My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I speak also to all the other amendments in my name. As we reach the final stages of this short but important Bill there is one issue above all others that we have debated at earlier stages which remains to be resolved. I refer to the question of whether the new duty on local authorities to assess and meet the needs of eligible young people should extend beyond the limited period allowed for on the face of the Bill. The case for extending this duty beyond a care leaver's 18th birthday up to and including the age of 21 is, I believe, overwhelming. It is a case that was strongly recommended by Sir William Utting in his report on the review of safeguards for children living away from home and was endorsed wholeheartedly by the Select Committee on Health in another place.
Nor is there any doubt among the many voluntary organisations working in the care system and assisting care leavers that to limit the scope of the new duty to the two years immediately following a young person's discharge from care would be profoundly short-sighted. As noble Lords from all sides of the Chamber argued in Committee, we can see from examples of work done in various parts of the country how cost-effective it is to provide good quality support to care leavers throughout their first four or five years of independent living. The evidence can be seen in lower rates of offending, acquiring skills for life, maintaining a home, and building that essential quality of self-esteem. By contrast the statistics for those care leavers who are not so fortunate in terms of aftercare tell a very different and depressing story.
I am certain that the Minister needs no persuading on the merits of these arguments. Indeed, it is clear from all that he has said that the issue for the Government is not whether extended support should be given to care leavers, but when. That issue depends on the availability of resources. Those of us who have worked in government departments will know how easy it is for others outside government to make demands on the budget when the reality for Ministers is a good deal more complex and difficult. Quite often, chief among those difficulties is the process of obtaining agreement from the Treasury.
However, one significant thing has happened since we first began debating the Bill last December and since we last debated it on Report; namely, the pledge from Ministers of very substantial additional resources for the health budget with effect from next year. In the light of that announcement, is the Minister able to say anything more on funding? In making that request, my hopes are high. A number of amendments, grouped with my amendment, have been tabled by the Government on the issue of extended support. Without wishing to pre-empt the Minister's remarks, I believe that I am right in interpreting the amendments as a significant move by the Government in the direction of the position that I and other noble Lords have been asking them to take. I am grateful to the Minister for his courtesy in letting me have the text of these amendments on Friday and for the helpful explanatory letter which accompanied them.
If I have understood the government amendments correctly, they represent very good news indeed. They appear to fulfil the undertaking made by the Minister in Committee on providing extended support for care leavers for training, education and employment. Equally, they appear also to encompass the continuing support proposed in my amendments. I should be grateful if the Minister could answer two questions. First, if the government amendments are accepted, the new duties to be placed on local authorities will apply to care leavers, or "former relevant children" as they are termed, up to the age of 21. Can the Minister say whether that means until the child or young person reaches the age of 22 or, as I slightly fear that it means, up to but not beyond his or her 21st birthday?
Secondly, I am sure that it will be of immense interest to the House if the Minister can now say when the Government propose to bring the new provisions into effect. The noble Lord may be unable to be too forthcoming. I am reminded of Sir William Utting's words in his report. He believed, and still does I trust, that if there is a time to make these changes, it is now or as soon as possible. I look forward to hearing from the Minister and other noble Lords. I beg to move.
My Lords, the aim of the amendment--it was put forward in Committee and on Report--is to ensure that local authorities are under a duty to meet the continuing assessed needs of young people up to the age of 21 who have previously been in care. This would provide a safety net for all those young people who leave care and get into difficulties later. The view of all sides of the Chamber in Committee and on Report was that young people leaving care have to cope with the challenges and responsibilities of major changes in their lives at a far earlier stage than other young people. Yet they face additional problems purely as a result of having been in care.
It cannot be right that young people in care must go to great lengths to obtain the opportunities that other young people take for granted. It cannot be right that children and young people leaving care have to fight for financial and practical assistance to stay on a course, in a job, or in a home where they feel secure and happy. I am glad to say that the amendment was supported by the Association of Directors of Social Services.
