Clause 111 - Inquiries by local authorities into representations

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:15 pm ar 15 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 6:15, 15 Ionawr 2002

The hon. Gentleman is right: this procedure and the changes that we are making to the Children Act complaints procedure relate to England and Wales. He raises an interesting point about the role of the Children's Commissioner, but it does not undermine what I have said about the improvements to the Children Act procedures, because they already run alongside the work of the Children's Commissioner for Wales. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.

I wanted to respond to the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre about the child having a voice in the complaints process. He will, I am sure, be aware that one of the important objectives of the quality protects programme, which is supported by £885 million, is the development of advocacy services. Progress has been made, but the provision and quality of advocacy is still too patchy, and it is something that many councils still have to develop. Much more needs to be done to ensure that the voices of vulnerable children are heard.

In this year's quality protects management action plans, we continue to ask councils to develop their independent advocacy services and improve their complaints procedures. As those advocacy services are developed, it is important that good quality services are made available to children, which is why we are keen to promote the use of national advocacy standards. Standards have been drafted to develop better and more consistent standards, and we intend to consult on them in the near future. I would also point out that the role of the children's rights director, introduced under the Care Standards Act 2000, is to respond to those children who most need a champion. We plan shortly to put the draft regulations covering the work, key tasks and responsibilities of the director out for public consultation.

My hon. Friend also pushed me on the question of advocacy for looked-after children. I have significant sympathy with him on that, because children and young people who are being looked after can be especially vulnerable when they want to raise problems or concerns. The Government want to safeguard such children, and we want to strengthen further advocacy services for looked-after children when they make a complaint under section 26 of the Children Act.

We will be consulting further on these issues, and will then develop a clear action plan informed by the responses received in order to drive through the necessary changes. Those changes will, I believe, go a considerable way to achieving my hon. Friend's demands. The consultation will include exploring the possibility of introducing a joint system between children's social services and developments in the national health service. With the creation of the independent complaints advocacy service for people who want to complain about the treatment or service that they receive, we have taken considerable steps in providing advocacy for people who want to complain. Therefore, it is appropriate that we make much further progress on children's ability to access advocacy.

I hope that that response reassures my hon. Friend and that members of the Committee will feel able to support clause 111.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 111, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.