“agonising delays and bureaucracy to get the support, therapy and equipment that they need”.

The success of this Bill will be measured on the extent to which these battles are removed.

The Keep Us Close campaign of the disability charity Scope, whose report was published last year, found that too many families with disabled children and special educational needs were being pushed to crisis point. Almost two-thirds of families said that they were not able to access the services that they and their child needed in their local area. If they have the energy and tenacity to do so, parents are being forced to fight for every last bit of support, be it in schooling, childcare, therapy or leisure services. The impact that this lack of support has on families’ quality of life should not be underestimated; 80% of those families said that that caused them stress and anxiety, and half said that they struggled to hold down full-time jobs as a result of a lack of support in their local area.

The key way in which the Government aim to resolve that is through the introduction of the local offer—the services on which the vast majority of children with SEN, the 87% who do not have a statement, will be reliant. The local offer will require local authorities to publish information on the support available for families with disabled children and children with SEN in their local area, thereby injecting some much-needed transparency into the SEN system. Improving access to information is of course a vital tool in enabling families to find the support and help that they need. I am delighted that the Government are committed to introducing that. However, although the Government’s intention with regard to the local offer is welcome, I fear that in practice it will not bring about the transformation in support for families that has been promised.

The right access to information is vital, but not a panacea. In order to ensure that services are truly responsive to needs on the ground, there must be strong accountability. I seem to recognise that word “accountability” from my noble friend, who I think is sitting behind me, because he requires it on everything to do with children in custody, but it is also relevant in plenty of other areas.

Currently, parents too often feel that nobody is listening to them and that the only way they can get the right support for their child is to go through the formal process of getting a statement, or even going to a tribunal. That is an extremely arduous and complex process and is only for those who have the knowledge and know-how to do so. Moreover, can that really be the most efficient use of time and resources for local authorities that are suffering large cuts to their budgets? As the Green Paper on SEN, published in 2011, states:

“Resources that could be spent on support and teaching are diverted into bureaucracy”.

All that does is create a climate where local authorities and parents are constantly at loggerheads, resulting in damaging delays to children getting the support that they need.

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I also echo the comments of the chairman of the Education Select Committee on Report in the other place when he said that he hoped that there would be fewer people having the new education, health and care plans, which replace statements,

“because local offers meet so many of the needs of parents and young people that there is not a requirement for the bureaucratic involvement”.—[

Official Report

, 11/6/13; col. 205.]

At least one way to do that is to bring about a cultural change whereby parents are seen as partners in the commissioning process, not adversaries.

The Government are committed to ensuring that local authorities publish comments from parents on the local offer. However, I would like to see a duty on the authorities so that when reviewing a local offer, parents and children are not just consulted but their views properly are taken into account. There is another problem, though, pointed out by Keystone Consulting. Around 100,000 children cannot access mainstream education due to sickness, disability, exclusion or being moved around as looked-after children, or because they are in custody. By no means do all the excluded not want to learn; a BIS research paper in January found that more than nine out of 10 NEET young people were motivated to learn but felt that there were barriers.

As Keystone Consulting points out, education provision can be supplied by individual organisations that have created innovative ways to help those who are currently excluded. However, the snag is that the money assigned per student while inside the mainstream system does not follow a young person once they are no longer on the school roll, meaning that it is financially difficult for students to pay for the alternative education that would help them. Online and blended education mixes visual with auditory, verbal and kinaesthetic modes of teaching and ensures that children can focus on learning without being bogged down by external influences that they might struggle to deal with.

My time is more than up so I will not go on further. I simply stress that having small pockets of good practice is not good enough. We must be able to transform support for all disabled children. There must be a legal duty to ensure that local authorities and health agencies consider disability at every stage, be it planning, designing, commissioning, funding, delivering or evaluating local services.

I emphasise the importance of these reforms in meeting the needs of all children with SEN, not just those with the most complex needs. We must seize this opportunity and ensure that the Bill truly transforms support for all SEN children. This is a message that is coming from many other people too. A strong, relevant local offer is an excellent way to do this. Parents all over the country are watching this debate and we must not let them down.

8.41 pm

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, this is a good Bill. It addresses important failings in our current child support system. However, it will be very expensive to implement. With the present state of the nation’s finances, there must be a question mark over how local authorities will be able to afford to implement it.

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The underlying problems that the Bill attempts to address relate mainly to the problems of those children whose parents are unable or unwilling to give them, or to procure for them, the love, care, support and education that they need if they are to develop into happy and useful adults and to be able to be good parents and good citizens in their turn. It is important that these problems be solved not only for the future of our society but in the context of the human rights of every child and of social mobility within our society. Too many of this nation’s parents today have not been adequately prepared for their role as parents. Might it not be a more effective—and, perhaps, less expensive—way of achieving the Government’s objectives to concentrate more on prevention? Should we not be thinking about what steps we could take to reduce in the future the number of families that will fail to give their children the start in life that they need?

This leads on to two practical questions. First, should we not define more clearly what responsibilities towards their child we as a society expect a parent to accept and shoulder? Secondly, should we not be doing more in school to motivate, empower and prepare our young people, the nation’s future parents, for the responsibilities of adult life and parenthood?

The majority of mothers and fathers want to give their children the start in life that they need, but there are many obstacles in the way. More than 3 million children in this country are growing up in lone-parent households. Some 30% of women and 17% of men have been victims of domestic violence at least once since the age of 16. Some 22% of children live with a parent who drinks hazardously. These statistics, and many others that are available, give some indication of the problems that prospective parents face in our society today: unemployment, family breakdown, unstable and chaotic families, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, fathers in prison and many more. We will never entirely wipe out these problems, which devastate the lives of some of our children, but their number and severity could surely be reduced. I believe and hope that such a process might be set in train by the Bill.

There are things that we could and should be doing. I will mention just two. First, we could use the Bill to clarify in simple language the respective responsibilities of parents and the state in the complex task of raising the nation’s children. The complexity of the law today means that too many parents, and especially too many young men, are choosing to ignore their parental responsibilities. Section 2 of the Children Act 1989 refers to “parental responsibility” but does not define it. I should like to see this Bill define a parent’s responsibilities to their child unambiguously and in simple language so that every prospective parent, even teenage fathers, could understand that they have responsibilities towards any child they bring into the world. I would also like them, if possible, to have some understanding of what those responsibilities are. Today, the law on this subject depends on case law. This is fine for lawyers but is not helpful for teachers and others when trying to explain to young people why they should take seriously their responsibilities to their

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future child. Scottish law has an excellent short definition of parental responsibility, on which I intend to base an amendment.

My second suggestion for action relates to the fact that recent research shows that there are two windows of opportunity in a child’s life when it is possible to influence their social and personal development. The first is in the first three years of a child’s life. This window of opportunity has already been recognised by this Government and has led to their early years programme, so ably led by Graham Allen. The second window of opportunity is during key stage 3, between the ages of 11 and 14. At this age, most young people are eager to find out more about the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities that they will meet in adult life. This is a time when good schools have the opportunity to help, teach and guide pupils on these issues, perhaps through the PSHE programme.

However, the sad thing is that, as Ofsted reports show, few secondary schools today are giving any priority whatever to PSHE. Most do not regard personal and social education as an important subject and in the majority of cases the subject is being taught, if it is taught at all, by teachers with no specialist training or experience in it. I call on the Government to encourage all secondary schools to employ at least one teacher with specialist training in this important subject and to take steps to ensure that enough specialist teacher training is available to make this possible. Today, not one single teacher-training university in this country offers such a course.

8.48 pm

Baroness Eaton: My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as an elected member of Bradford Metropolitan District Council. I speak today as the Bill has significant implications for local government. As someone who has worked in local government for many years, I welcome the Government’s commitment to improving the lives of children and young people. It goes without saying that protecting children and helping to provide for their future is one of the most important things that councils do, and councils take those responsibilities very seriously. The measures in the Bill will have a significant impact on councils’ children’s services, because local authorities will have a central role in implementing them.

I know we all want to make sure that the Bill helps secure the best possible outcomes for our children and young people. While I welcome many of the provisions in the Bill and there is much in it to be commended, I have a number of concerns about measures in the legislation, particularly the proposed changes to the adoption system and, as with many others, special educational needs reform.

I served on the House of Lords Select Committee on adoption legislation and had the pleasure of working on this with many noble friends who are here today. I would like to be clear, as the committee was, that adoption is not the only form of permanence available for children. For some, permanence through special guardianships or long-term foster care might be more appropriate. The central consideration must always be what is in the best interests of the individual child.

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Some provisions in these clauses are to be commended. For example, councils already make use of fostering for adoption. This increases stability for children. However, it remains essential to progress measures to reduce the significant delay in the courts and uncertainty for the child and those who are not being fostered for adoption. The committee welcomed this clause, and I am pleased that the Government have extended its scope, as we argued that they should, and that there is now a duty to consider a fostering for adoption placement for all children for whom adoption is being considered.

The committee did not agree with the Government’s proposals to remove the requirement to consider ethnicity when matching children with families. We were not convinced, and I am still not convinced, that this process causes significant delay. I believe that it should be not the only consideration but one factor along with others. That said, there needs to be a change to the adoption system, and we welcome many of the reforms that have been introduced. The acute shortage of adopters remains a significant challenge, but the provisions included in Clause 3, which will allow the Secretary of State to remove all councils from the recruitment and assessment of adopters, is not the solution. In fact it risks making things worse for children and adopters.

Voluntary adoption agencies provide only 20% of adopter recruitment. Removing the other 80% runs serious risks of creating more harm than good. Councils will also remain responsible for placing children for adoption and matching them with families. Clause 3 could fragment the system as a result. Adoptive families say that they like the consistency of support from a social worker throughout the process. There are also wider disincentives in the system, which deter councils from recruiting more adopters than they need in their local area. I know that the Local Government Association is already working with the sector on plans to overcome these systemic barriers and to improve performance where necessary.

