With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 121 to 123.
Lords amendment 124 and amendments (a), (b) and (c) thereto.
Lords amendment 150.
I am very pleased to speak to this package of Government amendments aimed at protecting young people from tobacco and nicotine addiction. I will also speak to the amendment on smoking in cars carrying children, which was agreed in another place.
I am sure that I need not remind hon. Members that tobacco use is a leading preventable cause of death, accounting for nearly 80,000 premature deaths per year in England alone and being a contributory factor in many other aspects of poor health. Taking action to prevent young people from taking up smoking in the first place is vital in our efforts to reduce rates of smoking.
When I first became the Minister responsible for public health I was made very aware of just how critical the teenage years are in smoking addiction, and that came up repeatedly in a Backbench Business Committee debate at the time. Almost two-thirds of smokers take up smoking regularly before they are 18—that is, they were addicted before becoming adults. That is a shocking reality, which many hon. Members have spoken about in this Chamber.
Stopping smoking can be extremely difficult because the addiction is so powerful. While two-thirds of smokers say that they want to quit, only a small fraction succeed in doing so. That is why we must stop young people from taking up smoking in the first place. We want to see our young people enter an adulthood that is healthy and long-lived, but half of all long-term smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.
The amendments we have introduced seek to do the following: introduce regulation-making powers to enable the Government to bring in standardised tobacco packaging, if such a decision is made; introduce regulation-making powers to prohibit the sale of nicotine products to people under the age of 18; and to create a new offence of the proxy purchasing of tobacco. Also returning to this House from another place is an amendment which would provide the Government with regulation-making powers on smoking in cars carrying children, which is for hon. Members to consider.
Will the Minister clarify the Government’s position? Is she saying that the Government are agreeing with the Lords amendment to ban smoking in vehicles because that is what she wants to see achieved, or is she saying that the Government are agreeing with the Lords amendment because it is a passive one and even if passed by this House she intends to ignore it?
Actually it is neither of those two things. Technical amendments are needed to the wording of what was passed in another place and the Government’s view was that the House needed the chance to consider something that was legally workable. I will cover that in a bit more detail later.
Does the Minister not agree that this is actually premature and that we should await the outcome of the Sir Cyril Chantler review? That is an independent review and we should not try to shape his opinion in advance of it. In a famous statement in this House on
I will discuss that point in more detail in a moment. We have had these discussions before. The Government are seeking regulation-making powers, but we will await the outcome of the independent Chantler review. Ministers will take all other factors into consideration at that time before making a decision.
I want to set out the key elements of the Government amendments. Let me start with standardised tobacco packaging. As I told the House on
We have therefore introduced provisions that would give Ministers the power to make regulations to standardise the packaging of tobacco products, should a decision be taken by the Government to do so. Ministers would be able to regulate internal and external packaging and any other associated materials included with a tobacco product, including the cellophane or other outer wrapper of a cigarette pack. The powers will extend to other forms of tobacco such as hand-rolling tobacco.
The Minister has touched on two important points. One involves the packaging rights of companies. Is there anything in the legislation that would enable compensation to be granted to those companies if the
Government chose to remove their trademarks and branding rights? I understand that, under European law, billions of pounds of compensation could be payable in those circumstances. Secondly, will the Minister clarify whether the Chantler review—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is making an important point, but I am sure that he will wish to be brief, as many people wish to speak in the debate.
As I said in my earlier statement to the House, the Chantler review is looking specifically at the public health aspects of these matters. Sir Cyril is perfectly free to look at whatever he wants, but those are his terms of reference. Other issues will be considered in the round when Ministers come to make their decisions. Those issues were of course fully explored during the consultation that took place before the review.
The amendment sets out the elements of tobacco packaging that could be regulated—for example, the use of colour, branding or logos, the materials used and the texture, size and shape of the packaging. It also sets out the aspects of the tobacco product itself that could be regulated.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but that is probably a debate for another time.
The Government would not necessarily use all the powers I have just described, and if we proceed, we will need to decide which aspects would be included in any regulations. However, it is prudent to take a comprehensive approach now, so that we are prepared for the future.
My hon. Friend will know that every packet of cigarettes carries the bold message “Smoking kills”. However, that does not influence the purchasing habits of smokers. There is also no evidence yet that the appearance of a cigarette packet will deter anyone from smoking.
This is a matter for the Chantler review; it is one of the things we have asked Sir Cyril to look at. I am not going to second guess the outcome of his review.
Will the Minister clarify a point that she has just made? I understood, perhaps wrongly, that she said that the Government were getting these powers into their armoury in case they needed to be used. Are the Government putting these measures into legislation for potential future use, rather than because there is evidence of a need for them now?
This question came up in the other place, and we have always made it clear that we are seeking the power to make regulations in the event that the Government should decide to proceed with standardised packaging, having received the Chantler review and considered everything in the round. Making the decision on those powers now would enable us to proceed apace at that point. I hope that that clarifies the matter for my hon. Friend.
As I was saying, the Government would not necessarily use all the powers I have just described, and if we proceed, we will need to decide which aspects would be included in any regulations. The House would have the chance to comment further on the matter, through the affirmative resolution procedure, were the Government to decide to go ahead. It is prudent to take a comprehensive approach now, however, so that we can be prepared for the future.
Having had a background in multinational brand management, I know why multinationals invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in brand graphics and mnemonics to exaggerate sales. Does the Minister not agree that that proves that blank or standardised packaging would have an impact on sales?
That is for the review to comment on. I hope that hon. Members will understand that I am not trying to be unhelpful in not responding in detail to their interventions. We have put in place a process that we think will be the most robust way of making policy in this area, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not commenting in detail on his point. I am sure that the review is looking in detail at all these aspects; they were certainly explored during the consultation.
That is something we have put on record a number of times, and I can confirm it again tonight. We have always said that Ministers would proceed having received the review and given consideration to all the wider aspects of the policy. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.
The requirements would apply only to the retail packaging of tobacco products, which means the packaging that will be, or is intended to be, used when the product is sold to the public. Manufacturers, distributors and retailers would still be able to use branding such as logos and colours on packaging, provided that they were used only within the tobacco trade—for example, on boxes used for stock management in a warehouse that are not seen by the public.
These provisions would apply on a UK-wide basis, as the necessary legislative consent motions have been secured. As I have already said, I will not pre-empt the outcome of Sir Cyril’s review or of the decision-making process, but these provisions mean that we would be able to act without delay if we were to decide to go ahead. I want to emphasise that Sir Cyril will not be making the decision for Ministers on whether to proceed with standardised packaging. That decision will be made by Ministers in the light of the wide range of relevant considerations.
My hon. Friend Philip Davies has tabled three amendments on standardised packaging. The first five clauses of the packaging provisions set out the test that Ministers will need to consider before bringing forward regulations. The regulation-making powers in the Bill will allow Ministers to take a reasonable and balanced view of the available evidence regarding the affect that regulations as a whole would have on the health and welfare of children. This approach to ministerial decision making is absolutely appropriate and these clauses are in keeping with the approach that Minsters would ordinarily take in decision-making processes of this kind.
My hon. Friend’s three amendments seek to remove the ability of Ministers to take a reasonable and balanced view of the evidence, and we feel that they would put unnecessary and unwarranted constraints on Ministers’ consideration of how any proposed regulations would impact on children’s health or welfare. Constraining Ministers’ decision making in that way would probably have the effect of stopping the use of the powers altogether. For that reason, I do not support my hon. Friend’s amendments. I also remind the House that the regulations would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
I should like to move on to the age of sale for nicotine products. We have introduced provisions for a regulation-making power to prohibit the sale of nicotine products such as e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18. Public health experts, many retailers—particularly small retailers—and the electronic cigarette industry support the introduction of an age of sale restriction for e-cigarettes. At present, no such general legal restriction is in place, and we want to correct this situation.
As e-cigarettes are novel products, we have very little evidence on the impact of children using them. For example, we do not know what impact their use might have on the developing lungs of young people. Public health experts have expressed concern to me that nicotine products could act as a gateway into smoking tobacco, as well as undermining efforts to reshape social norms around tobacco use. Young people can rapidly develop nicotine dependence, and nicotine products deliver nicotine and cause addiction. Attempts were made last year to include an age-of-sale provision applicable throughout the EU in the revised European tobacco products directive, but that was not achieved. We therefore want to take this opportunity to put such a provision in place domestically through this Bill.
The penalty for committing the offence of selling a nicotine product to a person under 18 would be a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale—that is currently £2,500, the same penalty as applies in respect of tobacco. The Government believe it is wrong as a matter of principle to sell nicotine products to children. We have a responsibility to protect children from addiction, which is why this provision is important. I welcome the support that the e-cigarette industry and retailers have expressed for it.
That is a good point, to which I will return, if my right hon. Friend will allow me. I will consider that and we will have an answer for him.
My understanding is that if a nicotine-containing product is licensed for medicinal use—licensed as a quit-smoking tool—it can already be prescribed by doctors. Some e-cigarette manufacturers have already indicated that in order to make a medicinal claim about their product’s ability to help people quit, they will seek to use the medicines regulations. If such a product becomes licensed as a medicine, it will be able to be prescribed as a smoking cessation aid in the same way that other nicotine-containing products can be. I hope that answer is helpful.
On proxy purchasing, we believe we must take action to address both the supply of and demand for tobacco products among young people if we are to reduce the uptake of smoking. Many retailers over the years have felt a little left alone to bear the burden of enforcement in this area, so I welcome both the work of responsible retailers to ensure that tobacco is not sold to people under the age of 18, and the support provided to them by retailer bodies such as the Association of Convenience Stores. There is support in both Houses for creating a proxy purchase offence for tobacco, and the Government have carefully reflected on the arguments that have been made. Retailers feel it is unfair that it is an offence for retailers to sell cigarettes to children and young people, yet there is no offence of proxy purchasing on behalf of children and young people. Retailers also feel it is inconsistent to have a proxy purchase offence for alcohol but not for tobacco. The Government want to continue to tackle the access that young people have to tobacco, which is why we have proposed this amendment.
The provisions would make it an offence for an adult to buy, or attempt to buy, tobacco for someone under the age of 18. That will be enforced by local authority trading standards officers, who will be able to issue a fixed penalty notice if they believe an offence has been committed, rather than taking prosecution action in the first instance. Local authorities will not be required to carry out regular programmes of enforcement in the way they have to on age of sale of tobacco, so we do not believe that this offence will bring into place any significant new regulatory burdens. Local authorities know their communities better than anyone and will know how best to address their public health priorities. We have devolved wide public health responsibilities and ring-fenced budgets to local authorities, and this amendment allows them to take targeted enforcement action on proxy purchasing where they consider it is needed.
The arguments relating to effective enforcement have been well rehearsed in previous debates. Experience in Scotland suggests that we should not to expect a vast number of convictions, and we should not measure the success of this new offence by the number of prosecutions or fixed penalties issued. I expect, however, that the new offence will generate worthwhile deterrent effects. As I said, in a new public health landscape where more powers are devolved to directors of public health there may be opportunities to explore work where there is a particular local problem.
Finally, I will address the issue of smoking in private vehicles carrying children. In another place an amendment was agreed to enable the Government to make regulations to make it
“an offence for any person who drives a private vehicle to fail to prevent smoking in the vehicle when a child or children are present”.
The amendment we are debating today was drawn up by the Government, with the support of the peers who tabled the initial amendment, to deliver the intention of the amendment in a legally workable way. We have a responsibility to be sure that any amendment that could make its way on to the statute book should work in practice. The technical amendment was agreed on Third Reading in another place.
My hon. Friend says that she wants this to be workable. If a 17-year-old was driving a car and smoking at the same time, but nobody else was in the car, would they be guilty of an offence?
We have been discussing the issue earlier today, but we will look in more detail at that sort of detail when the House has voted on the principle of this and we have the view of both Houses. Today, the House is examining the principle, not detailed regulations, which would need to be brought forward and which would be subject to the affirmative resolution.
Order. I think we have got the message. The hon. Gentleman has had two interventions. We are going very well, so let us not challenge the Minister too much so early on.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. Clearly there will be a lively debate about this provision, and I wish to draw my remarks to a conclusion soon—
I am just responding to another intervention. Let me deal with that one before I take another. Clearly there will be a debate about this provision. The Government have sought to reflect the views expressed in another place by introducing an amendment that is technically workable. There will be a debate on it, we will see what the view of the House is and we will take our steer on the principle of the issue having heard the views of both Houses.
My hon. Friend anticipates some of my next remarks, and I agree wholeheartedly with what he says.
The amendment would amend existing smoke-free legislation in the Health Act 2006 to make it clear that the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers have the powers to make regulations to provide for a private vehicle to be smoke-free when a person under the age of 18 is present. During the passage of the 2006 Act, Ministers at the time said they did not want to use the powers in that legislation to make private vehicles smoke-free. This amendment, if enacted by Parliament, would make it clear that regulations could be made, if the Government so decided, to prohibit smoking in private vehicles carrying children.
My hon. Friend described this measure as “workable”, but I wonder how she envisages it being enforced. Are we going to have smoking police weaving in and out of the traffic, looking in car windows? There must be a serious answer—how could this be enforced?
Enforcement has been the subject of much of the debate in both Houses over a number of years, and clearly the detail of that would be looked at in regulation, if the House is minded to give the Government a steer on the principle of this. So that is not a matter for today’s debate, but I am sure it will be—[Interruption.] It is not for me to comment on the detail of it, but I am sure it will be explored during the debate that follows my speech.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates the debate to come, during which the Government will listen carefully to the range of views expressed by Members on both sides of the House.
When the House decided to ban smoking in pubs and clubs, we were told exactly the same thing—that that would not be enforceable—but it has proved to be perfectly enforceable.
I want to make a bit of progress because I sense that a lively debate will follow my speech, so I want to leave time for that.
The Government—and all Members—are clear that children should not be exposed to second-hand smoke, which can be particularly harmful to young children, and we know that young people often have little choice about being in places where they are exposed to smoke. Nevertheless, there are obviously many ways of trying to achieve that aim, which takes me on to the point about education raised by my hon. Friend Simon Kirby.
We need smokers to protect children not only in the family car, but in any enclosed environment, including the home. Many argue that legislation is the answer, and we will debate that today, but social marketing campaigns to help smokers and parents to understand the risks of second-hand smoke and strongly to encourage voluntary behaviour change are also vital. We would all like to think that the vast majority of parents would not knowingly risk the health of their children. In the event that legislation is introduced to stop smoking in cars carrying children, we should measure its success by not the number of enforcement actions, but by the reduction in exposure to second-hand smoke.
As I have said, the Government will listen carefully to what Parliament has to say about the important principle of whether we should have the power to legislate to prevent smoking in cars when children are present. We will then consider what needs to happen next, which is why, if hon. Members will forgive me, I am not able to talk in great detail about some of the points that they have raised—they are questions for the next stage, once the will of Parliament has been expressed. However, in any event, I have asked Public Health England to continue its work on behaviour change in this area, including through social marketing campaigns. I have asked it to carry out targeted work with local authorities and public health directors in places where we know that there are problems. When Parliament’s will is known and we can assess the maximum impact that can be achieved through education, we will consider putting in place wider public information campaigns.
