I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The clause provides a further element of child protection that we consider entirely relevant to a children Bill. It relates to children who are accommodated in health care establishments for lengthy periods and who for various reasons appear to have had no contact with parents or people with parental responsibilities for them for three months or more.
I believe that the chances of children finding themselves in such a situation are remote. The links between hospitals and social workers are strong. In many instances, hospitals have dedicated social workers.
If, however, there is any chance of a child being abandoned or neglected by his or her parents within the health care system, it is right that we should take steps to deal with the matter. That we have done with the clause, which will ensure that if a child has not had contact with parents or those with parental responsibilities for three months, the health board, nursing home or a person operating a private hospital will be required to inform the social work department, which will take steps to enable it to determine whether the child's welfare is adequately safeguarded and promoted. The social work department will also consider the extent to which it should exercise any of its functions under the Act, with respect to the child.
I commend the new clause to the House as a small but useful further safeguard for children.
A couple of questions also arise out of new clause 9, which I hope the Minister will be able to answer at once. First, the White Paper promised to get children out of long-stay hospital. Can the Minister tell us today when that happy day might arise? Secondly, we welcome the fact that the Minister has, in subsection (4) of the new clause, taken up the point that was made in Committee—that parental contact should not only be a matter of telephoning and sending letters to the child but should be physical presence—but the way in which it is worded means that such a contact could literally be for just a minute, with an infrequent visiting time and long times between visits. That hardly seems an adequate way to respond to the criticism of the Bill. Will he have a further think about subsection (4) before the Bill finally comes to a conclusion?
I welcome the new clause, but I would like to ask the Minister—if I can catch his ear for about 10 seconds—just a couple of questions. If the child is incapacitated in a hospital, would it be the hospital social worker who would take on responsibility? I know that we are talking about only a few cases, but if a child is in a private home, would he or she simply be assigned, or consigned, to the local social work area team? I think that the period of three months is reasonable enough, but what about the child whose single parent is incapacitated, who stays in a hospital? Where the parent is unable for entirely legitimate reasons to visit the child in hospital, what safeguards are given to her?
The Minister is racing through these new clauses so quickly. I think that it is only right and proper that we ask him such questions. With reference to the questions that I have asked him, it would have been helpful if he and his officials had provided us with notes on the new clauses and amendments.
Also, what of the mother who is incapacitated and cannot visit her child in hospital? What safeguards does she have in those circumstances in relation to the specified period of three months?
Like most hon. Members, from both sides of the House, I welcome the measures that have been introduced in the new clause. During the Minister's explanation of the new clause, he emphasised the need for particular care when a child is suffering—presumably in a long-term institution—from bad health or is shown to be socially deprived, in the sense of a lack of parents. My one worry is why it has taken us so long to fill that gap, to plug that loophole. What was the position up until now? Was it possible under similar legislation for a child thus placed to have gone for a considerable period in ill health and also be deprived of the social support of parents or guardians?
I should reply in relation to the White Paper, as it addresses the points that have been expressed. The requirement for the removal of a child who does not need to be in a long-stay hospital has, I understand, now been met.
I am quite happy to look at the terms of subsection (4). It is perfectly well drafted, but I will examine it and give considered reflection to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe).
Hospital social workers would be involved. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) raised the issue of a mother who was incapacitated; I believe, from my experience as a Member of Parliament, that social work departments respond positively and sensibly whenever they can in such circumstances.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.