I am also concerned that this clause does not include criteria for use. There has been room for improvement, but local government has been taking action and we are seeing the impact of this. Recent research from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has found that the number of children placed for adoption in England has nearly doubled over the past year. We need time for other adoption reforms, such as the adoption gateway and changes to the assessment process, to bed in. I am concerned that the sweeping provision in Clause 3 would undermine this positive progress.

Clause 9 introduces a duty for local authorities to appoint at least one person to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children, the so-called virtual school head. It is important to point out that every local authority in England already has arrangements in place to deliver the function of virtual school heads, because they recognise the importance of helping children to overcome the trauma experienced before they came into the care system and the need to support them in achieving good educational outcomes.

On special needs reform, I know that many of us want to see changes to the system to deliver the best outcomes for children and young people. Many noble

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Lords have spoken eloquently on this subject. The reforms are ambitious. They aim to ensure that in future children, young people and their parents are at the heart of the system. We therefore need to make sure that the Bill helps to deliver the best outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs. That is why it is important to get the detail right. I am concerned that the Bill will not deliver effective accountability and redress for young people with SEN and their parents. Although one of the key aims of the new system is to bring together education, health and social care, as the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, mentioned, there will be different ways of challenging the education, health and social care aspects of provision through different tribunals, procedures and processes, which risks leaving parents and young people with a confusing system that is time-consuming, difficult to navigate and emotionally draining.

As we have already heard, Clauses 31 and 32 place a duty on local authorities to provide information on the services they expect to be available for children and young people. I am very supportive of the local offer, but I want to make sure that the Bill’s provisions allow local areas the freedom to include the full range of services that help children and young people. The local offer should be developed with local families so that services are designed for them and are not prescribed by Whitehall. The Bill will give councils a range of new duties, and we do not need an extra layer of requirements or we will turn a good idea to provide local people with information into something unworkable.

I also want to see sufficient duties placed on other organisations, such as health bodies, schools and colleges, to ensure that all partners responsible for delivering health, education and care packages provide the services a child or young person requires. For example, provisions in Clause 27 place a duty on local authorities to keep education and care provision under review. Such duties are not placed on health bodies.

My time is up. I am sure that we all commend this Bill. The role of this Chamber is to improve this legislation in a spirit of consensual debate to ensure the best outcomes for children and young people. I am sure that across the House we can improve the Bill in the way that we need to.

8.57 pm

Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, we are in the local government part of this debate, and like the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, I must declare my interests. I am leader of Wigan Council, a vice-president of the LGA and chairman of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. It will be no surprise that I will take a local authority perspective on this.

As the noble Baroness said, one of the most important roles of local councils is as corporate parents. As corporate parents, they have responsibility for the protection of children, making sure they are brought up well and preparing them for the future. As local councils, we try to ensure that that happens. We are not always successful. We have to admit that. We know that outcomes for children in care are still not good enough, and I am sure we want to use this Bill to strengthen that.

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Although I did not realise it at the time, the poet Lemn Sissay was a looked-after child in my authority. Noble Lords may well want to ask how a child of African parents got into Wigan. He has done an interesting study called “A Child of the State”. I recommend that all noble Lords look at the video available on the internet. He talks about his experiences—I know they were a few years ago now—in local authority care. It is an eye-opener. It was an eye-opener for me, and I was supposed to be responsible for that.

Local authorities share the Government’s basic objective in this Bill to make outcomes better for children, but like the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I have a few concerns about Parts 1 and 2. Before we get to the adoption part of the Bill, I want to reflect on the fact that far too many public services are designed to cope with the symptoms of problems rather than to tackle their causes. This is true particularly for family services. In designing our community budgets in Greater Manchester, we began to quote the case of a family in Salford, who within 12 months had consumed over £250,000 of public spending from various public services—police, local housing and others—but who at the end of the year were no different from the way they were at the beginning of the year. We had spent that public money and achieved nothing, so we need to think about this.

We need to think about the point made by the noble Lord that we are dealing with families with complex, often intergenerational, issues. They do not have role models to help them to know how to perform better. Change cannot come—I wish it could—from command. We cannot send a team of social workers into one of our more difficult estates and tell people to improve their lives. They really do not understand and are not able to do that. We need a holistic, sustained and trusted relationship.

I came across such an approach offered through the Life programme, which is run by an inspirational third-sector organisation called Participle. It had been working in Swindon when I heard that it was looking to expand the programme to see whether its success was transportable to other areas, so I invited it to come and work in Wigan. It has been in Wigan for less than two years, but we are already seeing how the lives of the families whom the project is working with in our most deprived areas are being dramatically turned around.

One example concerns a guy who was a drug addict, who had four children and a very chaotic life style, as noble Lords might imagine. With the support of the Life programme he is off drugs and coping very well. His four children are going to school regularly, and they do not truant or cause anti-social behaviour in the area as they did before. The project has not only saved us from the likelihood of having to take four children into very expensive care, but because of the way in which those children are now being brought up we might be able to break that cycle of deprivation and make sure that those kids think about their responsibilities as parents in a different way. That is important. While I applaud the Prime Minister’s recognition of the problem of troubled families, and obviously welcome the recent injection of more money

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from last week’s spending review, I do not think we are going to get really sustained improvement simply by hoping that we are going to work on a numbers game. We need a holistic, long-term approach, as demonstrated by Participle.

The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, mentioned many of the points that I wished to raise, so I will not repeat everything that she said. However, I am concerned about the impact of the bedroom tax in my area on fostering, which is the stage before adoption. The changes that the Government made for one bedroom may be welcome, but I am not sure that it is enough. We ought to ask the Government to see how they think the bedroom tax, or the under-occupation rules as they regard it, is impacting on fostering. I sincerely think that it is having an impact in our area.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, that Clause 3 is really quite unnecessary. It seems a power too far. We already have substantial powers for that. There is a danger of upsetting the market for the provision of adoption, which could be even more disastrous for young children.

On SEN, first, I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who is not in her place, about the importance of encouraging young people into mainstream education. In addition to the reasons she gave, I give one example. A mother came to me who had just transferred her child into mainstream education. It was life-changing for that child, and she said that children came around to knock on the door to see whether he wanted to come out to play. Think about that: before that, he had just been trapped in the house and nobody in the neighbourhood knew him because he was off to school in other parts of the borough. Then, because he was at a local school, he was part of the community.

Finally, I pick up the point made by my noble friend Lady Wilkins, which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, also mentioned, about the financial situation in local authorities. We must recognise that lots of the things in this Bill will be desirable, but if they increase local expenditure when last week there was another 10% cut to local authority budgets, we will be in danger of promising things that cannot be delivered by local authorities if there is insufficient funding. Once we have performed the scrutiny which your Lordships’ House will do very adequately, I hope the Minister will ensure that we re-examine the implications of the Bill to check that any additional costs are fully and properly funded. Otherwise we will be giving parents and young people false promises.

9.06 pm

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I support the Bill and particularly the core phrase of “support and aspirations” which Sarah Teather MP used to launch the Green Paper when she was the Minister, and which I think runs right through the heart of the Bill. I absolutely accept the previous two speakers’ point about local government’s concerns about funding this, but we have to start somewhere. There is no doubt that “support and aspirations” for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities are due for reform. The much stronger links in the Green Paper

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between education, health and social care are critical if we are to move to a truly child-centred approach for those with SEND.

Something has, however, slipped between the Green Paper and the publication of the Bill, although there has, correspondingly, been some remedy of this during the Bill’s passage through another place. The links between health and education are somewhat weaker. In particular, I am concerned about the 25% of children and young people with disabilities or physical illnesses who fall outside the scope of the Bill because they are deemed not to have SEN. However, their education is often harder to access because of their disability.

I am reminded of a student at Impington Village College, where I was a governor for 10 years, who had cystic fibrosis. At the heart of the school is a strong medical and support unit called the Pavilion, which has full physiotherapy, occupational therapy, a nurse on hand and other medical support. Having this in the middle of a mainstream school meant that she was able to access a normal education. She was a very bright young lady. Yet, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Warnock and Lady Howe, have pointed out, schools which do not have this system at their heart would have been reluctant to take her with the thought of her having to do physiotherapy twice during the school day in order to make it possible for her to study. I really think that the Bill will move things forward for many children with severe medical problems like this.

For those children who need social care as part of their education, health and care plan, the Bill only outlines the administrative need. It is not enforceable, as other noble Lords have said. Social care is critical to youngsters with serious disabilities. Without it, they too cannot necessarily access their education fully. This week is junior rheumatoid arthritis week. There are children as young as seven or eight who wear splints and use wheelchairs, although it is not a disease you normally associate with the young. They still need that support if they are going to have education in their local school, which has much to commend it. I hope that the Minister will be able to address this quite specific point about a duty of enforceability during the passage of the Bill.

I am also concerned that the SEND tribunals can hear appeals only on the education element. Surely an education, health and care plan is one unit. Surely the principle behind the Bill is to reduce the silo thinking and behaviour. I absolutely cannot understand why a SEND tribunal should not be able to draw in the health and care plan elements.

If we are serious about the age of 25 as being the key date for those with SEN, it is vital that EHC plans can continue into university and beyond. I just do not understand why employers are included—which is wonderful—but not universities. While we are talking about universities, I was astonished to read today a survey from the Snowdon Trust that SEN support is significantly reduced for graduate students. So you can have a certain amount of support for three years of your undergraduate course and, merely because you are bright enough to continue on to be a postgraduate, your support is significantly reduced—often to 10% of what it was before. If we believe that this provision is to cover young people up to 25, this must be addressed.

