[Relevant documents: The Fourth Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Session 2007-08, the Draft Apprenticeships Bill, HC 1082, and the Government’s response, HC 259, Session 2008-09; and oral evidence taken before the Committee on 9 July 2008 on the Learning and Skills Council, HC 960-i, Session 2007-08. The Seventh Report from the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Session 2007-08, Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill, HC 1062-I, and the Government’s response, HC 262, Session 2008-09; and the First Report from the Committee, Session 2008-09, Re-skilling for Recovery: After Leitch, Implementing Skills and Training Policies, HC 48-I, and the Government’s response, HC 365. The Fourteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Welfare Reform Bill; Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill; Health Bill, HC 414.]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 14
Persons detained in youth accommodation: further provision
‘After section 562 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) insert—
Persons detained in youth accommodation
Provisions applying to detained persons
562A Application of Act to detained persons
(1) In its application in relation to detained persons, this Act has effect subject to modifications prescribed by regulations made by the appropriate national authority.
(2) References in this Chapter to a detained person are to a child or young person who is—
(a) subject to a detention order, and
(b) detained in relevant youth accommodation;
and, in provisions applying on a person’s release, also include references to a person who, immediately before release, was a detained person.
562B Duty to take steps to promote fulfilment of potential
(1) Subsection (2) applies in relation to a detained person who is not a looked after child.
(2) The home authority must—
(a) during the period of detention in relevant youth accommodation, and
(b) on the person’s release from detention in relevant youth accommodation,
take such steps as they consider appropriate to promote the person’s fulfilment of his or her learning potential.
(3) Those steps must include, where it appears to the home authority appropriate for them to do so, making arrangements for the provision, on the person’s release from detention—
(a) of education, or
(b) in the case of a person who is over compulsory school age, of education or training.
(4) Where the host authority make any determination as to the education or training to be provided for a detained person, the authority must have regard to any information provided by the home authority under section 562E for the purpose of assisting any such determination.
562C Detained persons with special educational needs
(1) This section applies where, immediately before the beginning of the detention, a local education authority were maintaining a statement under section 324 for a detained person.
(2) The authority must keep the statement while the person is detained in relevant youth accommodation.
(3) The host authority must use best endeavours to secure that appropriate special educational provision is made for the detained person while the person is detained in relevant youth accommodation.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), appropriate special educational provision is—
(a) the special educational provision that, immediately before the beginning of the detention, was specified in the statement,
(b) educational provision corresponding as closely as practicable to the special educational provision so specified, or
(c) if it appears to the host authority that the special educational provision so specified is no longer appropriate for the person, such special educational provision as reasonably appears to the host authority to be appropriate for the person.
562D Appropriate special educational provision: arrangements between local education authorities
(1) This section applies where special educational provision is secured for a person in circumstances where section 562C applies.
(2) A local education authority may supply goods and services to—
(a) the host authority, or
(b) any other person making the special educational provision in question.
(3) Goods and services may be supplied under subsection (2) only for the purpose of assisting the making or securing of that special educational provision.
Provision of information relating to detained persons
562E Provision of information about detained persons
(1) Any person who has provided education or training for a detained person (whether before or during the period of detention) may provide information relating to the detained person to—
(a) the home authority, or
(b) the host authority,
for the purposes of, or in connection with, the provision of education or training for the detained person.
(2) A local education authority must, on a request under subsection (3), as soon as practicable provide to the person making the request such information that they hold relating to a detained person as is requested.
(3) A request is made under this subsection if it—
(a) is made by a person within subsection (4), and
(b) asks only for information which the person requires for the purposes of, or in connection with, the provision of education or training for the detained person (including education or training to be provided after the detained person’s release from detention).
(4) Those persons are—
(a) any other local education authority;
(b) a youth offending team established under section 39 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998;
(c) the person in charge of any place at which the detained person is detained or is expected to be detained;
(d) any person providing or proposing to provide education or training for the detained person.
(5) The Welsh Ministers must, on a request by the home authority or the host authority, provide a copy of any relevant assessment report for the purposes of the exercise of any function of that authority under section 18A or this Chapter.
(6) In subsection (5), “relevant assessment report” means a report of an assessment of a detained person conducted (whether before or during the period of detention)—
(a) under section 140 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, and
(b) by virtue of arrangements made by the Welsh Ministers.
(7) In this section any reference to the host authority, in relation to a detained person, includes a reference to any local education authority in whose area the person is expected to be detained.
562F Information to be provided where statement of special educational needs previously maintained
(1) This section applies in relation to a detained person if, immediately before the beginning of the detention, a local education authority were maintaining a statement under section 324 for the person.
(2) Subsections (3) and (4) apply where the home authority become aware (whether by notice under section 39A(2) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (detention of child or young person: local education authorities to be notified) or otherwise)—
(a) that the person—
(i) has become subject to a detention order, and
(ii) is detained in relevant youth accommodation, or
(b) that the person has been transferred from one place of accommodation to another place of accommodation which is relevant youth accommodation.
(3) If, immediately before the beginning of the detention, the home authority were maintaining the statement, they must send a copy of the statement to the host authority.
(4) If the home authority are or become aware that, immediately before the beginning of the detention, another local education authority were maintaining a statement for the person under section 324, they must notify the host authority—
(a) of that fact, and
(b) of the identity of that other local education authority.
(5) The local education authority who, immediately before the beginning of the detention, were maintaining the statement must, on a request by the host authority, send a copy of the statement to the host authority.
(6) Subsections (7) and (8) apply where the person is released from detention in relevant youth accommodation.
(7) The host authority must notify the following of the person’s release—
(a) the home authority, and
(b) if different, the authority who, immediately before the beginning of the detention, were maintaining the statement under section 324.
(8) If the home authority are not the authority who, immediately before the beginning of the detention, were maintaining the statement, the host authority must also notify the home authority—
(a) of the fact that immediately before the beginning of the detention a statement was being maintained for the person by a local education authority under section 324, and
(b) of the identity of that authority.
(9) Nothing in this section requires any local education authority to notify another authority of any matter of which the other authority are already aware, or to send a copy of any statement to another authority who already have a copy of it.
562G Release of detained person appearing to host authority to require assessment
(1) This section applies in relation to the release from detention in relevant youth accommodation of a detained person in relation to whom section 562F does not apply.
(2) Subsection (3) applies where it appears to the host authority that the detained person will, on release, be a child within the meaning of Part 4.
(3) If the host authority are of the opinion that the person has, or may have, special educational needs, they must, on the person’s release, notify the home authority of their opinion.
(4) Subsections (5) and (6) apply where, on release, the detained person—
(a) will be over compulsory school age, or
(b) will cease to be of compulsory school age within one year.
(a) the host authority are of the opinion that the person has, or may have, a learning difficulty (within the meaning of section 15ZA), and
(b) the home authority are a local education authority in England,
the host authority must, on the person’s release, notify the home authority of their opinion.
(a) the host authority are of the opinion that the person has, or may have, a learning difficulty (within the meaning of section 41 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (assessments relating to learning difficulties: Wales)) and
(b) the home authority are a local education authority in Wales,
the host authority must, on the person’s release, notify the Welsh Ministers of their opinion.
In performing their functions under this Chapter a local authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the appropriate national authority.
562I Interpretation of Chapter
(1) In this Chapter—
“beginning of the detention”, in relation to a person detained in relevant youth accommodation, means—
(a) the beginning of the period of detention in that accommodation, or
(b) where that period is part of a continuous period, comprising—
(i) periods of detention in relevant youth accommodation and in other accommodation, or
(ii) periods of detention pursuant to two or more court orders,
the beginning of that continuous period;
“looked after child” means a person who, for the purposes of the Children Act 1989 is a child looked after by a local authority; and references to the local authority looking after the person are to be read accordingly;
“the appropriate national authority” means—
(a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State;
(b) in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers;
“the home authority”—
(a) in relation to a child or young person who immediately before the beginning of the detention was, or at any time since then has been, a looked after child, means the local education authority who are the local authority looking after, or who have most recently been looking after, the person;
(b) in relation to any other child or young person, means the local education authority in whose area the person is ordinarily resident;
“the host authority”, in relation to a child or young person detained in relevant youth accommodation, means the local education authority in whose area the child or young person is detained;
“young person” includes a person aged 18.
(2) In determining for the purpose of subsection (1) where a child or young person is ordinarily resident, any period when the person is subject to a detention order is to be disregarded.
(3) Regulations made by the appropriate national authority may make further provision for determining where a person is ordinarily resident for the purpose of that subsection.”’.—(Sarah McCarthy-Fry.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 14 inserts new chapter 5A into part X of the Education Act 1996. It further strengthens the provisions in the previous clause, particularly for young people with special educational needs, and with regard to information sharing. The new chapter 5A continues to place a duty on the child’s or young person’s home local authority to take steps to promote the fulfilment of the person’s learning potential while they are in juvenile custody and on their release. The new clause is an important mechanism for ensuring that one local authority—the home local authority—remains involved in the person’s education and training, regardless of where they are in the system, and can promote continuity and consistency of learning for the child or young person.
For persons in juvenile custody with special educational needs, the new clause provides a framework of duties that significantly strengthens requirements and that will, we believe, provide the most practical of arrangements to ensure their needs are met in custody and on their release. If a person had a statement of special educational needs prior to their detention, new section 562C requires the host LEA to use its best endeavours to secure that appropriate special educational provision is made for the detained person.
Will the Minister explain why the Government have chosen to make the host authority use “best endeavours” rather than a rather stronger duty? While she is answering that, will she also deal with the position whereby the home authority is required to
“take such steps as they consider appropriate”?
Both these phrases seem rather understated given that those currently in custody so rarely get the educational support and time that they need.?
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and I shall come on to the detail of his intervention later. The point I made earlier about making practicable arrangements to ensure that needs are met is relevant; young people normally spend only a short time in custody, so the practicality of extending arrangements is important.
