Clause 8 - Arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare

Children Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am ar 19 Hydref 2004.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 100, in

clause 8, page 6, line 46, at end insert—

'(l) courts with the power to sentence a child to detention or remand a child in custody.'.—[Mr. Dawson]

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne 2:30, 19 Hydref 2004

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments: No. 112, in

clause 8, page 6, line 46, at end insert—

'( ) The Youth Justice Board.'.

No. 31, in

clause 8, page 7, line 3, leave out from 'discharged' to 'the' in line 4 and insert

'in a manner consistent with the objective of safeguarding and promoting'.

No. 101, in

clause 8, page 7, line 7, at end insert—

'(2A) In exercising their functions under this section courts must notify the Local Safeguarding Children Board in which the child is ordinarily resident of—

(a) any decision to sentence or remand a child to custody;

(b) any factors that could give rise to concern for the child's safety or well-being while in custody.'.

No. 113, in

clause 8, page 7, line 7, at end insert—

'( ) The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales shall ensure that—

(a) every child referred to them by a court for placement in custody is appropriately accommodated, having regard to the need to safeguard and promote their welfare, and

(b) where any child is not placed in the type of custodial accommodation considered appropriate under this section a record of the reasons for, and length of, such a placement is kept, and an annual report on such cases made to the Secretary of State;

(c) the Local Safeguarding Children Board in which any child in custody is ordinarily resident is notified of the details of their place of custody and any changes to their place of custody.'.

No. 102, in

clause 11, page 10, line 29, at end insert

'(1A) A Local Safeguarding Children Board established under section 10 will be responsible for monitoring the safety and well-being of children in custody.'.

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

Welcome back to the Chair, Dame Marion.

The amendments would bring the courts within the safeguarding framework, and require them to notify local safeguarding children boards of decisions to detain children in custody. I hope that the Youth

Justice Board could be required to notify LSCBs and to produce an annual report on children who are not placed in appropriate custodial accommodation. The Munby judgment in the judicial review of the case brought by the Howard League for Penal Reform decided that the Children Act 1989 applied to children in prison, but it is the local authority that has the duty under the Act to ensure such protection. Amendment No. 102 would ensure that the LSCB had oversight of all the children from its area who were in custody, whether they were in young offenders' institutions, youth treatment centres or local authority secure units. The reasons for the amendments are well known: there have been far too many tragic deaths of children and young people in custody. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne 2:32, 19 Hydref 2004

Order. I am suspending the Committee for a few moments as we are having a problem opening the far doors, preventing the public from joining us. We will resume when the doors have been opened. I do apologise to everyone.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre 2:33, 19 Hydref 2004

The amendments would give significant duties to the courts, which have the power to put young people into custody, and to the Youth Justice Board, which is charged with the duty of finding them appropriate accommodation. They would ensure that the LSCB was notified of the whereabouts of those children so that it had an overview of their placement. We are discussing a situation in which young people are not only inappropriately placed in custody, but are inappropriately placed in the various institutions. Young offenders institutions offer a far lower degree of surveillance than youth treatment centres, which offer a far lower degree of care and surveillance than local authority secure units. Sadly, secure units are closing because of lack of use by the Youth Justice Board, and we are faced with the prospect of more and more extremely vulnerable children being placed in prisons which are not resourced and in which staff do not have the training to care for them.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

I want to speak to amendment No. 31. Subsection (2)(a) says that the bodies referred to in subsection (1) must ensure that

''their functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children''.

The words ''having regard to'' are too weak in this context, and our amendment would strengthen the provision. We do not disagree with the intention behind the subsection, but we feel that the wording should be stronger, and suggest that it should say that the functions must be discharged

''in a manner consistent with the objective of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children''.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Mrs. Laing: I have made my point, which is simple and brief. The phrase ''having regard to'' is not strong enough for the instructions that we should like to give in this clause, and amendment No. 31 would strengthen and improve the clause.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

Order. The lifting of an eyebrow, a thumbs-up sign or a nod are not enough to catch my eye. You must stand in your place so that I can see you, because I am not telepathic.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

I apologise, Dame Marion. With all the confusion of the Division and one thing and another I was not quite as quick on my feet as I would normally be.