Arguments about effective enforcement were well rehearsed during the passage of this Bill and the consideration of private Member’s Bills on this matter, including that promoted by Alex Cunningham. I look forward to hearing the debate on smoking in cars with children present and to finding out the will of the House on the principle of the Lords amendment. I also hope that the House will support our proposals on other aspects of tobacco control: the regulation-making powers on standardised packaging; and measures on the age of sale for electronic cigarettes and the proxy purchasing of tobacco.
Today the House has the opportunity to vote for a number of measures that will protect children, help to transform attitudes and improve our nation’s public health. I am proud to speak in favour of all the amendments in the group, with the exception of amendments (a) to (c) to Lords amendment 124, and I hope that hon. Members from all parties will support the Lords amendments in the Lobby.
It is worth remembering that when the Bill left the House, it did not contain any of the tobacco measures before us today. Those provisions are a credit to those in the other place who successfully argued for them, for which I commend them. The package of measures was passed with a great deal of agreement in the other place, so I hope that we can preserve that consensus in this House.
While I shall focus my remarks chiefly on smoking in cars carrying children, let me first speak to the other measures in the group. I welcome Lords amendment 124, which deals with the standardised packaging of tobacco products. It must be said that the Government have taken a rather long and winding route to get to here, with a few sharp turns along the way. As we heard from the Minister, the Lords amendment is only an enabling provision, because while it gives Ministers the power to introduce standardised packaging, we have no 100% assurance that that will happen. It is no secret that the Opposition would prefer more immediate action, but it is good that we finally see legislation in black and white. Labour Members sincerely hope that, once Sir Cyril has reported, Ministers will do the right thing and use the power. Will the Minister update us on when Sir Cyril will report? Will she guarantee that if he does recommend standardised packaging for tobacco products, secondary legislation will be brought forward before the general election?
I shall keep my intervention brief because many hon. Members wish to speak and we do not have much time. The Minister and the hon. Lady have talked about smoking in cars, but Lords amendment 125 refers to smoking in a “private vehicle”, which means that it will cover any vehicle, including motorised homes. We need to be absolutely clear that any vehicle will be affected, not just cars.
I shall come on to talk about measures on vehicles which were introduced in the 2006 Act. Lords amendment 125 refers specifically to private vehicles.
I also welcome Lords amendments 122 and 123, which deal with nicotine-containing products. I agree with the Minister that it is sensible to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s. E-cigarettes can help smokers who are trying to quit, but they should not be available to children, especially when there are so many question marks about the long-term health effects of nicotine and when concern has been expressed that e-cigs might act as gateway products that could lead some young people to take up tobacco smoking.
I am especially pleased to support Lords amendment 121, on proxy purchasing, which will prevent adults from buying cigarettes on behalf of children. Labour proposed that policy by tabling amendments in the other place last year. It is already illegal to buy alcohol on behalf of under-age children, so it does not make sense that the same offence does not apply to tobacco products given that, if they are used as directed, they kill half of all lifetime smokers. I am glad that the Government now agree with us, but I hope that the Minister will be able to share with hon. Members the Government’s rationale for introducing a maximum fine of £2,500, given that the equivalent penalty for the alcohol offence is £5,000.
Let me turn to Lords amendment 125 and the question of protecting children from adults smoking in cars. I pay tribute to everyone who has campaigned for such a measure, especially the British Lung Foundation and my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham. I also applaud my noble Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who tabled the original amendment. Since that amendment was successfully passed, the Government have laid out how that Labour proposal could be written into law. In the final analysis, the decision before the House comes down to a simple question: if we know beyond doubt that passive smoking in an enclosed space can do serious harm to a person’s health and that hundreds of thousands of children are being subjected to passive smoking in a car every single week, and if we know from our experience of similar laws passed in this country and others that legislation can have a major impact by changing behaviour and improving public health, should we act and do something, or stand by and do nothing? We say that we cannot afford not to act.
By that same token, does the hon. Lady concede that we should criminalise pregnant women who smoke, on the basis that their child is in an even more confined space than a car?
We are considering a specific provision, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to bring forward further measures, I am sure that the House would wish to debate them. We are talking about children who do not have a choice when travelling in a car.
We all know the dangers of passive smoking, but the reality is that its worst consequences are inflicted predominantly on the very youngest in our society. Children are especially vulnerable to the dangers because they have smaller lungs and faster breathing rates than adults.
While it is easy for opponents to make a mockery of the suggestion —no doubt we will hear a great deal more of that this evening—has not the House of Commons a responsibility to do everything possible to protect children from the effects of smoking? If the proposal can work, it is at least worth a try.
Order. We are up against time and a lot of Members want to speak, so I would be grateful if we could move on as quickly as possible.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He raises a point that I am seeking to make in my contribution: we have an opportunity to do something, so I hope that Members will support the Lords amendment in the Lobby tonight.
Bronchitis, asthma, meningitis, glue ear, the common cold and reduced lung function are just some of the many respiratory illnesses that can be suffered by children as a result of passive smoking.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will talk later about the toxicity of smoke in an enclosed vehicle, because many studies have shown that children are susceptible to passive smoke in the back of a car in a way that they are not in a building or in the home.
Each year around 300,000 GP appointments are attended as a direct result of children suffering from illnesses linked to passive smoking, 10,000 have to be admitted to hospital and, according to a 2010 report by the Royal College of Physicians, roughly 40 families lose infants to sudden cot deaths. If the health and tragic human costs were not justification enough, it is estimated that treating children for the effects of passive smoking costs our NHS some £23 million every single year.
I am old enough to remember when it used to be okay to smoke on underground trains and on planes. Does my hon. Friend agree that society has moved on and that this proposal is just part of that?
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. I will mention some of the comments that children have made about that and outline why young people feel so strongly about this important measure.
A significant proportion of the effects of passive smoking felt by children are linked to passive smoking in a car, not least because—this relates to the intervention made by Mrs Main—tobacco smoke in a small, enclosed car can create levels of pollution that are up to 35 times greater than the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. A single cigarette in a car can create concentrations of smoke up to 11 times greater than those in a smoky pub of old.
We are not talking about a small number of cases. Many people have contacted me in recent days, some of them suffering from many of the conditions I have mentioned, including asthma, to say that they wish a ban had been introduced when they were children. Other people have said in recent weeks, “Surely no adult smokes in a car with children.” Unfortunately, according to the British Lung Foundation, nearly half a million children are exposed to potentially toxic levels of smoke in cars every single week. That number is based on children aged between 11 and 15. If we take babies, infants and primary school children into account as well, the number is likely to be even higher. According to a study by SmokeFree Sports in Liverpool, the area I represent, around a quarter of nine and 10-year-olds reported being exposed to smoking in cars.
That brings to the crux of my argument about why the proposal is justified. This is about children, who often do not have a choice about how they travel and cannot speak out. In 2010, a third of children surveyed said that they were too frightened or embarrassed to ask an adult not to smoke with them in the car. If we want to protect future generations from the dangers of smoking, we need a comprehensive approach.
I agree with the Minister when she says that we need better education and that we have to improve public awareness. Adults and parents have a duty to act responsibly, but we know from experience that when education is accompanied by legislation, it can help bring about profound changes in behaviour. That is why we already have laws on what people can and cannot do in cars, from not using mobile phones at the wheel to compulsory use of car seats for children under the age of five. It is why our existing smoke-free legislation already makes it illegal to smoke in the workplace or in public vehicles. The proposal to protect children from smoking in cars would build on that precedent.
I am not going to take any more interventions, because many Members have prepared speeches and wish to contribute to the debate.
The proposal has the overwhelming support of royal colleges, health experts and leading authorities on public health from across our country. In the past week alone, 700 doctors have written to the British Medical Journal in support of a ban on smoking in cars with children. YouGov polls have shown that the measure enjoys the support of up to 80% of the public. It also has the support of the Liverpool Schools’ Parliament, which voted for such a ban unanimously. Many colleagues who have visited schools in recent days have encountered similar enthusiasm from young people.
To those who say that this law would be unenforceable, unworkable or a dreadful infringement of civil liberty, let me offer this thought: 38 years ago this month this House debated a law that would make a certain behaviour in a car illegal, and Government Members were granted a free vote. There was general agreement about health and safety, but Members raised concerns about whether it would be enforceable or a step too far. One Member said that it was a mark of the fact that
“as a society we are becoming over-governed and over-regulated.”—[Hansard, 1 March 1976; Vol. 906, c. 1006.]
Despite that, the proposal passed that night with a convincing majority and eventually became law. More than 30 years on, no one is arguing that we should repeal the law that made it compulsory to wear a seat belt. In the same way, few people would argue that we should bring back smoking in enclosed public spaces or on the London underground. In the meantime, the proportion of motorists wearing a seat belt has risen from around 25% to over 90%. It shows just how powerful the effect can be when Parliament unites and sends a signal. We have such an opportunity before us today. This is a matter of child protection, not adult choice.
Members across the House will be familiar with the words of the great liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill. He prized liberty above all else, but even he accepted that a civilized society should exert influence over an individual in order to prevent harm to others. This is a simple and straightforward measure that would make a world of difference to hundreds of thousands of children across our country, reducing the misery inflicted by passive smoking, saving millions of pounds for our NHS and protecting children who do not have a choice and do not have a voice, and who in 20 years’ time, I am sure, will wonder how it was ever allowed in the first place. I sincerely hope that Members on both sides of the House will support the measure today.
I have no quibble at all with Luciana Berger, who represents the smug, patronising excesses of new Labour. They think that the only reason they came into Parliament was to ban everybody else from doing all the things that they happen not to like. What perturbs me is that Conservative Ministers appear not to have grasped the concept, even though they claim to be Conservatives, that we can disapprove of something without banning it. This is just another in the long line of triumphs for the nanny state.
I will not give way because I want to rattle through what I have to say in order to give other Members an opportunity to speak. I believe that parents are much better placed to decide what is best for their children than the state is. If we want to encourage parents to take responsibility for their children, we have to give them that responsibility. We will never get parents to do that if the Government say, “Don’t worry about taking responsibility for your children, because we will make all the relevant decisions for you. You don’t have to worry about anything.” That is not something we should be encouraging.
The Conservative party used to believe in the rights of private property, and that people could do as they pleased in their own private property. Their private vehicle is their own private property. If people wish to smoke in a car with children, that is a decision for them to take. As Conservatives, we should not interfere with that.
Members have talked about small and confined places and about restricting the proposal to private vehicles, so why not caravans? I know that Labour Members are not going to ask their friends in the Gypsy community to stop smoking in caravans, so we will never have the prospect of that happening. What is the difference between a caravan and a small car? What is the difference between a small, confined flat and an open-top car? Why is it worse for people to smoke in an open-top car than in a confined flat or a caravan? Why is one much more of a danger to health than the other? This in no way reflects the fact that most car journeys are very short. Why do Labour Members think it is an absolute outrage and terribly dangerous for somebody’s child if they smoke in a two-minute car journey but absolutely fine for them to smoke for hour after hour in a caravan that is, in many cases, just as much of a confined space? The whole thing is absolute nonsense.
We all know where this is going to end up. The people at Action on Smoking and Health, who appear to be the only people the Department of Health listens to, are not going to hand over their company car keys when this measure gets passed tonight—they will be campaigning for the next one, which is of course to get smoking banned in everybody’s homes as well. Once we have agreed to the principle of banning smoking in people’s private cars, how on earth can we logically say that there is a great difference regarding people’s homes? Of course, we cannot. We all know that this will end up in people’s homes and caravans, and all the rest of it.
I have said I am not going to give way. The hon. Gentleman can listen for once.
Moreover, this is totally and utterly unenforceable. What on earth are we doing saying to the police, whose resources are already stretched, that all of a sudden this should be a new priority for them to undertake? Have they got nothing better to do than go up as close as they can to a moving car to see whether there happens to be a small child in the back seat? Of course, this is not just about small children but all children. How on earth does the driver prove that the person in the back of the car is over 18 rather than under 18? What happens when the driver throws the cigarette away and the police have to try to prove whether they were smoking when they were pulled over? The whole thing is completely unenforceable. It is gesture politics of the worst kind, with Ministers and shadow Ministers trying to flex their health zealotry at all these health organisations and saying, “We’re tougher on these matters than the others.”
Standardised packaging—it is not plain packaging, as some people say—is also nonsense. In many cases, the standardised packaging is more colourful than the existing packaging, so this measure will not do anything for the people who say that all the colourful packaging encourages people to smoke. It is already the case that cigarettes cannot be displayed in large shops. What on earth is the point of having plain packaging for products that are already behind a counter and cannot even be seen? Again, the whole thing is complete nonsense.
All these arguments are arguments for banning smoking altogether. If people had the courage of their convictions and said, “We should ban smoking altogether”, I would at least have some respect for them, but they dare not say that that is what they want to do, even though we know it is their real agenda. While cigarettes are a legal product, brands should be free to use their own branding on the packs. Standardised packaging would simply be a triumph of the nanny state that would presumably soon be followed by plain packaging for alcohol, sweets, crisps, and all the foods that supposedly lead to obesity. Once we have gone down this road for one thing, why would we not have plain packaging for everything? We know, particularly given the current Ministers and shadow Ministers, that that is what it would quickly lead to.
“may contribute at any time to reducing the risk of harm to…the health or welfare of” children—I repeat, “may” contribute. This gives the Secretary of State the authority to make a decision on a whim just because he happens to think that it might make a difference. My first amendment would change “may” to “will” so that he would need to have some evidence for making a change rather than just doing it on a whim.
The second amendment relates to regulations. Under Lords amendment 124, the Government are saying that they can make lots of provisions and as long as some of them are capable of having a positive effect, that is fine. They can propose 10 ridiculous things and two sensible ones, and the regulations allow them to do it as long as some of them are sensible. My amendment says that “each” provision that they want to bring in should be capable of making a difference, not just the odd one or two in a whole series.
The Minister said that it would be a constraint on the Minister’s power to accept my amendments. Well, I make no apology for trying to constrain the Minister’s power. That is what the House of Commons is all about—trying to make sure that sensible decisions are taken based on evidence, not just on the latest whim of the nanny state brigade whom she has listened to. We are supposedly here to try to defend the freedoms of people in this country. This Government want to trample over every single one of those freedoms. It makes me wonder what is the difference between having Labour or this Government in charge. I expect no better from Labour, but I did expect an awful lot better from a supposedly Conservative-led Government.
Listening to this debate, I could have heard the same things said in 2006 when the House came to a decision on smoking in public places. That is public health legislation which the Prime Minister says is good legislation, although he did not vote for it at the time. I hope that Members will bear that in mind.
I hope that Members will also bear in mind, as we always must when considering such legislation, that currently in the UK over 100,000 people a year die prematurely from smoking tobacco. I support the amendment, which will, I hope, further restrict the use of tobacco not just by young people but, in turn, by adults. As the Minister said, two thirds of people who start smoking are young when they do so, and it is addictive.