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Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear me say that there is one group of children whose needs are excluded from SEN and that it is an area that really does need to be addressed. These are children who are so severely bullied that they fear for their safety—and worse, some take their own lives. Their downward spiral is often characterised by their refusing to go to school; the number is estimated at 16,000 a year. I am afraid to say that some schools do not help these children in finding them alternative provision until the bullying is stopped and their confidence built up. Providers such as Red Balloon Learner Centres get 95% of their students back into mainstream education. It is time that these children were able to access temporary special needs support, and I will bring forward amendments at the Committee stage of the Bill.

However, more than that is needed. At present, the regulations and codes of practice for schools dealing with bullies are in a number of places, and I believe that they should be brought together in one clear government statement, in legislation, support documents and codes of practice, so that all schools and colleges are in no doubt about the Government’s strong statements against bullying and how this needs to be dealt with. We also need to have training for teachers, social workers and, frankly, children to start to change the culture. Anti-Bullying Pro, a charity that has worked with Jodie Marsh and Alex Holmes, has done amazing work in over 600 schools to develop anti-bullying ambassadors, but there are thousands more schools still to go. Shy Keenan, whose son Ayden tragically took his own life in March this year, is fighting for Ayden’s Law in a strong campaign at the Sun newspaper to provide protection, training and support to ensure that not one more child has to die. I believe that the special educational needs element of that campaign could well be served by inclusion within this Bill.

I want to focus for the last part of my speech on shared parental responsibility. One problem that many young women face is an employer trying to decide whether or not they might be likely to have a child, and whether that will cause problems for the organisation, even though they know perfectly well that to declare this would be discriminatory. But there is another problem, too. We have focused too much on the mother as being the only parent who can provide parental support in a child’s early years. It is time that parents were able to share between themselves parental leave in those early vital months; by doing this, the problems that I have outlined above of invisible discrimination against women should reduce. An employer will no longer be able to assume that a woman will take her entire parental leave. The same is also true of statutory shared parental pay. I am mindful of the comments, too, of the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, on the role of grandparents in this as well. I would welcome that, although it may be a step too far for this Bill—but I think that we at least ought to start the debate.

The other elements of Parts 6, 7 and 8 are also essential to provide the right support for employees, with, of course, due notice for employers. Flexible working, as outlined eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, is absolutely long overdue. The measures in this Bill are mature and ones that responsible employers will welcome; investing in their

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staff will encourage them to stay, and make them more productive. These are very much Liberal Democrat reforms, championed by Nick Clegg, and Jo Swinson, the Business Minister, but resoundingly endorsed by the party. It will produce a more motivated and productive workforce, and employers will be able to recruit and retain staff from a wider pool of talent. It will also have the benefit of increasing the diversity of the workforce—no bad thing—and, I believe, support more sustainable growth within our economy.

There are many elements of this Bill that I have not been able to touch on, but I am looking forward to the next stage, when we will be able to look in more detail at the proposals in this excellent Bill.

9.15 pm

Baroness Young of Hornsey: My Lords, the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that all our children have the best possible start in their lives as they move towards adulthood. Of course the Government are right to seek to improve the way that we treat our children.

The focus of the Bill is on some of the most vulnerable children in our society, and the Government’s desire to improve the outcomes for looked-after children is particularly welcome. However, while there are praiseworthy elements alongside the laudable sense of purpose underpinning the Bill, a number of measures need interrogation and I look forward to some robust, thoughtful debate as the Bill makes its way through Committee and Report, as has already been indicated in many of today’s speeches. I also think that the sections relating to children in care are perhaps too modest in ambition, in spite of the commitment to establish the virtual head teacher on a statutory basis. I shall return to these points.

The focus of my remarks will be on adoption and looked-after children. I should declare an interest as a patron of the Post-Adoption Centre, although I speak in my personal capacity. The first area that I want to address gives cause for concern to many, including the House of Lords Select Committee on Adoption Legislation, so ably chaired by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss and which was charged with pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill.

Clause 2 seeks to repeal the requirement to give due consideration to racial origins and ethnicity. The Government claim that black, Asian and minority ethnic children wait longer to be adopted because social workers adhere too strictly to the requirement to consider ethnicity in the previous adoption Act. I have looked in vain for something apart from anecdotal evidence and a few high-profile press examples to support this contention but have struggled to find any. Given the vigour with which the Government have defended their position on this matter, I expected agencies in the field to tell me about the queues of people being denied the opportunity to adopt across racial and ethnic lines, but that was not the case. On the contrary, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph,

“a review of delays in the adoption system by Ofsted concluded that there was ‘little evidence’ that this”—

finding a perfect match—

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“was a significant problem ... The study concluded that the main obstacle was not the search for adoptive parents but the complicated legal process of putting children up for adoption in the first place ... ‘There was little evidence of delay caused by an unrealistic search for a “perfect” ethnic match’”.

Last year I hosted a round table organised by the NSPCC with representatives from major adoption and fostering agencies, leading academics with a body of research from the UK and overseas, and adults who had been fostered, adopted, in care and/or were adopters themselves. None could see the merit in getting rid of the need to at least consider race, ethnicity or whatever you want to call it when placing a child for adoption. By the same token, no one suggested that it would be right to say that it was better for a child to languish in care rather than be adopted by parents with a different cultural or ethnic experience. The evidence points to a number of reasons why it takes longer for black, Asian and minority ethnic children to be adopted, a principal reason being that some ethnic groups come into care at an older age than others and are therefore not the desirable babies that many potentially adoptive couples seek.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, argued this point most emphatically. I am sure that she and professionals like me in the field fail to see why the Government refuse even to include ethnicity and race in the welfare checklist, given that these characteristics fit comfortably alongside the other elements of a child’s welfare. Can the Minister give a substantial, evidence-based reason as to why this option has been rejected? Does his department have a view on the extent to which it would be helpful to encourage more people from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds to become adoptive parents and foster carers? I have not heard much on that issue.

Clause 3 is of concern also, as many noble Lords have pointed out from a range of perspectives. Giving the Secretary of State sweeping powers to direct local authorities effectively to outsource adoption services without consultation presents real problems. Of course any local authorities that are failing in their duties with regard to adoption must be held to account, but it is that accountability that would be diminished were these services to be given over in their entirety to the voluntary or private sectors. In the case of the latter, if this is the Government’s ultimate aim—and I hope that the Minister will strenuously deny it—how would this benefit adoption services? I find it hard to imagine how a private sector company would expect to make a profit in this most sensitive of situations, and voluntary organisations have not indicated that they have the will or the capacity to take over from local authorities.

As noble Lords will be aware, adoption is not the end point but the start of a challenging adventure that has ups and downs. Experienced skilled support for all the parties involved is an essential component of the process and can make all the difference to the quality of the outcome. Adopters should be entitled to a comprehensive package of support, provided by the local authority as part of its statutory obligation. Too often, adoptive parents do not know where to go or whom to speak to for the professional advice and support that will help them over the difficult patches;

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often the children who come into care have been traumatised, have attachment difficulties and so on. Similar support should also be available to foster carers, special guardians and family and friends carers.

The recently formed Access to Records campaign group comprises seven organisations working together to achieve better experiences for looked-after children and care leavers. It points out that an estimated 350,000 adults in the UK have spent all or part of their childhood in foster or residential care. Around 4,000 people a year seek out their records, and some of their experiences are quite distressing. I also want to address the issue of access to the records and notes from one’s time in care. Unlike an adopted person, a care leaver has no right of access to information about their past, their siblings or even their parents; they might simply have a restricted amount of information handed to them, as the following example illustrates:

“I had been in care for 15 years and found out I could apply for my records, but all I got were 10 sheets of paper with lots of information tippexed out”.

The redaction of notes is a big point of contention for many care leavers too. The experience across the country is very varied, so the campaign that I referred to earlier is looking to introduce an amendment in Committee to consider whether we can clarify this position and make it easier for people who have left care to access their records in their entirety.

The last issue that I want to address is what the right age is to expect a care leaver to cease accessing support services. This has been raised in a number of different contexts today, and the age of 25 has been cited in a variety of contexts. We, too, think that that should be the age until which care leavers can access support, whether that is through foster carers, if both parties are in agreement, or through other forms of support. At the moment that is not available to all people who leave care. Indeed, those who go to university are eligible to have that kind of support but those who do not are not, and we think that should be levelled out. I also support my noble friend Lord Listowel’s idea of an amendment that would establish something like the Staying Put programme as the norm for children and young people leaving care. I, too, am convinced that such a measure would help to mitigate some of the worst outcomes that care leavers experience.

Although there is much to be commended in the Bill, there is still an awful lot of work to do to ensure that care leavers and looked-after children have outcomes more equal to children who grow up in more conventional family arrangements. There is a huge range of questions that we have to ask, one of which is to ask why this keeps happening. This disparity in outcomes is not a new phenomenon; it is not exclusive to the late 20th or early 21st centuries. Instead, it has dogged us for decades and we do not seem to make any real inroads. How do we deliver really high-quality care for those who need to come into the system? How can we get more black, Asian and minority ethnic foster parents and mentors? How can we stop young vulnerable girls in care in particular being groomed and violently abused while apparently being looked after by the state? These are some of the really pressing questions that need to be addressed with some urgency.

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9.24 pm

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, in this Bill, which has many good things, I wish only to signal that where children with communication difficulties are concerned—I declare an interest as patron of the British Stammering Association and indeed as a long-term practitioner—there is more work to be done.

For instance, there is a risk that the proposed changes to SEN services will end up excluding such children. Most children with speech, language and communication needs do not have statements and so will not be eligible for education, health and care plans. If school action and school action plus are replaced by a single category of SEN, they will lose out.