Taking the idea of “best endeavours” further, is it not the case that such endeavours will count only when the local authority has the budget to deliver ongoing support and education for a young offender in custody? Does the Minister welcome the Youth Justice Board’s moves to provide full information on budgetary costs of the custody of young offenders in the home authority? Would not the next step be to look at devolving those custodial costs so that the home authority has a sufficient budget to be able to deliver when offenders are out of custody, in custody and after custody?
Under the Bill, the budget currently held by the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for education in custody at the moment, will be transferred to local authorities, and detailed guidance will be issued on how it will work in practice.
Section 562C also requires the authority that was maintaining the statement to keep a copy of it while the person is detained. Clause 51, which amends part 4 of the Education Act 1996, makes provision for the statement of special educational needs that was maintained before the person’s detention to be revived and reviewed on release. The new clause also strengthens requirements in relation to the transfer of information about a person’s education so that that relevant parties can exchange relevant educational information to help to ensure that education and training in juvenile custody can be tailored to meet the person’s needs.
The provisions may well be in the new clauses, but it has been a particular problem with young people in the secure estate that if they are moved, their educational records can take so long to catch up with them that they end up having to start all over again. If that happens twice—given that most of them have short sentences—they end up completing their sentence when they have had three first bites at the cherry but have never been able to complete a course, even though they would have had time to do so if the records had followed them promptly from one institution to another.
Information sharing is going to be particularly important. Because of a previous split in responsibility between the Ministry of Justice and local authorities, which applied before a young person went into custody and after, there was far more likelihood of what my hon. Friend referred to happening. We hope that under the new provisions, that process will be speeded up and will form part of the guidance that develops as we go forward. The guidance will include expectations of how LEAs should support the special educational needs of children and young people in juvenile custody, and we will use the guidance to be clear about the respective roles of the different local authorities involved in order to assure clarity of roles and expectations.
Concern has been expressed that all the needs of young people with special educational needs should be met while they are in custody, but it is necessary to be mindful of the significant constraints within the custodial environment and of the fact that, as I said earlier, young people generally spend only a short time in custody. It would be impractical to require local education authorities to commission specific provision to meet every need of every young person while they are in custody, because it would take time to commission that, and would be difficult within the context of delivering complex custodial regimes for an ever changing population. However, we consider the provisions in the Bill a significant step forward.
Our requirements for and approach to education and training for children and young people in custody will result in real improvements and better outcomes. This is the first time that requirements for education in custody will be set out in primary legislation, which will allow us to be clear about roles and expectations in statutory guidance. It will mean clear duties on a young person’s home local authority to maintain involvement in the person’s education and training, which we believe will promote greater consistency in young person’s learning and the support that they receive to help them to engage, progress and achieve.
With regard to young people with statements of special educational need, there are significant constraints to continuing SEN statements in custody, which outweigh the potential benefits. The SEN statement is a legally binding document that sets out the specific special educational provision that the young person must receive. The statement would be likely to include the name of the school the young person must attend and details of all the special educational provision the young person must receive. Therefore, if the statements were to be continued when a young person entered custody, the statement would have to be reviewed and reissued upon the child’s entering the custodial establishment and again on the young person’s release.
As I said, the average time spent in custody for young people is three to four months, which means that by the time the SEN statement had been reviewed and appropriate provision commissioned and provided, the majority of young people would be leaving the secure estate and the SEN statement would need to be reviewed yet again.
There are significant constraints on host LEAs being required to conduct SEN assessments for young people entering custody without a statement, if they consider an assessment might be needed. Again, that is because young people generally spend a short time in custody and may also move establishments mid-sentence, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris).
Does the Minister share the concern about constraints for home authorities in relation to the increasing distance between the home authority and the locations in which young people are housed in custodial establishments? Will she consider how the Bill squares with the decision of the Youth Justice Board to remove contracts in relation to secure children’s homes, which often house some of the most vulnerable young people? Indeed, in London there will be no secure children’s home; the nearest is in Southampton.
Again, information sharing between home and host local authorities will be really important. I still maintain that bringing the education system back under the local authority so that it, as a body, rather than the Ministry of Justice, bears the responsibility between a child’s entering and leaving custody, means that that continuity is much more likely to be maintained.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister, who is being most generous in giving way. Did she consider putting a time limit on the period during which either the host authority or the prison fails to provide for the educational needs of the child? Rather than just leaving it to best endeavours, did she consider putting on a limit of some sort, so that if the child does not move rapidly through the system but stays for some time, there will be some guarantee that they get the educational support that, probably, they badly need?
That is a valid point and something we could consider when we are putting the statutory guidance together. It is obvious from all the interventions by hon. Members that we all have the best interests of those young people at heart.
We propose that the best practicable solution is for a person’s SEN statement to be suspended while they are in custody and picked up and reviewed on their release, but I should point out that our current requirements for education and training for persons in juvenile custody already require that learning assessments of young people’s needs be conducted and used to inform individual learning plans and to meet personal needs. That will continue under the new arrangements.
I thank the Minister for the comment that was made on this very point in the letter sent on 29 April, but I should like to be reassured that that definitely happens in the case of every young offender. I should also like to know what monitoring is conducted to ensure that an assessment is made at what I consider to be the most important stage of the process.
I think we all want to ensure that this actually happens for young people. As in many cases, a statutory requirement is possible, but we need to establish how such a requirement is implemented in practice. I think that that, too, can be explored through guidance.
Of course we all have the best interests of young people at heart, and “best endeavours” matter immensely but, given the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes, will the Minister tell us specifically what mechanisms and procedures are in place to facilitate the communication that will be essential to the working of the new regime?
I am a little worried about subsection (4)(c) of new subsection 562C. I fear that host authorities may use it to further their own interests rather than those of a child with special educational needs, and avoid their responsibility to provide appropriate special care. What guarantees can the Minister give that that will not happen?
It is certainly not the intention of the legislation that that will happen. While we do not accept that it is practical for the entire statement to be implemented while the young person is in custody, we interpret the phrase “best endeavours” to mean that the host authority will have to share information with the home authority, which will have to pick up the process when the child comes home.
In the case of someone who has been a looked-after child immediately before or at any time since the period of detention, the home authority will be the authority that has looked after the child most recently. Our policy is that the local education authority responsible for looking after a child should be responsible for the child, and we do not want the new duties in new clause 14 to interfere with that responsibility.
We believe that the information-sharing provisions will provide a consistent learning experience for young people, which will build on their earlier learning and educational experiences. Many youth offending teams and local partners already have information-sharing protocols which inform young people’s assessments, sentencing and sentence plans. However, the provisions in the new clause provide a clear legal framework to support those arrangements.
Inasmuch as new section 562E—entitled “Provision of information about detained persons”—relates to people under the age of 18, it provides for information sharing, but I cannot find any provision that enables parents to receive information about, for example, what training or education a child was or was not given while in the secure estate. Is that an oversight, or is the matter covered elsewhere in the Bill? It seems to me that parents ought to be able to obtain such information.
My hon. Friend has made an excellent point. I cannot say off the top of my head whether the matter is covered elsewhere in the Bill, but I shall try to find out for him.
New clause 15 inserts a new section 39A in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, requiring youth offending teams in England and Wales to notify a child or young person’s home and host local education authority when it becomes aware that that person has been detained in, transferred from or released from relevant youth accommodation. There is no pre-existing legislative provision requiring a youth offending team to be notified when a young person is detained in custody pursuant to a court order. However, youth offending teams have a pivotal role in the youth justice system, and in particular in arranging the placement of a young person who is sentenced or remanded in custody. In practice, a custodial placement could not be arranged without the youth offending team’s involvement.
A member of the youth offending team must be in attendance in court when a young person is sentenced to remand or custody, and if for any reason a member of the team is not present, the court is required to complete a report on the outcome of the hearing which must be sent to a range of partners including the youth offending team. Therefore, in practice a young person could not be placed in custody without the youth offending team being aware of it.
New clause 15 extends this provision so that a notification duty is placed on youth offending teams specifically to notify the home and host local education authority when a young person is detained in, transferred within, or released from juvenile custody. The youth offending team must also notify any other LEA in whose area the team expects the detained person to live on their release. The new clause ensures that relevant home and host LEAs will know when a child or young person moves into and out of the juvenile custodial estate, and when they transfer.
These provisions will strengthen current good practice, and will ensure that the LEAs can fulfil their new duties under chapter 5A of part X of the Education Act 1996, as inserted by new clause 14. They will help to ensure that local authorities can arrange suitable education for children and young people, both while they are detained in juvenile custody and on their release.
These provisions are central to our plans to improve education and training for young people in youth custody. They bring young people in juvenile custody under primary educational legislative regimes for the first time, and they make local authorities, as the mainstream commissioners of services for young people, also responsible for young people’s education while they are in juvenile custody.
I welcome this new clause, but does my hon. Friend the Minister not share my concern that some local authorities do not follow up on much of the information they receive, in this case from youth offending teams? There has been clear evidence of that. The man in charge of Wandsworth prison recently told an all-party group that Wandsworth council simply does not respond when adults leave prison; it does not support them. What can we do to ensure that local authorities respond appropriately?
That is a similar point to one raised earlier about what we would do if a local authority did not put the interests of a child first. If it did not do so, it would be in breach of a statutory duty, and the Secretary of State has direction powers to compel an authority in that respect, which would be enforceable by the courts.
It is my understanding that that applies whenever a young person is within the secure estate, but if that is not right I am sure that someone will correct me before we conclude our proceedings today.
I hope that Members will agree that the new clauses significantly strengthen requirements in respect of young people in juvenile custody—especially those with special educational needs—and that they provide a robust and practical framework to ensure that the needs of children and young people in juvenile custody can be appropriately supported.
