Clause 10 - Establishment of LSCBs

Children Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 19th October 2004.

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Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women) 3:15 pm, 19th October 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 38, in

clause 10, page 9, line 41, after 'Service', insert 'or its successor body'.

I commend this amendment to the Committee. It simply seeks to amend subsection (3)(h). Subsection (3) currently reads:

''For the purposes of this section each of the following is a Board partner of a children's services authority in England—''.

The eighth organisation mentioned in paragraph (h) is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It is widely recognised that that organisation does not work as well as it should. I put the point mildly. I would go much further and say that CAFCASS is not doing the job that it should do, but this is neither the time nor place to go into that in great detail.

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

Given that CAFCASS has just changed its chairman, its entire board and its chief executive, is not the hon. Lady a little premature in that judgment?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

I accept what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I was just coming to that point. We have discussed CAFCASS in other forums in the House in the past few months, and there has been a good report into its workings, which we all welcome. I sincerely hope that, given the new arrangements that he has mentioned, CAFCASS will work more efficiently and effectively in the future.

The concept of CAFCASS is good, and it ought to be providing a necessary service to the families and children who are much in need of it. I hope that it improves and that, in six months or a year, we will say, ''Oh good, CAFCASS is doing this; it is all working really well''; but it might not. Therefore, we have tabled the amendment simply to insert after the reference to CAFCASS the words ''or its successor body''. Quite simply, if there is no change to CAFCASS in the future, and it is still there, including those words in the Bill will have done no harm, because they will come into operation only if CAFCASS is changed or replaced with another body. It makes sense to include those words now so that should that change occur in the future, this provision will still continue to work as we want it to. The point is that we thoroughly support the inclusion of CAFCASS in the list of board partners. It is essential that it should be there, but if there is no CAFCASS, we want to ensure that whatever is in its place continues with that important role.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

That was an interesting contribution, because the hon. Lady's colleague, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), has said elsewhere that she intends to abolish CAFCASS. I think that that is badly conceived, and I agree with the hon. Member for Epping Forest that the concept is a good one. If we can agree on that, we then need to try to ensure that it works properly. I accept entirely the criticisms from the Select Committee on Education and Skills, which we discussed in debate and which said that there was massive room for improvement.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

I just want to make it clear that I am entirely in agreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, who elsewhere debated that matter with the Minister this morning. I sincerely hope that CAFCASS will improve, but if it does not, my right hon. Friend is right to reserve our wish to change it completely.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

That is a semi U-turn, if I may say so. I agree with the hon. Lady in that if CAFCASS does not work, we need to think again, and I agree—I hope she takes on board that I am agreeing with her—that the concept is a good one. We are attempting to put into effect a whole set of changes that will make the practice one that children deserve, whether they are in private or public law cases. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre said, we now have a new chair for CAFCASS, a new board and a new chief executive, and why I identified, in a tight spending environment, an additional £12 million, which has gone to CAFCASS to support its efforts. It will now take a year or two to see a real step change in performance. We have to give it time to bed down under the new structure. We have put all the building blocks in place, and it is now up to everyone to deliver. For heaven's sake, let us not take a decision to abolish CAFCASS and cause disruption in the lives of children, which is how I interpret the suggestion that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead made when she was speaking elsewhere.

The amendment is not necessary, and it would be a matter for primary legislation were CAFCASS ever to be abolished. That would be the place for such a proposal.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women) 3:30 pm, 19th October 2004

I accept what the Minister has said. Under the circumstances, I will not force a vote on the issue. I have made my point strongly enough, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 227, in

clause 10, page 9, line 45, at end insert—

'(k) a representative of the faith communities in the area of the authority, appointed in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State.'.

I tabled this amendment because the spiritual welfare of children did not seem adequately covered—indeed, there is no reference to it in the Bill. I assume that it is included in the general definition of the welfare of children—perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. However, just as, until recently, someone on local education authorities represented faith communities, there needs to be someone on the safeguarding children boards to take responsibility for representing faith communities and the spiritual welfare of children.

The amendment would insert a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations. I do not lightly propose additional powers for the Secretary of State to make regulations, and had I been able to think of a better method I would have suggested it.

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

It has occurred to me, following the previous discussion about the importance of parents, that spiritual values are the responsibility of parents.

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

I would agree with that, and were parents represented on local safeguarding children boards, I would be happier, but they are not. The spiritual welfare of children should be given at least an equivalent level of representation as the chief officer of police, who I assume is responsible for their criminal welfare, the youth offending team, which is again responsible for their criminal welfare, the local probation board, which is responsible for correcting their criminal welfare, and the strategic health authority, primary care trust and NHS trust, which are responsible for their health. Those responsibilities are all also the responsibility of the parents and no one denies that. The fact that they are the responsibility of the parents does not mean that they should be excluded from representation on the local safeguarding children board.

I am a little surprised, given that spiritual development is included in the responsibility of schools, that spiritual welfare is not included or represented in the Bill. That is why I tabled the amendment.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

We must remember that this body is probably one of the most important that we will establish through the Bill. It will have overarching responsibility for ensuring that the best policies and practices are in place in every local area to stop children dying. It is not just a question of who sits round the table—important though that is—but of the job that they do. We must occasionally think about that context.

I recognise that there are many areas where faith communities have an important contribution to make to children's welfare. In some areas, representatives of faith communities sit on the ACPCs, which the local safeguarding children boards will replace. Nothing in this legislation would prevent a local safeguarding children board from inviting a representative from the faith community to sit on it. We are setting down those representatives who must be partners around the table if the board is to get on with the job of ensuring that everything is in place to stop children dying. There should not be a compulsion for faith communities to be represented. The clause as it stands does not prevent individual people from responding to their locality and inviting faith communities. With that reassurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

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

That was a medium-level assurance, rather than a reassurance. The area child protection committees already have representatives of faith communities, so one wonders what damage they are doing that they should be excluded from the local safeguarding children boards.