They may also lose out if a local authority uses the qualification “wholly or mainly” in allocating healthcare that is associated with education or training to duck out of providing it for children with communication needs, as my noble friend Lord Touhig observed. I know that the Government claim that this provision maintains existing case law, but I ask for the Minister’s confirmation that lawyers agree.

There are some admirable attempts to join up government at local level, but they need to be really effective. Joint commissioning arrangements between local authorities and clinical commissioning groups are welcome, but the duty must be strong enough to actually deliver support on the ground. Similarly, local offers should reflect local joint strategic needs assessments and there must be arrangements for them to be monitored. Any why should the inspectorates themselves not be required to co-operate? The duty to co-operate in Clause 31(2) has a big get-out clause in it which we will need to look at again.

Personal budgets may not be appropriate for the kinds of provision that these children need. They risk fragmenting commissioning routes, so a measure of quality assurance would be important.

I remind your Lordships of the crucial importance of ease of communication for our children as they navigate school and the wider world. The report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties last February emphasised the severe adverse implications of communication difficulties for literacy, mental health, behavioural problems and employment. Four out of five young people not in education, employment or training have speech, language or communication problems, as do very many of those excluded from school, as well as so many of those in custody, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, explained in his penetrating speech earlier. Over 1 million children have speech and communication needs not caused by external factors such as having English as a second language.

Not to invest in effective provision produces problems that are costly to solve, as well as distressing for individuals. As my honourable friend John Cruddas said recently, in speaking of social investment:

“Some of the largest returns have been in improving children’s ability to communicate”.

We must ensure that the Bill enables that.

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9.28 pm

Lord Condon: My Lords, I have a grandson who has special educational needs. He is statemented by his local authority and yesterday I was at a review meeting to consider his transition to senior school. My focus today will therefore be on the provisions in the Bill dealing with special educational needs.

I broadly welcome the Bill. It builds well on the Green Paper, Support and Aspiration. I think that it was strengthened by pre-legislative scrutiny and its passage through the other place and, based on the speeches of noble Lords today, I am confident that it will be further improved during its passage through your Lordships’ House.

My concerns prior to the Bill—I have articulated them in your Lordships’ House on other occasions—and the test that I will apply to the Bill fall into two broad categories. First, will the framework provided in the Bill simplify and strengthen the procedures for diagnosis, recognition and support for children with special educational needs and their families? Secondly, will the Bill improve the likelihood of the actual delivery of improved services and support for these children and their families? The Government’s very good young person’s guide to this Bill states:

“We want to put children and young people right at the centre. We want things to work out right for children. We want services to meet children’s needs, not professionals’ needs. We want children to get the help they need without lots of delays. And we want the new law to improve children’s rights in this country”.

If the Bill delivers on these aspirations, it will transform for the better the lives of so many young people and their families.

I particularly welcome Clause 19, which will improve the likelihood of local authorities having more regard to the views of parents, with the intention of achieving the best possible educational and other outcomes. I also broadly support Clauses 36 to 49, which create the education, health and care plans to replace the statementing process, and I am delighted that where appropriate they will last until the age of 25, for the reasons that other noble Lords have articulated

The experience of too many families with children with special educational needs is a constant, debilitating, bewildering and adversarial struggle to get the best for their child. Assessment can be fragmented, disjointed and endlessly repetitive, and the delivery of promised support is often disappointing, under-resourced, uncoordinated and, sadly, non-existent in many cases. These are systemic failures and should not be taken as criticism of the dedicated professionals up and down the country, most of whom do a good job in difficult circumstances. My grandson is in a wonderful primary school, where he receives outstanding love and support and where he is developing very well.

My enthusiastic support for this Bill is tempered to some extent by my real anxiety that implementation of the new education, health and care plans will be jeopardised by the resource constraints on local authorities and others; again, these concerns have been articulated so well by other noble Lords. These resource constraints may well challenge the likely success of the implementation of these new provisions.

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As the Bill passes through all its stages in your Lordships’ House, I will be looking for confirmation that the improved theoretical model of education, health and care plans is reinforced with provisions to ensure the delivery, monitoring and assessment of services in a consistent way, so that the admirable promises made in the young person’s guide to the Bill that I quoted earlier become a reality.

9.33 pm

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the fact of life is that more than half the children born today are born to unmarried parents. Some 90% of these children will not be living with both parents when they are in their teens. Sadly, 42% of marriages end in divorce. No longer do we have a society committed to marriage for life, or even cohabitation for life. Unremarkably, we have a dramatic change in the ethic.

Children have emerged from the role of an integral but subsidiary part of the family to a more dominant role, but subject to extreme health and safety considerations, while many parents are obsessed by self-fulfilment rather than maintaining a commitment to marriage. The influence of role models is very apparent, the power of the media is evident and the part played by social media is still hard to assess. Courts and mediators will reflect society. The people involved are products of society, as are we, the legislators.

Someone who was thoughtful, committed and passionate about future generations was the late Baroness Lucy Faithfull. Whenever I think of children I think of Lucy Faithfull. She was the outstanding director of social services for Oxfordshire. Social work was more than a profession; for Lucy it was a way of life. As a legislator she was a force to be reckoned with and was particularly powerful when debating and framing the Children Act in 1989. She took no prisoners and argued her case cogently and with passion. Lucy died on 13 March 1996. She collapsed in the Prince’s Chamber. It was the day of the Dunblane massacre when 16 five and six year-olds were murdered. Some of us remarked that it was no coincidence—who better to greet these children when they reached Heaven?

I am sure that today there are social workers equally committed to their profession but, sadly, they are never short of receiving criticism or being hounded, scrutinised and carrying the can for decisions made or not made. When I chaired social services for East Sussex I was very conscious of those who had turned a family around and who had enabled a child in care, as they were called then, to join the Royal Ballet School, to go to Oxford University or to go on to some other achievement. However, they, the social workers, could never talk about their professional successes because the young person concerned wanted to be considered an equal by his or her peers; they did not want their past to be flaunted or even known. I have great respect for social workers and I am disappointed that they carry such heavy caseloads and are not always given the support that they need.

Moving from the general to the specific, I am pleased with a great deal of what is in the Bill. However, like my noble friend Lady Hamwee, I think that we should consider carefully the findings of the joint

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research undertaken by the Universities of Oxford and Sussex and possibly consider amending the proposed new Section 1(2A) of the Children Act 1989.

I thank my noble friend Lord Nash for meeting me and the chair of the National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools, Sylvia Lamb, to discuss the future of young people aged 19 to 25 with complex and special needs. I believe that there is a follow-up letter in the post and I look forward to reading it.

I chair the trustees of Chailey Heritage Foundation, a school, registered children’s home and transition service for those who have multiple and very severe complex physical needs. On the same site we have a clinical facility, staffed by the NHS and hugely appreciated by parents. The school is over 100 years old and on the past two inspections Ofsted has designated it as outstanding. Three weeks ago the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Gloucester, our patron, opened our new life skills centre. It is part of Chailey’s transition service for 19 to 25 year-olds with severe and multiple disabilities. It includes residential accommodation and a wide range of day activities.

The transition service is for young people who have left full-time education but are not yet ready to decide where they want to spend the rest of their lives. Until recently, too many of the young people left Chailey for a permanent placement. Most of these placements had few opportunities for continued development and some were heart-breaking in their lack of understanding of the needs of these young adults. Most young people require time to explore life outside school, a time of transition, before they make the fundamental decisions that will govern their future lives. Our young people at Chailey are no exception.

Transition services should be a period in their lives to move from childhood to adulthood and act as a type of social apprenticeship, a period in life that helps them develop as an adult and prepare them for more independent living. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lingfield and the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, that continued learning of this nature is education for these young people and, because they learn slowly, it needs to continue beyond the age of 18. I was interested in what my noble friend said when introducing the Bill, but Clause 36(10) can be interpreted to mean that a young person over the age of 18 no longer needs an education, health and care plan. Section 6 of the draft code of practice also implies this, and mentions that in some circumstances such a plan would not be appropriate. No, my Lords. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patel: these young people still need a plan, including education to help them learn what it means to be an adult. For example, they could take part in adult activities with the support of staff, gaining skills in how to work alongside staff and parents to plan innovative placements for their future. This future could involve them within their own communities.

The role of transition to adulthood should be acknowledged as an educational development. If the right outcomes are identified and provision is made to achieve them, then we can have a lasting impact on that young adult’s well-being and future life. It is not enough to say that local authorities can continue the

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plan after a young person turns 18, as this does not mean that they will actually do so. Will my noble friend consider strengthening Clause 45(3), so that young adults with complex needs can be confident that they will continue to get the support they require?

In conclusion, what so impresses me is the extraordinary commitment of parents. They have clear aspirations for their children, however profoundly disabled. They above all know the challenges faced by these young people. This is our opportunity to make adjustments to the Bill so that society and parents can help these young people have every chance to lead successful and fulfilling lives. I hope that during the passage of the Bill my noble friend will be sympathetic to the amendments that I and other noble Lords have in mind.

9.41 pm

Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, one of the joys of speaking towards the end of a long debate such as this is that most of the points that you wanted to make have been made more eloquently than you are capable of. That is certainly the case in respect of Part 3 of the Bill. As others have done, I welcome the aspirations behind the Bill, and I share some of the concerns that the Bill as drafted does not fully meet those aspirations. In particular, I share the concerns about the 1.4 million children with special educational needs who do not have statements. As school action and school action plus disappear, I am concerned about how those children will be properly provided for.

I share the dismay of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and others, that higher education is strangely excluded. I share the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Ramsbotham, among others, about the exclusion of children in custody. I agreed with many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about further education colleges. In particular, I am perplexed that million of pounds have been spent on 20 pathfinders, to enable them to test out aspects of the funding behind these reforms in local authorities. Little evidence has been provided to date, and they have now been extended until September 2014 in order for sufficient evidence to be gathered and evaluated, and yet obviously that will not be in time to support the passage of this Bill or the development of the code of practice.

