Clause 7 - Co-operation to improve well-being

Children Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 14th October 2004.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children) 3:45 pm, 14th October 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 24, in

clause 7, page 5, line 22, after 'partners', insert 'to include voluntary organisations'.

At last, we have reached part 2, about halfway through our proceedings. The clause deals with the principle of joined-up approaches between the professionals—the various agencies and bodies involved in child protection and promoting the welfare of children.

Amendment No. 24 is a probing amendment. Many voluntary organisations involved with children's welfare have made representations about the clause, because they feel that voluntary partners should be mentioned in the Bill—as it stands, they are not. I am sure that the Government are mindful of the good work and essential involvement of voluntary bodies in this area. Without them—be it the NSPCC, Barnardo's or any of the wealth of other voluntary bodies—much of what we are trying to achieve would not be possible.

Amendment No. 24 would therefore include the mention of voluntary organisations. I know what the Government will say: that that would give undue preference to a particular body of people. On Tuesday, we were told that even parents would not be afforded any particular recognition; they do not occupy a special place in our attitudes towards children. If even parents cannot get mentioned in part 1, I am not optimistic that voluntary organisations will be included in part 2. However, we keep on trying, because we believe that voluntary organisations play a particularly important role, and that it would be useful for them to be named.

On occasions, conflicts occur between a commissioning local authority and particular voluntary organisations. Local authorities may, on the one hand, view voluntary organisations as merely cheap labour to provide services—they provide those services very well—or, on the other hand, may ignore them if they are not required. Both positions are

equally untenable. We believe that including voluntary organisations in the Bill would strengthen it and would also remind the various authorities and agencies of Government that voluntary partners are essential to make the joined-up approach work. That is why I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I welcome you to the Chair, Dame Marion. I am confident in saying that you and I never attended the same school, and equally confident in saying that none of the schools that I attended have ever put up my picture.

I also say to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham that, since I am dealing with the clause, he is right not to be optimistic. However, I agree with him about the importance of voluntary organisations: they are vital if we are to deliver on this agenda. They need to be involved not just as providers of services but in commissioning and developing strategy and policy. However, we cannot support the amendment, because to include voluntary organisations in the Bill would be to treat them as a cohesive group, which they are not. If we expected the partners to treat them as such, they would have to choose between them and would find that difficult. In addition, the Bill is a two-way street. It imposes responsibilities as well as rights on the partners.

Under the amendment, voluntary organisations would be expected to fulfil certain duties, but many would not be able to fulfil their part of the bargain, even though they could still make a valuable contribution as part of the overall strategy. That is why subsection (1)(c) provides for the inclusion of voluntary organisations in a sustainable way. We support such involvement and have undertaken to produce guidance that will say clearly that voluntary organisations should be part of the co-operative partnership that we are trying to create. With those assurances, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Those are perfectly practical responses to the amendment. The recognition of the importance of voluntary organisations is welcome and probably the most that we can expect at this stage. With that in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

I beg to move amendment No. 59, in

clause 7, page 5, line 25, at end insert—

'(d) neighbouring children's services authorities particularly when boundaries between the authorities are crossed by relevant partners.'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 23, in

clause 7, page 5, line 25, at end insert—

'(1A) This section also applies to children in the authority's care but placed outside that authority area whilst in their care.'.

Amendment No. 60, in

clause 7, page 5, line 27, after 'children', insert

'living in or becoming known to agencies'.

Amendment No. 215, in

clause 7, page 6, line 7, leave out 'for England' and insert

'for the area any part of which falls within the area of the children's services authority'.

Amendment No. 33, in

clause 8, page 7, line 4, after 'children', insert—

'(aa) considerations apply equally to children in the care of the children's services authority who are being looked after out of that authority's geographical area, and regulations will specify procedures for the responsible body.'.

New clause 9—Children's services in England—

'(1) Where a children's services authority is a county council it must publish a plan for the devolution of co-operative arrangements to improve the well-being of children in the authority's area to district or primary care trust level.

(2) This devolved plan shall be reviewed every 4 years and the results of that review published.'.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

I am pleased that we have moved on to discuss clause 7, which is an estimable and wonderful clause that I do not criticise in any way whatever.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

In lots of senses.

I support the clause, which is fundamental to developing the new world of high-quality, integrated and child-centred children's services that we hope the Bill will bring about, but there are clearly ways in which it could be improved. I am sometimes frustrated when reading Government documents, and that was particularly the case when I read the Green Paper, because many of the references to local government seemed to be to fairly small metropolitan boroughs and boroughs that had the great good fortune of being coterminous with key partners. Unfortunately, life is not like that in large parts of the country.

My aim in amendment No. 59, therefore, is to promote co-operation not only with the authority's relevant partners and other bodies that exercise functions in relation to children in the authority's area but with neighbouring authorities. I am thinking in particular of county councils that share boundaries with primary care trusts or that share a police authority. Just from practical, everyday experience, I recommend the amendment as a sensible move to ensure that there is co-ordination and cohesion between those bodies and that we do not have a body such as Morecambe Bay primary care trust working across a very large rural area and having to relate not only to three districts but to two children's services authorities that perhaps have different priorities and ways of operating. It is essential to try to ensure that there is co-operation.