There is an element of déjà vu to this debate. The Minister is moving precisely the same new clauses that she moved in Committee on 17 March. Her arguments are the same, too; in fact, many of the words and phrases she has used are very similar, albeit today she has sought to explain matters more expansively. In a few moments, I will raise with her some of the questions that we raised in Committee on the new clauses, and I do not doubt that the Minister will respond with the same, or similar, answers to those that she gave on 17 March.
Why are we repeating a debate we had in Committee? Why is the Minister moving exactly the same new clauses that she argued for in Committee? She is doing so because the management of the Committee stage by the four Ministers charged with that responsibility was not handled with the deftness of touch that might have been expected; it was a case of too many Ministers spoiling the broth, and an example of the chaos that can occur on considering a joint Bill when there is no clear sense of who is responsible.
The following is what happened in Committee. New clauses 14 and 15 were meant to replace clauses 49 and 50, which meant that the Government Members of the Committee should have voted against their own clauses in Committee, but instead they inadvertently voted for them. However, a very kind Chairman of the Committee realised the Minister’s oversight and gave the Committee a second chance to vote; but, alas, those Members again voted the wrong way and voted for their own clauses. So, here we are repeating the Committee stage and voting on whether to undo the errors of wayward Ministers—and we will have to do that again later this evening as the Government try to reverse three defeats incurred in Committee on three technical Government amendments. Those defeats were caused by the fact that a number of Labour Members failed to turn up in time for a 9 am start.
On the substance of the new clauses, these are important provisions—[Interruption.] Well, we would not have to waste any of this time had this been handled properly in Committee.
My hon. Friend makes a good point; the deputy Chief Whip was present throughout the later stages of our discussions. I have seen him today, looming around the Palace, so I am pleased to say that he is not ill; no doubt he will be joining us later.
There is no doubt that education is key to the rehabilitation of young offenders and, indeed, of all prisoners in our jails. Statistics for 2007 reveal that nearly half of prisoners had a reading age of 11 or younger, 65 per cent. had maths skills below those of an 11-year-old and 82 per cent. had handwriting skills at or below those of an average 11-year-old. Action for Children, which is a voluntary sector provider of children’s services, shares our concern about the quality of education for young people in custody, and it has stated:
“Within the secure estate, education and training provision is patchy. There is a commitment of 30 hours per week of education and skills provision, but figures suggest that the average amount of time spent on education and training is much lower.”
I wish to raise with the Minister the concerns about the wording of these new clauses that some of my hon. Friends have touched on and that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) in Committee. The first relates to proposed new section 562B(3) of the Education Act 1996, which new clause 14 would insert. Proposed new section 562B would introduce a duty on the home local authority of the young person in custody to ensure that both during the period of detention and on release it took steps to promote that young person’s educational potential. Subsection (3) would provide that the home authority must make arrangements for the provision of education or training for the young person when they are released, but includes the words
“where it appears to the home authority appropriate for them to do so”.
I want the Minister to answer the following question. Given the importance of education to young offenders in ensuring that they do not continue on the road to a life of crime, when might it not be “appropriate” for that young person’s home authority to make arrangements for the provision of education or training on that person’s release from detention? Is not the danger that the phrasing will provide a get-out clause that will allow indolent local authorities not to bother?
I do not accept that. Given the statistics that I have just read out, we need to put more effort into ensuring that prisoners who leave custody have those basic skills to enable them to get a job and to have a decent life. Local authorities should not be given an easy get-out from providing that education to those people.
I, too, am interested by the use of the term “over compulsory school age”. I thought that “compulsory school age” was a historical concept and that what we now have is compulsory education to the age of 18. Thus, this usage would appear to be inappropriate or at least ambiguous. Where does it leave 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is an anachronistic phrase—if one is to believe the rhetoric of Labour Ministers.
Our second concern relates to proposed new section 562C(3) of the 1996 Act, which new clause 14 would insert and which deals with young offenders who had a statement of special educational needs prior to going into custody. The provision says that the local authority where the young person is detained must use its “best endeavours” to secure special educational provision for that person while they are in custody. Again, it is the phrase “must use its best endeavours” that concerns us. Is not that another get-out clause for a local authority that does not want to incur the expense of ensuring that the youth custody facilities in its area provide that type of quality education?
Our third and final concern also relates to the proposed new section 562C and concerns the definition of what is to be regarded as appropriate special educational provision. In new subsection 4(c) it says that if it appears to the host authority that the special educational provision specified in the statement is no longer appropriate for the young person in custody, the host authority can simply provide that element of special education that it deems appropriate. Given that the new section does not provide for a new statement or assessments to be made, that also appears to be a widely drafted get-out clause for local authorities that do not wish to provide high- quality special education for young people in custody.
Policy in relation to children with special educational needs has not been well handled over the last 10 or 20 years, and much needs to be done to right those wrongs. Indeed, one might be forgiven for making a connection between poor policy making, the Warnock conclusions about inclusion and the fact that we are now discussing educational provision for young people in custody with special educational needs. Given the strong correlation between poor educational achievement and prison, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that poor special education provision is having a similar consequence for some young people who have special educational needs.
These are important issues and I hope that the Minister will address them appropriately. I wish her all the best with voting these new clauses and amendments on to the statute book without any hitches.
I apologise for not joining the debate earlier, but I have been in a Select Committee meeting.
I have taken some interest in new clause 14 as part of my overall interest in special educational needs. I congratulate Ministers on these amendments. This issue is very important. Last year, on the Second Reading of the Education and Skills Act 2008, I pointed out the importance of trying to ensure that children with special educational needs were not excluded unnecessarily. This Bill follows through that aim very positively. One of the problems that sometimes occurs when we legislate is that the different Departments do not always get their act together. Given that this issue relates to the Ministry of Justice as well as to the Departments for Children, Schools and Families and for Innovation, Universities and Skills, one might expect that problem to occur, but it has not.
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman as I know that he takes a great interest in these matters and speaks with authority, but I thought that the House might wish to note that the deputy Chief Whip has now joined us—I presume in order to ensure that proceedings go more smoothly than they did the first time.
I have nothing to add to that intervention and I shall continue my train of thought.
These amendments have rightly been informed by the concerns that have been expressed on other occasions. I refer especially to the Westminster Hall debate on adults with learning difficulties that took place earlier this year and to the comments on that occasion made by my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about the number of adults in the system who did not get the right sort of advice or assistance. I raised that issue with Ministers subsequently in Justice questions.
These amendments are a strong attempt to join the circle through further provision and to link the concerns that have been expressed by the DCSF about the need to ensure that children with special educational needs are not unnecessarily excluded—as that might set them on a path that leads to delinquency and further criminal behaviour—with the situation in prisons. This is a very important step, which is widely welcomed. I expect—and very much hope—that it will make a significant contribution to what the Government have already been trying to do about prison education.
I, too, hope that our considerations today proceed smoothly and without a hitch. On the subject of these new clauses, it is really important to identify the roles of the home and host authorities. I believe that the Government basically have it right in their definitions of what the home authority should be doing and what the host authority should be doing. The difficulty, as all hon. Members acknowledge, is promoting liaison between those two authorities.
It is important that the Government recognise clearly that a high proportion of young offenders have special educational needs and, perhaps unrelated to that but possibly related to it, that many young offenders have been excluded from school. Obviously, education is key in rehabilitation and in tackling reoffending. Equally, we are aware of the particularly high rate of reoffending among young people, which can be as high as 80 per cent. I cannot emphasise enough how important I think that the proposals are, but I am concerned about their implementation, as I have already said.
I, too, share the concerns of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) that the proposed new section 562C offers some convenient opt-outs for local authorities that mean that they might not endeavour to take the required steps to promote a person’s fulfilment and learning potential. Given the existence of those opt-outs, it is crucial that their use be tightly defined in guidance.
I would also repeat the point I made earlier: it is important that an assessment be made for all young people if they come into the youth justice system. That must be put on the record. I do not think that it is happening now, so it does not reassure me to have in writing, “Well, that’s all right because it is in such and such a plan.” The Government must come up with some firm schemes for monitoring the whole system implied in the new clauses; otherwise, they will be totally worthless and we will not make progress on this important matter, on which I think that the Government would be proud to have success.
I was not privileged to be a member of the Public Bill Committee, so I hope that what I say has not already been well debated before.
The concern is about young people in custody with special educational needs. Is it not the case that had we intervened sooner, they might not be in custody? I have argued many times, in this House and elsewhere, that we ought to provide better for younger people who clearly have special educational needs, and to do so at an earlier stage. I have some knowledge of this subject from relatives who have been teachers. Local authorities have been reluctant to statement young people, because it then costs money to do something about it. Even when those young people have been statemented, there is often a long delay before any action, during which time youngsters can fall more and more into trouble and difficulty. They might, perhaps, be excluded from school and then get into trouble. The end result is that they finish up in custody, with a criminal record or a custodial record and with a very poor educational experience.
The hon. Gentleman has just shared with the House his scepticism about local authorities’ willingness to go the extra mile for people with special educational needs. Does he share my concern that proposed new section 562C(4)(c) states that special educational needs provisions do not have to be applied by the host authority if that host authority feels that they are
“no longer appropriate for the person”?
My concern is that the host authority might consider the situation from the point of view of its own convenience, rather than from that of the interests of the individual. The authority might withhold the special educational needs provision because it is inconvenient for the host authority rather than because it is not in the individual’s interests. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should make sure that they monitor the situation carefully, and should ensure that they give extremely strong guidance on the matter?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I shall come on to make the point that there is always a resource implication of such actions. The resource constraint sometimes deters local authorities from doing things that they ought to do. I have had cases in my constituency of people who really should have been in residential educational care, or whatever one likes to call it, at an earlier stage in life. The local authority resists, usually arguing that it is better to have the principle of inclusion to the fore, when the real concern is about the cost. If central Government were prepared to fund local authorities to provide that very expensive special provision for certain young people, local authorities would be much more enthusiastic about pursuing that option. That is, of course, true of the new clauses that we are discussing, too.