The plight of young people in secure units causes us considerable concern. My hon. Friends and I have therefore added our names to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). Young people are often put in secure units a long way from their home. Many of them will never have gone far from home, let alone gone into a strange environment without the support of their family and friends. When they are at that great distance and suffering stress and anxiety they will need more support than ever.

The amendments suggest that the court should have regard to the welfare of children and young people and that the LSCB is told where a child will be held so that it can give the necessary support when the child is released. There have been cases of young people being given a train ticket and told to get home. One such child had never used a train before. The amendments give the Minister an opportunity to ensure that young people and children in secure units get the support that they need so that their lives can be changed in a positive way. When they come out, they will not only be less likely to offend, but more likely to live a positive and full life.

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

If I may, I will deal with the amendments in three blocks to try to make some sense of the group. Beginning with amendment No. 31, I must tell the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) that the language here is a lawyer's paradise. She would give the agencies a duty to discharge their functions

''in a manner consistent with the objective'', whereas the clause requires the agencies to have regard to the need to safeguard children and their interests. From the publication of the Green Paper onwards, we have always said that the duty is not about giving agencies a function to safeguard and promote

children's welfare and interests; its purpose is to ensure that agencies exercise their primary function in a way that recognises and takes account of the need to safeguard and promote children's welfare and interests. It is important to recognise that all the agencies covered by the duties under clause 8 have their own functions. We talked about that before lunch. A change in the wording such as the hon. Lady proposes would mean that agencies' attempts to safeguard children compromised their ability to fulfil their primary purpose.

Let us imagine, for instance, that police officers investigated and arrested someone who had committed a crime of fraud. That person might be a loving parent; indeed, one might argue that the fraudulent activity led to more income in the household, thereby enhancing the children's quality of life. Amendment No. 31 would imply that the responsibilities of the police with regard to safeguarding and promoting the welfare and well-being of children were equal to their responsibilities as law enforcers, so they would not be able to carry out their function as policemen and women. That is why the clause is worded as it is.

I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that we already have a robust legislative framework to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and that sits in conjunction with clause 8. Under the Children Act 1989, for example, local authorities have a specific legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area. In particular, social services departments have a duty to make inquiries if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. Other local authority services, such as education, housing and health, have a duty to assist social services. The police have a legal duty to investigate criminal offences committed against children, and such investigations should be carried out sensitively, thoroughly and professionally. The 1989 Act gives the police powers to take emergency action to protect children from suffering significant harm.

We have put much of that information together in two publications: ''Working together to safeguard children'' and the ''Framework for the assessment of children in need and their families''. Indeed, if the hon. Lady looks back at Lord Laming's report, she will find that he said that the legislative framework for protecting children is basically sound. The weaknesses are in the way in which it is interpreted and implemented, and we are attempting to address those problems through the Bill.

The clause adds to the framework for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of vulnerable children by taking the more proactive approach that much of what we are discussing is about. We do not want to compromise the ability of agencies to carry out their primary duties and functions. I hope that, with that explanation, the hon. Lady will be happy not to press her amendment.

I now turn to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre and Liberal Democrat Members. Amendments Nos. 100

and 101 would extend the duty in the clause to courts with the power to sentence a child to detention or remand a child in custody and to the Youth Justice Board. We share the aim of the amendment: to ensure, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) said, that young people in custody are accommodated in an appropriate setting, with full account taken of all the issues that confront those young people, particularly the most vulnerable. However, I am afraid that I shall have to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre because we do not agree that the Bill is the best way to achieve that.

The Youth Justice Board, for instance, has a very difficult job. It has to match the available places in secure accommodation with the young people referred to it by the courts. In doing that, it has to consider many issues, including the young person's age, special needs, closeness to home—which is very important—and any risk of harm. Good decisions can be made only by taking account of all relevant factors, and the risk with amendment No. 113 is that the placement would be viewed in isolation.