Along the same lines, new clause 9 addresses itself to my local situation. We have a huge county council in Lancashire, which encompasses 12 districts and eight primary care trusts. I have lived in the area and worked for the authority, and I simply do not believe that it is possible to build co-operative arrangements in an area of such a size and complexity and with such different relationships and interrelationships without trying to ensure an effective form of devolution.

New clause 9 is an attempt to be helpful and to try and make things work on the ground. It would provide that county councils should publish a plan for the devolution of co-operative arrangements for the key partners to a level that makes more sense to people than the entire county council area. That devolution would be to district level where all the partners are engaged and where, crucially, the children, parents and people working at the coal face have the opportunity to build good relationships on a day-to-day basis.

Without the devolution and co-operation across boundaries that I have been talking about, what we all want to happen—the transformation of children's services—will be much more difficult. That would be the case particularly in the rural areas and shire counties of this country.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children) 4:00 pm, 14th October 2004

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's case, but I want to deal more nationally with the problem that he has identified. That is the purpose of our amendments Nos. 23 and 33, which have the same aims of co-operation as clauses 7 and 8.

On Second Reading, I mentioned the real problem children placed out of area by an authority, and I think that the Minister took the point on board. I cited the example of what has been happening in my part of the world in west Sussex and specifically in Worthing in my constituency where a number of private children's homes have sprung up, the occupants of which appear to be getting disproportionately entangled with the law. That is not to make a specific comment on those people, but it is certainly a comment on the nature of the care that they are receiving, or more likely not receiving, in those private children's homes.

I gave the figures, which are from the Government, that the year before last there were 1,172 registered private children's homes, and last year the number had risen to 1,956. That is an enormous leap—it is a growth market. The chief inspector of police in Worthing told me two months ago that 23 per cent. of his monthly crime figures was committed by half a dozen teenage boys who supposedly resided in those private children's homes. That suggests that the standard of care is falling far short of what is required.

I have spoken to colleagues who have experienced the same problems, and we have taken the issue up with the Commission for Social Care Inspection, which is examining the problem. What is happening is that the line of accountability between the placing authority and the place where the looked-after young person ends up is very grey. Technically, responsibility should be with the placing authority that has the teenager in care and then places them out of area because of the suitability or availability of children's accommodation elsewhere. However, the minute that the young person leaves the authority's geographical zone and the cheque for his or her care is signed, the interest that the authority shows in the subsequent behaviour of that child falls well below the standards that we would expect.

Typically, the London authority placing a young person in a home in Worthing—I will not name names—does not appear to be doing the checks that we would hope for. So when the young person goes ''off the rails''—we should define that term—the finger of responsibility is pointed at West Sussex social services, which technically has no responsibility for that young person. There is no obligation on the placing authority even to tell West Sussex social services or West Sussex council that the person has been placed in that council's territory. It has been calculated, although we cannot tell for sure, that more than 200 such placements are made in West Sussex alone, and if something goes wrong, the local social services department is asked why it is not doing something about it. If the teenager gets into trouble, the local police then have to do something about it, and the local magistrates court increasingly has its time taken up dealing with the young people who fall foul of the law. That is in nobody's interests; it is certainly not in the interests of the host authority or its professionals, or of the placing authority and, most important, it is not in the interests of the young person or child who is placed out of area.

The purpose of the amendment is to try to ensure that the children's services authorities do not just promote co-operation between the neighbouring authorities—a children's services authority, a primary care trust, another health institution and so on—which have day-to-day managerial arrangements in common, but actually have to promote co-operation with the host authority where the looked-after children or young people are placed. That point not clear in the Bill as drafted. The line of accountability is technically defined in Government regulations but, in practice, it is falling down. The amendment would remind placing authorities that they have a duty to co-operate and to pay greater regard to the well-being and the future of their looked-after children, even though they are out of sight—out of sight but not out of mind, to coin the phrase.

The amendment is important because it would tackle a very real problem. Technically, there may be problems with the wording of the amendment or its place in the Bill, but the Government need to take the problem on board and address it. They could do so by accepting the amendment, which goes to the heart of our approach to the problem of how to ''join up'' all the professionals in caring for looked-after children, particularly those who are especially problematic, such as the young people I have been talking about.

The amendment is constructive and helpful; I hope that the Minister will take it on board and give us words of encouragement. Many hon. Members will have experienced the same problems in their constituencies.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I support the amendments. I am particularly concerned about the criss-crossing of boundaries. Some county councils work very well with district councils, others do not. The situation is patchy across the country, as are the workings of different health authorities. The amendments have a lot to contribute to finding a solution.