I support the clauses in principle, but if local authorities find ways of not doing what those clauses imply because it is “not appropriate”, it may be a resource constraint that is the problem. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), and the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon)—to look seriously at making sure that local authorities have the resources to do what the clauses imply should be done.
I have argued on many occasions that there ought to be more residential provision for those with certain sorts of special educational needs, and particularly for those with serious behavioural needs that are difficult to accommodate in school. The young people concerned have difficulty coping with school. I am not suggesting that every time anybody misbehaves, they should be sent off to a boarding school, but some people’s behavioural difficulties are so serious that they really need a calmer experience in a residential setting, with specialist provision. I know that schools and colleges of that kind do exist. Some of them are private, and some are very expensive. If local authorities, in regional consortiums, made that sort of provision for those with special educational needs at an early stage—if intervention were quick and early—it would make an enormous difference to whether those people finished up in a custodial environment, and then went on to a criminal life, which would be wholly regrettable. Early intervention is absolutely crucial in such cases, as it is in the case of so many special educational needs. If we invested more in such special educational provision when people were very young, we would finish up with fewer people in custodial situations, and fewer people leading a life of crime.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). Uniquely, I found myself agreeing with almost everything that he said, particularly on early intervention. If one wants to look at the matter in purely financial terms, from the state’s point of view, early intervention and investment in young people who are clearly coming off the rails, as they are when in custody, will pay back. It will pay back handsomely if we can provide the educational opportunity to allow at least a decent percentage of those young people to get on to the straight and narrow, increase their confidence and so on.
I also agree with what the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) said about the need for visibility on performance. We need transparency. Young people who go into custody often move between institutions. Sometimes they are moved far away from their home authority, and they are out of sight, out of mind. That is why the fact that the Government are today making an effort to improve the education of those young people is to be welcomed, but it is also why so many Members from all parts of the House have concerns about whether the measures that the Government are taking are strong enough.
I have already raised issues about the wording. The home authority must
“take such steps as they consider appropriate”,
and the host authority “must use best endeavours”. To say that an authority has failed in such a statutory duty is pretty hard to do. I therefore urge Ministers to consider tightening up that wording, even if, for now, it appears only in guidance. If we are to ensure that those young people receive education where it is practical to deliver it, perhaps we need a stronger commitment. That also picks up on another important point, in addition to transparency, about money; this is often a question of resources. Given plentiful quantities of money, host, home and custody authorities would be only too happy to provide more educational support for young people and, if they had the resources, perhaps they would be able to ensure a more settled time in custody, the better to provide them with education. I am concerned about the way in which the host authorities will access the money. I understand from the Minister that money will be transferred to local authorities, but will transparency apply to requests from host authorities to home authorities and to the responses that they receive? I should be grateful if the Minister explained to the House and to me exactly how the host authority may claim funding to ensure that the person it has assessed receives the education that that authority thinks is right.
On the subject of visibility, are the Government, like many on both sides of the House, keen on league tables? If necessary, could league tables on performance in looking after the education and the progress of young people in custody be published to shame authorities into improving their performance? At the very least, if they discovered that other authorities were doing a much better job, they could make contact with those authorities and try to find out what was required to help them improve.
It is important that we look at added value. People often start at a low base when they enter into the care of those education authorities, so we need to look at that component. Those people have already been failed by the system, so we must ensure that it then brings them up, at least to some extent. That may not be as measurable as some people would like, but it is important that an assessment is made.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and it brings me to my final point, about subsection (4)(c) of proposed new section 562C, which states that where
“it appears to the host authority that the special educational provision so specified”
by the former home authority
“is no longer appropriate”
it can be set aside, as hon. Members have said. However, if it is set aside, some form of formal assessment should be carried out by the host authority. That authority should not be able simply to declare that it deems that that provision is no longer appropriate. A formal process should be conducted to ensure that that decision is reached after a rigorous assessment, and is not made purely to suit the authority’s financial situation.
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. Given the indication that the statement of special educational needs would effectively be suspended, does he share my concern that not only does that change the duty of the home authority and put the onus on the host authority but it takes away parents’ rights regarding statements? No longer will they be party to any reviews or appeals: they will be cut out of the process of SEN provision for their child while he or she is in custody. Does he share my concern that the Minister has not adequately thought through that loss of contact and representation for parents?
My hon. Friend is quite right, and he has picked up a point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). It is ironic that we should consider these new clauses, which make no mention whatsoever of parents, on the very day on which the Prime Minister has declared that parent power should be the driving force to raise educational standards. That irony will not be lost on the Secretary of State who, in this particular regard, has failed his master. Perhaps he is about to catch up, and fall into step with him, and we will hear about that from the Minister at the Dispatch Box.
As hon. Members will know, I spoke on Second Reading and served on the infamous Public Bill Committee. A lot of fun was had, and I enjoyed spending a great deal of time with Members from all parts of the House—probably more time than I would have liked at times. It was an occasion that I will not forget in a hurry, and it will give me many happy memories in the years to come.
I wish to speak in support of new clause 14, and seek clarification from the Minister on a couple of aspects of the Bill’s implementation. As we know, a large proportion of young people who are detained have special educational needs and many of those are identified, but as the Minister is well aware, many are not. I am pleased that the new clause pays significant attention to children with special educational needs.
My contributions in Committee were intended to elicit reassurances from the Minister that the particular needs of children with disabilities and additional special educational needs will be met, but it should not go without mention that the Minister told me that expenditure on those with SEN has risen by the best part of £500 million since 2000. The specific referrals that will come about as a result of the new clause will further back up that commitment.
However, I am concerned that we still cannot identify the number of children or young people detained in juvenile custody who have an SEN, what that SEN is—I have campaigned long and hard on this, as Ministers know—or the number of those who are later given a statement. Although I accept that there is a duty on local authorities to monitor and provide for children for whom they are responsible, it is a cause for concern that yet again there is a deficit of information in an area in which a problem clearly exists. I wholeheartedly support the amendment, which places a duty on a host local authority.
I know that the hon. Lady feels passionately about these subjects, as do I. Would she acknowledge that one of the key aspects of that information is the specificity and quantification of the provision that is put in place to meet the statemented need? There seems to be some variability about that between authorities, and some problem with passing on that information in detail from one authority to another as a child, and later a young person, goes through the system?
I agree. As hon. Members know, I introduced a private Member’s Bill on special educational needs and the collection of information. The problem exists not only for children in custody, but for children as they move around the country, even when their parents are totally responsible for them. Often the information is not passed on from one local authority to another with regard to the specific needs of that child. I have had personal experience of starting again, in effect, when one moves to a new local authority. The amendment is welcome because, when a child or young person moves into a local authority area it will help inform the authority that they may need an SEN assessment or a statement.
I refer to new clause 14 and to what, if it is passed, will become section 562B of the Education Act 1996. Subsection (2)(a) reads:
“The home authority must—
(a) during the period of detention in relevant youth accommodation. . .take such steps as they consider appropriate to promote the person’s fulfilment of his or her learning potential.”
I wish to probe the Minister a little on resources for the fulfilment of that statutory commitment.
I confess that the last time I looked at per capita annual spending on the education of young people in the secure estate, compared to per capita annual spending on a pupil at a state secondary school, was probably five years ago, in the previous Parliament. Let us add to the equation the amount spent by many local authorities on a tiny minority of children with very severe emotional and behavioural difficulties who are put in secure accommodation not necessarily because of criminal acts of any sort, but because they are so disturbed that they need a very high level of support, to the extent that it is residential and often geographically outside the home local authority area. For example, Wolverhampton used to send children to somewhere in Devon. It is debatable whether that is good for the child. For most of them, it is better that they remain nearer where they live, although not in every case if they have a very disruptive family.
I would not want anyone to think that these are exact figures, but for purposes of comparison let me give the figures, very roughly, from a few years ago. For a child from Wolverhampton who was placed in such secure residential accommodation because of their emotional and behavioural difficulties, the average cost was £150,000 a year. For some, however, the cost was £250,000 a year, meaning that, if a child went into such an institution for four years, they could cost £1 million. It drained a huge proportion of the health budget and the local authority budget, albeit for children with very severe difficulties. Those were extreme figures.
The approximate spending per capita per year—I am talking about five years ago—on an average child in a secondary school was £4,000 a year. That was for a child who went to school for roughly six hours a day, five days a week, 39 weeks a year. By contrast, the figure for a young person in the secure estate was lower; it was in the low £3,000s.
It was difficult to form an idea of the figures, because, frankly, the Government did not keep them and one had to try to work them out as best one could. It was a bit of a back-of-an-envelope calculation, because the figures that the Government started with involved taking the number of places in an institution, such as Pucklehurst where Stephen Fry was as a teenager, and dividing that by the budget. Then one had the per capita figure, but of course that included accommodation—food, heating, lighting, security and so on.
The comparative figure was just over £3,000 a year, as far as I could tell, for a young person in a secure estate, as opposed to someone in a regular secondary school, who cost about £4,000 a year. That struck me as absolutely potty, given that, as I understand it, a large plurality, if not a majority, of young people in the secure estate have severe difficulties with basic learning—with the three R’s. It is one of the factors that can become an indicator of someone’s being in the secure estate. I must stress that I do not suggest that a young person aged 13 or 14 who is not functionally literate will necessarily end up in the secure estate, but a disproportionate number of young people who are not functionally literate do.
I am sure that my hon. Friend saw a recent documentary about young people being taught to read, and the transformation in the behaviour of one young person who had caused massive problems in school. They were successfully taught to read, and they were transformed as a person. They became happy and well integrated, and they led a productive life at school and beyond.
I agree because, at base, this is partly about self-esteem. It is also about whether such people are likely to offend upon their release because of their emotional state, their chances of getting a job and their level of basic skills.