One of my points relates to what the Minister said about e-cigarettes not being sold to people under the age of 18. Some people argue that e-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco use, but the organisation that I have worked with on this over many years—Action on Smoking and Health, which Philip Davies clearly admires—says that there is no firm evidence for that at this stage; it is doing another survey this year. The important thing is that over 2 million people are using e-cigarettes, some of them so that they smoke less tobacco and some so that they smoke no tobacco. I agree with the Minister that we should view them as a medicinal product—as part of the family of nicotine replacement therapies. That should be our approach in stopping these awful deaths from smoking. VAT on nicotine replacement therapy products is currently 5%. If e-cigarettes were also licensed and charged at the same rate, that would benefit everybody.
I support what the Minister said about proxy purchasing. This has not yet been addressed and it should have been. Alcohol and tobacco are harmful, depending on how they are used, although alcohol is not as bad as tobacco.
We have debated standardised packaging many times in the House and heard the arguments about printers being affected, and so on. The hon. Member for Shipley said that standardised packages are very complicated, and of course they are. I hope that we will have better safeguards to stop people engaging in contraband activities. There is no way that this measure will do anything other than stop people advertising on cigarette packets the products that cause all these premature deaths.
I support the Government and the Opposition on banning smoking in cars with children. Enforcement is always an issue, and we accept that. When I first started driving, people had to have seat belts in cars but did not have to wear them, and only one person in four did so. When the law was changed, 90% of people started wearing them practically overnight. This is about changing habits. We could not have a worse situation than somebody in a confined space like a car smoking cigarettes when children are there.
Everybody said that the ban on smoking in public places would never be enforced. I was on the Health Committee when we had that debate and we went to Dublin to look at what had happened in Ireland. A guy there tried to get publicity by saying, “I’m going to be smoking in this pub tonight. Will you come down and get me?” However, there were very few problems with enforcement and the same is true of us now. We have not seen all the details, but, as far as I am concerned, the provision is a further step towards protecting young people and future generations from premature death as a result of ill health, and we should support that.
My concern about the Lords amendment is that we are in danger of criminalising otherwise very loving parents. We should guard against that. It would be appalling if people who have been good parents in every other way found themselves being criminalised as a result of smoking in a car when their children were present.
I hear the argument about seat belts and it is perfectly and entirely reasonable for the Government to set the terms of their use on the road. If the Government decide that someone who wants to drive on a road has to wear a seat belt, that is highly reasonable. I suggest that, if the Government really are determined to press ahead with banning smoking in cars, that is exactly what they should do: they should ban the consumption of alcohol in cars by any person of any age and ban smoking in cars by any person of any age. That would be a much more honest approach, because, as I have said, if we go down this road we will be criminalising hundreds of thousands of parents. Will a repeat offender—someone who has been penalised three or four times—have their children taken into care because they are deemed to be an abusive parent?
There is an enormous degree of hypocrisy in this House. I am pleased to say that I am a teetotal non-smoker. There are many people in this place who want to ban smoking because they think it is not done by very nice people, but they are much more relaxed about alcohol because of their own habits. If Members are genuinely concerned about the welfare of children, they need to realise that alcohol is the problem, not tobacco. Hundreds of thousands of children have their lives blighted by alcoholic parents and the problems associated with alcohol, yet we never talk about that in this House, because some Members think, “We, as nice people, drink.” I am extremely concerned about the direction of travel.
My final point—I know that others want to speak—is that we will drive another wedge between the police and those they are policing if we implement this provision. It is nonsense. We will expect the police to intervene and that will further widen the gap between them and those they are policing. That should be avoided and we should be very careful about widening that gap.
Like a number of Members, I am deeply concerned that this provision means that Parliament will slowly but surely become a farce. If Parliament wants to start legislating on issues for reasons of good public relations, this provision is a good idea. However, if we peel it back and look at the evidence, we will see that it is not essential.
We should take time to reflect on the evidence in favour of the Lords amendments. On legislating to prevent people from smoking in cars when children are present, let us be clear that the law, under rule 148 of The Highway Code, currently prevents a driver from smoking in any vehicle. He or she should not smoke in any vehicle when driving, so Lords amendment 125 is about the behaviour of passengers and not necessarily that of the driver. That will make it even more difficult for the enforcer—the police officer—to determine the actions and age of those smoking in a vehicle. We should be in the business of making good, sound and solid legislation, and I do not believe that this provision has been properly thought out. It should be taken back to the drawing board and we should consider who the passenger is and who the provision will affect.
The issue of enforcement is utterly critical, because the police are already not properly resourced to do the job they are currently asked to do in combating real criminals. If we set up another criminal class in the community, we will have to ask the police to go after them. Some police officers will take great joy in going after a soft-touch conviction, but that is missing the point and we have to recognise that the police would not have sufficient resources to tackle the issue.
The crux of the matter is: how many people actually engage in smoking in a vehicle when there is a child present? All we have heard from Members on both Front Benches is a guesstimate, not facts. When New Zealand carried out a similar action, it found that 0.13% of people smoked in a vehicle with a child present. We are asking this nation to legislate on something that is an incredibly minor problem.
I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s point about rule 148 of The Highway Code. It is, in fact, only advisory with regard to avoiding distractions such as smoking and playing loud music in vehicles. It is not mandatory in the sense the hon. Gentleman might have been suggesting.
I was not suggesting that it was mandatory, but it does say that people should not do it. Rule 148 is very clear that people should not do a crossword, read a map, eat a sandwich or smoke while driving.
That takes us back to the crux of the matter. A person who lights up and smokes in front of a child—I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept this—is a prat, in my view, and we as a House should not be legislating on that, but educating. What we should really be engaging in is educating people. We do not require legislation to educate people not to be prats and to be sensible.
The number of people involved is miniscule, so is it right that this House is taking time, money and effort to legislate on such a minor problem? I do not believe it is.
The hon. Gentleman says that the number of people smoking in cars with children present is miniscule, but he has produced no evidence to back that up in relation to the UK. If the number is so miniscule, why is the provision so disproportionate and excessive and how would it make enforcement impossible in the way he suggests?
Let me take one of the facts raised by Labour tonight. According to tobacco consumption rates in the United Kingdom, 22% of people smoke in the Liverpool district, but according to the statistic put in front of us tonight, 25% of all children are subject to being in front of smokers. The number of people smoking is, therefore, higher than the Government statistics show. We need more clarity on the stats being put about by Members on both sides of the House. Labour and Government Front Benchers should wait, as they said they would in November, for the outcome of the Cyril Chantler independent review. If we wait for the gathering of evidence that we can all accept, we will be in a much stronger position to make the decision we are making tonight.
I am also concerned about the plain packaging measures, which will decimate an industry. There is not sufficient evidence to show that they will do what everyone wants them to do, which is to stop people smoking. A pound store I visited sells boxes for people to put their fags in. It is even possible to get ones that say “Vote Labour” or “Vote Conservative” on them. Believe you me, Mr Deputy Speaker: whenever cigarettes are sold in the future under this provision, these boxes will be given out freely by certain companies because they will take away the one warning that we do know is important, which is that smoking kills. Tonight we are putting in place an opportunity for people to cover cigarettes with no warning whatsoever.
The biggest problem that this country faces on tobacco is the illicit trade: 25% of all cigarettes smoked in the United Kingdom tonight will have been smuggled by criminals. We as a House should do something, on a united basis, to wipe out such criminal empires, instead of making it easy for them by giving them plain cigarette packages that are simpler to print, smuggle and get into the hands of children. That should be our real cause and health concern.
I rise to support Lords amendment 125 for the very simple reason that children have no choice about getting into a car. Every day, up and down this country, children are told to get into a car by their parents or guardians; they have no choice. I think that we should operate on the basis of the “Do no harm” principle. The facts are clear: 165,000 incidents of childhood disease are caused every year by passive smoking. Not all car journeys are short: a close family member of mine was made to get into a car and to travel many hours to go on holiday while a pipe was smoked in the car. Despite protests, that pipe continued to be smoked.
On enforcement, many laws are not properly enforced—like all hon. Members, I want full enforcement—but is anyone saying that we should abandon the law against driving while holding a mobile to one’s ear because it is not always properly enforced? I have written to my police force to ask how many convictions they have had for people holding a phone to their ear.
Yes, in a perfect world we would change this situation through education, and of course we should refrain from banning things unless we have to, but the fact is that too many children—an estimated 185,000 every day—have to put up with it. Against their will—they have no choice—they are told to get into a small metal unit. We are here to speak up for those who have no voice, which is why I am proud to support the measure tonight.
“I would ban smoking in cars where children are present. I would do that for the protection of children. I believe in protecting children. I would see it as a child welfare issue.”
Those were precisely my feelings when I introduced the Smoking in Private Vehicles Bill under the ten-minute rule exactly 964 days ago. I did so after a briefing from the British Lung Foundation, with which I have been proud to work ever since. My thoughts have not changed in the two and a half years since, and I am delighted that the day has come when hon. Members have the opportunity for a decisive vote to make life healthier for half a million children. Although I share the sentiment and could hardly have put it better myself, the words I started with are not mine; they date from February this year and are those of the then public health Minister, Anna Soubry.
In Committee in the other place, an amendment was tabled and supported by all political parties, with eight peers speaking in favour of the ban. Such is the cross-party nature of the measure. This will be the fourth time that Members of this House have asked for a definitive vote on the issue. After my ten-minute rule Bill failed to get a Second Reading, the noble Lord Ribeiro’s private Member’s Bill won support in the other place but failed to make progress in the Commons. In this Chamber, we tried to amend this Bill, but we failed again. Now, after sustained pressure from a cross-party group of Back Benchers and Lords, four measures are proposed in the Bill—including powers to bring in standardised packaging of cigarettes and to prevent smoking in cars with children present—and I welcome them all.
It is not just parliamentarians who support such a ban—quite the opposite. The changes are backed by many professional bodies and research groups. I have been delighted to work closely with other organisations, as well as the British Lung Foundation. The list is too long to name every person and organisation, but it includes Cancer Research UK, Action on Smoking and Health, the British Medical Association, the British Heart Foundation and Fresh, our own campaigning organisation that has done so much in north-east England. We must not forget the royal colleges and the 700 health professionals, who have already been mentioned.
Facts, figures and statistics in abundance have highlighted the appalling dangers of passive smoking, particularly to children and young people, and specifically in relation to smoking in vehicles. A plethora of studies have returned the same results: smoking in a vehicle significantly increases children’s exposure to harmful toxins and particulates. Numerous surveys and opinion polls have consistently shown that the public support such recommendations. I have no doubt that my fellow Members will draw attention to them as the debate progresses.
I want to focus on the arguments about enforcement and intrusion. It is important to remember that the police already have a number of duties with regard to private vehicles, and to recognise that the additional enforcement costs of a measure to outlaw smoking when children are present are minimal.
I will not.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the non-wearing of seatbelts, which is a tricky misdemeanour to spot if ever there was one. It needs an eagle eye, but the police routinely monitor drivers and passengers alike to ensure compliance with the law. The introduction of legislation in 2006 to make the use of appropriate child restraints mandatory for children under the age of 12 were also considered very complex, and similar concerns were raised at the time. However, implementation went ahead and has been successfully enforced.
To argue that it would be too difficult and burdensome for officers to spot the act of smoking in a car, or to identify whether a child is being carried at the same time, is therefore no excuse. Indeed, I argue that such actions are markedly easier to recognise than gauging the height of a seated child to ascertain whether correct restraints are used. To suggest that officers would be unable to identify such instances is to underestimate their competence. I take much comfort from knowing that when educational campaigns on seatbelts accompanied the legislation, seatbelt use shot up from 25% to 91%, and from knowing that Department of Health figures indicate that there was 98% compliance from the moment the smoke-free legislation was introduced. I hope that the instances of such rules being flouted would be few and far between as a result of Britons’ law-abiding nature. I remain confident that, as with compliance on seatbelts, such regulations would become largely self-enforcing. Let us not forget that it is the role of the police to enforce the law.
Unlike most adults, children lack the freedom to decide when and how they travel, and do not know how harmful second-hand smoke is. Other hon. Members have already covered that point, so I will not repeat it.
There are international precedents for action: South Africa, Mauritius and Bahrain have all outlawed smoking in cars with a child present, as have seven of the eight states or territories of Australia, nine—I understand it is soon to become 10—of the 13 states in Canada and six of the 50 states in the United States. One published study from Canada has documented a positive impact on reducing second-hand smoke exposure in the relatively short term after implementation. Positively, it did not find any displacement effects of smoking being shifted to the home. It is time that we followed suit, heeded public and medical opinion, and got out of the slow lane.
I am only too aware that a positive decision for a ban still requires the Government to introduce the necessary regulations. I hope that the Minister will indicate when that is likely. The evidence strongly supports the Lords amendment, and I urge that Members on both sides of the House do likewise and stand up today for the protection of children.
I rise to support the Government amendments to put the two regulation-making powers in the Bill, and to support the initiatives taken by Cross Benchers in the other House and by a cross-party group in this House. I speak as chair of the all-party group on smoking and health.
We have been asked to be clear about the evidence. One area in which the evidence is absolutely clear is that smoking is a childhood addiction, not an adult choice: 40% of smokers are addicted by the age of 16 and two thirds by the age of 18, while 200,000 children take up smoking every year. That is why I strongly support, and urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to support, the Lords amendment to provide for the power to regulate and standardise packaging. I do so not least because of the evidence from the tobacco industry’s campaign against it, and from documents released through court cases that have demonstrated that it knows that packaging is a way of driving market share, as well as of driving people to smoke in the first place.
On passive smoking in cars, both the NHS and the World Health Organisation are very clear about the dangers of second-hand smoke for children. Other hon. Members have already listed that evidence. I do not know where Ian Paisley was in relation to the data. Every week, 430,000 children aged 11 to 15 are exposed to second-hand smoke in their family cars. That is not their choice. Andrew Selous is absolutely right. This issue is not about a child’s choice, because they have no choice. They have to get into the car if their parents want them to do so.
The concentration of toxins in a car makes it a significantly different environment from a smoky pub or home. The evidence demonstrates the impact that that environment has on a child’s health. That is where the Millsian test applies. The harm to the child should trigger us to act in the way that I hope the House will act tonight. That is why I support the free vote.
On enforcement, the laws on smoking in work vehicles, wearing seat belts and using child car seats have been introduced successfully. It has been suggested that we will criminalise parents in some way. We have not criminalised them in relation to child car seats and we will not do so by legislating in this area. There is a clear case for banning smoking in cars when children are present. I hope that the proposed regulations will do just that.
The Minister spoke about social marketing. I agree that that has a key part to play in the successful implementation of such changes. However, we know that it is not enough. We saw that with the legislation on wearing seat belts. Only 25% of people wore their seat belts before the law changed. Afterwards, the proportion went up to 91%.
We can debate whether we should replace the words “smoking in cars” with the words “smoking in enclosed public places”. However, the arguments that are made by Government Members are all too often the wrong arguments and they are being left behind by society, which wants us to move again. That is why I support the Lords amendments.
Protecting children is one of the most important responsibilities that we have. We know that smoking kills, we know the dangers of passive smoking and we know that children are more at risk than adults from the effects of smoke.
Half a million children are exposed to potentially toxic levels of second-hand smoke in family cars each week, according to the British Lung Foundation. Children’s lungs are smaller and children have faster breathing rates. They are therefore particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke, especially in a confined space such as a car.