We heard on Second Reading of the tragedy of cases in which children may be placed out of London when they have just started with foster parents. I do not know the best way to tackle that problem, but it is right to raise these issues, because young people are falling through the gap. They are being blamed for their activities but do not get any support, and I am sympathetic to the view that we must do something about that.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

When we consulted on ''Every child matters'', we received a very clear message from respondents that we needed to focus on outcomes rather than structures, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre would agree. That is why we have tried to create a duty to co-operate and to promote co-operation without being prescriptive about the structures that people must create to do that. There are different circumstances in different parts of the country, such as varying local pressures and boundary arrangements. Although amendments Nos. 59 and 60 seek to promote co-operation, which I support, they attempt to be prescriptive. Our thrust is not to be prescriptive, but to expect partnerships to measure themselves against outcomes. If outcomes were not delivered, we would expect partnerships to change.

Co-operation needs a geographic focus and local authority boundaries are different. As my hon. Friend said, many partners do not have coterminous boundaries—for example, primary care trusts often do not have coterminous boundaries with local authorities—but we still have to create a partnership that works and makes sense locally. If he is asking whether, in an ideal world, we would start from where we are now, the answer is no. We would start by redesigning the boundaries of our councils and organisations and making them all coterminous. In that case, simple arrangements would be in place that we could put into the Bill. However, that is not the situation, so his amendments would be overly prescriptive in attempting to create the partnership rather than allowing it to meet local needs.

New clause 9 would, to some extent, impose a Lancaster model on the various partners. Since he drew on his experience in supporting his amendment, I shall give an example from my constituency. My constituency is in Kent—a large part is in Thanet; a small part is in Dover. Some parts of the partnership that we seek to create in Kent would want to take a countywide view of the issues. Equally, some issues would have to be devolved to the district council level on a Thanet or Dover basis. We also organise some things on the basis of east Kent—an area that covers Thanet, Dover and Canterbury—because that best suits us in local working and suits our geography.

Although I entirely accept what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve, I encourage him to withdraw his amendment and accept that the more general duty that we have put in the Bill will allow people to create the partnerships that are needed in his, and everybody else's, area. We must measure the success of those

partnerships against outcomes and test them against whether they deliver for children—the only thing that matters. The formula in the Bill better reflects that.

Turning to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, I again have a great deal of sympathy for what he is trying to achieve because I have exactly the same problem in my constituency, where there are a huge number of children's homes. Children are usually placed there from the London boroughs and, very occasionally, some children cause tensions in local communities. Historically, some of those homes have not been managed as well as they ought to have been. Surely the way to deal with that is to use the appropriate mechanisms—for example the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the Care Standards Act 2000 and other legal frameworks that we have put in place to ensure that we drive up standards.

I doubt whether it would be appropriate to put the duties that the hon. Gentleman is talking about in this Bill alongside the general arrangements to encourage co-operation, because there are existing laws. He may well argue that we are not enforcing those laws well enough, and I have some sympathy with that view, from a constituency perspective. However, part 3 of the Children Act 1989 deals with that: section 27 requires co-operation between local authorities—although he may argue that we must enforce that better. The Act's placement regulations cover that area of work. Again, he may well argue that they should be enforced better, and I might not disagree with him. However, the amendments that he proposes would be out of place in this Bill, and would not achieve the outcomes that he is looking for.

Finally, there is another amendment in this group: perhaps I shall not refer to it as it has not been raised.

Mr. Turner rose—

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The reason why I did not raise amendment No. 215 was that I thought it was self-explanatory, and I invite the Minister to respond to it anyway.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

In that case, I am happy to do so. First, though, I should like to correct something that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said—that there was no obligation on the placing authority to notify the host authority where a child is placed. There is such an obligation. Perhaps I can write to him with chapter and verse on where that obligation arises from so that he can use that information in future discussions with his local agencies.

Amendment No. 215 is flawed because there is one Learning and Skills Council for the whole of England. It happens to have 47 local arms, but there is one organisation for the whole country. The wording includes the 47 local arms by default, so it is not necessary to amend the Bill. As an aside, the amendment would in fact change the name of the

Learning and Skills Council in the process, so for that reason, if for no other, I urge the hon. Gentleman not to press it.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I am glad that the Minister has sympathy with the thrust of the amendments. Clearly, the procedure is not happening: I pointed out that the systems are in place but are not working. He said that this is not an appropriate Bill in which to raise the matter, but I think that it is the most appropriate Bill in which to do so because we aim to look after the most vulnerable children. Some of the children whom I have described are among the most vulnerable, for all the reasons that we discussed earlier. I do not see why it would be inappropriate to replicate, enforce and strengthen what he says is already in the 1989 Act, by putting it into a new, more appropriate context here. I take his point but I am not entirely convinced by it.