That enforces the concern that the Government’s admirable motivation to get on with this may perhaps cause them in part to rush at some of these things without the evidence that we need. I certainly share the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about choice and inclusion. We need to ensure that the parents of all children with special educational needs have a real choice, and that we do not return to the days of some children essentially being parked in provision that is not challenging and not really education, just the minding of those children.

I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions about one area of Part 3, which is the dry subject of data. I understand from those who I have spoken to that we do not actually know on a local authority by local authority basis how many children will be provided for in these plans. I would be interested to know if that

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is the case and whether there is any evidence that could be published over the Summer Recess to show that. In trying to work this out, I looked for an impact assessment for those clauses of the Bill that would have been drafted by the Department for Education, but I could not find one, despite the Cabinet Office guidance that impact assessments are generally required for all UK Government interventions of a regulatory nature that affect the private sector, civil society organisations or public services. This Bill certainly does that, so it seems odd that there is no impact assessment to help us make those judgments.

I am also interested in the data-sharing powers that might be needed for these plans to work. Having read the draft code of practice, I draw the attention of noble Lords to page 42, where it states:

“Before providing a child or young person with the Additional SEN Support, a rigorous assessment of SEN should be undertaken by the institution using all available evidence/data sources, such as attainment and historical data, the child or young person’s development in comparison to their peers, information from parents and, if relevant, advice from external support services”.

I remember painfully taking through the data-sharing powers around raising the education leaving age to 18. If we are now starting to integrate, as we should, care services and health services, I would like to know where the data-sharing powers are to allow that effectively to happen.

I shall address the rest of my comments to Part 6 of the Bill. I shall tell noble Lords a little of the story of a woman called Lucy Herd and her son Jack. In September 2008, Lucy gave birth to Jack, the third of her children. It was a particularly emotional time for her since she had lost five children through miscarriage and regarded Jack as a miracle child. After three days in hospital because Jack had jaundice, he came home and was a remarkably happy, cheerful and loving baby. In August 2010, Lucy was preoccupied in the kitchen, but then noticed that Jack was lying face down in the garden pond. Despite her efforts to resuscitate him, and those of neighbours and eventually the paramedics, unfortunately Jack died. Lucy’s partner, her husband, was working on the other side of the world at the time and needed a good 24 hours to be able to come back to comfort Lucy and receive comfort for his grief at their loss. Obviously, Lucy was also dependent on members of her immediate family, her mother and her siblings.

What Lucy found was that although she was able to take time off to deal with her bereavement, her husband had to return to the other side of the world after only five days because that was the limit of the time off that he was allowed. Her mother, a teacher, was allowed seven days of time off to cope with the bereavement and to provide support, while her siblings were allowed only 24 hours. Lucy discovered that there is no statutory entitlement to bereavement leave when your child dies.

I think that this is something that we should address in Part 6. I have referred Lucy to the CBI and the TUC to discuss this with interested parties and the current indications from the CBI is that it has some sympathy with doing something about this. Perhaps a period of two weeks’ time off and using the rest of the time as parental leave as one would if the child was alive might be an appropriate way forward. Lucy has put a

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petition on the No. 10 website and has had a response from the Government, from which I will read a short passage so that noble Lords know their position:

“Whilst there is no specific right to ‘bereavement leave’, all employees do have a day-one right to ‘time off for dependants’ which allows them to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with unexpected or sudden emergencies, including when a close family member dies. Time off will cover arranging and attending the funeral. Employees who exercise this right are protected against dismissal or victimisation. The right does not include an entitlement to pay. The decision as to whether the employee will be paid is left to the employer’s discretion or to the contract of employment between them”.

I simply ask this question: why do we need to introduce a statutory right to time off in Part 6 for parents, which I welcome, when their children are alive, but not for those parents who go through the unimaginable tragedy of losing a child? That is an anomaly that we need urgently to address. Would the Minister, or one of his colleagues in BIS, be willing, before we go into Committee, to meet Lucy and me to discuss the current government position, perhaps with a representative from the CBI, to see whether we can find a way forward?

Along with every Member of the House who has spoken or is about to speak, I look forward to improving the Bill. There is plenty of work to be done and I look forward to working with the Minister on this, his first Bill, and wish him all the best with it.

9.50 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, when you are the 45th speaker in a debate, there is a strong temptation to just say, “I agree”, and sit down, but I am not going to do that because I want the opportunity to welcome the Bill and to echo my colleagues’ tributes to my honourable friend Sarah Teather, because it is to her that we owe the many good things in it.

As a member of the ad hoc Select Committee that looked carefully into Part 1 and earlier legislation on adoption, I will say only on that part that I agree with the views of my noble friend Lady Hamwee and I know that I will agree with the views of our chairman, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, from whom we are about to hear.

Part 2 is about family justice, and the most controversial part of it is Clause 11, which is about what the court might order in relation to parental involvement when parents split up. Normally, it is in the best interests of the child to be able to make a relationship with both of his parents. However, when there has been domestic violence, it is for the court to decide whether contact with both parents is indeed safe and in the best interests of the child, but it is also for the court to ensure the pre-eminence of the best interests of the child presumption. The child has the right to family life under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the state should facilitate that unless there is danger to the child.

Clause 11(2) mentions a presumption about contact with each parent. There cannot be two presumptions. I am somewhat reassured by the caveats in subsection (3), but I would like assurance from the Minister that the judiciary will be well trained to understand what the Government really mean by that. It is not equal parenting.

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I trust the good judgment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who I think will suggest some amendments to the wording. I hope that the Government will listen to her wise counsel on this matter as the Bill proceeds through your Lordships’ House.

I have several concerns about Part 3. First, I agree with my noble friend Lady Sharp that in the light of the removal of school action and school action plus, it is all the more important that schools are well prepared to identify children’s problems and either provide appropriate help themselves or buy it in. That means, as my noble friend Lord Addington said, a strong SENCO and proper training at both initial teacher training level, wherever that may take place, and in CPD.

I am also concerned about children with visual impairment, who may not have had statements in the past but whose needs were met by school action or school action plus. It is not clear whether there will be a requirement for qualified teachers of the visually impaired to be involved in assessments under the new single category. Perhaps the Minister can tell us.

Secondly, I should like the Bill to be amended to strengthen children and young people’s involvement in decision-making related to their special needs. Like the noble Lord, Lord Condon, I very much welcome Clause 19 setting out the general principles, which was introduced following pre-legislative scrutiny, but the Government’s good intentions are not reflected consistently throughout the Bill’s SEN provisions. In particular, Clauses 32, 36, 38 and 44 appear to exclude younger children from participation in decision-making by providing for the involvement only of parents and of young people over the age of 16. I will be coming back to that matter as the Bill progresses.

Thirdly, my honourable friend Adrian Sanders introduced in another place at Report a new clause to place a duty for school governors to publish and implement a medical conditions policy in order to support the needs of children with health conditions. The Health Conditions in Schools Alliance has collected compelling evidence of the need for that. As my noble friend Lord Storey said, while many schools provide good support, too many do not. The Minister, Edward Timpson, claimed that,

“the Education Act 2002 already places a duty on the governing body of a maintained school to promote the well-being of pupils and … schools are already under a duty through the Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate against pupils with long-term health problems”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 11/6/13; col. 216.]

Despite that, however, it is clear that not all schools take heed of this. He said that guidance on “managing medicines” would be published this year, providing clarification on schools’ responsibilities. However, we need perhaps to put a clear duty in this Bill, because of the extent of the issue. There are 1.1 million children with asthma, 63,400 with epilepsy and 29,000 with diabetes in the UK. When their needs are not properly addressed or understood by their school, these children are unable to reach their academic potential.

Fourthly, despite the Government’s very welcome introduction in another place of a provision that EHCs should be portable, it would seem that they are

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not to be portable into a custodial setting, despite the fact that a majority of young offenders have special educational needs. I agree with my noble friend Lord Storey on that issue.

Fifthly, there is the issue of young carers. My honourable friend Paul Burstow introduced a new clause in another place to ensure that young carers would have the right to an assessment of their needs and a support plan. I agree with many noble Lords who are hoping for progress on that matter as we go through this Bill.

Part 4 introduces childcare agencies for childminders. These may be a good idea if they improve the quality of childminders as well as making life easier for parents. However, I am concerned about two matters. The first is that some of the money that parents pay will be filtered off in profit for these agencies. How will this achieve the Government’s aim of reducing the cost of childcare for parents? Secondly, several noble Lords raised the issue of inspection, and I agree with them about the dangers of not inspecting individual childminders.

Part 6 makes some very welcome improvements to the powers and duties of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England. I have waited many years for this, indeed since the legislation that created the commissioner was first enacted in 2004. I am not surprised that people have been disappointed—as mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles—because the powers, duties and resources given to the commissioner by the Labour Government were poor and inadequate. This Government have changed all that. The proposals in Part 6 adhere closely to the excellent recommendations in the Dunford review. At last our commissioner can take her place among the children’s ombudsmen of Europe. Hooray! However, I am concerned by what I heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, about her worries for the independence of future commissioners and I will watch this space closely. As much as I welcome the new powers, I would like to see a few little areas strengthened on the issue of the commissioner to enable her effectively to promote children’s rights. Then, my Lords, I will be truly happy.

9.58 pm

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I am the very last Back-Bencher to speak today. I hope that I am not the least. I welcome this Bill. I think that many aspects of it are excellent. The Government approach to improving the path to adoption and reducing the time taken in care proceedings and achieving the adoption status for children is excellent. However, inevitably, there must be some tweaking here and there, and there are some issues that require amendments in Committee. Much of what I will say will have been covered already. However, as a former family judge, I feel that on a children’s Bill I should, even at this late stage, set out the points about which I have some concern. I do it therefore without apology.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for giving me the opportunity to discuss some of these issues with him yesterday. I am also extremely grateful to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, who took the trouble to call me in to discuss these issues some

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months ago. That was very nice of him and I much enjoyed our meeting. I also wish him well on his first major Bill.