Children have no choice but to travel in a family car. Would it be good if car drivers, including parents, chose not to smoke when children were present? Absolutely. However, in the case of seat belts, it took a change in the law to ensure that there was a change in behaviour. The proportion of people wearing seat belts went up from 25% to more than 90% after legislation was introduced.
As I said, protecting children is one of our most important responsibilities. We can exercise that responsibility today. We have to choose between the right of an adult to do as he or she chooses in the privacy of his or her car and the protection of the health of children. Throughout the passage of the Bill, Government Members have rightly agreed that the protection of children is paramount. I hope that all Members will agree that we should make it an offence to smoke in a vehicle when children are present.
I have never heard of a more illiberal, nonsensical and unenforceable proposal than Lords amendment 125. I am sorry that it is being proposed by the Government and that Members are being asked not to consider the detail, because the devil is in the detail.
As has been said, the word “vehicle” refers to a broad spectrum of containers, if I may put it like that, including motor homes, Traveller caravans and, potentially, narrow boats. The proposal suggests that smoking while driving an open-top car, to which my hon. Friend Philip Davies referred, is more injurious to health than a mother smoking while pregnant. I find that impossible to accept.
I do not know how the police will arbitrate between two 17-year-olds in a car if one of them has been smoking. I do not think that we should be considering using this resource if we are not banning cigarettes, full stop. I do not smoke and have never smoked. I am a mother of four children. I fundamentally believe that we should not make bad, unenforceable law.
If the Labour party represented the working class far more than it suggests it does, it would be making a very different argument, because a huge tranche of the population will see itself criminalised. We should be advising people not to smoke in front of their children. We have been winning the argument on smoking. The Government have adverts on the television that show a mum blowing the smoke out of the door and then say, “What if you could see what it does to your child’s lungs?” We will not stop those adverts because we are trying to educate people.
Under the proposal, we will be saying that a child can get into a fog-filled car after their mum has been smoking in it. As long as she is not still doing it, that will not be an offence. We will be saying that it is an offence to smoke in a van if Traveller children or others who live in transit are sitting in the back. However, if I sit in my kitchen and people can see me through the front window, fag in hand and baby over my shoulder, comforting the child, that will not be an offence. It would be easy to track down such behaviour, so why do we not say that smoking in front of children should be banned or that smoking should be banned? It is because we think that it would be illiberal to go into people’s homes. However, some people’s homes are vehicles. I look forward to people explaining that to the communities that will be affected disproportionately.
I cannot believe that we are not supposed to inquire about the detail.
No, I will not give way because many colleagues who have been here from the very beginning wish to speak. I am sorry if my hon. Friend is one of them.
I cannot think that this proposal will be enforceable. We all want to protect children. In that case, perhaps we should get out the fat callipers when we see very lardy children walking down our high streets because their parents feed them junk of an evening. Perhaps we should ban fattening foods because there are more than a million people with type 2 diabetes, as has been said in the media today. Where will it stop? We need to educate people. We need to ensure that parents do what is best for their children because they believe in doing what is best for them. We cannot legislate every single risk and danger out of existence.
I met the school council at Broadmead primary school in Croydon last Friday and I took part in a school assembly at Norbury Manor primary school this morning. I asked the children what they thought of the proposal to ban smoking in cars that are carrying children like them. Every single child supported the ban. When I asked how many of them had been inside a car when an adult was smoking, nearly half the children put their hands up. I asked one little girl what she did when she was in a car and an adult was smoking. She held her nose and told me that she tried not to breathe.
Although those children hated the experience of being forced to breathe in cigarette smoke, they did not understand the damage that it does to their health. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and other professionals estimate that up to 160,000 children a year develop lung diseases, including asthma and bronchitis, as a result of breathing in second-hand cigarette smoke. Developing lungs are far more susceptible to smoke-related disease than adults. That raises the question of why we protect adults in the workplace, on public transport and in pubs from the dangers of second-hand smoke, but subject children to it in cars.
I have listened carefully to the arguments against this proposal, but I find very little merit in them. The idea that this measure is an example of the illiberal nanny state is misguided. Law making is often about striking a balance between competing rights. On what balance of rights does the right of a smoker to smoke outweigh the right of a child to grow up healthy? I do not accept that an adult should have the right to harm a child who is powerless to protect him or herself. An adult who is in a car with a smoker can get out if they want to. Often, a child cannot.
To those who say that the measure is unenforceable, I say that we heard exactly the same about the seat belt law. Education in this case has clearly not worked well enough. We need to change behaviour. That requires a strong education campaign but, crucially, that needs to be backed up by law to show how seriously the country takes the issue and to create a sufficiently powerful deterrent.
We have taken many steps to protect people from passive smoking. Without this further measure, too many children will be left struggling to avoid breathing in smoke in the back of cars and, far worse, could find themselves struggling with lung disease in later life. It is our duty today to act to protect them.
I am a veteran of many children’s Bills. Yet again, such a Bill has been hijacked at the 11th hour by a subject that was not part of the original Bill. Usually, the subject is smacking; today, it is smoking.
I hate, loathe and detest smoking. I do not want any of my children or anybody else’s children to smoke. However, I also hate, loathe and detest the nanny state and its increasingly frenetic and insidious tentacles, which are creeping into individuals’ private lives and spaces.
I support many other measures that will suppress smoking and reduce the prevalence of smoking. I am for in-your-face, horrific graphics that show people the ghastly things that smoking does to their insides. I am in favour of higher tax. I am in favour of pariah status for people who smoke. I have no problem with the Lords amendments on packaging and on discouraging people from buying tobacco for under-age people.
However, I am against a measure that yet again undermines the parenting role of parents in favour of the state. The state makes for a poor parent. This measure will criminalise good parents, as my hon. Friend Mr Walker said. People should not smoke in front of their children, whether they are in a car, outside a car, in a house or wherever else, not because the state threatens them with a fine or a criminal record, but because it is a stupid thing to do. I will not quite use the language of Ian Paisley, but it is stupid on so many levels. We should have much more empathy towards the health and welfare of our children, but we should support parents, not seek to supplant them, as the state has an increasing tendency to do and is trying to do yet again with this amendment.
If we are serious about this measure, we should have the courage of our convictions and ban smoking altogether. There is only one way that this legislation can go, and the natural conclusion is that there will be a ban on smoking in private homes. As I said earlier—not entirely facetiously—we must face the logic that pregnant women who can do untold damage to their unborn children through smoking and through foetal alcohol syndrome, which affects one in 100 children with very serious consequences, should be criminalised for doing the same thing in principle that this amendment tries to criminalise. Then there are the implications of not feeding our children healthy food. The amendment is unenforceable. It is bad law and is about supplanting, not supporting, the parent, and I cannot support it.
There is the notion that this amendment on the safety of children in cars is an attack on freedom, but as my hon. Friend Luciana Berger rightly said, a model society will always need to put various restrictions on what individuals can and cannot do.
Reference has been made to seat belts, and it so happens that I was in the Chamber during the debates on that. I imagine that if Philip Davies had been present at the time, he would have argued strongly against compulsory seat belts in cars—of course he would have because when I was listening to him today, I heard the authentic voice of primitive Toryism.
I do not necessarily work on the assumption that whatever the hon. Member for Shipley opposes I should support, Mr Deputy Speaker, but nevertheless that is usually the case.
I was also around when we debated banning smoking in most places, which it was argued at the time was a grave restriction on freedom. Who in the House of Commons today, in 2014, would argue that, apart from the hon. Member for Shipley and a few others? The ban, which was so controversial at the time, has been widely accepted in the country. People said that it would not be accepted and that the law would be broken, but has it been? Where is the evidence that the law on smoking passed in the previous Parliament has been broken?
I accept entirely that it may be difficult to implement the measures that have been suggested on smoking in cars, and I do not underestimate the difficulties. I do, however, say simply that it is worth a try. Every organisation that has been mentioned and is concerned with public health has argued that the amendment should be put into law, as I believe it should be. It provides an opportunity to protect children in the way it describes, and it is likely, however difficult it may be to police, that people will accept that the law has been passed by Parliament, and that there will be a greater desire to ensure that it is observed. This measure is worth a try, and anything that can protect children from the dangers of smoking should certainly be supported tonight.
I speak as the secretary of the all-party group on smoking and health. There is only a brief time available, but the facts and figures have been presented to the House. The fact is that the younger people start to smoke, the more damage they do to their health and the shorter their lives as a result. The key point is that most young people start smoking because of their parents, siblings, friends or the media marketing of big tobacco. We need to take away the capability of big tobacco to market to young people, and I support wholeheartedly the measures on standardised packaging. Those opposing measures to stop parents smoking in cars carrying children should understand that a car contains 11 times more tobacco and nicotine than a smoky pub. Even more importantly, if a parent is driving a car with all four windows open, the level of pollution is treble the amount recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency or the World Health Organisation. That is extremely damaging to children’s health, and I support the Lords amendment.
Ninety minutes having elapsed having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
Division number 207
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment 125 agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Question put, That this House agrees with Lords amendments 121 to 124 and 150.
The House divided:
Ayes 453, Noes 24.
Division number 208
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 2 to 42.
Lords amendment 43, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 44 to 72.
Lords amendment 73, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 74 to 120, 126 to 149 and 151 to 157.
Lords amendment 158, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 159 to 176.
It is a pleasure to set out to the House a number of Lords amendments. The changes will improve our reforms, and make a real and lasting difference for children and families. I hope Members will support them. I will try to be as succinct as possible in explaining each set of amendments.
As the House will recall, part 1 of the Bill covers adoption, and we have made Lords amendments 1 to 11 to this part. Through Lords amendment 1, we have added a clause that will enable us, by regulation, to ensure that those with a prescribed relationship to people adopted before
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his continued interest in this important matter. The whole basis of the amendment is to extend the provisions that already exist, so that anyone who wants to make further inquiries, about accessing information or making contact, has to do so through the intermediary services. There is not a presumption, therefore, in that sense. We are looking to go beyond the direct line of descendants from the adopted person, who obviously fall within the prescribed relationship category, and consult on whether we should widen that to others. The provision certainly does not work on the basis that if someone does not want to have contact there is a presumption that that will take place.
The intermediary service is there to ensure that anyone who seeks access does so in a way that does not compromise the position of the person they are seeking either to gain access to or make contact with. That is in line with the approach that already exists, and which works well and successfully. What I can say on the record to reassure my hon. Friend is that this will not force anybody to have contact if they do not wish to do so. Clearly, there will be lots of reasons why people will either want to make contact or have access to records. For example, someone may want to understand the genetic history of direct descendants to see whether there is a prevalent hereditary disease to which they are more prone.
At this juncture, may I say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend Nick de Bois for his tireless campaigning on this issue, as well as to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy, my right hon. Friend Mr Letwin, who has continued his personal interest in pursuing these important changes? I believe that the changes will ensure, where it is appropriate to do so and through the intermediary services, a greater prospect for those who want to establish contact or have access to information, to be able to do so without compromising those who may be also involved.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and for his generous words. I put on record that many of my constituents, and many people from outside my constituency, have contacted me on this matter. I have been able to say to them that this has been Parliament at its best, working with Ministers on this subject. I am grateful to him for the advice and support of his office in moving towards an acceptable solution.
I thank my hon. Friend for those words. As he knows, this has been a long-standing issue on which we have sought the advice of the Law Commission and others to establish a way forward. The fact that we can now legislate and implement these provisions represents a good outcome for many people, including his constituents.
In amendment 2, we have clarified the point at which the fostering for adoption scheme must be considered for a child and established that before a local authority considers placing a child in this way, it must first have considered kinship care and decided that it was not the most appropriate placement. Also in part 1, through amendments 7 to 10, we have introduced an affirmative resolution procedure in relation to the Secretary of State’s powers to direct local authorities to outsource adoption functions, in relation to the use of personal budgets and in relation to allowing approved prospective adopters to search and inspect the Adoption and Children Act 2002 register in pilot areas.
On part 2 and family justice, many hon. Members will be pleased that the noble Lords accepted the principle and purpose of clause 11. However, we have accepted amendment 12 to clause 11 from the noble and learned Baroness Butler-Sloss. As hon. Members will also be aware, clause 11 introduces a presumption that a child’s welfare will be furthered by the involvement of each parent, where this is safe and subject to the overarching principle that the child’s welfare must be paramount. Baroness Butler-Sloss’s amendment addresses concerns raised that the clause could be misinterpreted as giving a parent a right to a certain amount of time with a child. That was never the intention, as I have said several times during the Bill’s passage. The amendment addresses those concerns by clarifying that “involvement” does not mean a particular amount of time.
Importantly, the amendment does not change the effect of clause 11, as it will remain for courts to determine what arrangements are right for each child in the light of the evidence before it. I want to put on the record my gratitude to my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and for Northampton South (Mr Binley) and, in particular, my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, who has championed this change in the law for many years. I have no doubt that had he not done so, we would not have made the significant progress we now have.
I thank the Minister for his comments. I understand the logic of Baroness Butler-Sloss’s amendment in not referring to a particular division of a child’s time. Despite being at loggerheads with her over many years, I can see the logic of that. Will he explain, though, why her amendment refers to “direct or indirect” contact? What does that add to the Bill?
As I said in Committee, I did not feel it was necessary to add anything more to the clause in order to explain its function, but that was not the view of their lordships. The reference to “direct or indirect” contact makes it clear what we mean by “contact”. As I know from my time practising in the family courts, many orders are set out in those same terms. It does not mean, however, that indirect contact, in itself, fulfils the presumption that we have now set in law; it simply makes it clear what we mean by “contact”.
I thank the Minister for establishing the important principle that children’s rights include knowing, and having contact with, both their parents, but for the benefit of the House and those outside, will he confirm that “indirect” contact will not be interpreted as meaning just a phone call at Christmas or a book of photographs, and that it will be meaningful contact, even if indirect?
Once again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his persistence in pushing this issue. I cannot prescribe exactly the outcome of every case before the courts or the view of a judge concerning the correct order to make. However, the clause seeks to make it abundantly clear that, where it is safe to do so and in the child’s best interests, the child should have meaningful contact with both parents. How that contact takes place is then for the judge to determine according to the usual criteria. I was trying to make it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham that indirect contact, on its own, could not, in every case, fulfil the presumption. It is important to put that on the record, and I wrote to him today about that to put—I hope—his mind at rest.
On contact, will the Minister clarify the position regarding children’s views and the paramountcy principle? From what he just said, I am slightly concerned about the view of the judge. I know he thinks it important that the needs of the child come first, but how do we ensure that contact is appropriate and avoid inappropriate contact that does more harm than good?
We will do that by ensuring that the paramountcy principle still holds water and that the judge’s discretion is not fettered by this change in the law. We went to great lengths to set out, with the help of parliamentary counsel, exactly how that would operate. Baroness Butler-Sloss, with her esteemed legal mind, was happy to accept it in the terms we set out. So I do not see any conflict. We have been clear from the start that this is about the right of the child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, where it is safe for them to do so and in their best interests, and their lordships have agreed to that presumption and principle. The only change that has come, as a consequence of their amendment, is that we are stating in the Bill something that we had already made clear was our intention in both the pre-legislative scrutiny stage and in subsequent stages in the House.