The Minister also refers to the Commission for Social Care Inspection as the appropriate investigating authority. That is true, but its role is primarily to look at the standard of the homes themselves. That is one thing, although in a ministerial answer, I will be told that the level of inspections of some of those homes is high. When I raised the matter in a previous debate, pointing out that 46 per cent. of unannounced inspections of private children's homes had not been carried out by CSCI's predecessor body, I received a very curt letter from the previous head of that body pointing out that my statistics were wrong. I politely responded to her that I had obtained them from her own annual report. My contention is that the system is clearly not working.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I certainly take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about enforcement not happening, and we must move forward on that. My right hon. Friend has already taken steps to start to look at how that can be improved. The hon. Gentleman should not forget that the Commission for Social Care Inspection includes not only the National Care Standards Council—one of the predecessor bodies to which he refers—but the social services inspectorate, previously in the Department of Health, so CSCI's role, working with other partners such as Ofsted and the Healthcare Commission, will be to inspect both sides of the equation. It will inspect both the councils and the providers of care. It has an opportunity that the predecessor bodies did not have.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I entirely take that point, but as far as I know, it will not investigate the links between a placing and a host authority. We do not say that the placing authority or the host authority is no good. We say that the links between the placing and the host authorities leave a lot to be desired. I do not think that the two bodies that the Minister mentioned have a role to play, which is why it is appropriate to place a duty in the Bill to ensure that there is some linking up.

The whole Bill is about the joined-up approach and where the buck stops. I will not press the amendments, but I hope that the Government will take this on board. One solution to all of this is to ensure that we get many more and better foster carers so that children can stay with them closer to home. The whole problem then wonderfully disappears. That is for another debate. I am pleased about the Government's comments, but we need to see some more cohesive action.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I am reassured that the hon. Gentleman will not press his amendments. I want to give him some further reassurance that the links between the commissioners and the providers are very important. We are about to start consulting on a draft circular to remind authorities of their responsibility in ensuring that these links exist.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

That is very helpful. I should be interested to see that. The impression I was given by the relevant agencies in my part of the world was that there was no duty on a placing authority to report to the host authority. I would be grateful if the Minister could write to me with the relevant regulations so that I can point them out to them.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

I am sorry to sound prescriptive to my hon. Friend. All I was trying to prescribe was that decisions about the lives of children and families are generally best made closest to where they live and involving the co-operation of all partners and all organisations that might have something to do with it. I know as well as I know anything that my proposal would be the right thing to do across a large part of the country. I am sorry that he cannot take this any further. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I beg to move amendment No. 132, in

clause 7, page 5, line 28, at end insert 'and emotional well-being'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments Nos. 133 and 144.

Amendment No. 103, in

clause 21, page 16, line 11, after '(e)', insert 'emotional'.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

As I said, on the last group, the Government based the Bill on outcomes, particularly the outcomes that children told us were important. Their Lordships decided in their wisdom to add an outcome that children had not told us about. In the context of a Bill where we are supposed to be listening to children, I thought that said something about the House of Lords. Nevertheless, emotional well-being is important. We are happy that it remains in the Bill but their Lordships put it in what we considered to be an illogical place, so the amendments move it to a more logical place. Equally, their Lordships were obviously working from the map produced by the European Union that omitted Wales, because they forgot that Wales existed in the Bill. They did not include their

amendment in clause 21. Our amendment here does for Wales what their Lordships' amendment does for England.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 133, in

clause 7, page 5, line 32, leave out 'emotional,'.—[Dr. Ladyman.]

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in

clause 7, page 5, line 32, at end insert—

'(f) housing and accommodation'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 200, in

clause 7, page 5, line 32, at end insert—

'(f) housing needs'.

New clause 37—Assessment of children in need—

'After section 213A(3) of the Housing Act 1996 (c.52), insert—

''(3A) Upon receiving a referral under subsection (2) or (3), the social services authority shall carry out an assessment of the needs of the child or children in question for the purposes of Part 3 of the Children Act 1989.''.'.

New clause 38—Provision of housing assistance for children in need—

'After section 17(6) of the Children Act 1989 (c.41), insert—

''(6A) Where a child is in need because, or partly because, he has no accommodation, in exercising their powers under subsection (6), the authority shall have regard in particular to the following factors—

(a) the objectives specified in subsection (1);

(b) the effects upon the child of his lack of adequate accommodation;

(c) the benefit to the child of being accommodated together with other members of his household;

(d) the relative cost to the authority of providing accommodation for the child with other members of his household and of accommodating the child under section 20;

(e) the rights of the child and of others under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

(6B) Where an authority has reason to believe that a child may be a child in need because, or partly because, he has no accommodation, they shall have the power to provide accommodation or appropriate assistance on an interim basis pending an assessment of the child's needs under section 213A(3A) of the Housing Act 1996.

(6C) Where an authority declines to provide services under this section or decides to provide services other than those requested, whether on an interim basis or otherwise, they shall give reasons in writing for their decision.''.'.

New clause 39—Appointment of designated liaison officer by housing authorities—

'Any housing authority for the area covered by the children's service authority must appoint a designated officer to liaise between all registered social housing providers within the housing authority area and the children's service authority.'.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

The amendment relates to subsection (2), which concerns the improvement of the well-being of children in an authority's area according to a certain set of criteria. A number of representations have been made concerning the omission of an obvious criterion: housing and accommodation. We therefore seek to remedy that omission by the addition of a paragraph (f).

If we asked GPs about the things that we could do to improve the health of children, particularly in inner-city areas, many would answer: improve the standard

of housing. Many health-related problems, particularly in inner cities, are connected with poor or damp housing or other housing issues such as the availability of suitable heating. That is an important consideration, which is why we seek to add housing and accommodation to the key criteria in subsection (2).