Proposed new section 562B(2)(a) has resource implications and I hope that the Minister will assure me that those approximate figures from five years ago have been superseded. The Government have taken the issue in hand over the past five years, because of pressure from all parts of the House, and they have done much better on education for young people in the secure estate. However, I want reassurance from the Minister—perhaps not today, because it can be difficult to unravel such figures—that, per capita per annum, spending on the education of young people in the secure estate is more than what is spent on children in a regular state secondary school.
That was an interesting debate. There were some very good contributions by Members on both sides of the House. It shows the great interest that Members have in the issue. On the specific points, I turn first to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). He asked when it would not be appropriate for the local authority to make arrangements for persons released from detention. That would be when the young person or their parents had already made arrangements for their continuing education and training. In that case, the local authority would not have to step in.
There was another question about compulsory school age education and training. Obviously, there is compulsory schooling up to 16. Post-16, there is education or training, so, as the issue moves with the recommended participation age, the relevant provisions will apply.
Many of the other points come back to the answers that I gave before, in response to interventions. The issue is about getting the balance right between what can practically be achieved within the secure estate and our wanting the best for young people. As I said, in many cases, practical difficulties mean that it would not be possible to replicate the exact provision that young people enjoyed outside the secure estate. A special educational needs statement often includes a particular school that a young person should attend; obviously, that would not be possible in respect of a young person in the secure estate.
Another point, which came up time and again, was about monitoring and inspection. Ofsted will be responsible for the inspection of educational standards and the education that young people receive in the secure estate. On young people coming out of the secure estate, I should say that there will be a national indicator for local authorities to ensure that young people supervised by youth offending teams are in education or employment at the end of their sentences. A lot of that will be put together in the guidance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) was an assiduous Committee member who made some very good contributions. I thank him for his support for the new clause. I agree with what the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) said: it will be for us to define tightly in the guidance what we mean by “taking steps” and what is appropriate. The issue of monitoring was also raised. In the youth crime action plan, we committed to review the performance management arrangements for young offenders’ education in custody as part of these education reforms. We are working with our partners so that that is taken on board.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) said that prevention was better than cure, and I agree absolutely. Again, the issue is about getting the balance right between what can practically be achieved within the secure estate and our wanting the best for the young people. On my hon. Friend’s comments about special educational needs as a whole, I should say that there has been considerable investment in education for youngsters with special educational needs. Furthermore, Ofsted is about to undertake a review, which will guide us on how we can go further on that.
I thank my hon. Friend for her reassurance on these matters. Has her Department made any attempt to look at the extent to which local authorities have prejudices or views about special educational needs which are now being shown to be inappropriate? I am thinking, for example, of those who believe in blanket inclusion rather than special provision when medical or mental health problems are clearly involved. Is the Department looking at local authorities and local authority officers who have particular prejudices on such matters?
I take my hon. Friend’s point. He will be aware that we have employed Sir Brian Lamb to review parental experience in the special educational needs system. Last week, we specifically asked Sir Brian to look at the exact issue that my hon. Friend has raised: whether local authorities are discharging their responsibilities and duties in a more consistent manner. Some local authorities work well in that regard, but others do not.
The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) made points about parents. Parents are fully engaged in the sentence planning process. As for educational requirements, we will make sure that we put into the local authority guidance the fact that the current process by which parents are involved in the sentence planning also implies their involvement in the education.
As we work with partners on the guidance, we can consider at what level parents will be engaged in the education process—whether it will be a replica of what happens in the sentence planning process or whether we want to do something particularly for young people with special educational needs. Parents are closely involved with those provisions.
Two questions were asked about funding. Funding will go to the Young People’s Learning Agency and then to the host authorities. We are considering how best we can ensure that the funding designated for education in custody is spent on that and how we get equality of spend across the system. We will work closely with all the partners to agree a model for how we can make that happen. In England, the funding will flow from central Government to the YPLA to the host LEAs, which will then use it to secure education and training for juveniles in custody. In Wales, it will be slightly different—the funding will be re-routed from the Youth Justice Board’s budget to the Welsh Assembly Government and then distributed to host LEAs, which will receive additional funding to carry out their new responsibilities of securing education and training in juvenile custody.
I am trying to understand this process. I thought that the home authority was going to play a role, but obviously not—the money will flow between the YPLA and the host authority. Will the allocation to the host authority be based on a standard assessment of need, and to what extent can that be constrained by the budgetary position of the YPLA?
We are looking forward to agreeing that model as we bring it forward. The home LEA is involved because the Bill proposes that host LEAs should be able to recoup the cost of SEN provision from home authorities, because they are not providing it while the young person is in custody. We need to get the model right and ensure that all the partners are involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) is a seasoned campaigner on behalf of young people with SEN. Her Bill was very important because, as she rightly says, information flows are vital.
Can my hon. Friend assure me that the YPLA, which will be the funding body for the host authority, will have sufficient funds? Will it be charged with the responsibility of providing a higher per capita annualised figure for the education of a young person in the secure estate than the average figure for what one might broadly term a regular secondary school student, so that extra moneys will go into the education of young people in the secure estate, many of whom, although they do not have statemented special educational needs, have what we might call, in lay terms, particular educational needs, often in catching up with the basic three R’s?
I cannot give my hon. Friend an assurance on whether that average is right without having the figures in front of me. It is certainly something that we are looking into. We expect that host LEAs will receive additional funding to carry out these responsibilities. I cannot comment on the figures that he quoted, which are from five years ago. I undertake to write to him with the information. [Interruption.] I have just seen that the amount of funding that the Government give to local authorities for the education and training of young people in custody will be based on a per-bed price that is agreed centrally by national partners at the start of the commissioning process. Funding for special educational needs is relative to the child, which is why we have to get the model right to ensure that they get the appropriate amount.
I hope that hon. Members will agree that the new clauses are an improvement, and that the whole Bill is an improvement, for young people in custody. We hope that if we can get education and training right, that will prevent the reoffending that hon. Members have mentioned.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 14 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 15
Detention of child or young person: local education authorities to be notified
‘After section 39 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37) insert—
“39A Detention of child or young person: local education authorities to be notified
(1) Subsection (2) applies where a youth offending team becomes aware that—
(a) a child or young person has become subject to a detention order and is detained in relevant youth accommodation, or
(b) a child or young person who is subject to a detention order has been transferred from one place of accommodation to another which is relevant youth accommodation.
(2) The youth offending team must as soon as practicable notify—
(a) the home local education authority, and
(b) the host local education authority,
of the place where the child or young person is detained.
(3) Subsection (4) applies where a youth offending team becomes aware that a person has been released having immediately before release been—
(a) subject to a detention order, and
(b) detained in relevant youth accommodation.
(4) The youth offending team must as soon as practicable notify the following authorities of the release—
(a) the home local education authority;
(b) the host local education authority;
(c) any other local education authority in whose area the youth offending team expects the person to live on release.
(5) Nothing in this section requires a youth offending team to notify a local education authority of any matter of which the authority is already aware.
(6) In this section—
“home local education authority”, in relation to a child or young person, means the local education authority which is the home authority in relation to that person within the meaning of Chapter 5A of Part 10 of the Education Act 1996 (persons detained in youth accommodation);
“host local education authority”, in relation to a child or young person who is detained in relevant youth accommodation, means the local education authority for the area in which that person is detained;
“young person” includes a person who is aged 18;
and references in this section to a person subject to a detention order and to relevant youth accommodation have the same meanings as they have in the Education Act 1996 (see section 562(1A) of that Act).”’.—(Sarah McCarthy-Fry.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 21
Further education corporations in England: co-operation and promotion of well-being
‘(1) The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 (c. 13) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 19 (supplementary powers of a further education corporation), after subsection (8) add—
“(9) A further education corporation may provide advice or assistance to any other person where it appears to the corporation to be appropriate for them to do so for the purpose of or in connection with the provision of education by the other person.”
(3) After that section insert—
“19A Duty in relation to promotion of well-being of local area
(1) This section applies to a further education corporation established in respect of an educational institution in England.
(2) In exercising their functions under sections 18 and 19, the corporation must—
(a) have regard, amongst other things, to the objective of promoting the economic and social well-being of the local area, and
(b) in doing so, have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State about co-operation with a view, directly or indirectly, to advancing that objective.
(3) In subsection (2)—
(a) the reference to the well-being of an area includes a reference to the well-being of people who live or work in the area;
(b) “co-operation”, in relation to a further education corporation, means any form of co-operation, including consulting, seeking advice or assistance from, providing advice or assistance to, or collaborating or otherwise participating in joint working with, other educational institutions, employers or other persons (who may be, or include, persons outside the local area).
(4) In this section, “the local area”, in relation to a further education corporation, means the locality of the institution in respect of which they are established.
(5) Nothing in this section is to be taken to affect the operation of section 49A.”’.—(Ed Balls.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 22—Targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.
Government new clause 23—Local Safeguarding Children Boards: lay members.
Government new clause 24—Local Safeguarding Children Boards: annual reports.
New clause 20—Children visited by key workers—
‘After section 16 of the Children Act 2004 insert—
“16A (1) A Children’s services authority shall secure that, when any child who is the subject of—
(a) an investigation under section 47 of the Children Act 1989; or
(b) a child protection plan agreed by the Local Safeguarding Children Board
is visited by his or her key worker, the child shall, if practicable and reasonable in the circumstances, be seen separately from his or her parent or care-giver.
(2) The key worker referred to in subsection (1) is—
(a) in the case of subsection (1)(a) of this section, the lead social worker appointed by the children’s services authority; and
(b) in the case of subsection (1)(b), the key worker appointed by the Local Safeguarding Children Board.”’.
New clause 29—Chairman of local safeguarding board—
‘A Children’s Services Authority in England must ensure that the Local Safeguarding Board established by it has a chairman who is independent of that authority.’.
Government amendment 18.
