Clause 11 - Functions and procedure of LSCBs

Children Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 pm ar 19 Hydref 2004.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women) 3:45, 19 Hydref 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 40, in

clause 11, page 10, line 27, after 'children', insert

'in the context of their families or otherwise.'.

Once again, we seek to strengthen the provisions of a clause that we support. The amendment would aim to ensure that promoting the welfare of children takes place in the context of their families. Our concern is that, quite rightly, a large number of bodies are involved in these matters and that the LSCB has a great many different interests involved in it. The one thing that has been missing in the discussion of the last few clauses is the role of the family. Although I support the good work done by social services departments, children's charities, all the other organisations mentioned in clause 10 and many other voluntary bodies besides, I believe the Bill should say explicitly that a child's family should be part of the safeguarding and welfare of that child.

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

I support the amendment, and want to do so by referring to the story of a child in my constituency, whom, for obvious reasons, I shall not name. The child is in the care of the local authority, is fostered, and has a family. His uncle and aunt sought to obtain information about the child's schooling. They knew that he was not attending school as he should have been, because he came to see them in school hours. The local authority very slowly began to take an interest in what they were saying, and the child moved foster parents and was sent to another school.

I regret to say that little was done by the first school or by the second school to establish that the child attended school on a regular basis. It was concluded that he was unsuitable for the full national curriculum, so some of his time was put outside mainstream schooling. The uncle and aunt then came to me and said that the process was not working. I have had the devil's own job getting the local authority to take the uncle and aunt seriously as people who may be interested in the child's welfare. It culminated in a letter that arrived only yesterday from the director of children's services, which said that the case was

nothing to do with me because I did not have the authority of the school, the parents, the local education authority or the child to raise the matter with them. I accept that the Minister is hoping to do something about that issue—indeed, I thought that Mr. Speaker had already done something about it, and that regulations had been passed to deal with it. That is why I believe it to be so important to include those words in the Bill.

As we know, families come in all shapes and sizes, but many of them, even at some distance from the natural parents, have a great interest in and great care for the welfare of the children in their family. That should be recognised in the procedures adopted by social services and children's authorities.

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

We have tabled amendments to rectify the position, which limits our ability to represent our constituents properly. I passionately believe that we have failed to look after children in a whole range of ways. We will not have a great discourse on that today, although we may later in our proceedings. The amendment is not necessarily the correct mechanism for getting things right, but all of us, collectively in society, have failed the most vulnerable children, for whom we are the corporate parent. We must do better. To do otherwise is not good enough for our children.

I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Epping Forest about the importance of the family—again, we discussed that in a previous Committee sitting—but the amendment is unnecessary. We all acknowledge the primary role of parents in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. The principle that a child's family must be taken into account when decisions are made about safeguarding that child and promoting his or her welfare—for the vast majority of children, living with their families is the best way of doing that—is clearly established. It will be a clear consideration for all the LSCBs involved in safeguarding children and promoting their welfare. It does not need to be specified in legislation.

In the Children Act 1989, there is a duty on local authorities to

''safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and, so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families.''

That enshrines in legislation the principle that, as a general rule, children are best off living with their families, and ensures that local authorities are required to support that principle unless their duty to safeguard is inconsistent with the child's remaining with the family. We already have guidance that sets out the practice that arises from that principle, and instructs agencies to consider the parents' capacity to provide care and the environment in which care is provided. That guidance is included in the framework for the assessment of children in need and their families.

We accepted representations made in another place that parents were not sufficiently mentioned in the Bill and that their role was not sufficiently highlighted, and we made the amendment to clause 7, which I hope satisfies the hon. Lady's desire. It might give her further comfort to know that we will reiterate those

messages in the guidance that we issue on LSCBs under clause 13. We will make it clear that the views of service users—children, young people, and their parents, carers and families—should be taken into account in developing services and strategies for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in the local area.

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

The Minister has referred to clause 7(3) on a number of occasions. I assume that she is saying that, notwithstanding that it says ''under this section'', the subsection has a much wider application?

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

Clause 7 is a central part of the Bill because it deals with the duty of co-operation. How that duty is defined is dealt with in many of the remaining clauses. Clauses 7 and 8 are key: they deal with the duty to co-operate and the duty to safeguard, which then flow into many of the other clauses. With those assurances, I hope that the hon. Member for Epping Forest will feel it right to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women) 4:00, 19 Hydref 2004

Although I do not want to take up more of the Committee's time than is necessary, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and I feel strongly about the point about families. I listened carefully to what the Minister said, and in particular to what she said about the Children Act and the words in that Act that bring in families. Under our amendment the Bill would be more consistent with the Children Act than it is at present. We are all familiar with cases in our constituencies in which grandparents, close aunts and uncles, or older brothers and sisters, are trying their best to help to promote the welfare of children and to safeguard them. They find that they have no locus to do so because all sorts of other bodies are included in legislation, but not members of a child's family. I must insist on pressing the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 10.

Rhif adran 7 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 11 - Functions and procedure of LSCBs

Ie: 4 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 220, in

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

'(c) to have due regard for internet safety for children.'.

It should be obvious that this is a probing amendment, but it was tabled with great sincerity. I am honoured to have joined the Home Office taskforce on internet safety for children. I am a very new member, but at the one meeting I have attended I picked up the fact that there is concern about how the issue would be dealt with with the local safeguarding board. It may need to be dealt with in regulations, but if we do not discuss this incredibly important matter while discussing the Bill it could be overlooked. It is an area in which joined-up thinking across different Departments is vital. I accept that the local police are involved on the safeguarding board, but as we know from the sort of work done by the taskforce, much of it comes from national level.

I am raising the matter to ask the Minister what consideration she will give to address one of the most serious issues facing our children today. I cannot believe that the Bill does not mention it. There may be other ramifications and I would be pleased to hear that she is in discussion with her fellow Ministers, particularly those in the Home Office.

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

I am pleased that this probing amendment has been tabled, because the matter is of growing concern. Technology is moving faster than probably any of us here can keep up with and children are certainly better at it than we are. It offers them enormous opportunities—we should not diminish those—but there are also threats to their safety which we must take seriously. I work extremely closely with my colleagues in the Home Office, who lead on the matter, to ensure that, collectively throughout the Government, we take every possible step to try to tackle each risk as it arises.

As the technology changes, we must constantly rethink our policies. It is a responsibility for Government, the industry and parents. That is the triangle of interest and I am delighted that the hon. Lady is a member of the working party, which is doing a good and important job.

However, do we need the amendment? The existing objectives for local safeguarding children boards are wide enough to enable them to focus on improving internet safety, if they decide that that is a local priority. If we were to accept the amendment, we would be requiring boards to give it higher priority than other issues that might be of greater importance locally. I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that if the boards are to work effectively it is crucial for them to be able to respond to local circumstances and local priorities, and that we should not try to micro-manage them, either from Whitehall or from Parliament. While I acknowledge the importance of the issue and accept the intent of the amendment, I ask her to withdraw it. It is not properly placed and might distort priorities in some areas.

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

I am not at all unhappy about withdrawing the amendment, as I am sure that the Minister has gathered. My main purpose was to have the matter discussed and to receive reassurance that it will be picked up in guidance. Perhaps, between now and Report, the taskforce will make further

recommendations that are pertinent to the local safeguarding boards. We should consider measures that can be implemented both nationally and locally.

I take on board the Minister's comment about opportunity. I have been asked many times whether I think the internet is a bad thing. I would never say that. However, we have to be wary of dangers that cannot even be envisaged now, because the internet is changing so rapidly. I thank the Minister for her comments and I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 12 and 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.