Poor housing can cause all sorts of physical problems and also mental health problems and stress, which may lead to antisocial behaviour. It seems odd that housing and accommodation have been missed out completely as considerations to which local authorities should have regard in promoting co-operation in the interests of the well-being of children. They are obvious candidates to add to the list, and their inclusion is supported by many outside bodies concerned with children. Indeed, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole) has tabled an amendment that refers to housing need, so there is support from both sides of the Committee. I hope, therefore, that the Minister can explain why housing and accommodation have not been included, or how that issue has been taken account of in other parts of the Bill.

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich

May I be perhaps the last today to welcome you to the Chair, Dame Marion?

I want to say a few words about amendment No. 200 and new clauses 37 and 38. The intention behind the amendment is to include housing in the list of criteria as a key factor in promoting children's well-being. Lord Laming pointed to the relationship between housing and social services; when families have been placed in temporary accommodation, that is one of the factors that contributes towards difficulties. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham referred to that.

Moreover, the Government's intentions as expressed in ''Every child matters'' identified homelessness as a key risk factor in poor outcomes for children, so it is somewhat surprising that housing has not been included in the Bill. Dame Denise Platt, the chair of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, has also suggested that the Bill does not adequately address housing issues.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families acknowledged in May in Community Care magazine that she did not think that we had yet done enough about housing. My reason for wanting to raise the issue is that I think that housing is likely to become an increasing problem, particularly with the application of antisocial behaviour legislation. Clamping down on unacceptable behaviour by tenants can produce the by-product of children who are inappropriately housed.

One example of that is that of a constituent, a single mum with a chaotic lifestyle, who has twice been evicted from council housing and is therefore classed as intentionally homeless. She now lives in bed-and-breakfast accommodation with five children, one of whom has autism, at a cost of £700 a week to Suffolk

social care services. I do not want to drive a coach and horses through the antisocial behaviour policies, but I think that we need agencies to respond properly to such situations. To what extent are the Government aware of the scale of this problem? Has any research into appropriate family support solutions been undertaken? Are any statistics available? The purpose of this probing amendment is to find out the Government thinking on those issues.

With new clauses 37 and 38, I seek to improve housing assistance processes. I stress that these may be appropriate solutions other than housing itself, such as interim accommodation or advice and assistance. We do not want the alternative to end up being the taking of children into care, as that runs against the spirit of what we are trying to achieve with the Bill.

As has already been said, although there are some good social care practices across the UK, Shelter and other bodies have drawn attention to the fact that some may be patchy at best. New clause 37 would amend legislation concerning a duty of co-operation to make it clear that, when a family is referred to social services under that legislation, an assessment must be carried out .

New clause 38 would strengthen the power to provide housing assistance through rent deposits or other guarantees. It sets out a framework in which to consider the effects on the child of inadequate housing, and the costs and benefits of housing the child and family together. It is often felt that the weakness of the current legislative framework is used by some social care authorities to do little or nothing in such circumstances. The new clause would add to legislation not a duty to provide accommodation, but a set of factors that should be considered in deciding what response to make.

Does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health acknowledge those issues? What do the Government plan to do to develop responses that go beyond traditional social care assessment and seek truly to address the family circumstances that led to the intentionally homeless situation in the first place, whether through legislation, guidance or stronger protocols at a local authority level? At the very least, the commissioning of some research would be welcome.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:30 pm, 14th October 2004

I am very supportive of the concepts behind these amendments. It is essential that housing is included in the Bill, but it is difficult to put it in. I am concerned that amendments Nos. 25 and 200 would put housing, which is a means, among outcomes. As much as I appreciate the arguments, I do not think that they work.

I support entirely the principles behind new clauses 37 and 38. I have heard some harrowing stories from Shelter about children being taken into care. I am interested to hear the Minister's response to that, and hope that we will consider it in some detail.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

Order. Could the hon. Lady please raise her voice? I know that it could be difficult, but the Hansard staff are having difficulty hearing her.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I apologise. New clause 39 is a probing amendment, but I tried to take on board the fact that in discussions in the other place the response was often, ''That is not a strategic authority; this is a strategic authority.'' The Bill names the local authority but not the housing part, because it is said to be within the local authority. I feel that the Bill should name the housing authority because, again, there is the issue of the balance between the county council and the district council. I am particularly concerned these days about the fact that we are not talking just about local authority housing. There is arm's-length management; council housing has been sold off to housing trusts; and we have other registered social housing.

That is the thinking behind the new clause, which I have not debated with the Local Government Association, although such consultation would certainly be needed. If one could appoint a designated officer from the housing authority to be the point of liaison between all the registered social housing providers and the children's services authority, we could perhaps attempt to close the gaps exposed by the Victoria Climbie case, in which a housing authority was not acting. The new clause is designed merely to ask the Minister whether referring in the Bill to the important issue of housing could have advantages and enable us to try to close some of the gaps that must exist, given the various types of social housing provider that exist these days.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

Nobody in the Government would argue with the sentiments that have been expressed. Housing is, of course, vital to children; there is no question about that. If they are to be healthy and to thrive, they need good accommodation. They need a refuge, a place where they can grow and feel safe and comfortable. However, the Bill already includes the necessary assurances to ensure that housing is taken into account. With regard to two-tier authorities, for example, clause 7 specifically refers to district councils. One of the district councils' duties is housing. Another relates to leisure activities, which are also of great importance to children. Because district councils have to co-operate as part of the arrangements that we are discussing, all their statutory duties, including their housing function, are automatically included.