On 10th February in the debate in Grand Committee, and on 9th March on Report, the Minister expressed his agreement with the principle of the need to extend the proposed new duty to care leavers up to the age of 21. He said that the Government were committed to doing that as soon as possible. However, the problem as he expressed it was essentially one of timing. On these Benches, although we understood the timing difficulties faced by the Government, and the fact that the Comprehensive Spending Review round two had not yet pronounced, we were firmly of the view that the duty should be put on the face of the Bill. A powerful moral and practical case for pressing ahead was made by Sir William Utting in the House of Lords at a meeting in January. He concluded:
"A better time for pressing ahead is unlikely to occur. If it is not done now, can it ever be done?"
We are delighted on these Benches, therefore, that after consideration the Minister has decided to accept the arguments put forward on all sides of the House. I should like to join the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in thanking the Minister for his courtesy in writing to me on Friday announcing that decision. I pay tribute at this stage to the consortium of voluntary organisations working with looked-after children led by First Key which campaigned so effectively and gave us such valuable support in arguing the case.
I recognise that much of the efficacy of the amendment tabled by the Minister will depend on the appointed date chosen. I hope that the Minister's influence, which has proved so considerable to date, will extend to ensuring an earlier appointed day. Guidance, however, on when that appointed day will be would be much appreciated. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
My Lords, I support the amendment. Many young people who have been in care or are coming out of care are disabled or have learning difficulties, and the process therefore takes much longer. It is an important matter.
I congratulate the Minister on his hard work on, and interest in, the Bill. I was surprised that more noble Lords did not take sufficient interest in the Bill. It is exceedingly important. If one can prevent people being sucked into a life of crime, it is well worth while. That is of great importance to the families, the young people and to the country because it saves money.
My Lords, I support the amendment and put forward one further argument. We have discussed the way in which young people have been let down before they arrived in care and while in care. The Government's innovations--the young person's assistant and the pathway plan--will give those young people the additional support they need to make a go of life. However, if the young person's assistant does not have the authority to require local authorities to provide the necessary facilities agreed between the young person and his assistant, there is the danger that the trust between the young person and his adviser will be lost. We have talked often of the danger of estrangement. It is an important consideration. I, too, welcome the happy news of the Government's concession with regard to training and education.
My Lords, I welcome the success and my congratulations on the cross-party achievement. We have all worked together to make the Bill more successful. I have worked with children in care--indeed, many years ago I worked in a residential home--and this Bill is the most important piece of legislation I have participated in since my introduction two years ago. We know that the passing of the Bill will mean something real to a group of young people who are most disadvantaged and in need of support. I congratulate the Minister and thank him for all his efforts on our behalf.
My Lords, it is tempting to quit while we are ahead in the mutual congratulations. It is a reflection on our serious and considered debates on the Bill throughout its stages in this House. It is also about our united determination to do much better for looked-after children and looked-after children who have left care.
The stark statistics which I quoted at Second Reading resulted in our discussions on the amendments: 75 per cent of young people leaving care have no educational qualifications; up to 50 per cent are unemployed; and up to 20 per cent experience some form of homelessness within two years of leaving care. Such statistics make me believe that the Bill will enable us to provide the support that has been so sadly lacking in so many parts of the country for these young people.
The development of a much enhanced service and the legislation that is before us rests on current good practice within the system. It is as well also to acknowledge the work of some local authorities in providing effective support.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that it is "when" and not "if". That takes us to the substance of what is proposed: ensuring that young care leavers receive the support they need. The Government's amendments provide a far-reaching and coherent package for support for these young people. In beginning my remarks I apologise to your Lordships for the lateness in their tabling. However, given their welcome, I am sure that I can ask indulgence.
There is no doubt that support for care leavers aged 18 and over has aroused considerable passion and debate. Noble Lords from all sides of the House have made the point that young people from a normal family background can usually expect to be able to ask for help and support from their parents into their 20s and in some cases even longer. Noble Lords have made the point that young people leaving care have at least the same need for such continuing support. I agree wholeheartedly.