Let me give another example. Closeness to home is an important issue—we all agree that it is better that a young person serving a custodial sentence should held be as close to home as possible. However, in the instance of a 17-year-old who has been convicted of a particular serious offence of violence, the institution closest to him may have a number of younger children who are more vulnerable and who have not committed the same sort of offence. Placing him in that secure accommodation may not be appropriate for the 12, 13 and 14-year-olds who are already in it. Putting a duty on the Youth Justice Board around a specific child would prevent it from having a wider view of how to operate.

Two points may help my hon. Friend. One is that youth offending teams are covered by clause 7 duties to co-operate and they are performance managed by the Youth Justice Board, which also sets their policy. That provides one close link into the board. Secondly, simply as a matter of practice, I meet the board regularly. Indeed, I am meeting the whole board in November. We work extremely closely together, and the intent behind the resolutions is shared by all the organisations and agencies for which I have responsibility, including the Youth Justice Board.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre 3:00, 19 Hydref 2004

I cannot quite understand my right hon. Friend's point. I do not see why a duty to notify a local safeguarding children board about a placement that the Youth Justice Board deems to be less than satisfactory impedes in any way its duty to find a placement or how it deals with the issues that she mentioned.

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

I shall come to those amendments in a minute. I was dealing with those that would place duties on the Youth Justice Board with regard to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

The critical issue is to ensure that all secure accommodation is safe, and clause 8 already applies to youth offending institutions, secure training centres and, via local authorities, to local authority secure children's homes, although I accept that some of them are closing as the Youth Justice Board changes where it places young people. As such, those institutions will need to make arrangements to ensure that their functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. I do not believe that the amendments would usefully add to that existing duty.

I turn now to the amendments on asking the local safeguarding children board to monitor the well-being of children in custody. My hon. Friend alluded to that in his intervention. We have already included in the Bill a duty on secure institutions to make arrangements so that they discharge their functions having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. That means that they will need to monitor the safety and well-being of children in custody. The role of the local safeguarding children board is not one of monitoring individual cases. Like its predecessor, the area child protection committee, its role is to look at broader strategic issues. If we gave it the duty to examine and monitor individual cases in relation to any other duties in the Bill, we would take it away from the important task that it is given in the Bill: to focus on the strategic level. That could also lead to duplication between the role of the LSCB and partner agencies, which could in turn lead to neither taking responsibility and the danger of children falling through the net.

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

Who then is responsible? If the area child protection committee is responsible for the strategy, who is responsible for the individual?

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

The individual institutions and the bodies to which they are accountable. We are strengthening them.

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

I am grateful for that answer because it contradicts what I was told. After a child had been sent around like a parcel between different organisations, I was eventually told by several local organisations that the case should be referred to the area child protection committee. The child concerned was playing truant from school, was making allegations of rape and was, by the way, a fostered child. It appeared to me that the child had not been dealt with adequately by the child and adolescent mental health service or by social services. The conclusion was that the case should be referred to superintendent so-and-so, because he is the chairman of the area child protection committee. I am not saying that the Minister is wrong, but I am interested in her evidence that what I was told was wrong.

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

I hate to make a judgment without having seen the details of an individual case. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about it, I will try to help him clarify it. However, the suggestion that the duties do not fall on properly accountable bodies is false. One of

the purposes of clauses 7 and 8 of the Bill is to achieve a much better understanding of the duty to co-operate and to safeguard and promote child welfare so that, if our arrangements work effectively, cases in which agencies refuse to take responsibility—as in the story that the hon. Gentleman told—should not recur in future. Having a lead professional involved should also support that.