I would like to recognise the considerable contributions by Mr Llwydand my hon. Friend Mr Djanoglyto our important reforms of the family justice system. Their expertise and insight have been invaluable. I was a fellow Cestrian member of the bar and, like him, plied my trade along the north
Wales coast, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman’s legal clout will be sorely missed in the next Parliament and beyond.
Part 3 takes forward our fundamental reforms to special educational needs and introduces integrated education, health and care plans for children and young people with the most complex special educational needs, extends comparable rights and protections to 16 to 25-year-olds in further education and training, as found in schools, and introduces a new local offer to ensure that parents, children, young people and those who work with them can see the support that should be available to them.
I welcome the enhanced offer in the Bill as a result of our deliberations in Committee. Earlier today, I had a meeting with senior consultants in social services and charities concerned about the situation of seriously ill children, their families and the social work support they need. How will the incorporation into the Bill of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 help those children, who might be terminally ill, but will certainly be seriously ill, and their families get the social work and educational support they need at a very difficult time?
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will be dealing in more detail later with the social care element, the 1970 Act and how that sits within the Bill. However, during the course of the Bill, I have met hon. Members concerned about children who might be terminally ill, perhaps with cancer, seeking support from elsewhere, outside their educational environment. We have taken that into account in the Bill and in the code of practice, which is still being drafted but will soon be available, so that those who require support through their education receive it when they need it and in a way that makes a difference.
I had the opportunity to meet CLIC Sargent and a Labour Member who has a particular interest in this matter to discuss many of their concerns. That has already resulted in some changes to the draft code of practice, and CLIC Sargent remains involved—as do many other organisations, charities, parent-carer groups, parent partnerships and others—in shaping the SEN code of practice so that it reflects what we know works on the ground. That will continue as we move into the implementation stage, should the Bill become an Act in due course. Given these reforms, for which many families, professionals and charities have been waiting for 30 years, it is fair to say that many of our conversations with CLIC Sargent and other groups—particularly the discussions about the all-important detail, which is ultimately what will matter—have been helpful.
I, too, am particularly pleased that the local offer has been somewhat strengthened, as it will be central to the success or otherwise of the new system of support for children and young people with special educational needs. However, I still do not think it is good enough for the unwritten postcode lottery that we have now just to become a written one. Does the Minister not agree that we need a baseline against which parents can judge whether their local offer is good or even sufficient?
I thank the hon. Lady—for probably the 14th time during the passage of this Bill—for her continued constructive approach to this part of the Bill. I know she has a keen interest from her own family background in ensuring that we produce a system that has children and their families at its heart. We had an interesting and quite long debate in the Commons and another place about the local offer and minimum standards, as well as—from memory—a number of Westminster Hall debates.
It is clear from both the regulation on the local offer that we have set out and the code of practice that having a national framework not only provides some of the stability in provision that the hon. Lady is looking for, but allows the local offer to be truly local, so that people have a genuine reflection of what their local authority expects to be available and deliverable for children and families in that area. Therefore, although I hear her continued call—which I think is for national minimum standards—I think we have got the balance right between having a national framework and giving parents and young people the opportunity to be consulted on the local offer and comment on it as it is developed, and also, given the addition to the Bill and the code since the Commons stages, ensuring that local authorities respond to the queries and concerns raised by families.
As the hon. Lady knows, we have to use the affirmative resolution procedure in this House for the code of practice and that will provide an opportunity to look at some of these issues. The other thing we have done to ensure that implementation is as successful as it can be across the country is to carry out a local authority readiness survey. We are working with local authorities that are perhaps not as well advanced as others in starting to prepare for the changes, which includes looking at the local offer and what steps they have taken so far to involve families in its evolution. That will continue as these reforms become a reality from September.
I appreciate the Minister’s giving way. Things will vary around the country, as my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson said. Will he look at sharing good practice, and does he think it wise for the Government to be saying, “This is what we consider to be best practice,” in order to give local authorities that do not have best practice an indication of what they should be doing?
We have already provided local authorities with a raft of good practice and data to help them not only to improve their understanding of what is required of them, but to do better at the earlier end of the process —in commissioning, planning and assessment. We can learn a huge amount from many of the voluntary organisations that are out there in the field, working closely with families and statutory agencies to ensure that they get the best possible outcomes. We have a number of grants and contracts with those voluntary organisations to support them in doing that. That will be a key part of ensuring that our reforms start to bite in the way that we have already started to see in many of the pathfinder areas.
We have also extended the scope of a number of significant clauses to children and young people who are disabled, but do not have special educational needs, through Lords amendments 14 to 39, 41 to 46, 48 to 51, 62 to 65, 67 and 118. I am pleased that we were able to make that change, which has been widely welcomed. For example, Julie Jennings, a board member of Every Disabled Child Matters, has said:
“The changes announced today mean that all disabled children and young people, will benefit from the Children and Families Bill when it is introduced. This is very welcome news, indeed.”
To reflect that, Lords amendment 176 would amend the long title of the Bill to include children and young people with disabilities. We have also made it clear, in clause 21, that health care and social care provision that educates or trains a child or young person is to be treated as special educational provision. That relates to an understandable concern of many Members of this House, so I hope the change in Lords amendment 13 is welcome.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. We had many arguments about the “wholly or mainly” provision in the original draft of the Bill, and I am grateful to him and the noble Lord Nash for listening to the case that many of us made against it. We now have clarity, which we hope will prevent the sort of damaging litigation that has plagued special educational needs provision over the years.
My hon. Friend speaks with great wisdom and force, as he has done throughout the passage of the Bill, particularly on this part. To hear him utter those words gives me great confidence that we have done the right thing and ended up with both clarity and a sense of what is now required as we move forward.
The local offer was discussed at some length in this House. We have amended part 3 further to improve accountability and the responsiveness of the local offer. I do not think it would be right to make the changes sought by amendment (a) to Lords amendment 43 in the way proposed. These issues have been debated at length in both Houses, both of which accepted the Government’s arguments, which I will briefly explain again.
The local offer will contain provision made by a wide range of organisations, including small voluntary sector groups or informal arrangements—for example, a circle of friends group for disabled young people set up by local young people. The services may be expected to be available, but this cannot be guaranteed. Requiring local authorities to publish what is available might deter them from including such provision in the first place, and children and young people will miss out. In publishing what it expects to be available, the local authority cannot say, “Well, we think this might be available one day, so we’ll put it in.” For the avoidance of any doubt, we will make it clear in the SEN code of practice that the duty on the local authority to set out what it expects to be available is not about what it would like to be available, but about what it actually expects to be available.
We have also made a set of amendments that will shift the focus from explicit consideration of age when assessing education, health and care plans for 19 to 25-year-olds, and that instead require local authorities to consider whether a young person requires more time to complete their education or training, and whether the specified outcomes have been achieved before the plan can cease.
Lords amendments 72 and 73 build on the health duty introduced in Committee in the Commons by including in the Bill provision made under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, under which there is an existing duty to provide social care services to disabled children. Those amendments were welcomed by the Special Educational Consortium and a number of peers on Third Reading in the other place. Lord Rix said:
“The government amendments move us closer to the holy grail of integrated education, health and social care,” and will
“undoubtedly aid children and young people with a learning disability and their families.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 5 February 2014; Vol. 752, c. 209.]
Well remembered, Minister!
I think that there is much that we can support in the Bill, but I wanted to ask about the single point of appeal and the reviews and pilots that are taking place. Will the Minister explain how the findings will be used in the further development of the appeal process?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for returning us to the important issue of redress. I shall go into a little more detail in due course, but I can say now that I was conscious from the outset that we should do all that we can to integrate education, health and social care throughout the system, including in the areas where there was disagreement. I think that we have gone a long way towards achieving that during the passage of the Bill so far, but if the hon. Lady will bear with me for a few moments, I shall wax lyrical for her and the House’s benefit.
I understand the intention behind amendment (a) to Lords amendment 73. It is, of course, vital for parents and practitioners to understand the duties to deliver the social care services specified in the education, health and care plan. However, let me reiterate the points made by Baroness Northover when she spoke to Lords amendments 72 and 73.
The Government amendments mean that when a local authority decides that it is necessary to make provision for a disabled child under section 2 of the
Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 following an EHC assessment, the authority must—I emphasise the word “must”—identify which provision is made under section 2 of the Act, specify that provision clearly in the EHC plan, and deliver the provision. Furthermore—I hope that this is helpful to Steve McCabe—we will ensure that the SEN code of practice specifies the services under section 2 that must be included in the EHC plan and explains the existing duty to provide those services, in order to provide clarity and reassurance for parents and practitioners.
The code of practice will clearly specify the other social care services that must be included in the EHC plan and relevant local authority duties, including services provided for children and young people under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 that are not covered by the 1970 Act, such as residential short breaks, and adult social care services for young people aged 18 to 25, where a care plan is drawn up under provisions in the Care Bill. Given those reassurances, I do not think it is necessary to legislate for a further requirement to identify existing duties in the EHC plan.
Lords amendments 86 to 97 and 113 constitute a strong package to improve the join-up between education, health and social care when parents and young people wish to complain or seek redress. That includes extending mediation and establishing a review of appeals and redress in the new SEN system. Following a commitment that I gave on Report, we tabled a meaty group of amendments that will strengthen protections and support for young offenders with SEN. They require local authorities and relevant health commissioners to arrange appropriate special education and health provision for young offenders in custody, enable EHC assessments to take place while a child or young person is in custody, and require secure youth institutions to co-operate with local authorities and to have regard to the SEN code of practice.
The package also includes amendment 114, which would remove clause 70. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Buckland for his involvement in and guidance on the issue, and on many of the changes I have just outlined. As he knows, I was as uncomfortable as he was about clause 70. Although it was a legal necessity at the beginning of our deliberations, it did not really reflect the ambition that we shared, and I hope that he is as pleased as I am to see the back of it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he worked with the Ministry of Justice and, in particular, with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Jeremy Wright, who was as committed as we were to ensuring that this was an ambitious Bill that covered all the right areas. I pay tribute to both Ministers for ensuring that children and young people who need rehabilitation as much as punishment can be assisted, and we can reduce reoffending. That is very important too.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. Perhaps I should also put on record the important contribution of Lord Ramsbotham, who, having worked at the top of the Prison Service, has continued his work in Parliament and enabled us to make the inroads that we have made in the Bill.
I thank my hon. Friend Mr Stuart— whose continued scrutiny of and interest in the Bill have been extremely welcome—and all the other members of the Education Committee. I thank Mrs Hodgson and my hon. Friend Paul Maynard for all the challenge and support that they have given to this part of the Bill. Let me also put on record my deep gratitude to my hon. Friend Sarah Teather for doing so much of the groundwork, without which the Bill might never have become a reality.
Part 4 contains a number of important measures that will help to make more high-quality, affordable child care available to parents. It addresses the long-term decline in childminder numbers by establishing childminder agencies, removes the requirement for local authorities to produce a bureaucratic three-yearly assessment of child care in their areas, and introduces paving legislation for tax-free child care.
On Report in another place, we were pleased to introduce Lords amendments 157 to 160, which contain a clear requirement for Ofsted to report on the arrangements whereby childminder agencies assure the quality of the early education and care offered by their childminders. I note that amendment (a) to Lords amendment 158 relates to that subject, and I can confirm that our intention is for Ofsted to conduct sample inspections to secure that assurance. Ofsted recently published its consultation paper on childminder agency inspections, which includes details of its proposal to carry out sample inspections of early years providers, so we do not agree that such a provision is needed in the Bill. I am happy to discuss the matter with both the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, and Lucy Powell as we try to proceed with these important changes.
We also introduced technical amendments, Lords amendments 161 to 175 to schedule 4, to clarify the arrangements for childminders to appeal against suspensions by their childminder agencies and to clarify the disqualification regime for staff running or working in a childminder agency. Lords amendment 119 allows regulations to be made setting out the arrangements whereby local authorities fund early years providers delivering the free child care offer, and limiting any unnecessary conditions that local authorities could place on providers. I am pleased that we were able to introduce new policy to the Bill, which, if accepted, would create a new part 5 entitled “Welfare of Children”.
Lords amendment 120 removes the restriction on the types of performance in which a child under 14 can be licensed to take part, which will enable children to take part in a wider range of performances. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for his admirable persistence in keeping that issue to the fore. I know from the correspondence that I have subsequently received from a range of organisations and individuals who are vexed by the issue how warmly those changes have been received. Let me put on record my thanks to Sarah Thane, whose work ensured that the issues were properly examined and have resulted in important legislative and non-legislative changes. I am continuing to work with the Local Government Association to enable local authorities to gain as much information as possible on how they can streamline their own procedures so that many more children, as well as being safe and having their welfare taken into consideration, have the opportunity to participate in what can be extremely valuable additions to their early lives.
Lords amendment 126 adds an important new clause to improve the assessment of the needs of young carers. I thank Barbara Keeley and the National Young Carers Coalition for their constructive and patient approach and interest in this subject. Matthew Reed, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, welcomed the amendment, saying:
“We applaud the Government for taking a huge leap to support often incredibly vulnerable young carers who are slipping through the net, undetected by the support services they desperately need.”
Lords amendment 127 adds a new clause which consolidates and streamlines existing legislation for individuals with parental responsibility for a disabled child, under which they have the right to an assessment of their needs by a local authority.
On amendment 126 in respect of young carers as well as parent carers, may I thank the Minister very much for the way in which he has engaged with carers organisations, me and many other hon. Members? These issues first surfaced in the Joint Committee’s scrutiny of the Care Bill, and I thank the Minister for care and support, the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend Norman Lamb, for the way he has engaged with these issues, too. Will the Minister here tonight now give some consideration to the following? Now that we have these two parts of the Bill and we complete the range of improvements for carers, can we make sure we have joint guidance from both Departments covering all carers?
May I first pay particular thanks to my right hon. Friend and also to Dr Francis for their dedicated work and interest on behalf of parent carers? That was clearly on display at the meeting I had with them both not too long ago. My right hon. Friend will see that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for care is sitting alongside me, and we both heard that constructive and sensible suggestion, and we will both take it up and discuss it in more detail and see whether we can make some important cross-Government changes so that those who are looking at the guidance that is relevant to them find it easier to access and understand it, rather than trying to find information in a host of different places.
It is helpful to get these points clarified. I think my suggestion would be helpful, in particular because this welcome new provision for parent carers makes specific reference to the well-being principle in the Care Bill; and making sure that guidance is co-ordinated will ensure that there is no difference in application, regardless of whether someone is in a children’s service or an adult service.
My right hon. Friend makes a sensible and logical suggestion; we will go away and consider it and come back to him in due course.
Amendment 128 added a new clause enabling any young person who was in care immediately before their 18th birthday as an eligible child to continue to reside with their former foster carer once they turn 18. The local authority will be under a duty to support such arrangements, commonly known as “staying put” arrangements, until the young person reaches the age of 21. This is an issue on which many of us with a background in fostering and adoption and those involved with the all-party group on looked after children and care leavers from both sides of this House and in another place have worked for many years. I am delighted that we have been able to find the funding to do it, and I would like to thank the Earl of Listowel and my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker for their work on this area. I am very sad that the late and much missed Paul Goggins is not with us today to celebrate this important step forward for young people leaving care. As was typical of Paul, I suspect he would have shied away from taking any of the plaudits, a trait that set him apart and from which we could all learn. We owe him a huge debt.