The amendments are about making sure that care leavers receive the support they need as young adults. Amendment No. 5 removes any ambiguity about the status of a young person who is an eligible child and leaves care at 18. Such a young person skips, as it were, the status of relevant child, as relevant children are those who leave care at 16 and 17, qualifying for the new arrangements. It might therefore seem that such a young person would not qualify for support after 18, but this amendment makes it quite plain that they are to receive these continuing duties from their responsible authority.
In addition, through these amendments we have brought together all the provisions for continuing support for former relevant children, so that they will sit as a single package at new Section 22C rather than being scattered through the Bill. I believe that that approach has a number of benefits. First, it makes this part of the Bill a good deal clearer. As we have debated the legislation, we have all had to wrestle with the fact that it is complex. We have tried to balance concision against repetition. This new presentation introduces some repetition, but I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is a price worth paying for the clarity it offers.
Amendments Nos. 3, 6 to 10 and 13 to 15 are all drafting amendments, mainly consequential on grouping all these duties together in new Section 23C. Finally, Amendment 11, at subsection (5), introduces new duties whereby local authorities must provide assistance to their former relevant children.
We have agreed that we would want to see those duties introduced as soon as possible, but we have so far failed to agree how they should appear in the Bill. The Government's position continues to be that implementation will occur when resources permit and at levels which resources permit, with differential commencements if necessary. In laying the amendment, I must again stress that we cannot anticipate the outcome of the spending review. It would therefore fall to health Ministers to defer implementation or to meet any costs arising from the amendments by reprioritisation within the Department of Health allocation in the event that the spending review did not award sufficient funds for this purpose.
Given that position, which will not come as a surprise to noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, offered us a way through our impasse when he spoke in Committee. He pointed out that it is not uncommon for Bills to be passed without a final commitment to a timetable for implementation either for all or part of the Bill. It remains a matter for government to decide when to commence any of the Bill's provisions.
We have listened carefully to the arguments which noble Lords have made repeatedly throughout debates on the issue. Noble Lords are rightly concerned that there should be no shred of ambiguity about the Government's commitment to these young care leavers to ensure that they receive the support which will enable them to live fulfilled and productive lives as full members of society. That is why we have decided that the new duties should appear on the face of the Bill to be implemented as soon as we have secured the resources to support them.
The amendment to new Section 23C(5)(a) imposes a new duty on a responsible authority to assist a former relevant child up to the age of 21 with the expenses associated with employment. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that that means on the person's 21st birthday. The amendment at new Section 23C(5)(b) imposes a new duty on a responsible authority to assist a former relevant child with the expenses associated with education or training. In this case, the duty applies until the end of the care leaver's agreed programme of education or training, even if that takes him past the age of 21. This is another place where this approach offers more than was before us previously.
The amendment at new Section 23C(5)(c) imposes a new duty on local authorities to provide general assistance to care leavers aged 18 to 21 if their welfare requires it. That assistance can be in kind or, if appropriate, in cash. As ever, the key mechanism for this is the pathway plan. A young person will always keep his pathway plan until he is 21 and it will continue to be reviewed and revised until then.
However, if the local authority continues to assist someone in education or training, new Section 23C(8)(b) ensures that he will keep his personal adviser and his personal plan, which will continue to be reviewed and revised until that support comes to an end. So it is possible to envisage a case where someone comes very late indeed to education, starts his GCSEs just before the age of 21 and is assisted by the local authority through a complete course of education to degree level or even beyond. That meets an important point which was raised in Committee.
The amendment at new Section 23C(9) requires the authority to disregard any gaps in attendance for reasons such as illness so long as the young person resumes the course as soon as possible. New Section 23C(10) obliges the responsible authority to provide vacation accommodation to young people whom they are assisting with higher education, should they need it.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that this package of support is a significant step forward for young people aged 18 and over who have left care. It treats them as adults operating in the adult world, but it provides support for them while they find their feet. It seems to me to be very much a feature of the Bill that support and assistance will be tailored to young people's individual needs and circumstances. Therefore, the provisions mirror much more closely what a young person could expect from his family.
I believe also that the provisions for support through education and training should encourage more young people to take up those opportunities and so improve their chances of a rewarding career. No longer will we have a situation in which as many as 75 per cent of young people who leave care have no educational qualifications. I trust that noble Lords will support the amendments.