I said that the LSCB would operate at a strategic level to facilitate co-ordination between the agencies involved, while providing guidance and supervision to ensure that they are effective in carrying out their collective responsibilities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. That is why we think that it is an appropriate mechanism to which people should report. That does not underplay the importance of the issues that hon. Members have raised—I am pleased that they have done so. I hope that I have given them confidence that, by the way in which we have handled the provisions and the duties that have been given to particular bodies, we have covered their concerns.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

I have listened carefully to the Minister's explanation of the precise wording in the lawyer's paradise of amendment No. 31 and, much as I enjoy that lawyer's paradise, I accept her explanation.

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

I am interested in the way that the clause and the helpful speech made by my right hon. Friend the Minister have developed the ideas of the Munby judgment. Munby, in relation to the judicial review brought by the Howard league, said that the Children Act applied to children in prison but not to the institution. It seems, given the duty that will be imposed to make arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare, that this Children Bill, when enacted, will apply to children in prison. What are the implications of that for the detail of the way that children will be looked after in prison? Young offenders institutions and secure treatment centres have such poor staffing ratios and facilities and an ethos that is in many ways more appropriate to the prison system than to institutions that care for children that they are inimical to the welfare of the children in them. However, I suspect that that is an argument for another day.

Early in the debate of this Bill, my right hon. Friend predicted that the Children's Commissioner would want to examine the situation of children in custody, and I think—or at least hope—that she has never spoken a truer word. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 65, in

clause 8, page 7, line 4, after 'children', insert 'and to prevent bullying'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 66, in

clause 8, page 7, line 10, at end insert

', save that the arrangements required by that section to be made for the safeguarding and promotion of the welfare of children shall include the duty to prevent bullying.'.

No. 63, in

clause 23, page 18, line 4, after 'children', insert 'and to prevent bullying'.

No. 64, in

clause 23, page 18, line 10, at end insert

', save that the arrangements required by that section to be made for the safeguarding and promotion of the welfare of children shall include the duty to prevent bullying.'.

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

Again, I will try to be brief because of the time pressure. At the end of this morning's sitting, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of young people from Lancaster and Morecambe, as did my right hon. Friend the Minister. I discussed with them what we would be talking about this afternoon and asked for their views on bullying. It is instructive that children and young people regard bullying as an issue of special significance and concern. I was told that it was one of the biggest issues to them and every one of the 10 young people we met had experience of it. Other remarks that came up were that ''most teachers do not realise what bullying can do to its victims'', and that ''children are not believed when they report bullying in many places.''

Some schools deal with bullying effectively, because they take it more seriously and are prepared to exclude young people at particular stages in the process. However, many of the young peoples' comments were tied up with a culture that we will have to challenge or we will find it difficult to change. Frankly, throughout our public service, children are not given the respect that they deserve; they are not listened to effectively and clearly, and their concerns are not responded to appropriately.

This group of amendments attempts to single out the prevention of bullying, giving it a singular importance in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. We know that it is a serious issue from the frequent suicides and attempted suicides. Although being bullied, being a bully and witnessing bullying can be common childhood events, they can also result in lower self-esteem, patterns of behaviour and avoidance of social interactions, which can create problems for people throughout their lives. It is not only young people from Lancaster and Morecambe who say that bullying is an important issue—31,000 children contacted ChildLine in the past year to report concerns. It is by far the biggest issue that children report.

There is no doubt that the Government are doing a lot to deal with bullying. There is a huge amount of guidance, there are anti-bullying websites and anti-bullying specialists in every region. There is a duty on schools to develop anti-bullying policies, and work is done in young offenders institutions to address the horrendous bullying that young people experience there. However, what comes back time and again is that the response is patchy—it is good when it is taken on by individual schools, teachers or workers, but that does not happen universally across the board. That

serious issue is not dealt with effectively, and the amendment is an attempt to ensure that it is dealt with effectively.