I will make some brief points on Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill, on adoption, private law and public law cases and children trafficked into this country. I am a co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation. I am also a governor of Coram and have other interests in the register connected with BAAF, NSPCC and so on. The adoption committee, of which I was chairman, supported the Government’s steps to improve the adoption process. However, we raised various issues and I select a few, confident that other members of my committee have already raised the others.

On Clause 1, I am concerned about the provision concerning foster parents leading to adoption, for this reason: it is absolutely crucial that the Department for Education gives guidance on the importance of pre-placement work done by social workers, so that social workers are not seen as placing children with foster parents without having taken care to see whether the parents are capable of taking the children back. I was delighted to hear that families will be consulted first, but social workers must not jump the gun. Social workers need to be aware that they must not breach the human rights of birth parents and children, as has been said, under Article 8 of the convention by not doing sufficient preliminary work before placing children with those fostering with a view to adoption. Early intervention with birth families may make it unnecessary to remove children. I was disturbed to learn that money was being taken from early intervention to support adoption. It seems to me that money is needed for both.

I am also concerned, as many other noble Lords have said they are, about Clause 2. In our adoption committee, we were very concerned about the evidence that we received on the question of ethnicity on the basis that if it is out altogether, social workers may go the other way. We had evidence to that effect, with social workers saying, “Ignore ethnicity—it is no longer there. It has been taken out”. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, so in our report we recommended putting that factor along with others in Section 1(4)(d) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. I hope that the Minister will listen on this point, which has been canvassed across the House already. I also put down the marker that post-adoption support is essential. The Government are going some way with the passport but have not yet gone far enough.

In our adoption report, we raised the issue of children from abroad who are in the process of being adopted by English adopters and are living with them but who have, until the adoption process is completed, no actual legal status with that family. I do not think that this has been dealt with yet. Those prospective adopters need some legal status to deal with the children whom they intend to adopt. There was a possibility for a residence order, but in a later part of the Bill that is being got rid of. I am not sure that the introduction of arrangements in their place would give the prospective

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adopters parental responsibility. The foreign birth family may or may not by then have parental responsibility under our law if the adoption process has taken effect in the overseas country. No one else in this country will have parental responsibility, so it is crucial that the prospective adopters who have children living with them have it in order to deal with schools, health and other such issues. I also put in a plea for the Department for Education to get on to the Home Office to hurry up immigration procedures for children in the process of adoption.

However, my major concern on this Bill, along with others who have already spoken on it, is Clause 11. I hope that the House will forgive me if I dwell on this for a moment as a former judge who tried this sort of case. In the majority of cases where parents separate, they come to a sensible arrangement for the children and the involvement of both parents. In some cases, mediation helps that process but there is a hard core of parents who fight out their failed relationship in the arena of the court over child issues. The relationship has soured and become corrosive. One or both parents become unreasonable and it is difficult to get it through to them that the child’s welfare is the overriding concern of the court and more important than the right that some parents feel they have in the arrangements for the children. Mother and fathers can be utterly unreasonable and vindictive towards the other parent. I have seen it again and again in the cases that I have tried. I take the view that in this highly charged state, parents are the last people who should be making decisions about their children’s relationship with the other parent. Some mothers, for instance, cannot believe that their children love the other parent. How could they, when she hates him?

There is the overriding presumption in the Children Act 1989 that the welfare of children is the paramount consideration. Clause (11)(1) sets up a second presumption, inserted by Clause (11)(2), which is girded around with a degree of protection, if not in the interests of the child. A judge or family magistrate starts none the less with a clash of two potentially opposing presumptions: paramountcy of the child’s welfare and presumption that involvement of the parent will further the child’s welfare. Judges and magistrates may disentangle this, and come to a balanced decision, but this is an area of private family law where both parents will now, in the absence of legal aid, be unrepresented and appearing before the judge or magistrates without lawyers. They will be trying to sort out how to arrange the future of the children in this atmosphere of failure of the relationship and a high degree of tension, and no one other than the court to help them.

Clause 11 is a laudable attempt to involve parents, principally fathers, who might not otherwise be involved with their children. We have to be seriously concerned about a substantial group of children whose fathers have no further, or virtually no further, contact with them after separation from the mother. But the wording of Clause (11)(2), aided by press publicity, which has not always been helpful to the understanding of the intention of Clause 11, has raised unrealistic expectations that in future the parent, usually the father, will be entitled to play a substantial part in the future life of

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the child, regardless of issues about the child’s best interests. Judges and family magistrates will not of course make orders that do not put the child’s welfare first. In this hard core of cases there will then be a serious gap between expectation and the reality of the court decision.

Family academics, particularly from Oxford, Coram, the NSPCC and other groups with real knowledge of what goes on at the coal face, are expressing their major concern about the insertion of a second presumption in child legislation; I share it entirely. I suggest that the word “presume” should be deleted and the words “pay particular regard to” inserted. This would highlight the importance of the involvement of both parents without the legal problem of competing presumptions and, I hope, lower the degree of false expectations by parents of the degree of involvement that can be achieved. It might also be a good idea to have a definition of the word “involvement” to identify direct or indirect involvement and not to be taken to mean any specific quantity of a child’s time.

There is an issue about getting rid of the words “residence” and “contact”, a brave effort by the Government to cut out words that carry baggage, as did “custody” and “access”, but one that I fear is likely to be ineffective. I also fear that the punters who want to fight out their failed relationship through child proceedings will not be fooled. However, there are issues relating to international relations, for example the Hague convention on child abduction and possibly the Brussels II Regulation, and the need for a parent from whose care a child has been abducted to be able to prove a right of custody in order to invoke the support of the child abduction convention. There are also other people who are not parents who may need a form of residence order and the usefulness of parental responsibility for a child in their care. The word “arrangements” may need to be modified and more carefully defined.

The funding of experts is a major issue that I will not go into at this hour. I have some concerns about the need for a greater degree of flexibility in the 26-weeks care proceedings if social workers do not get their act together quickly. I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield.

My last point concerns an area that is not in the Bill—the protection of children trafficked into this country. These children almost certainly do not have a parent in this country, or if their parent is here, he or she will have trafficked the child. The local authority of the area in which child or young person is identified as trafficked has a duty to accommodate such a young person under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Accommodation does not include sharing parental responsibility with the birth parents. Parental responsibility is given to a local authority only after the grant of an interim care order. I do not suggest that every local authority notified that a trafficked child needs accommodation should seek an interim care order because that would be time-consuming and expensive. I suggest instead that when a child or young person is identified by the national referral mechanism as trafficked, the local authority required to accommodate the child under Section 20 should also automatically be granted

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parental responsibility for that child while the child is accommodated by it. It would cost nothing, but it would mean that someone would take genuine responsibility for that child in this country. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, pointed out how many trafficked children go missing. Local authorities need to realise that accommodated children need much more care than they currently believe they need.

There are many other issues about which I have some concern. They will arise in Committee, and I foresee a lively time. I apologise for taking so long, but this is an area about which I feel very strongly and have some knowledge.

10.11 pm

Lord Lucas: I am very grateful to the House for allowing me to speak in the gap. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is now neither last nor least. I declare my interests. My family is peppered with special educational needs, and I publish information and advice about them.

I share with the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, and many others the conviction that higher education should be in this Bill. I want to see those who are older than 18 given a right to involve their parents in special educational needs negotiations with institutions. There are many institutions that currently refuse to involve parents in such discussions. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, that choice seems to be threatened by the wording in this Bill, and I, too, want to see how the wording of admissions policy regulations works with this Bill. I want to understand how this Bill affects co-responsibility where children are educated at both a mainstream school and a special school, particularly as regards academies.

I want to be sure that education, health and care plans are owned by somebody, that there is an effective right of appeal for parents who are denied one and that the Government will provide examples of good practice and will not just let these things be developed independently by local authorities. I want to make sure that the military have effective means of portability for education, health and care plans, given the way they are moved around, and I want to be sure that this Bill works for home education. There was considerable progress on this in the Commons, but I do not believe that we have yet got to the end on it.

Most of all, I want to pay attention to the needs of those children who are currently school action or school action plus, who are the great majority of children affected by this Bill. The fact is that labels help. They help the kid, they help the school and, most of all, they help the parents. I have seen this time and time again. Everybody is better after somebody has been diagnosed, and to remove labels is a dangerous thing to do within the context of schools. It is taking us back to the invisibility of these conditions, which was not a good time.

We have problems in the overdiagnosis of school action and school action plus, which is exacerbated by a number of perverse incentives that encourage schools to inflate the statistics either because they wish to give reasons why children were not performing so well or

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because there were financial incentives involved. We have got to the point where either the pattern of SEN and birth date is the first documented proof of astrology, or there really is a serious problem in the way we are diagnosing school action and school action plus kids. What we want to do is not to abolish it but to get it right. One area that I particularly want to pay attention to is exam concessions. Either we are not giving exam concessions to the kids who deserve them, or we are giving exam concessions to kids who do not. One way or another, we have to explore a way of setting that right.

10.15 pm

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this wide-ranging debate today. It bodes well for the energy and expertise that will be brought to bear as we scrutinise the Bill in its future stages.

As my noble friend Lady Hughes has made clear, we support reform and the opportunity to improve standards for children in care, children with special educational needs and family justice. The Every Child Matters framework introduced by the previous Government remains an essential guiding principle and helped to transform the lives of many young people, but more can and needs to be done. The Bill provides a welcome opportunity to push forward and demand more of all the agencies impacting on the lives of children.