I appreciate that there may be further opportunities to investigate the representation of faith communities, but I should like the Minister to indicate at least that the welfare of children as covered by the Bill includes their spiritual as well as physical welfare. I wonder whether she could, by semaphore or other means, communicate that before I conclude my remarks on the amendment. I notice that she is looking round for inspiration, but it does not seem to have struck. If she sits still for long enough, a thunderbolt will demonstrate which side of the amendment she should be on. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

I beg to move amendment No. 135, in

clause 10, page 10, line 12, after 'establishment', insert 'and operation'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the Government amendment No. 151.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

We tabled these amendments to clarify our policy on local safeguarding children boards. It has always been our intention that all the board partners listed in subsection (3) and clause 25(3) should have an ongoing responsibility to work together, not just to set up the board, and to meet the objectives that we have set for the LSCB in clauses 11 and 26—to co-ordinate and ensure the effectiveness of what is done by each partner in relation to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

Concerns were raised with us when we took the propositions to regional seminars and talked about the role of the boards. We tabled these amendments to ensure that the role is clear and that the Bill sends out a strong message to all partners, not just local authorities, that they will all need to contribute to and participate in LSCBs.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

I beg to move amendment No. 39, in

clause 10, page 10, line 16, at end insert—

'(7A) The chairman of the Local Safeguarding Children Board shall be appointed by the children's services authority.'.

Once again, we seek to improve what is an important clause that we thoroughly support. We are concerned to ensure that with so many bodies being involved—rightly so, as we want a wide spectrum of bodies to be involved in the boards—the close link is kept between the board and the children's services authority.

The Green Paper ''Every child matters'' stated in paragraph 5.25:

''We expect that they''— the boards—

''will be chaired by the Director of Children's Services.''

We entirely support that, but there is no provision for it in the Bill. After consultation, the ''Every child matters: next steps'' report said:

''We would expect the Director of Children's Services to chair the Board unless it is considered more appropriate locally to have an independent chair. The Director of Children's Services will have overall accountability to the Local Authority which is ultimately responsible for ensuring adequate safeguarding arrangements.''

The lines of communication will not be as strong and precise if there is no direct link between the local authority, the children's services authority, the director of children's services and the local safeguarding children board.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

Surely the effect of the amendment would not be that the director of children's services would automatically have overall accountability to the local authority but that the children's services authority could appoint a chairman. Surely the children's services authority would have the opportunity to appoint someone who is independent, so the link to which the hon. Lady refers might not be made.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

The omission or error that the hon. Gentleman has just described is more likely to occur under the Bill as it stands, because our amendment would ensure that the children's services authority appointed the chairman. That chairman might or might not be the director of children's services, but if the appointment is made by the children's services authority, it is more likely to be someone who, if he or she is not the director of children's services, would work closely with the director. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but he merely emphasises my point for me.

Again, we do not want to destroy or to inhibit in any way the intention of the clause: we merely wish to strengthen it.

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

Does my hon. Friend agree that the amendment would permit the local children's services authority to appoint the lead member to chair the local safeguarding children board?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

Yes. Again, that is a very good point, and I thank my hon. Friend for making it.

This might be a point on which the Committee can totally agree, because I cannot see any argument against the chairman of the LSCB being appointed by the children's services authority. By whom else should that appointment be made?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

There are three elements to this. As I read the amendment, it also relates to whether a chairman should be appointed at all. We believe that it is implicit that a board needs a chairman, but we are happy with the suggestion that that is what should occur and will take that on board in the regulations.

The second question is who should appoint the chairman. The hon. Lady is right that policy has moved on. We published the Green Paper and consulted people, a number of whom talked to us

about who should chair the LSCB. Some of the ACPCs currently have an independent chairman, and children's charities in particular were keen that we should not set in stone in legislation the inability of a board to choose for itself who should be the chairman. In some cases, the chairman could be independent. We believe that it will probably be the director of children's services, but we should leave flexibility to the board to select its own chairman. Having said that, that in no way dilutes the accountability of the director of children's services for the operation of that board.

The director of children's services will have clear accountability, both in law and in the regulations that we will issue to support this part of the Bill, for the way in which that board operates. The question whether he or she should chair it should be left to the discretion of the board.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women) 3:45 pm, 19th October 2004

I understand what the Minister is saying, but I have discussed this matter at some length with the relevant local authority personalities in my area, and my concern is that if we are saying that the buck must stop somewhere—the whole purpose of the Bill—and that it must be with the director of children's services, that position would be undermined if the local safeguarding children board could somehow appoint someone other than the director to chair the board. In a way, it makes it more difficult for the director of children's services to take on their enormous responsibilities if some of the power and influence of either being or appointing the chairman of the LSCB is taken away from them. My concern is that we are putting an enormous amount of responsibility on the director. We ought to give them enough power to exercise that responsibility to the best of their ability.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

That is the hon. Lady's view, and I have a lot of sympathy with it. The issue for us as parliamentarians making the law is whether we should prescribe to local authorities how they determine the chairmanship of the board or leave it to local flexibility. In representations that we have received from children's charities and others, but clearly not from local government, as in this instance it would want to control the appointment, they have simply asked for the flexibility to determine the chair locally. In my view, the chair will mainly be the director of children's services, but it would be wrong for us to prescribe nationally, and that in no way detracts from the director's accountability and responsibility.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

I accept that the Minister says what she says in good faith, but I still have some considerable reservations about the matter, so I would not like to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment; I would like the question to be put to the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 15.

Division number 6 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 10 - Establishment of LSCBs

Aye: 3 MPs

No: 15 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 10, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.