In welcoming this new clause, Janet Rich of The Care Leavers’ Foundation said:
“Step by step this Government has demonstrated that it truly understands the difficulties which face care leavers as they set out on the journey towards adulthood. Today’s announcement is another positive step on the journey towards State-as-parent acknowledging the duty they owe to this uniquely vulnerable group of young adults”.
I agree with the move the Minister is proposing. I think it is very good news. I also welcome what he said about Paul Goggins. Is this the start of a move to raise the age for care-leaving, given that many adult children stay at home much longer than this? Will the Minister say something about the potential for extending the care-leaving age for children in residential homes as well, as it is my understanding that that is staying at 18?
I share what I think is the hon. Gentleman’s ambition, and that of many others, to move away from seeing age as the sole indicator of whether a young person is ready to move on when they are in the care of the state, and, as we have done in the Care Bill and elsewhere in this Bill, to move towards looking at it as more of a continuum of care, trying to shape what is necessary for the young person around that young person, rather than simply using the blunt instrument of a birthday to decide their future.
This is an important step in relation to the three-quarters of children who are in foster care and securing their future into adulthood, but of course, as I made clear in an Adjournment debate only a week or so ago, I want to see us move towards this as a norm rather than an exception. That is why, although we have some much needed wide-reaching reforms to the residential care system, I see that as part of addressing how we can use residential care in a much better way than we have in the past, not simply seeing it as a last resort, which has too often been the default position. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman that I very much desire to see what we have done with the “staying put” arrangements for foster children spread more widely at the right time and when we have confidence that it will do what we want it to do, which is to improve the lives of those who are moving on from care and into independent living.
We worked closely with a number of organisations to bring about amendment 129, which introduces a new duty requiring maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units to support pupils with medical conditions. This issue was first raised in the House by my hon. Friend Mr Sanders. We are currently consulting on draft statutory guidance and advice which will support the duty, but it is encouraging that the likes of Diabetes UK had this to say about the change:
“The Government’s announcement that it will amend the Children and Families Bill so that schools have a legal duty to support children with health needs has the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of around a million children.”
Amendment 130 adds a new clause to clarify the law in relation to the Secretary of State’s power to intervene when a local authority is failing to deliver children’s services to an adequate standard. Amendments 131 to 134 seek to improve the quality of children’s homes, and particularly to enable us to develop a regulation and inspection framework for children’s homes that sets high standards for children in residential care and offers them the support required to achieve positive outcomes. This has been a significant piece of policy development, founded on the formidable efforts of Ann Coffey, who is in her place tonight and whose own all-party group report and continued close involvement have been of huge assistance. As she knows, this is part of a wider reform package which is already under way and I have no intention of shying away from the necessary changes required to ensure that children who are in residential care get the best possible care based on the best possible decisions.
Amendment 135 introduces a new clause to require state-funded schools, including academies, to offer a free school meal to all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2. Giving every infant pupil a healthy and nutritious lunch will bring educational, health and social benefits, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Amendments 136 to 138, which cover the provisions on the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, will require the Children’s Commissioner to have “particular regard” to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and to give an account in his or her annual report of the steps taken to involve children and how their views were taken into account in the discharge of his or her functions.
Amendments 139 to 142 are minor and technical amendments relating to the part of the Bill that deals with the introduction of shared parental leave. They would give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to allow for a notice to curtail statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or statutory adoption pay to be revoked subject to restrictions and conditions. Finally, consequential amendments 144 to 151 would make commencement dates clear in the Bill where necessary.
I commend these changes to all hon. Members. I firmly believe that they have improved our legislation and that, more important, they will make a profound and tangible difference to the lives of children and families.
This feels like the end of a long, hard road for the Bill. As the Minister said, the Bill has been substantially amended since it left the Commons, and for that we owe their lordships a huge debt of gratitude. I should like to take a few moments to acknowledge the efforts of some of the individuals involved in the process, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who did the heavy lifting on the Bill in the Commons. I also want to thank Baroness Hughes of Stretford and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, as well as the numerous Cross Benchers involved, and my hon. Friend Ann Coffey and my colleague in the shadow Education team, my hon. Friend Lucy Powell, who worked so hard on the Bill in Committee and more recently. I also want to put on record my gratitude to our friend, the late Paul Goggins, who worked so hard on so many aspects of the Bill.
As I have said, the Bill before us now is vastly changed and improved, but only because of the herculean efforts of those in the Lords. Sadly, before it left this place, the Minister rejected all but one of the amendments from Members in the Commons. This is a Government who appear to want to make legislation in the other place. I am delighted that the Minister has now accepted so many amendments. We generally welcome the changes on adoption and, in particular, Lords amendment 2, as well as the decision to recognise the importance of kinship and friends when considering children for adoption. I welcome amendments 3 to 7, and the limitation on the Secretary of State’s powers to force the outsourcing of adoption services, especially as we have such a capricious Secretary of State at present—
I’ll buy you a dictionary.
We also welcome amendments 9 and 10, which add safeguards on regulations to give prospective adopters access to information on the register. Finally, in that section, we are happy with amendment 12, as we want children to have access to both parents after a separation when that is in the best interests of the child, but not when it involves an arbitrary division of the child’s time between the parents.
I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have now accepted the principle of shared parenting. Will he tell us what changed his mind? I seem to remember that he signed the early-day motion in favour of shared parenting but subsequently voted against the proposal in the 2006 Bill, so what has changed his mind? I am delighted that he has now come full circle on this matter.
I think there might be a slight difference between our definitions of shared parenting. That might be the simplest explanation. I am in favour of children having access to both parents, as I have said.
We are pleased that amendments to part 3 mean that the Minister now recognises the need to provide for children who have a disability but not a special educational need. I also welcome the Government’s conversion on the need to cater for young offenders, many of whom do have special educational needs. I congratulate the Minister on accepting amendment 128—the staying put amendment—which means that children in foster care will now be able to stay with their foster parents until the age of 21. I want to acknowledge how much personal effort he has devoted to these changes, along with all the others who have been arguing for them.
I also welcome efforts to improve the appeals system for parents, who often feel that the problem is not that their child has a disability or special need, but the lifelong battle they are forced to engage in with the authorities to get their child the help and support they deserve. Of course, the amendments covering young carers address a glaring omission in the original Bill, and we are all grateful to my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley for all her efforts on that point.
Many more areas of the Bill have been vastly improved by their lordships’ intervention, but I wish to discuss the amendments standing in my name and those of my colleagues in the shadow education team, which deal with a number of concerns we have about how the Bill will work in practice. We do not intend to press any of these amendments to a vote, but that does not diminish our concern about how these issues will develop. On our amendment (a) to Lords amendment 43, we want to make it abundantly clear that the local offer must not be the minimum a local authority thinks it can get away with; it is no good producing legislation full of good intentions while simultaneously stripping resources from local authorities, thus making it almost impossible for them to deliver on these intentions. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West, I hope that we can be assured tonight that the Minister will be instructing his officials to monitor the implementation of the Bill and ensure that reasonable local services are provided across local authorities, and that where omissions or obstacles are identified, he will intervene to make clear that it is not acceptable, and that it is not the intention of his legislation, to create a postcode lottery where access to services and provision depends on where someone lives and what impact Department for Communities and Local Government cuts have had on their local authority area.
On Lords amendment 73 to clause 37, and our further amendment, it is our wish to make it abundantly clear that there should be no get-out clause for local authorities in providing access to social care provision specified within an education, health and care plan. If that is not the case, this Bill will have failed and the Minister will have let down hundreds of thousands of families up and down the country who have taken him and his Government at their word that this is a brave new world of joined-up provision, designed to try to relieve them of their daily struggles for support. I welcome the Minister’s comments on the code of practice, but I want to know that he will step in if there is any question of a local authority seeking to evade its responsibilities to provide social care as specified in the plan.
Finally, we continue to doubt the entire wisdom of childminder agencies, but we recognise that this is largely a cost-saving measure by a Government who cannot give Ofsted the resources to inspect individual childminding provision. On clause 51D and Lords amendment 158, and our further amendment, we are seeking to make it crystal clear to the Minister that we do not want shoddy childminder agencies on the cheap, with little or no regard paid to the quality of care provided for the children. As the Minister will know, the Department did not consult effectively with childminders on this proposal, and it is not broadly welcomed by childminders. None the less the Government have gone ahead, so we need to be clear that Ofsted will have sufficient powers to check the quality of care provided by individuals within the agencies, especially at the first whiff of concern that the agency or individual provision is not up to standard. There is a potential conflict with childminder agencies, in that they will be both inspector and inspected, and they will have a financial incentive to recruit childminders.
Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about who is going to pay for all the costs of these childminder agencies? Will the costs be passed on to the childminder agency, which will in turn have to pass them on to the parents, thus increasing the cost of using that childminder?
The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years and the Family and Childcare Trust say exactly that this model will increase costs for parents. A recent Netmums survey shows that people say that Ofsted inspection of childminders increases their confidence in the suitability of the childminders they choose, while an almost equal proportion say that regulation by an agency other than Ofsted would reduce their confidence. We will be keen to hear more about how the Minister will pilot his approach and how it will work in practice. Will he take on board the fact that parents will want to access reliable information about the quality of childminders, which they currently obtain through Ofsted inspection grades and reports?
I understand that the number has fallen since this Government came to office, but the hon. Gentleman misses the point. I am talking about childminding on the cheap, yet with a service of insufficient quality to make it worth having. If that is the outcome, it will be understandable when parents do not agree with him.
The Government have already scrapped local authorities’ power to consider the sufficiency of child care in their area. If they fail to equip Ofsted with proper powers to investigate what is happening at a childminder’s place of work, they risk exposing vulnerable young children to untold risk. I am sure that the Minister would not want to be associated with that legacy.
The hon. Gentleman and I both know that the number of childminders plummeted because the previous Government engaged in a war on childminders. It is disappointing that he tries to cloak the continuation of that war under the cover of standards.
My understanding is that the situation is as my hon. Friend set out. When Ofsted started to inspect childminders, dormant childminders—people such as me who were registered, but had never practised childminding—fell off the books. The people affected either were not active childminders or were not prepared to improve their quality and follow Ofsted standards.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I hope that there is now some agreement on what happened.
I do not wish to detain the House any longer. We welcome the Lords amendments and we are broadly in favour of the Bill, although we think its implementation will be all important. We urge the Minister to make it clear that, as far as he is concerned, getting the Bill through Parliament is the first stage; the question of whether it operates as he intends is the real test of whether it is indeed landmark legislation.
It is a pleasure to follow Steve McCabe. Although he has come to his brief towards the end of the Bill’s passage, I know that he shares the aspirations of those of us who care deeply about not only children with special educational needs, but children and young people in general, which is why I warmly welcome the Lords amendments.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will not mind if I remind him of our lengthy debates in Committee, when we were joined by the hon. Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), as well as hon. Members who are not in the Chamber. I do so because I think that the Bill’s passage through this House offers a very positive example of how scrutiny can work. The length of time we took—the Committee’s proceedings were extended by several sittings to allow all the debates—allowed us to lay a good foundation so that their lordships could consider our concerns and act upon them.
I am grateful to be in the Chamber tonight to hear the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. Does he agree that it was the hundreds of amendments and the hundreds of hours—it felt like hundreds—of debate in the Commons that laid the groundwork that allowed the Lords to bring forward the amendments that the Minister is able to accept today? If that is how it has to be, then we did our job, but it is a shame that more amendments could not have been made in the Commons.
I agree that it would have been nice to have made some of the amendments in the Commons, but I understand that in the other place there is more time for deliberation and for votes, so the fact that we reached this stage in that way does not trouble me. We are in the right place and the legislation is now in good order. Let us not forget that the process that got us to this stage predates First Reading, because there was an extensive consultation process. A consultation paper was issued in 2011, followed by many months of proper consultation not only with education providers and the third sector, but with children and young people themselves, whose views have been brought to bear in large measure in the Bill.
Only this morning I visited one of the special schools in Swindon, the Uplands secondary school, where the Uplands Educational Trust was holding its annual general meeting. It is a new organisation that has been set up purely to start offering post-19 provision for young people who have gone through the school system and hit the cliff edge of transition, which is still a problem that bedevils parents, carers and young people in the education system and beyond. It is an admirable and excellent initiative that I fully support. I believe that such organisations will be the mainstay of enhancing and developing post-19 provision right up to the age of 25 and beyond for many young people with disabilities and special educational needs. Without the input of such organisations, I worry that the aspirations in the Bill for extending provision to those crucial years will not be met.
The message that came home loud and clear from parents and carers today was that although they warmly welcome the Bill, the implementation will be key. Once again I heard from many parents who find the transition period the most difficult one of all, despite the good intentions and the good work of local authorities, such as Swindon borough council. The message that they wished me to convey to the House is that in many cases, involving the parents and carers—the greatest experts when it comes to their children and young people—is vital to making transition work.
If we are to get that right, the code of practice that will be brought into force later this year, as set out in the Bill, will be crucial. I am glad that the code will be approved through the affirmative procedure in this House in its first iteration, with subsequent revisions made using the negative procedure, which should allow for frequent updating. The existing code has not been updated since 2001—hardly the embodiment of the living instrument that I and many others expect the code of practice to become. It is my sincere hope and fervent wish that the Government take on board the failure of that code to keep up to date with modern practice and to ensure that it truly is a living and adaptable instrument that reflects not only the aspirations of children and young people with special needs and disabilities, but the reality of experience on the ground. Implementation is everything.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She and I have spoken about these issues in the past, and I know that she shares on behalf of her constituents the aspirations that I have for mine.
Other hon. Members have mentioned implementation, but it is important to reiterate the point. I stress the importance of the pilot scheme for the single point of redress as regards the appeals mechanism for parents who have met with a refusal or a decision that is not, in their view, in the interests of the child they look after. I argued long and hard with my hon. Friend the Minister for a streamlining of the system. My worry was that despite the proper attempt to bring health, education and social care together, the courts and tribunal system would still be fragmented in the sense of people having to launch and lodge appeals in different formats.
My hon. Friend has rightly placed great emphasis on mediation. I support the provisions that relate to the use of mediation for parents, because we do not want more of the adversarial combat that has bedevilled the fight that many families have had to undergo to obtain SEN provision. It is important that the pilot becomes a reality, that the intentions in the Bill are not left to lie gathering dust, and that there is a proper evaluation of the pilot so that, if it proves necessary, we can go down the road of having a single point of redress provided by the first-tier tribunal. That is important in making the system user-friendly, simple, streamlined and clear.
Some of the most important amendments deal with the extension of the duty on local authorities to identify not only children and young people with SEN but all children and young people with a disability. That is a hugely important concession that goes a long way towards satisfying the concerns of those of us who were worried about what happens to children and young people who are, for example, on school action or school action plus and would not be caught by the provisions. These amendments, which are replicated throughout the Bill, will make a huge difference to the lives of young people with a disability. They also give added impetus to the need for early identification of a health issue. Leaving these matters until full-time education is not good enough when there is so much more we can do during the early years and, indeed, the very early years to identify disability so that, way before the child gets to school, action is taken not only to diagnose the condition, whatever it may be, but to assist them and their family with its consequences.