There is a great deal in the Bill that we support, but there are also glaring omissions and several fundamental differences on policy, which we will explore in detail. Our starting, middle and end point is the need to put the interests of the child first. We have the most concerns where we believe that the Bill veers away from these principles. That message has echoed around the Chamber today. I also agree with my noble friends Lady Morris and Lord Judd that the issue is not just about the wording on the face of the Bill; the dedication of staff, their willingness to collaborate across boundaries and the cultural climate in which they operate all have an important impact on the delivery of services and change.

In that context, what changes would we like to see in the Bill? First, I think we all agree that it is unacceptable that it takes on average two and a half years to be placed for adoption. This has to change, and we are pleased with the progress already being made by those involved to cut the unnecessary delays. We have already seen that by concerted and co-ordinated action, local authorities and courts have been able to act voluntarily to speed up the process without legislation.

Returning to our original theme, we are concerned that the new policy emphasis on the speed of adoption will not always be in the best interests of the child, nor is it a realistic option for many children, particularly older ones, which is why we feel that other forms of permanency including kinship care and long-term fostering should have equal weight and be the first consideration where options are being weighed up. I was very pleased to hear the Minister confirm that this was a concern that he was prepared to address.

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We also see a danger that early fostering for adoption can create unrealistic expectations among potential adopters and children, with greater stress and pain should the placement not last. This is why it is important that children should not be placed for adoption unless a formal decision about their future has been made. It is also important that their continued connection and relationship with their siblings post-adoption is planned at the outset of proceedings. Importantly, we also share the concerns of the Lords Select Committee on Adoption Legislation, particularly about the removal of the need to consider ethnicity in adoption. These concerns have been echoed by a number of noble Lords today. The answer surely has to be that it should be included in the statutory welfare checklist so that it becomes one of several factors considered, but not the overriding one.

The Bill gives far-reaching powers to the Secretary of State to outsource local authority adoption services. We share the concerns that have been raised today by a number of noble Lords about how these powers might be used. We will be seeking to define, qualify and add a process of parliamentary scrutiny for those decisions before we are prepared to see those recommendations going forward.

With regard to family courts, again we are concerned that the dogmatic time limits might jeopardise the interests of the child. Of course we share the desire to speed up care proceedings, but we are concerned that the rigid application of 26 weeks might result in complex issues in a child’s background being overlooked.

More fundamentally, we are concerned at the emphasis on shared parenting being introduced as a presumption in separation or divorce, and this point has been well made by a number of other noble Lords. Obviously it is desirable to maintain the involvement of both parents but this should not be at the expense of a child’s welfare, and there is a danger that this paramount principle will be compromised in the new formulation. We look forward to exploring and improving this wording as we progress in the Bill.

We will also be seeking to ensure that continued access to siblings remains a central consideration of any care order, and we hope that noble Lords will support us on this. We will be seeking measures to better support young and vulnerable witnesses in court to ensure that their voice can be heard without adding to their trauma.

On the issue of special educational needs, we will again ensure that the interests of the child are at the heart of our proposals. We have heard many powerful speeches today, and many examples of families struggling to access support. It should not be the case that those with the sharpest elbows or an encyclopaedic knowledge of the system get the best provision for their child, but all too often this has been the case. We welcome the Government’s aspiration to transform the service.

We have heard some divergent views today about whether or not this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for reform; I suppose that the jury is out on that. Either way, we intend to ensure that the wording in the Bill is unambiguous and comprehensive so that the rights make sense and everybody can understand them. That is why we are concerned that much of the detail, such as the new code of practice, will be set out in

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secondary legislation and subject to the negative resolution procedure, which by any standards is not a sufficient level of parliamentary scrutiny.

Noble Lords have raised a range of important issues on special educational needs this afternoon and it is not possible to comment on them all. However, I will give noble Lords a flavour of some of the issues that we will be addressing in Committee. Services should be streamlined and integrated, which is why we will argue for the definition of SEN to include all children with disabilities, whether or not they are judged to have an immediate educational need. We will aim to ensure that local authorities have a duty to secure social care provision within the overall duty to provide education, health and care plans. We will want to explore what can replace the more graduated approach of school action and school action plus provision, which has provided substantial care in the past for so many young people.

We will argue for a single point of appeal for parents if services are deemed to be inadequate or failing, a case well made by my noble friend Lord Touhig. On the local offer, we will require Local authorities to be specific about services available and will expect them to meet a minimum standard. We also support the case, made passionately by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, that the barriers that prevent disabled children from choosing mainstream education should be removed.

While we welcome the concept of personal budgets, we share the concern raised by several noble Lords that the pathfinder pilots are simply in too early a stage for us to draw substantial conclusions. Again, we would like to learn far more about the results of those projects before we specify too much detail in the ongoing legislation.

While we welcome the increase in age provision to 25, we will address the loopholes that might allow some young people to fall through the net, such as those in young offender institutions—an issue which that already been flagged up by the Minister—those moving into higher education, and young adults with complex needs transitioning into adult services, a problem described eloquently by my noble friend Lord Patel of Bradford.

On childminder agencies and early years provision, we remain sceptical of the Government’s commitment. Despite the known long-term advantages of early years investment, we have seen a 40% cut in the early intervention grant compared to 2010 and a massively unpopular attempt to increase child/staff nursery and childminder ratios. This is why we will be tabling amendments to protect the current ratios; although the Government have rolled back on that proposal, we do not trust them not to come back with similarly ill thought-through proposals that could damage the interests of young people. We will also want to allow further consultation before childminder agencies can be introduced so that the full implications can be considered and the issue of improved inspection addressed. My noble friend Lady Massey made a powerful case for the importance of PSHE. We will use this opportunity to push for the inclusion of PSHE education in all key stages of the national curriculum, to provide a better understanding of relationships and improved child safety in future.

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We welcome the Government’s plan to improve parental leave and extend requests for flexible working. My noble friend Lord Stevenson rightly made the case that shared parenting is normally, and obviously, to the benefit of children. We will want to explore the application of these changes to ensure that they can be universally taken up, and my noble friend Lady Lister made a strong case for further scrutiny on that. We see those changes as a further step forward, building on the family-friendly achievements of the previous Labour Government. However, we also agree with my noble friend Lady Gibson that it is important to ensure that existing employment rights are not diluted in this process. We will also want to explore what further help can be given to young carers. That is an important issue raised by noble Lords around the Chamber, and we look forward to debating the details of the new rights for young carers in the Bill.

The Bill covers a wide mandate and several departments. It is inevitable that some noble Lords will want to concentrate on specific sections of the Bill but, whatever the focus, there remains a common thread running through the clauses. As I said at the outset, our yardstick will be what is in the best interests of the child and how we can achieve better outcomes for all young people. In listening to the debate today, it is clear that there is an emerging consensus about the improvements that we would like to see in the Bill and on which we can focus in Committee. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that there will be genuine dialogue and, unlike his colleagues in the Commons, a genuine welcome for amendments that meet our shared objectives. On this basis, we look forward to working on a cross-party basis and with the ministerial team to improve the Bill.

10.27 pm

Lord Nash: My Lords, the debate this evening has been constructive and heartfelt, and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her comments about working forward on a cross-party basis. Many noble Lords have spoken based on extensive experience and expertise, and it would be a privilege to discuss this Bill further in this manner when we move to Committee stage. The Bill is detailed and wide-ranging, and this evening’s debate has clearly shown that the principle that the need to improve children’s services and that the needs of all children, especially the most vulnerable, is central to all we do, is something on which we all agree.

As noble Lords have kindly acknowledged, this is my first piece of legislation as a Minister. I will do my best to respond to the key points made tonight but, in view of the number of speeches, I undertake to write to all noble Lords who have spoken this evening to ensure that I address all the points made in full. I again recognise the work of the Adoption Legislation Committee, particularly its chairman, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for the authoritative and considered reports that helped to shape these legislative proposals on adoption. Many noble Lords will have built on the committee’s scrutiny in their comments this evening.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes, Lady Howarth and Lady Gibson, and my noble friends Lady Hamwee, Lady Benjamin and Lord Eccles have all raised important

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points. Everyone involved in the debate today agrees that all children deserve stable, loving homes to thrive. Adoption is the right option for some children; for others, returning home to live with their parents, wider family or friends in long-term foster or residential care will be the right option for them. The Government have a significant programme of reform under way in all these areas, which aims to ensure that children are able to benefit as early as possible from a permanent home that meets their needs, whichever option is right for them. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for highlighting the good progress that we are making in this area. Where adoption is the right option, however, we are uncompromising in our efforts to reduce damaging delay. Noble Lords have expressed heartfelt views about the best way of doing this, and I am sure that we will return to the issues of ethnicity and adopter recruitment, as well as many other issues, as the Bill progresses. I am pleased that noble Lords have welcomed the Government’s commitment to clarifying the position with regard to kinship care and fostering for adoption, and I look forward to sharing our progress on that in Committee.

I turn briefly to family justice and particularly to the question of parental involvement, as addressed by Clause 11 and in this debate by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Howarth, and my noble friends Lady Perry, Lady Tyler, Lady Hamwee and Lady Benjamin. As has been recognised in the debate, this issue is a balance that it is essential to get right. The Government are clear that the provision in Clause 11 does not change the principle that the welfare of the child must be the court’s paramount consideration. We believe that it is important to make clear, especially to parents, how court decisions are made. Wherever possible, parents should work together to resolve disputes about their children’s care. This clause will encourage them to do so by making clear that unless there is a good reason, children should have a relationship with both their parents. Of course, however, it will not achieve this by itself. That is why we are putting in place a wider package of measures to help parents, including better information, advice and support outside the court system. DfE and MoJ officials will be working closely with the NSPCC and others to achieve this.