My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for sending me the amendments at the weekend. I was most grateful and I congratulate him. I do not know whether the lateness of the amendments was a sign that he had to fight hard in the department to get them. However, he has done extremely well. We are very pleased and grateful to him.
I am glad that he said what he did about those who enter education rather late. They may not have finished by the time they reach 18 or 21 but they will continue to receive some help and advice, perhaps by means of accommodation or cash. However, I believe that altogether it represents a very happy outcome for the Bill and, again, I congratulate the Minister. I hope that it will not be too long before it can be implemented, and I hope that he will continue to fight for that.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I much regret that, due to other duties in the House, I have not been able to take part in the Bill before now. I have one specific question to which I should be most grateful for an answer. That question arose because of experience that I have had in connection with children's committees at local authority level. I have known of occasions when children who leave care have been allocated a flat but have not had the slightest idea how to shop, cook or do anything connected with looking after themselves in that flat. Do the amendment that we are now discussing (which I have been following carefully) and other amendments deal with that point?
My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness has made a very important point. The whole purpose of the Bill as it stands before your Lordships' House is to ensure that a pathway plan and young person's adviser provide an infrastructure of support which will not allow a young person simply to be placed in accommodation or elsewhere and left to fend for themselves. The purpose of the pathway plan and the advice from the young person's adviser is to enable young people more easily to cope in those circumstances. I believe that the noble Baroness has raised a most important issue.
My Lords, I noticed the Chief Whip's eye on me and I shall be brief. I wish to ask a very short question. During the course of the Bill, I noticed with interest that the Minister talked of cash being available in exceptional circumstances. However, just now he referred to "appropriate circumstances". They are not the same. The words "appropriate circumstances" provide a wider definition. I was about to question the Minister as to whether "exceptional circumstances" are, indeed, wide enough.
At First Reading I raised a question, which I believe my noble friend has just amplified, with regard to the necessity for young people to be able to budget and to be taught to budget. I believe we agreed that cash would be available. I noticed that in both new Section 24C and now in the new Section 11 it will be available in "exceptional" circumstances. I wonder whether that is too tightly framed.
My Lords, I want to raise two points. When we debated this matter at Second Reading and in Committee, I believe that we agreed that part of the whole package of measures which arise from this legislation is to enable young people to go out into the world with the ability to survive with support that can be given through the young person's adviser and through other mechanisms contained in the Bill.
The question in relation to resources is important. One of the main purposes of the Bill is to remove the perverse incentives which encourage local authorities to encourage young people to leave care as soon as possible because those young people are eligible to receive benefits and the bill does not then fall on the local authority. Importantly for 16 and 17 year-olds, the Bill changes the circumstances so that a ring-fenced budget will enable a local authority to provide proper support, including, of course, issues in relation to the handling of resources.
I believe that the point raised by the noble Baroness relates to people aged 18 and over who become eligible for benefits. Therefore, the circumstances in which additional assistance may need to be given in cash would be exceptional. I hope that I have clarified that point.
My Lords, as always, the Minister has been very clear and helpful in speaking to his amendments. I shall not spoil the mood of general rejoicing by qualifying my thanks to him in any way. It was not realistic to expect that a commencement date for the new provisions would appear on the face of the Bill; nor, indeed, was I seeking that. It must be enough for us to place our trust in the Minister's assurances given today about the commitment that exists in his department on the importance of these matters.
This has been a most rewarding Bill in which to take part, not simply for the subject matter which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, rightly said, is of great importance, but for the way in which the Minister personally has listened and responded to the concerns expressed by noble Lords throughout the Bill's stages. I thank him for that. I believe that the House has done its work well and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
moved Amendments Nos. 5 to 11:
Page 4, line 19, leave out from ("the") to end of line 25 and insert ("duties provided for in this section towards--
(a) a person who has been a relevant child for the purposes of section 23A (and would be one if he were under eighteen), and in relation to whom they were the last responsible authority; and
(b) a person who was being looked after by them when he attained the age of eighteen, and immediately before ceasing to be looked after was an eligible child, and in this section such a person is referred to as a "former relevant child.").