I warmly welcome the whole-family approach that is now being taken in the context of carers. Together with other hon. Members, I supported amendments on young carers. I was very pleased that the recommendations about parent carers made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, were also taken up in the other place. We now genuinely have a whole-family approach to the assessment of carers, and that is absolutely vital if we are really going to make a change on the ground.
My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the position of young people in detention. The glaring deficiency in the Bill as originally drafted has now been amply dealt with by the very comprehensive amendments that were accepted in the other place. My friend Lord Ramsbotham deserves huge credit for the tireless work that he does on this and other matters. Particularly important is the fact that the disability of difficulty with speech and language communication will now be identified as a health issue at the earliest possible stage, and I think that will have hugely positive consequences for those young people affected.
I think we can say that this is a Bill of which we can be justly proud and that we will be able to look back on it in the same way we look back on the Education Act 1981, which first legislated on the SEN concepts with which we are now so familiar. That Act is now being succeeded by a Bill that takes on those concepts for a new generation and develops them in a humane, comprehensive and effective way. As I have said, however, if we do not get the implementation right on the ground, and if the local offers I expect to appear across the country are no more than mere signposting, we will have failed. To use a well-worn phrase, this is not the end or the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning when it comes to judging the effectiveness of this historic Bill.
I welcome the staying-put Lords amendment 128, which means that a young person can stay with their foster carers until they are 21. The Fostering Network ran an excellent campaign, bringing to our attention the many examples of young people in care who may have experienced poor parental care and neglect, who often go into care for the first time in their early teens and who need more time and stability to prepare for adult life. It is good that they will now be able to stay—provided they wish to do so, of course—with foster parents who will see them through that transition to independence. That has been very much welcomed by foster carers in my constituency.
I also congratulate the Earl of Listowel on his determined efforts to persuade the Minister to change his mind after his initial rebuff to hon. Members. It was clear that the Minister had great sympathy with the proposal and it is to his credit that he was able to find the money to underpin it. I regret that Paul Goggins, who, sadly, died earlier this year and ran a tremendous campaign on the issue, is not here to enjoy its successful conclusion.
I want to raise an issue with regard to the draft guidance issued on
“local authorities should start discussions with the young person and foster carer regarding the option of staying put as early as possible, ideally before the young person reaches the age of 16.”
Another part of the guidance states that there is no minimum time the young person needs to have lived with their foster carer prior to turning 18. One of my slight concerns about the way in which the guidance is written is that it might be interpreted as only being a consideration in a long-standing foster placement, whereas the provision gives young people the option to stay put with foster parents, even if they have only been there for a few weeks. It is important that this is seen as an option for those vulnerable young people who may have left a children’s home aged 16 and were not able to cope in the accommodation they were then offered. Foster care would be a good option for some of those young people in order to help put them back on their feet.
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. Although she correctly notes that this is draft guidance that is subject to further discussion, I believe that, in the main, it reflects the Bill well. I am, of course, happy to take up any specific concerns, particularly that which she has raised this evening.
I thank the Minister for that. I also welcome his amendments, which mean that Ofsted will be able to inspect children’s homes for good standards rather than minimum standards. It seemed strange that one of the young girls involved in the child sexual exploitation case in Rochdale had run away 100 times from a children’s home, yet that home was deemed “good” by an Ofsted inspection. I hope that will not happen again.
I very much look forward to the Minister’s proposals for introducing a reform package for the qualifications and training of staff working in children’s homes. It cannot be right that the most damaged children are often cared for by the least qualified staff. I wonder whether he might give us a time scale for bringing forward those proposals.
It is a pleasure to follow Ann Coffey.
I want to speak in support of the large group of Lords amendments that extend the scope of clauses 22 to 32 to include disabled children, as well as those with special educational needs, but I first want to place on the record my thanks and those of my Committee to the Minister for his close co-operation on the Bill over the long period of its development. His actions to improve it in response to our recommendations and those of many others have been greatly appreciated. Something about how he has conducted himself in bilateral and multilateral meetings has endeared himself to the House, which might explain why he has been given the accolade of Minister of the year. I will not seek to curse his future career with such praise any more, so I shall move swiftly on.
As has been said, when the achievements of this coalition Government are reviewed, the Bill will rank highly among them. This large group of amendments certainly strengthens the Bill. When the Education Committee conducted our pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn of 2012, the evidence we heard made a strong case for the inclusion of disabled children, with or without SEN, in the scope of entitlement provision and education, health and care plans.
Mencap emphasised that it was undesirable that eligibility for much of the support in the Bill could be engaged only via an educational trigger, meaning that children and young people with primary health and care needs might not be identified as having SEN until they reached an educational setting. In her evidence to us, the former Minister, Sarah Teather—sadly, she is no longer in her place—acknowledged the
“huge crossover with children with disabilities”.
The omission of reference to the disabled seemed to run directly contrary to the Government’s laudable aspiration to achieve the earliest possible intervention for those who need extra support. I am therefore delighted that the Bill has been amended in that way.
The only weakness I identify is the continued lack of regulation on the local offer for children and young people mandated by clause 30. The weight of evidence received by my Committee clearly supported the introduction of minimum standards for the local offer—the Minister referred to that earlier—which the Government have consistently resisted. I appreciate that Ministers have taken steps to increase the accountability and responsiveness of the offer made by local authorities, but I ask the Minister to undertake carefully to monitor the standards set by different local authorities across the country so that some do not duck their responsibilities, as other hon. Members have mentioned.
I want to speak in favour of Lords amendments 69 and 70. In our scrutiny report, my Committee welcomed the introduction of integrated education, health and care plans—or EHCPs, as doubtless no one will remember to call them—which are at the centre of those amendments. We were clear in paragraph 98 of our report that
“the cut-off point for EHCPs should be when educational outcomes are achieved”,
rather than by reference to any specific age. We heard from Di Roberts, the principal of Brockenhurst college, who gave the example of two learners with profound deafness: they were on marine engineering apprenticeships and had to have signers to help them with their training. They are precisely the young people who need extra support to follow their ambitions so that they can succeed in life. The Bill should not open a door to local authorities to take that support away, simply because someone needs longer to complete their education or training. A young person’s age is a comparatively superficial factor that should not be used to determine whether they would continue to benefit from an EHCP.
I want quickly to mention Lords amendment 110. It affects clause 67, which governs the new code of practice as regards special educational needs. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified when exactly the new SEN code of practice is expected to be published. I am told that it might not be published until June, which would leave very little time for the new system to come into force from September. I appreciate that it will take up to three years to migrate existing statement holders to the new code of practice, but I know that many parents would appreciate learning the latest information about the timetable.
I am aware of the time, so I shall touch on Lords amendment 128 only briefly. It will enable young people in foster care to live at home until the age of 21 if that is right for them and their foster family agrees. The Select Committee has long been concerned about the position of children who are fostered or in care, and about the accommodation and support that is provided for them. We welcome the announcement of greater support for 16 to 17-year-olds that was made by the Department last summer. This amendment continues the spirit of that work. It is both sensible and sensitive to young people’s needs. The comfort that is derived from having a family home does not end at 18. Allowing young people who may have had particularly disturbed childhoods to continue to enjoy the support of their foster family until 21 is quite simply the right thing to do. The Minister and the Government deserve to be congratulated on adopting the amendment.
I was delighted to see Lords amendment 129 included in the Bill. It inserts a duty to support pupils with medical conditions. Members from across the House will have had constituents come to them with stories of the difficulty of getting fairly straightforward and simple support for their children in school. They will have heard tales of parents having to leave work to pick up their kids and take them elsewhere. I spoke in favour of an amendment of this nature that was proposed by my hon. Friend Mr Sanders at Report stage in the Commons last June.
I have had the opportunity to meet the Crawforth family from my constituency, most recently on a school visit a few days ago. Their son suffers from type 1 diabetes. A recent study by Diabetes UK found that 46% of young people with diabetes—almost half—do not have a health care plan for managing their condition at school. Of those who have a plan, 17% do not feel confident that it is being implemented. Those statistics concern parents up and down the country, and understandably so. Lords amendment 129 will require schools to engage directly with the families of children with serious, ongoing health concerns and to co-operate with local NHS authorities to design strategies to reduce the risks. Its inclusion strengthens the Bill.
There is very little time left so, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will not give way.
The proposed statutory guidance under Lords amendment 129 will ensure that schools have to observe national standards. That will go a long way to ending the current lottery in respect of children’s safety at school.
Lords amendment 135 represents something of an exception to my generally positive feelings about the Bill. I want to be clear at the outset that free school meals are a matter of basic social justice and I wholeheartedly support them. However, I am wary about extending free school meals to all pupils in reception and years 1 and 2, regardless of how well off their parents are. I ask the Minister whether it would not have been better, at a time of austerity, to target the extra funding more carefully, either by extending free school meals to families whose earnings place them just above the current entitlement threshold or by providing extra funding for valuable schemes such as breakfast clubs to help the pupils who most need them. Perhaps the funding could have been used to ensure that sixth-form colleges and further education colleges are not penalised by having to pay VAT or through 18-year-olds losing funding because of pressures elsewhere in the budget. Like any Government spending, this policy has to be paid for. It might not worry our coalition partners, but this amendment means that the Government will find themselves in the bizarre position of taxing families on low and middle incomes to subsidise children from affluent homes.
There is also a wider question about the priorities in our education system. Last Friday, I visited Walkington primary school in my constituency. It is a great school. Over the past three years, thanks to the hard work of its teachers, it has moved from the 52nd to the 12th percentile in terms of progress. It has achieved that despite receiving £500 less per head than the national median funding for primary schools. Funding is a constant struggle, not just for Walkington, but for schools across my home county of the East Riding of Yorkshire, which is the area that receives the third lowest amount of funding in the country. In that context, I find it hard to believe that some of the £600 million that has been allocated to the free school meals policy could not have been better spent to promote fairer outcomes for all, wherever they may live.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this important debate on this important Bill. I will start by declaring an interest as a family law barrister. Over many years, I have represented parents, guardians, grandparents, children, guardians, social workers and many other people. I have no doubt that the Bill will improve the prospects of some of the most vulnerable children in our society, in particular those who are in foster care and those who are placed for adoption.
We in this House often focus on the issues that divide us, but matters such as the prospects for looked-after children always unite the House, and efforts have been made across the parties and in the other place to progress the Bill in a positive way, and to work on the detail and reach our agreed position this evening. I remember fondly—as will many other hon. Members, I am sure—the many hours spent on the Bill Committee considering these important measures.
I wish briefly to highlight two points this evening. The first is the extremely positive development in part 5 of the Bill that makes provision for young people to remain, or, as the phrase goes, to “stay put”, in foster care until the age of 21. It is almost impossible for any of us to imagine how, in addition to all the challenges that young people face when considering their careers and their journey into adult life, some will have the added uncertainty of their whole home support network being in possible jeopardy.
Too often I have seen court cases involving older teenage children where, despite the best efforts of all those involved—the judiciary, solicitors, social work team and so on—and a care plan that is always carefully worded and constructed along with the legislation, there is always a concern that there is only so much the court can do. Previously, up to the age of 16 or 17 there was that uncertainty, and a gap in the provision of services. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister in leading on these measures. The whole House has worked extremely hard to identify those gaps and to ensure that continued provision, which is much needed for young people as they move into the adult world. The Bill will need time to be implemented, and we will also need time to evaluate and assess the success of what is being proposed. Nevertheless, I think that all involved will see tonight as a significant step forward for looked-after children.
My second point is about clause 11. The House has had the benefit of the expertise of Baroness Butler-Sloss who assisted in that section of the Bill. As the former president of the family division, she may perhaps offer more expertise than most of us when it comes to understanding how the drafting of the clause may be interpreted in the family courts. I have no doubt that the starting point for all courts when considering contact and residence applications has been, and will continue to be, that children will always benefit from a relationship with both of their parents, unless there is a good reason to move away from that.
As a family practitioner I have no doubt that contact and residence cases can be the most emotive and difficult litigation for individuals to commence. Put simply, it is to do with the relationship that people have with their own flesh and blood. In advance of such cases, those around the clients involved, such as the solicitors, not only give legal advice but often take the on role of friend and confidant as they guide the parents—or increasingly the grandparents—through such litigation. That highly emotive aspect to these cases is why the drafting of the Bill is so crucial—drafting is crucial for all legislation, but it is a particular issue with this clause.
Clause 11 is entitled, “Welfare of the child: parental involvement”. That maintains the important balance of children having a meaningful relationship with both parents, but it does in some ways move away from suggesting that there is any division in terms of time, which is different from what some of the other proposed phrases may have done. That was, of course, never the intention of using a phrase such as “shared parenting”, but I understand why a parent involved in litigation might interpret the words in such a way.
I thank all those involved, including the voluntary organisations, those in the family courts and, as I said earlier, Members from across the House and the other place who have worked extremely hard on this Bill. I commend the Minister who has done extremely well in leading on this important Bill. I for one look forward to this positive and progressive Bill being granted Royal Assent.
As a member of the Bill Committee, I would like to comment on two amendments made by their honourable lordships. The first could improve the Bill, but I have some reservations about the second. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Buckland for reminding the House of the lengthy consultation period ahead of the Bill, which gave all interest groups the opportunity to contribute to both the Bill Committee and the Select Committee on Justice.
One aspect of interest to me in Committee and on Lords amendments—I tabled amendments—is special educational needs. Approaching 90% of SEN children do not benefit from having a statement, making it harder for them to access the support they need. I was therefore delighted that a number of proposals in the Bill will improve local accountability and delivery of services. That has been raised with me by Scope and Ambitious about Autism, which have campaigned effectively on that.
The Bill seeks to establish the right of parents to have their comments on the local offer of services published. However, amendment 47 was introduced to force local authorities to publish not only the comments, but what action the authority plans to take as a result of them. I support that amendment because I believe it is important that local authorities develop workable action plans in conjunction with parents, who should be part of the process and not simply have a plan imposed upon them. I therefore hope that the proposal means that we begin to see parents at the heart of decision making, and that that will become part of the code of practice.
It is important that the Government recognise the difficulties that families often face in accessing specialist support when that support is located out of area. I therefore hope that the code of practice ensures the promotion of specialist services that are accessible and are provided as locally as possible, perhaps by integrating the development and provision of specialist services with other local community services, and not separately, as so often happens at present.
One further point raised with me by, among others, the Special Educational Consortium, is the need for a single point of redress, which the Minister has mentioned. He recently stated that there is to be a review, but will he take the opportunity this evening to give the Government’s position on a single point of redress and the review, and on the pilot of the complaints and appeals process for education, health and care plans? Clarity would be very much appreciated.
On part 2 of the Bill, I am conscious that I am following my hon. Friend Jessica Lee, who spoke to the amendment to clause 11. The noble and learned Baroness Butler-Sloss, who moved the amendment, is widely acknowledged as the country’s greatest expert, so it is with some trepidation that I raise the issue. She sought to clarify what exactly the clause means in practical application regarding non-resident parents. My fear is that, in so doing, the clause, which sought to enshrine the right of the child to have a meaningful ongoing relationship with both parents, is watered down. I seek reassurance from the Minister on that point.