I turn to Part 3 on SEN. It is clear that noble Lords have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in SEN and disability issues which is long-standing in many cases. I will cover a number of key points raised by noble Lords and write more fully. Almost every noble Lord has spoken on this issue and they will forgive me if I do not pause to list them all. The noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Howarth, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, emphasised how achieving the ambitions of Part 3 will depend on a change in culture and approach and in ways of working on the ground. That is a crucial point to recognise. The Bill provides a framework for these changes to happen. We will build on the work of the local pathfinders to take the measures forward sensibly and carefully from September 2014 onwards.

I believe that opinion across the House is behind the principle of the SEN provisions. However, questions have been asked about their scope. It is important to

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be clear that the purpose of the new approach set out in Part 3 is to reform and bring much-needed improvement to the support for children and young people with special educational needs. This rationale was first set out in the Green Paper and has been followed through to the Bill. However, the reforms are enabling. Local areas can apply the principles behind them to a wider group of children, including to those who are disabled but do not have SEN. Some pathfinder areas are already taking such an approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Patel, spoke passionately about supporting children with health needs, specifically children with cancer. I would like to reassure him that the Minister for Children and Families recently met with CLIC Sargent, where he gave a commitment to see what more we can do through the SEN code of practice and other means to provide the additional support that we all want to see whereby no child, particularly a child with cancer, misses out on the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Rix, Lord Low and Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, while welcoming the new duty on health bodies, have raised the issue of a specific legal duty on local authorities to deliver the social care provision in EHC plans. Existing duties in Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 and, in the case of disabled children, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, already provide important protections, and we expect authorities to provide care services to meet assessed needs. However, prioritising children with EHC plans as a matter of course over all other children in need of social care would risk other groups being marginalised—for example, children suffering neglect.

My noble friend Lord Addington and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, raised the very important issue of access to apprenticeships. Young people with SEN should have access to the same opportunities as their peers. That is why we amended this legislation following pre-legislative scrutiny to enable young people on apprenticeships to receive support through an EHC plan. Of course, it is also essential that apprenticeships are stretching and prepare individuals for sustained employment. Work is currently under way to reform the apprenticeship programme, following an independent review by Doug Richard. The recent consultation included questions about English and maths requirements and accessibility. We will be publishing an implementation plan for apprenticeship reform in the autumn.

On dyslexia, my noble friends Lord Storey and Lord Addington mentioned the need for teachers to be sufficiently trained in supporting children with SEN. Teachers’ initial training must enable them to meet national standards. This includes their ability to adapt their teaching to meet individual needs. My department has worked with the National College for Teaching and Leadership to develop specialist resources for ITT and new advanced-level online training resources in dyslexia and other types of SEN to support teachers in developing their skills in these important areas. I am also pleased to say that currently 39 special schools are designated teaching schools that are investing their particular skills and specialisms in developing the next generation of teachers.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friends Lord Storey and Lord Addington spoke with expertise and passion about young people with SEN in the youth justice system. I agree with noble Lords that all young offenders, including those with SEN, need to receive the right support and access to education, both in custody and when they return to their communities. I have listened to the debate this evening and echo the undertaking given by the Minister for Children and Families to identify further improvements to the support that this vulnerable group of young people receive while they are in custody that will complement the transformational reform of education in custody being undertaken by the MoJ.

My noble friend Lord Storey raised the issue of children with health conditions in schools. His concerns were echoed passionately by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, the noble Baronesses, Lady Gibson and Lady Young, and my noble friend Lord Addington. There are already strong legal duties on schools to support children with long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, including in the Education Act 2002 and the Equality Act 2010. Schools must make reasonable adjustments to their practices, procedures and policies to ensure that they are not putting those with long-term health problems at a substantial disadvantage. However, simply giving schools additional legal duties would not tackle the root cause of poor practice. The DfE will issue revised guidance to school leaders, local authorities, staff and governing bodies later this year to replace the Managing Medicines in Schools and Early Years Settings guidance, which dates back to 2005.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, spoke with extensive knowledge and passion about the choice for parents of disabled children when it comes to placing their child in school. The vast majority of children with SEN have always been taught in mainstream schools. Our policy on inclusion recognises that. The Bill will change the general principle that children with SEN should be taught in mainstream settings and will extend it to young people in further education. I look forward to discussing her specific concerns about disabled children without SEN further.

The Bill also improves choice for parents and young people by giving those with EHC plans the right to ask for a place at any mainstream school, FE college, academy or free school, non-maintained special school, independent specialist college or independent special school organised to make provision for children with SEN that is approved by the Secretary of State under Clause 41. The local authority will be obliged to name the preferred school or college unless it would not be suitable for the child’s age, ability, aptitude or SEN needs, not compatible with the efficient education of others or an inefficient use of resources.

As recognised by my noble friend Lord Lingfield and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, successful local implementation planning will be key to the smooth introduction of reforms. Feedback suggests that general awareness of reforms is already high, including in non-pathfinder areas, with many areas already starting to establish or planning to establish new systems and processes. We have established the pathfinder champion

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programme and are funding the Council for Disabled Children and other voluntary and community sector organisations to ensure that local areas have access to a comprehensive package of support. We know that a number of non-pathfinder areas are already preparing to implement the reforms and working with pathfinder champions, and we are currently looking at what additional support might be needed. However, I know the noble Lord, Lord Rix, speaks with extensive expertise in this area, and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the questions he has raised with him and with other noble Lords who would be interested in more detail ahead of Committee.

Tonight’s debate has universally welcomed the fact that the new system will be from birth to age 25. However, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, my noble friends Lord Lingfield and Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked specific questions on the post-16 aspect of the new system, which I will seek to address now. We all recognise that some young people with special educational needs require more time to complete education beyond the age of 18. The Bill rightly enables them to do so, but we want to avoid the expectation that every young person with SEN will have an entitlement to education up to the age of 25 regardless of whether they are ready to make, or have already made, a successful transition into adult life.

I assure noble Lords that no young person who needs an EHC plan to complete or consolidate their learning can be denied one just because they are over 18. I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rix, specifically that supporting young people into employment is very much one of our ambitions. Chapter 6 of the indicative code of practice makes it clear that EHC plans should be focused on achieving outcomes and helping children and young people to make a positive transition to adulthood, including paid employment. We have also developed supported internships, which can be delivered by all colleges from this September.

My noble friends Lord Storey and Lady Sharp, among others, asked about the inclusion of higher education in the new SEN framework. Securing a place at university is a positive outcome for any young person. The higher education sector has its own very successful system of support in the form of the disabled student’s allowance and we should not seek to duplicate or replace it. However, we will look to improve the transition to university in the regulations and the SEN code of practice.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Storey and the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, asked about our proposals for childminder agencies. This proposal is a small but significant part of the Government’s childcare reforms, which must secure higher-quality parental choice and affordability. We expect that Ofsted inspections will focus on ensuring that agencies are adept at assessing the quality of childminding and putting in place arrangements to drive up quality, ensuring that agencies provide proper support, training and guidance to their childminders and that parents can have confidence in their quality. Ofsted will bring forward specific proposals for inspection arrangements in due course and consult on them.

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I am pleased that the House has welcomed the provisions in Part 5 on the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. I am grateful for the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey, Lady Gibson and Lady Lister, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and my noble friends Lord Eccles and Lord McColl. I look forward to further discussions about how the commissioner’s new powers will operate in practice. Meanwhile, I refer the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, to the note that my honourable friend the Minister for Children provided to the Standing Committee in the other place, which explains how the appointment process will work in line with the office of public appointments principles and code of practice.

I welcome the comments made by my noble friend Lady Perry and echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, who rightly pointed out the importance of the measures in the Bill for women. The introduction of shared parental leave and the extension of the right to request flexible working will help to balance the roles and responsibilities in relation to childcare across the genders. I agree with my noble friend Lady Perry about the importance of these measures for fathers. This is about achieving real cultural change, which undoubtedly will take time. Families need and demand the changes in the Bill that will enable this cultural change to happen. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, rightly said, the Modern Workplaces consultation included consideration of a “daddy quota”—leave and pay reserved exclusively for fathers—although economic restraints mean that it is the wrong time to take this forward. I believe that the additional flexibility that shared parental leave will give families will provide far more choice and opportunities for fathers to take on more childcare responsibilities and to play a full role in their children’s lives.

As my honourable friend the Minister for Children has said, we are considering how the legislation for young carers might be changed so that rights and

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responsibilities are clearer to young carers and practitioners alike. We will also look at how we can ensure that children’s legislation works with adults’ legislation to support the linking of assessments, as set out in the Care Bill, to enable whole-family approaches. The Minister for Children and Families and the Minister for Care and Support will soon jointly meet the National Young Carers Coalition to discuss the key principles for taking this work forward over the summer, as well as how we can most effectively involve the NYCC during this period. I know that noble Lords will be keenly interested in our progress in this area, and we will be pleased to meet those who are interested to discuss it further.

I shall also address in writing the important issues raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Leicester and the Bishop of Truro, my noble friend Lord McColl, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others concerning issues affecting care leavers and others in the care system, as well as support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and care leavers. A number of noble Lords also raised the important issue of trafficked children, a particularly vulnerable group. I will respond to the specific points raised in writing following today’s debate. I will certainly agree to meet the noble Lord, Lord Knight, to discuss bereavement leave, and I will take the noble Baroness, Lady Young, up on her invitation to meet the families that she mentioned.

The later stages of this Bill, Committee in particular, will provide an opportunity to consider the detailed issues that noble Lords have raised today. I look forward to those debates and to engaging with noble Lords outside the House to clarify and discuss the Bill’s provisions. Again, I offer my thanks to all noble Lords who have spoken today. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.

House adjourned at 10.45 pm.