In relation to unitary authorities, we will issue statutory guidance on the lead member and director of children's services—to which clauses 14 and 15 relate—to make it clear that the director will be part of the local authority corporate team. That encompasses the housing responsibilities of unitary authorities. Furthermore, the five outcomes that we listed in ''Every child matters'', which were identified by children and young people as the most important ones to them, have been developed into an outcomes framework that will be used to inform planning, assessment and inspection. The framework will include a reference to the importance of

accommodation and housing. I hope that that explanation reassures the Committee in respect of amendments Nos. 25 and 200.

Again, I have the greatest sympathy with the views expressed on new clause 37. However, where families with children are found to be intentionally homeless so that they are owed no duty under housing and homelessness legislation, the Children Act 1989 provides a safety net for the children and, where relevant, the parents, as being homeless might well mean that the children would become ''children in need'' and the local authority would have the power to provide accommodation for them under section 17 of that Act.

The action taken by social services in each case—as in all other cases in which children are in need according to the assessment of the needs of the child—is carried out in accordance with the Government's guidance, ''Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families''. Such assessments may result in local authorities offering to assist children and their families with support towards accommodation. Alternatively, the local authority may offer to accommodate children under section 20 of the 1989 Act.

The local authority may decline to offer services to the child and family if it does not view the child as a child in need, or if the needs of the child are not as great as the needs of those to whom services are already being provided using the resources available to the local authority.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

May I finish these points first? Afterwards I shall certainly give way.

The homelessness legislation already imposes a duty on housing authorities to ensure that homeless families with children who are not eligible for the main homelessness duty are promptly brought to the attention of social services.

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich

My hon. Friend draws attention to the existing legislative framework that should provide protection, but do the Government have any evidence that it is working, and are statistics collected? If not, will he commit himself to finding out whether the framework works for future reviews of the subject?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

My hon. Friend has returned to the conditions of enforcement. If the existing legislation is not working, we need to make sure that it does. The issues that my hon. Friend mentioned are subject to inspection. I am happy to write to him and tell him what exactly the mechanisms for inspection are and where he can find the relevant statistics.

In general, it would be inappropriate to place a specific duty on social services to undertake assessments of children referred to them by housing authorities. The power to undertake assessments is set out clearly in the 1989 Act and the related statutory guidance. The legislation does not place a compulsory assessment duty on local authorities in relation

tonamed potential needs. It would not be useful to create a list of particular needs that are to be accompanied by a specific assessment duty above and beyond what is provided for in the existing powers.

With more than 250,000 initial 1989 Act assessments being undertaken by local authorities each year, it would be wrong to single out specific issues that involve additional assessment requirements. Such queue-jumping might well be harmful to the interests of children if, for example, the assessment of child protection referrals were placed behind those relating to housing, simply because the latter were associated with an assessment duty, as is proposed under the new clause. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend will not press the new clause.

On new clause 38, the 1989 Act places duties on local authorities in relation to children in need in their area. Section 17 gives a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need by providing a range of services. Section 20 provides a specific duty to provide accommodation for an individual child in need. Both sections may be used to provide a child with accommodation but, in the case of section 17, children and their parents may be supported together.

The assessment of a child's needs by social services is expected to be carried out in accordance with the statutory guidance. The duties imposed on housing authorities dealing with applicants with children who are intentionally homeless or otherwise ineligible for assistance are set out clearly in the ''Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities'', published in July 2002.

With new clause 39, I once again support the intention, but not the proposed methods. In some cases it might make good sense to have a liaison officer post, but in others it might not. In unitary authorities, the housing department is an integral part of the children's services authority; in two-tier authorities it is part of the district council. This is not a case in which we can prescribe a single solution that covers all eventualities.

Registered social landlords are already subject to regulation. They are accountable to the Housing Corporation through a regulatory code, which requires registered social landlords to demonstrate that their strategies and policies are responsive to the needs and circumstances of local people and link into regional and local housing strategies.

I hope that I have demonstrated that there are sufficient safeguards in place. The Government entirely accept the principles of the importance of housing which have been set out today. We shall ensure that the partnerships focus on that issue and, if necessary, we will take appropriate steps to ensure that existing legislation is better enforced.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I fully take the Minister's point, and I am grateful for the detail that he has given. If he entirely agrees with the principles that we have tried to set out under the amendments, I am entirely happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I beg to move amendment No. 26, in

clause 7, page 5, line 32, at end insert—

'( ) In making arrangements under this section a children's services authority shall ensure that—

(a) the well-being of children set out in subsection (2) is monitored and evaluated;

(b) children and young people's views and experiences are included in any monitoring and evaluation undertaken under this subsection;

(c) a report on improvements in children's well-being is made annually to the Secretary of State.'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 61, in

clause 7, page 5, line 34, after 'must', insert

'consult with children and should'.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children) 4:45 pm, 14th October 2004

This amendment is about monitoring and evaluating children's outcomes. As we have said all along, the success of the Bill will be measured in terms not only of the structures put in place, but of the outcomes that they achieve. Therefore, amendment No. 26 seeks to establish a monitoring arrangement whereby the criteria set out in the clause can be properly evaluated in a meaningful way, rather than merely having the process for its own sake. The Children's Society has been keen to add something of that nature to the Bill.