The welfare of the child should be the court’s paramount concern, but it should not be the court’s only concern. The legal system must ensure that the child’s welfare comes first, but it should not ignore the welfare of parents, whether a mother or a father. Few people consider the emotional and psychological impact that enforced separation from one’s own flesh and blood can have. The unintended negative consequence of the paramountcy principle is that the feelings of separated parents are simply not considered. That situation must change in the interests of justice for parents. It is also sound public policy and will lead to children being less damaged by their parents’ separation.
However, even considering only the benefits of shared parenting from the perspective of child welfare, volumes of research show that shared parenting is hugely beneficial to children, especially when a father is separated from his daughter. Contact is more likely to decline if the child is female, meaning that young girls pay a heavier price for divorce and separation than young boys, as Dr Linda Nielsen’s recent paper sets out. Indeed, the paramountcy principle applied correctly so that the welfare of the child comes first means encouraging shared parenting, not discouraging or paying lip service to it. That is the core of my concern with the amendment. It appears to erode the positive steps that the clause originally made towards a culture of shared parenting.
My hon. Friend is exceptionally well known for her commitment to improving the lives of children, especially those with special educational needs and those caught up in what can be the misery of separated parents. However, does she agree that the major part of the problem is the failure of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and the courts to intervene and take a genuine stand against obstructive parents who engage in parental alienation and prevent court order access, which damages both the relationship between, and the mental health of, the child and the non-resident parent?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. CAFCASS has an incredibly difficult job to do, but too often it fails to deal with issues such as parental alienation, and it is important that we consider the problem of poor enforcement of contact orders when non-resident parents are granted access but resident parents ignore them.
The current situation does not work, and both coalition partners gave commitments on several areas relating to family law reform. Some of those issues—mediation and dispute resolution, better enforcement of contact orders and, I hope, reform of court practices—will be genuinely improved by the Bill, but both coalition partners also gave clear commitments on the subject of shared parenting or shared contact. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister said that courts are seen as creating winners and losers, and it is vital that both parents feel confident that the court will consider fully the benefits of their involvement.
The Government have worked hard to strike the right balance, called for by groups such as Families Need Fathers, UK Family Law Reform and the Association for Shared Parenting. Clearly, the legislative intent of clause 11 was to bridge the gap between delivering tangible progress on shared parenting while ensuring the paramount need of the child’s welfare was preserved through a presumption in favour of shared contact, providing there was no good reason to oppose it.
I was elected on a promise to seek a legal presumption in favour of automatic shared contact, something that the Bill achieved before the amendment was added, but clause 11, as amended, will not deliver what we promised. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me on that point and confirm that I am incorrect in that. There is a whole library of research showing the benefits to a child of a proper, meaningful and ongoing relationship with the non-resident parent. If, as a society, we are genuinely interested in tackling the impact of family breakdown, we must start by encouraging and enabling non-resident parents to remain active in their children’s lives.
The amendment plays into the hands of obstructive resident parents who wish to prevent a child from having a meaningful, ongoing relationship with an absent parent, and puts us back into a situation of winners and losers. Some 10% to 20% of separations—often those that are the most rancorous and upsetting, and in which winners and losers are created—come before the courts. It is right that the court should be bound by the paramountcy principle, but the culture of shared parenting should be driven home, forcing hitherto hostile and oppositional parents to work together in the interests of their child.
I hope that the Minister can provide me with the reassurance I seek. Apart from that, I believe this to be an excellent Bill on which we have all worked long and hard. I support the rest of the clauses and the amendments, and thank him for his attention on these matters.
I, too, have a long history with the Bill, having served in Committee, and being here for its final Commons stage today. It has been a real privilege to watch a master class from my hon. Friend the Minister in how to pilot a Bill with great dignity, courtesy and endless quantities of patience.
I also wish to pay tribute to the shadow Minister, who is no longer in her place but performed her role in Committee with great aplomb. She has handed over to Steve McCabe, whom I pressed earlier on the subject of childminders. It has been a pleasure to serve on this landmark Bill, and it will also be a pleasure to see it brought into force.
I shall concentrate on one basic statistic. In 1986, the employment rate for mothers whose youngest child is under three was 25%. Today, it is 56% and rising. That matters because it says everything about how the world has changed. If so many more women are in work—more than half of all mothers with children under three—child care is instantly an issue. That is why I raised the issue of childminders. In my constituency, if a family is above the benefits threshold but cannot afford £10,000 or so a year for a nursery, it has a real problem. That is why childminders are so important for that intermediate child care and why I make the case for the need to consider people in that salary band. There is a lot of deprivation in my constituency, and many people in low-skilled, low-paid work are in that position.
It also means that, because both partners are in work, parental love, affection and child care have to be juggled. Involvement in the child’s life has been transformed in the past 25 years: fathers are more involved with their children. Both parents are more involved with their children than ever before because of social change. That is why I welcome the changes in the Bill that relate to parental leave. Shared parental leave is a recognition of how the world has changed so very much.
I have raised the issue of contact many times in this place: the rights of children to have access to their parents. I thank the shadow Minister for using that formulation, because it is very important. It is a damning statistic that, of the 3 million children who live apart from a parent, 1 million have no contact with a parent three years after separation. That is really tragic, particularly given the way the world has changed. One parent, who was heavily involved in a child’s upbringing, is suddenly no longer there at all. That is destabilising to the child. That is why, in times past, I brought in a Bill to this House to enforce contact properly and place a duty on all. The right is not the right of the parent, but the right of the child to know and have a relationship with both their parents: the right of the child to have access to their parents.
This massive social change over the past 25 years matters so much because not all our judiciary are young people living the lives of modern parents seeking to get by. Not all academics or our social work establishment are young and as aware as they could be in their daily lives of this particular situation. It is for that reason that I want to congratulate my hon. Friend Caroline Nokes on her passionate, heartfelt and deeply thoughtful speech. She is absolutely right in all she says. I congratulate my hon. Friend Tim Loughton on taking up this case originally and putting it forward.
The statistic on the involvement of both parents in the life of their child is particularly relevant to clause 11, which states
“unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.”
I, too, share the concerns raised today that the amendment originally tabled by Baroness Butler-Sloss in the Lords Grand Committee risks watering that down. I recognise my hon. Friend the Minister’s assurances when he says that he is confident that the amendment does not alter the meaning of the clause or its intended effect. I hope that that will be reflected in the guidance issued to the family division, and that the family division will take note of that. It is really important that this principle is not ceded, particularly given that Baroness Butler-Sloss included not just the irrelevant issue of the division of a child’s time that resulted from the Norgrove report getting distracted by the Australian experience and the issue of the direct and indirect access.
It would not be right to have a situation in which the only contact for a parent who has been heavily involved in a child’s life is just a phone call at Christmas, a book of photographs or the odd letter exchange. That does not constitute a right to know and a relationship with both parents. The right of children to have access to both their parents is essential. It matters because they may wish to turn one parent or to the other parent for mentorship, guidance, love and affection. We should enable that to happen. We should recognise that the world has changed.
Of course, children will have access to their further family through both parents, so it is critical that they have an absolute right to direct, physical contact, and that should be a presumption, unless there is a proven safety reason.
I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend, who has been a staunch supporter of this principle in her time here. I thank her for her support in times past.
“I had very useful discussions with an organisation, Families Need Fathers, and I ask the Minister to see that any information that is sent out to various organisations also goes to that one because it has an utterly sensible approach. It is very keen that the non-resident parent should have a proper connection with the child to further the child’s welfare, but recognises that it is not shared parenting. It is an extremely useful organisation and I commend it.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 5 February 2014; Vol. 752, c. 206.]
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech and on introducing his private Member’s Bill, which followed mine a couple of years ago. I am concerned that Butler-Sloss’s amendment will water down the rights that we want to create for parents of either sex who do not generally live with the family. I urge the Minister, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to be absolutely firm on this point—
Order. The hon. Gentleman’s intervention is so long he has lost sight of the fact that there has been a sex change in the Chair. I think he has completed his intervention, for which the House is inordinately grateful.
May I be the first to welcome you to the Chair, Mr Speaker? I also thank my hon. Friend Mr Binley, who has been passionate about these issues for many years. Many of us have made common cause on this matter.
In conclusion, I simply enjoin the Minister to take up Baroness Butler-Sloss’s recommendation, in line with the guidance of Families Need Fathers, and to work positively to ensure that children have a right of access to both their parents and that the amendment is not misconstrued.
I think the Minister has asked the leave of the House, hasn’t he?
It almost passed my lips, and it has done now.
This has been a detailed debate of the amendments made to the Bill in another place. The changes are a testament to the dedication of both Houses to making the Bill the best it can be, and I completely understand the interest of hon. Members on both sides of the House in its implementation: it is an excellent Bill, and it is only right that we ensure its successful implementation. Provided we can find time for early and proper consideration of the secondary legislation, we expect to implement the Bill’s reforms quickly so that they can begin to make a real difference for children and families across the country.
I will seek to write to all hon. Members who have asked detailed questions in the debate. My hon. Friend Mr Stuart asked when the revised code of practice would be made available. It will be made available as soon as possible after Royal Assent, but I am sure he will appreciate that we want to get it right. My hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Northampton South (Mr Binley)—I hope that this last heard my earlier praise for his involvement in this important clause—raised important points. As the Bill stands, the presumption is clear, and I do not share the scepticism of some hon. Members that it has been diluted to the point of having no effect. This is a considerable change and should not be underestimated.
The principle and purpose that the Bill enshrines in law, in conjunction with many other measures we are taking, both through the Bill and in non-legislative ways, will help to ensure that more children have the opportunity to have a relationship with both parents. To enable that to happen in practice, we have made sure that the Judicial College is aware of the provision in clause 11 and the Government’s objective behind it. Although it is for the judiciary to consider its required training itself, we will continue to work with it to ensure that there is clear information about the intended effect and operation of the clause, so that they can be reflected, if need be, in future training.
It is important to make it clear that this is about the right of the child. The reason we have set about introducing the provisions in this clause—over many years, both in opposition and now in government—is to put across a strong message to many of the families who find themselves at the door of a court: we are interested in only one thing, which is making sure that any children involved in a case get the opportunity to have their rights put first and, as a consequence, have a meaningful relationship with both sides of their parentage.
As I made clear earlier in the debate, the paramountcy principle still holds in this case, as does the need to ensure that the child in question would be safe. That has to be the case, but what kicks in under those circumstances is the presumption that the child will have a relationship with both parents. That is an important change that we should all support.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to share some well deserved thanks.
On a day when 3.2 million diabetics are registered in the United Kingdom and we are seeing a rise in type 1 diabetes among children, will the Minister confirm that the duty to support pupils with medical conditions means that insulin pumps will be available and one or two teachers will be available and able to understand how to deal with diabetic hypos?
The clause in question puts the “Managing medicines” guidance on a statutory footing. That has long been called for and is a significant change. The equipment that will be available in schools is still a matter of discretion, but we look at these things carefully, particularly when it comes to defibrillators and the important role they play in schools, as well as other public spaces. However, I hope the hon. Gentleman is pleased with the advance that we have made on that aspect of the Bill.
It now feels like a very long time ago that work on the Bill began. Mrs Hodgson said at the end of Committee last April:
That was nine months ago, so it is fair to say that we have been working on this Bill for a long time now. However, it is only right to acknowledge the four Select Committees that conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill—the Select Committees on Education and on Justice, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Lords Select Committee on Adoption Legislation—and the great start they got us off to.
We have had some excellent debates in this House on the Bill. I would like to thank hon. Members for their participation and for how supportive they have been in helping the Government to develop the Bill. An illustration of how much work has been done is that, in both Houses together, 1,153 amendments have been tabled and debated. The Bill started off as a very good piece of legislation; with all the constructive and well-meaning work that we and Members of another place have done on it, I believe it is now a great piece of legislation. We should all be very pleased about that and the benefits that children, young people and their families will see as a consequence.
I am sure we all appreciate the hard work of the Clerks of the House and the Hansard reporters throughout the passage of the Bill, which I know has involved some late nights for them, for which I take some responsibility. If it is any consolation to them, I have also had a fair few sleepless nights—not that my children and family have had much sympathy with that. I also thank the many organisations that have engaged with us on the Bill, all of which have made an important contribution. I hope that they will continue to work with the Department as we proceed with the key task of successful implementation. A good many Ministers have been involved in the various stages of the Bill, and they deserve thanks as well.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), who initiated this work with such vigour and aplomb. I thank my hon. Friend the Members for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, and the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Jane Ellison, with whom I have had the delight of sharing the Front Bench as a minority male. Importantly, I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who shares my passionate determination to improve the lives of our most disadvantaged young people, and has not a capricious bone in his body: he has only compassionate bones.
I thank all our colleagues in the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who have done so much to put departmental boundaries aside in the interests of children and families. Finally, I particularly thank my friends in the other place: Lord Nash—who has been stoic, good-humoured and unflappable—Lord Faulks, Lord McNally, Viscount Younger and Earl Howe; and I thank my noble Friend Baroness Northover for picking up the baton from Baroness Garden with such prowess and nerveless enthusiasm.
It has been an undiluted and, as it has turned out, a long-standing privilege to work on a Bill which will make a real difference to children and families, and which we have been able to manage in this place in ways that have been very constructive and often even consensual. In that context, I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Washington and Sunderland West for their leadership during the Bill’s earlier outings in this House, and to the hon. Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who have continued to work in the same spirit today.
Today we have recognised, and heard from, Members in all parts of the House who are passionate and committed in their pursuit of improvements for our most vulnerable children. Let me repeat my thanks to all of them, and particularly to those who were members of the Public Bill Committee between
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the pivotal roles of my right hon. Friend Sir Richard Ottaway and my hon. Friends the Members for Guildford (Anne Milton) and for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) in securing the Bill’s safe passage by virtue of their professional and tactful stewardship. Numerous officials from various Departments have worked very hard on the Bill, and I am sure that the House will want thank them as well.
I cannot end my speech without singling out for special mention the Bill team and other Government officials, led with such distinction by Jenny Preece. I thank Jamie, Alan, Lara, Helen, Ruth, Katy, Lizzie, the lead lawyers Sofie, Paula and their colleagues, Phil, Stephen, Jonathan and everyone in the special educational needs team, and all the officials and lawyers—too many to mention—in several Departments who have contributed to the development, drafting and scrutiny of the Bill. Their efforts usually go unnoticed and undetected, and are carried out without fanfare. I, along with other Ministers and all Members—as well as you, Mr Speaker—owe them enormous gratitude. It has been an absolute delight to work with each and every one of them.
I hope that the House will agree that all the amendments made by another place are beneficial to the Bill and, ultimately, to children and their families. If so, we can then move on speedily to the task of turning this legislation into something that has meaning and impact, and, above all, is able to make young lives better.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 120, 126 to 149 and 151 to 176 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 15, 17 to 20, 22, 25, 27 to 31, 33 to 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 44, 64, 66, 85, 88 to 90, 92, 94, 96, 97, 104 to 109, 115 to 118, 126 to 129, 135, 144, 149 and 176.