Amendment 54, in clause 187, page 100, line 26, at end insert—
‘(ff) a short stay school within the area of the authority;
(fg) a Sure Start Children’s Centre within the area of the authority;
(fh) a representative of an extended school provider with authority;
(fi) general medical practitioners within the area of the authority.’.
Amendment 15, in clause 188, page 103, line 43, at end insert—
‘(6) A Children’s Trust Board must have regard to the need to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child when preparing a children and young people’s plan.’.
Amendment 67, page 104, line 7, at end insert—
‘( ) allocate clear areas of responsibility and accountability for each section of the plan to relevant persons and bodies;’.
Government amendments 19 and 20.
Over the past few days, people around the country will have been horrified to read that one of the defendants found guilty in respect of the death of baby Peter has also committed another vile and disgusting crime against a small and vulnerable child. There is nothing that we can do to take away the suffering caused by such terrible crimes, but it is our responsibility to do everything that we can to ensure that there are the best possible child protection arrangements—in Haringey and across the country.
In November last year, I asked Lord Laming to provide us with an independent progress report on child protection across the country. In my statement to the House on 12 March I confirmed that we would accept all Lord Laming’s recommendations and set out the immediate action that we were taking to implement them. In his report, Lord Laming concluded that the Every Child Matters reforms provided
“a sound framework for professionals to protect children and promote their welfare.”
However, he also stated that there now needed to be
“a step change in the arrangements to protect children from harm.”
He challenged us to do more to ensure that leaders of local services accept their responsibility to
“translate policy, legislation and guidance into day-to-day practice on the frontline of every service.”
As I said in my statement to the House a few weeks ago, in that report Lord Laming made a series of detailed recommendations to ensure that best practice is universally applied in every area of the country, to improve local accountability and to provide more support for local leaders and the front-line work force. Tomorrow we will set out our detailed response to Lord Laming’s report and our new vision for the new national safeguarding delivery unit, as well as the first recommendations of our social work taskforce to improve front-line social work practice.
Today, we have tabled three new clauses that will help us to go further towards implementing Lord Laming’s recommendations in this Bill, and I thank Opposition Members for their co-operation in agreeing to the new clauses coming forward on Report. They will introduce new statutory targets for safeguarding and child protection and require local safeguarding children boards to appoint two members drawn from the local community and to publish an annual report on their effectiveness.
New clause 22 will insert a new section into the Children Act 2004 to allow us to introduce the statutory targets that Lord Laming recommended in his report, to ensure that safeguarding and child protection are the top priority in every area. Of course, there is a national role in the setting of those targets, but the vital thing is for local agencies to be consulted on those targets and then to ensure that they are properly driven forward locally. That is why they must take account of local performance and circumstance and why we expect local authorities to consult all local agencies and to propose challenging targets to us. We will bring forward secondary legislation to address the details of how those targets will be set, alongside the review of the range of safeguarding targets, and will publish a new framework in the autumn.
In preparing his report, which I asked him to begin in December, Lord Laming held a wide range of meetings all round the country with practitioners and professionals. It was on that basis that he recommended the proposed statutory targets. We have obviously consulted our key partners, as well as Opposition Members and Departments, on the fact that we intend to implement that recommendation. When Lord Laming issued his report in March, I said that we would implement his recommendation, and today we are taking the power to do so. The detail of how we will do that—that is, both the content of the secondary legislation and, importantly, the detailed statutory targets—is something on which we will consult over the coming months and in the autumn. There will therefore be a full consultation on how we enact those powers, but the fact that we are enacting them is a consequence of Lord Laming’s consultation and his report.
Government new clause 23 amends the Children Act 2004 to require local authorities to open up the child protection system to greater public scrutiny by ensuring that two members of the general public are appointed to every local safeguarding children board in the country. An important part of our response to Lord Laming’s report was to say that we needed greater transparency and public involvement, not least because safeguarding children is the responsibility of us all, not just professionals. Government new clause 23 will allow best practice to become common practice and will ensure that we can implement that recommendation in a sensible manner.
In line with Lord Laming’s recommendations, we have already said that we will revise our statutory guidance in “Working Together” to set out our presumptions that the director of children’s services and the lead member for children’s services will always be members of both the children’s trust board and the LSCB. The chief executive and the leader of the council will have an obligation to confirm annually that their local arrangements comply with the law. Government new clause 24 will require the local safeguarding children board to publish an annual report and to submit it to its local children’s trust, in order to provide an honest assessment of how those arrangements are being implemented and ensure that resourcing, organisation and co-ordination issues are being properly addressed by all agencies in the children’s trust, thereby allowing proper and effective scrutiny.
I display my ignorance here, but I see that the annual report will go to the local children’s trust board. I appreciate that some matters covered may be delicate, but to ensure the scrutiny to which my right hon. Friend has referred, will those annual reports be publicly available, so that people can read what is going on in their area?
The reports will be public reports, issued by the safeguarding children board. All the experts who are involved in overseeing safeguarding arrangements in an area are on the safeguarding children board. They will report to the children’s trust, which is responsible for ensuring that those responsible in every local area for leading individual agencies—whether the local authority, the police, health services or other agencies more widely—are putting in place both the senior management time and the resourcing to ensure that the challenge of safeguarding is being properly implemented. That allows the children’s trust to ensure that safeguarding is being done properly and it allows the safeguarding board to ensure that individual agencies are playing their proper role. That must happen in public. An important part of our proposed new clauses is opening up the process to proper scrutiny.
I fully accept the Secretary of State’s good will in bringing forward the Government’s new clauses, which I welcome. However, does he agree that they rely to some extent on his issuing strong guidance and on monitoring performance to ensure that local authorities comply with that guidance? What assurances can he give that he will indeed give that strong guidance and conduct robust monitoring?
The recommendations in Lord Laming’s report challenge us to do just that. The combination of the new national safeguarding unit and the strengthened inspection regime through Ofsted is important. In the end, however, the issue is about ensuring that we have proper leadership, resourcing and scrutiny, both locally, in every one of the 158 areas where safeguarding is co-ordinated, and across a range of different agencies. Our challenge is to make best practice universal, across all parts of the country. As I have said, we will revise our new guidance on safeguarding to each area to reflect not only the changes in the law, but the wider recommendations in Lord Laming’s report. It is vital that we have clear direction from the centre, but far more important will be the quality and commitment of leadership at local level, and that is where we must ensure that we have proper and effective scrutiny. That is why the new clause’s proposals to open up accountability at local area level, through lay members and annual reports, is as important as the setting of statutory targets and guidance, for which the Bill also makes provision.
New clause 21 and amendments 18, 19 and 20 reflect some progress on the debates that occurred in the Public Bill Committee which, sadly, I was unable to be part of. On the basis of the debate so far today, I regret that very much indeed. I understand that there was agreement among hon. Members on both sides of the Committee on the need for local employers to work together with local colleges. That is obviously vital in the current climate, and we are expanding the number of apprenticeships and getting more skills into the adult work force as well.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) made a strong case in Committee for greater clarity on the inclusion of employer bodies in co-operation arrangements. The Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), said in that debate that we were fully committed to employer engagement, and that we would look at that matter further. Rather than imposing the duty to co-operate as a funding condition, we have decided instead, through new clause 21 and the consequential amendments, to place a duty on colleges to follow statutory guidance from the Secretary of State on co-operation, including with employers, alongside the new duty in the Bill to promote economic and social well-being in the local area. I hope that that will provide greater clarity and flexibility, and that the provisions make it clear in a way that all hon. Members can agree on that there will be a proper, clear basis for employer—
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; I appreciate that he is in mid-flow. We welcome that change. It reflects the discussion in Committee that he described, and reaffirms the cross-party view that the relationship between educators and employers is critical, particularly at this time. I guess that this illustrates our Committees working at their best.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
We believe that this is a better way of ensuring that we can have more effective, clear and flexible co-operation between colleges and employers. We are hoping that we will receive a reply today from the shadow Children’s Secretary on whether he and his party will match our September guarantee on funding for sixth forms, because, without that clarity, we will not have proper cross-party co-operation on ensuring that employers and young people get the support that they need.
I echo the Secretary of State’s sentiment that every right-thinking person in this country will have been absolutely horrified at the further revelations that have come out of the baby P affair. That makes it even more urgent to acknowledge that the measures that we all bring in—not just the Government, but all the other agencies involved—are very necessary. We can always clamp down, but we can never eliminate altogether those people who are intent on doing evil things to children. However, the duty of all of us is to make that as difficult as possible for them by eliminating as many opportunities as possible, and to keep a strong watching eye on the people who are minded to do these horrendous things to children.
We are waiting eagerly for the rest of the measures that the Secretary of State will introduce in response to Lord Laming’s report, which he will announce tomorrow. I presume that we will have proper opportunity, through an oral statement, to scrutinise some of those measures. We also await the interim report from the social work taskforce, which forms an integral part of this whole exercise.
I want to comment on most of the amendments and new clauses in the group. I shall first comment on our amendment 54 and then on Government amendments 18 and 19 together with the accompanying new clause 21. I shall then comment briefly on new clause 29, tabled by the Liberal Democrats. Subsequently, I will come to the main motions, which I view as Government new clauses 22, 23 and 24, and I shall want to speak to them in greater detail.
Amendment 54, which was tabled by my hon. Friends, is about the duty to co-operate. It is effectively about the membership of children’s trusts and the definitions of who constitute the relevant partners that form those trusts. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) raised the issue in Committee, explaining that in our view, the list of those relevant partners is not as exhaustive as it should be. Hence the purpose of the amendment is to add further names of agencies to clause 187. They are the further relevant partners who should be consulted and form part of the children’s trusts network.
The four additional agencies that we would like to see added to the Bill largely reflect the results of the Government’s own consultation. These four agencies are, first,
“a short stay school within the area of the authority”—
effectively the pupil referral units, which are now being renamed. The second is
“a Sure Start Children’s Centre within the area of the authority”.