This is a probing amendment to clarify the Government's expectations of how the five outcomes for children will be measured. First, it probes whether children's services authorities will be given a clear statutory responsibility for measuring and evaluating children's outcomes. Secondly, it argues that the Bill is an opportunity to ensure in statute that the views and experiences of children and young people are at the heart of that evaluation. Thirdly, it seeks to establish how local monitoring will be collated and made available nationally.

Being able to establish and document the impact of service activity on children's outcomes must be integral to making the new policy a meaningful and tangible change for the better. Although a wide range of existing and new processes, such as inspection reports, service contracting monitoring and local needs assessment, will produce vital evidence about the impact of services on children, there is no simple or clear responsibility for each children's services authority to gather the evidence in a co-ordinated way and to report on progress. Without a clear and standard expectation of who should do that, how often it should be done and according to what principles, difficulties could remain in establishing common baseline information nationally and there could be scope for substantial variation in the quality of, and approach taken to, evaluation of the outcomes.

It is a straightforward amendment, and I am sure that the Government can understand what we are trying to achieve. If that cannot be achieved through the amendment, how do the Government propose to evaluate what the Bill will put in place?

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman said, and I am hopeful that the Government will accept amendment No. 61. It is entirely reasonable, although every amendment that I have moved over the two days of this Committee has been entirely reasonable.

I have high hopes for this amendment. After everything that has been said, I do not think that anyone would dissent from the view that children's services authorities must consult children when making arrangements to promote co-operation with a view to improving their well-being, their physical and mental health, protecting them from harm and neglect, improving their education, training and recreation, and the other desirables listed in subsection (2).

It is impossible properly to achieve any of those outcomes without the extremely effective participation of children and young people. They will tell children's services authorities the truth about the quality of their services. They will have good ideas about the way that those services can be developed, which will not be known to adults because children are the recipients of those services and have a different perspective on them. The engagement of children and young people in those services will be crucial to their success. I hope that the Government will accept amendment No. 61.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre is absolutely right: the voice of children is essential. Indeed, it is the golden thread that runs throughout the Bill, and the five outcomes expressed by children in the Bill must be what we test its success against. That is why in July 2004 we appointed Children's Express to establish and run the Children and Youth Board. As my hon. Friend will know, the board is made up of 25 young people from across the UK and it will advise at least eight Government Departments on different aspects of their work. That is also why we strongly encourage children's services authorities to consult regularly their children and young people.

Whether placing a duty to listen to the voice of children in the Bill would further the objective or simply lead to a bureaucratic process is an argument that we can have. However, I assure my hon. Friend that we believe that rather than include it in the Bill, it would be better to put it in guidance. I am happy to assure him that we will send a clear message in the guidance that we issue.

I turn now to amendment No. 26, which deals with monitoring and evaluation. We will be creating joint area reviews, which I am sure will eventually become known as JARs. They will be inspections of local areas and will report on performance in respect of the five outcomes for children and on how well the agencies that provide services for children are working together. No doubt, we will debate that further when we consider later clauses. As well as the JAR, there will be an annual performance assessment of the local authority children's services, focusing on how children's services improve outcomes. The annual performance assessment will inform the broader, local authority-wide comprehensive performance assessment.

Planning, inspection and assessment arrangements will also provide opportunities to listen to children and young people. Inspectorates will seek the views of children locally before a JAR is held, and the evidence that the children and young people provide will contribute towards the inspectors' judgments. Local authority self-assessments will also cover how local authorities listen to the views of children. Regulations on the children and young people's plan will require authorities to consult children and young people. Taken together, that is a raft of measures to carry out the monitoring.

I do not think that an annual report by the Secretary of State will be necessary. Inspection reports will be published, as will comprehensive performance assessment scores and the outcomes of the other inspections. Information will be widely available, and nothing would be gained by an annual report. Although I sympathise once again with the intention behind the amendment, I believe that we have covered it well enough in the plans, guidance and the Bill as it stands.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

JARs, annual performance assessments, planning, inspection and assessment arrangements, inspectorates, local authority self-assessments, regulations, and children and young people's plans—I despair. How much of the money going to the structures could have been spent on actually looking after the children? That is what we are worried about. What we are trying to achieve with the amendment is to bring together in a joined-up way what a lot of different professionals are thought to be achieving. That is our worry about how some of the Bill is structured. The current weakness in the system is that so many people are doing so many different things in silos. That is what we are supposedly trying to legislate against.