I suspect that the amendment will make as much progress as others that have been tabled to the Bill, but the issue will not go away. It will be a huge issue for the Children's Commissioner, and it is already an issue for every Member of Parliament. All hon. Members receive reports of bullying in schools and institutions in their constituencies, and if we are going to listen effectively to children and young people, we will hear much more about bullying. We should all heed the Government's best advice on bullying: the victims of bullying should not suffer in silence; they should speak out about it.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development) 3:15, 19 Hydref 2004

I rise to support the hon. Gentleman. Yesterday, as part of democracy week, I visited Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle in my constituency; I missed the later part of this morning's sitting as I was meeting young people from Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen, which is also in my constituency. Anyone who talks to young people knows that it would be difficult to underestimate the scourge of bullying in the lives of children and young people. I discovered from statistics that I came across in preparing for the Committee that one in 10 primary schoolchildren and 4 per cent. of secondary schoolchildren suffer from bullying, and that is just the recorded numbers.

Bullying takes a variety of forms, both physical and psychological. I was an approved social worker under the Mental Health Act 1983 and I know from my experience how bullying can blight people's later lives; it casts a shadow over the adult. We can truly say in that respect that the child is father to the man. We know, too, that being bullied often leads to the bullied people themselves becoming bullies. I know that is so from experience in my school career. Physical assaults can precipitate bullying, and the psychological pressure on children can be extreme, ranging from name calling or ignoring the child to racial abuse.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Llafur, Gogledd Caerdydd

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some children are particularly vulnerable to bullying? Is he aware that the National Assembly for Wales recommended that Gypsy and Traveller children should be mentioned specifically in bullying policies?

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Julie Morgan allows her staff to be bullied. Agreed with ACAS to pay for councelling for her employee who was badly bullied but then decided...

Cyflwynwyd gan anne greagsby Continue reading

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

I accept the hon. Lady's point entirely. I agree with her that Traveller and Gypsy children are in a uniquely vulnerable position because of the stigmatising and stereotyping of their parents' lifestyles. Another, less obvious, example is that of the rural-urban split in some schools. I was a town boy but, at school, kids from the country used to suffer all kinds of abuse because they were not townies.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre referred to the effect of bullying on the child's self-esteem, and it certainly affects the child's ability to learn, which has an effect on the school's success or otherwise. The amendments draw attention to the issue, and those that apply to Wales are very important to me; they

single out bullying as a particular issue and I support them. No hon. Member would tolerate bullying in the workplace and I see no reason why it should be tolerated in schools.

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

In the interests of brevity, I will not indulge in a discourse on bullying. I will simply say that this is the biggest issue that is raised with me by most children. When hon. Members talk about it, they rightly refer to something that is vitally important to every child and young person. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre said about the patchy implementation of our policies on bullying. However, one does not achieve change simply by adding a few words on the face of a Bill. One has to work with these people and organisations—be they schools, youth clubs, park attendants, the police service—to instil in them an intolerance of bullying.

We also have to work with children and young people themselves so that they understand that their behaviour with their peer group matters and can have a terrible and lasting impact on others. We are all at one on the intent of the amendment. However, unsurprisingly perhaps to my hon. Friend, I do not think that it is either helpful or necessary to add these amendments to the Bill. When we place legislative duties on our services, we must be clear about what we expect of them. Some of the agencies listed in clauses 8 and 23—probation boards, for example—do not have a significant role to play in relation to preventing bullying. I am not sure what a duty to have regard to the need to prevent bullying would mean in practice for such agencies.

If we list one issue that is of huge importance to children and young people, the inevitable question is what should one add to the list. One ends up in great difficulty. All hon. Members will have noticed that the Government are making terrific efforts and working closely with ChildLine and others to try to tackle bullying. The Anti-Bullying Alliance is a good move forward. It brings all the agencies and players together. We should work through that to try to diminish bullying, if not to eradicate it. Similarly the Prison Service is required to ensure that it does its best to eliminate bullying in secure establishments where it is often most extreme. I accept the sentiment, but reject the necessity for the amendment and so I ask my hon. Friend Member to withdraw it.

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

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: Order. I remind hon. Members that it was agreed this morning to move consideration of clause 9 until after consideration of clause 36.