The third is
“a representative of an extended school provider with authority”—
very much a movable feast in respect of who exactly it will be, as extended schools are rolled out and encompass more and more partners. That is why it is so important for this provision to be built directly into the Bill. Fourthly and particularly—this is another issue that came out of the Government’s consultation—there are
“general medical practitioners within the area of the authority.”
It was found that engaging GPs with children’s centres and some other partners had proved particularly challenging, which is why we think there is a case for naming them directly in the Bill. Amendment 54 is thus straightforward in making more explicit the relevant partners that should be named within the legislation.
Let me turn briefly to deal with Government new clause 21 and the corresponding amendments 18 and 19. I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who now seems to have dismissed himself, on the pressure he brought to bear in Committee, where it was felt that the burdens placed on colleges were slightly onerous and that the duty to co-operate—not now on a funding condition—was a welcome remodelling of the thrust of this part of Bill, without undermining its credibility. Further education colleges already do a lot to support and promote well-being throughout communities. If anything, we should be giving them more freedom to pursue those aims even more and to promote good practice.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that our further education colleges do a really good job, but they are often let down. In my constituency, for example, the Learning and Skills Council has not only wasted £12.5 million on running itself into a lease that it now has to get out of, but has withdrawn £40 million from a huge further education project—at Oaklands college, which will now probably fail. The Government might talk wise words, but they do not always deliver—
My hon. Friend has done well to make that point, getting in almost under the radar. There is an opportunity to take it further during tomorrow morning’s Westminster Hall debate, when the complete shambles that has been the LSC and the Government’s handling of further education funding can be explored in more detail, and in order.
We welcome what the Government have done in respect of the new clause and the amendments, and will support those measures.
The Liberal Democrats have tabled a number of proposals, which I will allow them to speak to for themselves, but I want to touch on new clause 29— [Interruption.] The reason why I am letting them speak to those proposals for themselves is that some do not add up, in particular new clause 29.
I would be delighted to defer to the hon. Gentleman to allow him to comment on our single amendment.
New clause 29, tabled by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, requests that a
“Children’s Services Authority…must ensure that the Local Safeguarding Board… has”
an independent chairman. Actually, those boards already can, and in many cases do, so I am slightly at a loss as to why primary legislation is required to bring that about.
Indeed, when the issue of baby P and serious case review handling by local safeguarding children boards came up back in the autumn, Conservative-run authorities were advised to ensure that they had chairmen or chairwomen of those boards who were independent, and that the boards were no longer chaired by the director of children’s services, as had been the case in many authorities.
All Conservative-run authorities had either made moves to bring that about or were in the process of making such moves. They have led the way and pre-empted a recommendation that it became inevitable Lord Laming would make. It will be interesting to hear from the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) how many Liberal Democrat-run local authorities have followed that advice—not that there are many, but we can at least have a good stab at finding out how much they have done already to put their principles into practice.
The Government’s main proposals are new clauses 22, 23 and 24, which are important. I think that the Secretary of State would acknowledge that we have been proactive and positive in supporting child protection legislation post-Victoria Climbié, and have been constructively critical in many examples, but we have always supported those measures that we think will lead to greater protection of children. Alas, too many of those measures have not had the desired effect—for a host of reasons that it is not appropriate to go into now. We had a debate on child protection a month or two ago.
I am keen to learn from the Secretary of State in greater detail why he thinks that these particular measures will improve the quality of the outcomes, by which I mean that more children will be better protected and fewer will end up meeting the horrific end of baby Peter and other children who have died at the hands of parents or carers in recent years.
I am not interested in the quantity of legislation. I think we have concentrated too much on quantity in the nine years since the death of Victoria Climbié. We must focus much more on the quality of the legislation, particularly the quality of the outcomes that it achieves.
I have enormous respect for Herbert Laming, who was one of the patrons of the Conservative commission on social worker practices, but part of the criticism has been that the 108 recommendations made in relation to Victoria Climbié have added to the bureaucracy, which can be said to have made the job of social workers rather more difficult. My problem, therefore, is how many of the 58 further recommendations being made in Laming 2 will add yet further to the bureaucracy, with Herbert Laming having himself acknowledged how too much bureaucracy has grown up in child protection and is becoming, in some cases, self-defeating.
The hon. Gentleman is focusing on the additional bureaucracy arising from Laming 1, and possibly Laming 2 as well, but is not the real problem a massive case overload? We need more resources for social work, and more and better social workers, to ensure that the events that we are discussing are not repeated.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need fewer case loads heaped on to individual social workers, we need more permanent social workers—as opposed to agency or short-term social workers—and we need to free up more of social workers’ time, so that they can get on with their job of protecting children and vulnerable families and meeting them face to face rather than being shackled to their computers and assessment forms. That is what Laming, Unison and all other dispassionate observers say is now happening. Some surveys estimate that social workers and child protection workers spend up to 80 per cent. of their time in front of computers and doing paperwork for assessments.
We must judge the Bill according to the extent to which it helps, or hinders, our ability to counter the problems that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. That is why I want to concentrate on bureaucracy. So far we have heard no details of the targets mentioned in new clause 22 from the Secretary of State, but I fear that that new clause, in particular, will heap more targets, and potentially more bureaucracy, on top of performance indicators, rather than replacing them.
The performance indicators currently in use for the safeguarding of children are inadequate to the task for which they were designed, which came across clearly in Laming 2, which said:
“Discussion with local authorities suggested that this was because of concerns that current indicators focus on processes and timescales, are not helpful in creating shared safeguarding priorities amongst statutory partners, are unclear in their impact upon positive outcomes for children and young people, and do not drive improved services.”
That is what Laming said in the opening of his report. Let us look at what others have said about the bureaucracy that has crept into the child protection system, and which I fear may be behind some of these new proposals. Mick Brookes, head of the National Association of Head Teachers, has said:
“Government should immediately act to lift the burden of bureaucracy on our public services, much of it imposed as a result of incessant reform.”
Christine Blower, head of the National Union of Teachers, has said:
“The solutions to preventing future tragedies such as ‘Baby P’ lie not in top-down bureaucracy but in the provision of proper resources, back-up and training for frontline services such as social work, and in enabling local authorities to construct effective co-ordinated services in the knowledge that they will face tough action if they fail.”
That view has been reflected in the observations of a number of commentators who are closely involved in child protection.
The 58 recommendations in the second Laming report underlie these new clauses, and will underlie further proposals which the Secretary of State will no doubt unveil tomorrow. Those proposals may or may not require primary legislation, but they will certainly be contained in various regulations. An awful lot of what is being proposed amounts to further bureaucracy rather than the achievement of qualitative outcomes. One example is the establishment of a national safeguarding delivery unit.
The national safeguarding delivery unit will report to the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Families, Children and Young People. Earlier, the Secretary of State exalted the merits of greater transparency and public involvement. The problem is that the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Families, Children and Young People is shrouded in secrecy. In response to a question that I tabled to the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), asking what reasons were given
“not to disclose information relating to proceedings of the Cabinet Sub-committee on Families, Children and Young People; and when the Sub-committee last met”,
the Under-Secretary of State replied:
“Information relating to the proceedings of Cabinet Committees, including when, how often and for how long they meet, is generally not disclosed; as to do so could harm the frankness and candour of internal discussion.”—[Official Report, 30 March 2009; Vol. 490, c. 862W.]
So we do not know what that Sub-Committee actually does, nor how it will respond to the proceedings of the national safeguarding delivery unit. It therefore seems to be an extra bit of bureaucracy, whose merits in achieving qualitative outcomes are questionable—but in any case we cannot question it, because it meets in secret and its minutes are not published. That is a good example of the lack of transparency that some of these proposals will create.
Other recommendations underlying the new clauses include the following: that there should be statutory targets for safeguarding and protection, alongside the existing statutory attainment and early-years targets, to be produced as quickly as possible; that the Department of Health must clarify and strengthen the responsibilities of strategic health authorities; that directors of children’s services and primary care trusts must regularly review all points of referral; and that all directors of children’s services must appoint a senior manager within their team with the necessary skills and experience, and organise regular training and needs assessments. Therefore, a lot of extra bureaucracy will be added to the child protection procedures as a result of following the recommendations of Laming 2, if that is what the Secretary of State is going to do—and given that he has already committed himself to accepting all those recommendations in practice and that we have the first few of them here, it appears that that is the route down which he will go.
The hon. Gentleman asks for transparency. As I want to respond clearly to his remarks, I must say to him that so far his comments have been obfuscatory and very unclear. He began by praising Lord Laming, but his subsequent remarks have left me very confused, and I need to know the following so that I can respond clearly. Lord Laming has made a series of recommendations, and I said in a statement to the House a few weeks ago that I accepted those recommendations and would implement them. Lord Laming recommended the following: that there should be an annual report to the children’s trust and the local safeguarding board; that there should be a national delivery unit reporting to the Sub-Committee; and that there should be new statutory targets. I am implementing Lord Laming’s recommendations—some of them through this Bill—because I support them. Do the hon. Gentleman and his party support Lord Laming’s recommendations—yes or no? I ask that because what the hon. Gentleman has so far said has been very confusing indeed.
The simple answer is no. If the Secretary of State had listened, he would know that I absolutely respect the job Lord Laming has done and the objectives he is trying to achieve, but I absolutely question whether these 58 recommendations in full will make the system less bureaucratic and achieve what Lord Laming and I—and, I am sure, the Secretary of State—want to achieve. Many of these recommendations are good, and we will certainly support them. Taken as a whole however, I wonder whether they will add to bureaucracy, which would be counter-productive. I think I have made it absolutely clear that we support most, but not all, of them, and that we question the extra bureaucracy that might be created. I think I have made that clear.
