New clause 10 - Amendment of section 17 of the

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:00 am ar 17 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 11:00, 17 Ionawr 2002

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South for tabling the new clauses and bringing an important issue to the Committee's attention.

As my hon. Friend said, two recent judgments in the Court of Appeal have caused concern among councils with social services responsibilities. The new clauses are intended to deal with the problem. Since it was first brought to the Department's attention, my officials and I have done a considerable amount of work to assess the size of the problem and the best way to tackle it. My officials have met officials from the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, social services directors and representatives of Shelter. Furthermore, I have discussed the issue with ministerial colleagues.

As my hon. Friend said, the judgment in the Lambeth case casts doubt on the ability of local authorities to provide accommodation for children in need and their families under section 17 of the Children Act. If they lose that ability, an important element of the support package for children in need and their families will be removed. That would affect not only families that are not owed a main housing duty under housing legislation—because they are

intentionally homeless or not habitually resident, for example—but families that need emergency accommodation because they were fleeing domestic violence. Young people who need accommodation in those cases do not necessarily need the intensive support provided by foster care.

The Government want to restore the position and to place beyond doubt the fact that local authorities have a power to provide accommodation under section 17 as a safety net. It is important that the provision of accommodation is not raised above other assistance that may be provided under section 17 and that specifically identifying the power to provide accommodation in section 17 has no unintended consequences. The new clauses, however, go slightly further. New clause 10 is slightly unclear, but seems to be intended to place a duty on local authorities to meet the assessed needs of individual children. That is more than the existing legislation requires and is not necessary.

The recent Court of Appeal judgments should not be read as meaning that a local authority need not offer assistance under section 17 to a child in need. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend referred to the Barnet case, in which it was clear that the local authority had offered help, although it was not acceptable to the mother. It is clear from A v. London Borough of Lambeth that the section 17 duty is a general target duty, which is not individually enforceable by any specific child in need. There is a general duty under section 17(1) to promote the upbringing of children in need within their families and to provide a range of services to meet the needs of children in the area. Those two duties are sufficient when taken together with the obligation to carry out assessments on children who might be in need, and the section 20duty to accommodate children in need when no one else can do so. That should ensure that some of the problems that hon. Members have mentioned do not continue.