Before the Minister, however, comes up with another long list of all the people whom we employ at great public expense, and in order to move the debate on, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 93, in

clause 7, page 5, line 32, at end insert—

'(2A) Equality of opportunity must be considered in relation to subsection 2(a) to (e).'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 14——Equal opportunities

'Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Act, Children's Services Authorities in Wales and their relevant partners shall have regard to combating social exclusion and discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.'.

New clause 40——Equal opportunities (No. 2)

'Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Act, children's services authorities in England and their relevant partners shall have due regard to the need to combat social exclusion and discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age, family status or sexual orientation.'.

New clause 41——Equality of opportunity

'(1) In exercising his functions the director of children's services must have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity.

(2) As soon as is reasonably practicable after the end of each financial year the director of children's services must make a report containing an assessment of how effective the arrangements made under subsection (1) were in improving the wellbeing of disabled children in his area and the promotion of equality of opportunity for children generally.

(3) The report must also contain a statement of the arrangements which he has made, or proposes to make, under subsection (1) in respect of the financial year immediately following that referred to in subsection (2).'.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The intention of amendment No. 93 is to ensure that equality of opportunity is reflected at appropriate points in the Bill. On Tuesday, we discussed the possibility of equality of opportunity being included in clause 2 so that the Children's Commissioner would be mindful of it. Now that the outcomes have been added to clause 2, my amendment would ensure that he has to have regard to equality of opportunity.

The purpose of new clause 14 is to create a cross-cutting, positive equality duty for children's services in Wales. I make no excuse for the fact that it is modelled on new clause 40, which would apply to England. New clause 41 would ensure that the new directors of children's services take responsibility for positively tackling discrimination and promoting equal opportunities for all children. It is modelled on the equality duty of the Learning and Skills Council and includes a duty to report on the effectiveness of the arrangements.

Equality of opportunity is central to the remit of children's services authorities in England and Wales. Amendments similar to those that we are discussing won cross-party backing in the other place and the Government promised to give the matter further consideration. This might be the moment that we have all been waiting for—the Government's acceptance of some the arguments that have been advanced.

The new arrangements in the Bill for improved co-ordination of children's services and multi-agency work could lead to major improvements in social inclusion and the life chances of disabled children and their families. However, for them to be able to realise their potential there must be a firmer focus in the Bill on tackling discriminatory barriers that disabled children and others face. There needs to be a specific reference in the Bill to promoting equality.

The Disability Rights Commission believes that the Government should impose a specific statutory duty on children's services authorities and/or the proposed new directors to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity for the disabled and all the others that have been mentioned—the children of asylum seekers, for example.

The Government were heavily criticised in respect of the United Kingdom's compliance with the convention in the last report of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2002. It expressed concern that the principle of non-discrimination is not fully implemented in respect of all children in all parts of the country, that unequal

enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights still exist, especially for children with disabilities, asylum and refugee children, children in the care system, detained children and so on.

These equality amendments and new clauses would enable the Government to implement the committee's recommendation of comprehensive strategies containing specific and well targeted actions, which would be aimed at eliminating all forms of discrimination. The amendments would give the Bill, which we all support, a step forward.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

I shall speak briefly to new clause 14. The hon. Lady made most of the points that I want to make. The amendments and the new clauses acknowledge the barriers that exist for many children, and the hon. Lady mentioned the children who do not have equal access to services or the same rights as other children—they include Traveller children, the children of asylum seekers and many others, especially those with disabilities. In the other place, the Government said that they would consider similar amendments. I look forward to their response.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

Once again, the Government have nothing but sympathy for the sentiments behind the amendments, but whether they would be effective, or whether the Bill is the place to achieve their aims is another matter.

There is already a strong framework of anti-discrimination protection in law, to which all public bodies are subject. They cannot discriminate on grounds of race, disability or gender. In addition, there is a positive duty on public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and promote equality of opportunity under section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976, as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. A similar positive duty to promote equalisation of opportunity for disabled people is included in the draft Disability

Bill, and the Government are committed to a duty requiring the promotion of gender equality when the legislative programme allows.

We recognise such issues and believe that there is a body of legislation to support the case already. In addition, we believe that the commission for equality and human rights will take the issues forward. Once it is created, it will begin discussions with the aim of bringing forward a single equality Act. The issues will be better addressed within that framework.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:00 pm, 14th October 2004

I am disappointed that the Government have made no move on this issue. Just putting the concept of equality of opportunity in the Bill would make a strong statement. If that concept were included in the context of the outcomes, everybody who had anything to do with children would have it brought to the top of their agenda.

I will withdraw the amendment, but I ask the Minister to give at least some consideration to how equality of opportunity can be worked into the outcomes. It is highly unlikely that, when asked, children will use the phrase ''equality of opportunity'', although they might say, ''It's not fair!'' However, I think that there is a place for that phrase in the outcomes.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

To give the hon. Lady further reassurance, we will make clear statements on that issue in the guidance that accompanies the two clauses.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for his response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Vernon Coaker.]

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Five o'clock until Tuesday 19 October at five minutes to Nine o'clock.