Page 4, leave out lines 26 to 29.
Page 4, line 30, leave out ("The first duty is") and insert ("It is the duty of the local authority").
Page 4, line 31, leave out ("him") and insert ("a former relevant child").
Page 4, line 34, leave out ("The other duties are") and insert ("It is the duty of the local authority").
Page 4, line 36, leave out ("him") and insert ("a former relevant child").
Page 4, line 38, at end insert--
("(5) It is the duty of the local authority to give a former relevant child--
(a) assistance of the kind referred to in section 24B(1), to the extent that his welfare requires it;
(b) assistance of the kind referred to in section 24B(2), to the extent that his welfare and his educational or training needs require it;
(c) other assistance, to the extent that his welfare requires it.
(6) The assistance given under subsection (5)(c) may be in kind or, in exceptional circumstances, in cash.
(7) Subject to subsection (8), the duties set out in subsections (3), (4) and (5) subsist until the former relevant child reaches the age of twenty-one.
(8) If the former relevant child's pathway plan sets out a programme of education or training which extends beyond his twenty-first birthday--
(a) the duty set out in subsection (5)(b) continues to subsist for so long as the former relevant child continues to pursue that programme; and
(b) the duties set out in subsections (3) and (4) continue to subsist concurrently with that duty.
(9) For the purposes of subsection (8)(a) there shall be disregarded any interruption in a former relevant child's pursuance of a programme of education or training if the local authority are satisfied that he will resume it as soon as is reasonably practicable.
(10) Section 24B(5) applies in relation to a person being given assistance under subsection (5)(b) as it applies in relation to a person to whom section 24B(3) applies.
(11) Subsections (7) to (9) of section 17 apply in relation to assistance given under this section as they apply in relation to assistance given under that section.".").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 3 [Personal advisers and pathway plans]:
My Lords, on previous occasions many noble Lords have recognised the central importance of the personal adviser to the success of the new arrangements for young people in and leaving care. On Report I stated that the Government intended to bring forward an amendment at Third Reading to allow for greater clarity as to the functions of the personal adviser and his or her relationship with the local authority. That is the purpose of the amendment before us.
The amendment makes clear that regulations provided for at new Section 23D may set out the functions of the personal adviser in respect of all the groups of children and young people who may be entitled to one. That means eligible children, relevant children, former relevant children and any other group of young people for whom the Secretary of State prescribes a personal adviser.
This amendment is straightforward. It seeks to provide greater clarity as to the functions of the personal adviser and the regulations that the Government will be putting in place to prescribe those functions. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 13 and 14:
Page 5, line 14, leave out from ("under") to end of line 15 and insert ("this Part, both while they are looking after him and later;").
Page 5, line 21, leave out ("section 23B(8), 24A or 24B") and insert ("this Part").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 4 [Advice and assistance for certain children and young persons aged 16 or over]:
moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 6, line 45, leave out from ("duty") to ("empowered") in line 1 on page 7 and insert (", or are").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 6 [Exclusion from benefits]:
[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]
Clause 6 agreed to.
Clause 8 [Interpretation, commencement, extent, Wales and short title]:
moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 10, line 16, leave out ("which also extends") and insert ("and this section, which also extend").
My Lords, this is a technical amendment to make clear that the ancillary provisions of Clause 8 also extend to Scotland. Noble Lords will be aware that the intention is that Clause 6 in respect of welfare benefits will not be commenced in Scotland until there is Scottish legislation in place to provide support for care leavers. This amendment will allow Clause 6 to be commenced in Scotland by order at the appropriate time. I beg to move.
I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure. In moving this Motion, I suggest that we resume not before 4 p.m.
Moved, That the House do now adjourn during pleasure.--(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)
My Lords, the explanation I suggest is the expeditious nature of our deliberations on the Children (Leaving Care) Bill.
My Lords, that really is not a satisfactory answer. There may well be one. If every time the House proceeds to make rapid progress, we then find that we adjourn during pleasure, proceedings will be unduly delayed and we will all get to bed much later.