The Secretary of State does not seem to think that that is clear, however. The fact that I do not support every single recommendation does not make me unsupportive of Herbert Laming. We certainly do not support the setting up of a national safeguarding delivery unit, for all the reasons that I have given.
Lord Laming makes it absolutely clear in his report that he sees the national delivery unit as central to ensuring that children are safe. He sees its reporting to the Sub-Committee as central to keeping children safe, too. He also sees the serious case review full report being kept confidential, and the establishment of ContactPoint and new statutory targets, as central to keeping children safe. On each of these recommendations, we have heard from the hon. Gentleman that he and his party do not support what Lord Laming says are necessary actions to keep children safe. On this basis, it is clear that the Conservative party does not support the body of recommendations to keep children safe that are in Lord Laming’s report. There is no point in coming along with warm words. Lord Laming has produced a report. We are implementing his recommendations. The Conservative party does not support all the key central recommendations of the Laming report, and it is essential for public scrutiny that that point is laid clearly before us.
I think that I have made it absolutely clear that we do not support one of Lord Laming’s central recommendations: that there should be a national safeguarding delivery unit. We have said that right from the beginning, so our position should not cause any shock or horror. We just think that that is the wrong way to go about things. Lord Laming does not say that ContactPoint is essential for child protection—he has never said that. If the Secretary of State were to reread the Climbié report, he would find that Lord Laming does not say that ContactPoint is an essential component of child protection; Lord Laming is a supporter of ContactPoint for reasons other than the idea that it is an essential part of child protection.
I am seriously worried that the Secretary of State is shaking his head, because he now needs to have a very close and up-front conversation with Lord Laming as he has misunderstood the reasoning behind the approach taken by the author of the report that he commissioned. That is seriously worrying—[Interruption.] I do not support some of the recommendations in Lord Laming’s report, and I have detailed those. I could detail all the recommendations that the Conservatives do support, if the Secretary of State would like me to do so. The relevant point that I am trying to make on the three new clauses that we are discussing is that we risk adding to the bureaucracy that has been the biggest enemy of effective social work practice for too many years. We have to get that system right.
We already have numerous performance indicators, to which these new clauses, in particular new clause 22, will add targets. One such indicator is that initial assessments for children’s social care are to be carried out within seven working days of referral. That is a good proposal, but the trouble is that in practice what has happened in certain authorities is that in order to meet that performance indicator, certain departments have written an assessment that includes the name and address of the child only—the rest of the assessment is blank, yet that counts as an assessment to meet the performance indicator. The Secretary of State seems to be shaking his head, but that is happening and it is not what he and I want to achieve. He and I do not want to achieve that target if in our doing so the target becomes meaningless.
That is exactly why Lord Laming proposes that all these targets be reviewed and we come forward with new statutory targets—that is a central recommendation of the Laming review, which the Conservative party does not support. There is no point in the Conservatives coming along with warm words about their support for Lord Laming when it turns out that they do not support any of the key central recommendations, including those in respect of the provisions in this Bill. People will see the difference between the parties on the priority that they put on making the essential reforms to back social workers and make children safe. That stark difference is clear to see in this debate.
The Secretary of State does not make his point any clearer by simply repeating himself. What does not help us is his coming along today with new clauses in primary legislation that contain no detail. We are expected to pass a new clause that will impose new targets, on top of flawed performance indicators, without knowing the details. I am even more worried now, because he clearly has not been reading the report by the author whom he commissioned. If he were to do so, he would find out that this is additional bureaucracy, not replacement bureaucracy, in too many cases. I could go through a list of performance indicators, most of which he appears to be blissfully aware of; the important thing is that we should not have bland and vacuous targets, which could have unforeseen consequences, one of which I have mentioned.
Let me give the Secretary of State a series of questions, so that he can tell me whether these are going to be the targets when we are eventually provided with some of the detail. Are the targets going to be bare targets about reducing the number of children taken into care for child protection purposes?
Lord Laming says that we should review the current targets and put in place new statutory targets. I said clearly in my speech that we would have a consultation process with local authorities and the social work taskforce over the coming months into the autumn. Alongside that, we will come forward with secondary legislation to enact the clauses that we are debating today. I am not going to tell the hon. Gentleman what the outcome of that consultation will be; that is for the consultation in the coming months. It will cover the range of targets, including the performance indicators, so that we can come up with new statutory targets.
The hon. Gentleman fundamentally misunderstands the Laming recommendations. To ask me that question when I have already said that the consultation will take place shows a lack of understanding combined with a complete opposition to the central recommendations of the Laming report.
On the issue of ContactPoint—
In other words, the Secretary of State does not know whether there will be a target for the number of children taken into care. Presumably, he also does not know whether there will be a target for the number of children who have avoided being taken into care because of the preventive work done with the families. Will there be a target for how quickly a child deemed to be at risk is assigned a dedicated social worker? He does not know that either.
We are being expected to impose a series of new targets, the number and nature of which we do not know. It appears to me that such new targets can only add to the bureaucracy of the child protection system. We do not know whether those new targets will produce a qualitative improvement or just another quantitative addition to the legislation, paperwork and bureaucracy that already tie up too many social workers and keep them from their real job.
All that we are doing is taking primary powers to implement Lord Laming’s recommendation of new statutory targets, the content of which we will consult on in the coming months and which will be designed to ensure that we put child protection first, not process or bureaucracy. That is what Lord Laming’s report says and that is what we are implementing—without the support of the Opposition, as is very clear from this debate.
The Government will have—as they always have had—the full support of the Opposition when they can make the case that their proposals will make children safer and add to child protection effectiveness. Those are the simple questions that I am asking the Secretary of State. If we are to be asked to give him wide-ranging additional powers to set targets—which social workers at the sharp end tell us prevent them from doing their job, distort their job priorities and make them spend more time with their computers and paperwork than with the vulnerable families and children that they went into the profession to help—it is reasonable for us to ask those questions at this stage. The Secretary of State has been unable to give us any details of a single target that is likely to be introduced under the new clause that he is asking the House to accept today, and that is very worrying. He has completely misunderstood some of the advice that has been given by Lord Laming and he is unable to give us any indication of the targets he would like to see, notwithstanding the consultation that he says we will have. He says that we have already had consultation, but in terms of the Opposition that has amounted to a two-page letter to my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State.
It would appear that we will get no further with the Secretary of State on new clause 22. Either he does not want to tell us or he just does not know. Let us turn then to new clause 23, which deals with adding laypersons to the membership of local safeguarding children boards. As I have said, we are in favour of strengthening them and making them more independent.
The Secretary of State needs further to define the role of local safeguarding children boards. There is certainly a degree of confusion among practitioners about the relationship between the LSCBs and children’s trusts, too. We see the LSCBs as punchy, powerful scrutineers of the child protection process within local authorities, and it is right that that should involve bringing together various local agencies.
Let us remind ourselves who is already on the LSCBs as a result of the Children Act 2004. We supported the Act and we supported the setting up of the LSCBs that took over from the area child protection committees, which were deemed not to be effective enough. The LSCBs should include representatives of district councils in local government areas that have them, chief police officers, probation boards, youth offending teams, strategic health authorities and primary care trusts, NHS trusts, the Connexions service, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, the governor or director of any secure training centre and the governor or director of any prison in the local authority area. They should also involve the coroner service, dental health services, domestic violence forums, drug and alcohol misuse services, drug action teams, housing, culture and leisure services, housing providers, local authority legal services, local MAPPA—or multi-agency public protection arrangements—services, local sports bodies and services, the local family justice council, the local criminal justice board, other health providers such as pharmacists, representatives of service users, sexual health services, the Crown Prosecution Service, witness support services and so on. The members of the LSCB are already sitting around quite a large table.
My simple question to the Secretary of State concerns the fact that the appointment of two lay members to those boards would, in principle, appear to be a good idea. However, they will be two lay members among a cast of thousands. I want to ask the Secretary of State—when he listens—what effect those lay members will have. Will they have different powers from the other agency members around that very large table? Will they have the powers to question serious case reviews? Will they have the powers to publish serious case reviews, if they take issue with them? Will they have the powers—[Interruption.] I am asking a series of questions of which the Secretary of State appears to be taking no notice. Will they have the powers to issue separate serious case reviews if they take issue with the serious case review that has been commissioned by that LSCB?
Those questions are important. What we do not want as a response to Laming is tokenism. If placing two lay members on to the LSCBs is tokenism, there are serious questions to be asked about the role of the LSCBs.
Surely it would depend on the nature of the people who were appointed. On a number of bodies, such as school governing bodies, lay members are sometimes intimidated by professionals—teachers, head teachers and so on—and they do not say anything. If we put on strong-minded people who are capable of speaking up, surely they could be quite effective. Might it not be an idea to have somebody from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, for example?
The NSPCC has been mooted as a partner on the LSCBs. Other children’s protection charities have an equal claim to be on the boards. I am in favour of lay members on the LSCBs, but I am trying to put into perspective the role that the Secretary of State expects them to achieve. We are trying to address the loss of authority that the LSCBs have suffered as a result of their role in Haringey and other local authorities where there have been tragedies such as that of baby Peter, which have resulted in the commissioning of serious case reviews that can then not be published— 41 per cent. of which Ofsted has deemed to be unsatisfactory. We need to open up the LSCBs much more. It will probably take more than just the appointment of two laypersons among a cast of thousands to do that.
Absolutely key to opening up those local safeguarding children boards is the publication in full of serious case reviews—a move of which the Secretary of State seems to have a pathological dislike. The body of evidence, and the amount of support, for such publication is growing. The publication of serious case reviews, duly anonymised and redacted, where it would not compromise the welfare of a surviving child or his or her siblings, would do more to give credibility to the work of those local safeguarding children boards, and to the idea that things are being looked at, investigated and rectified properly, than anything else. It would certainly do more than just the appointment of two lay members. I do not understand why the Government have an absolute, blinkered hatred for the idea.
I will in a minute, but I know what the Secretary of State will say. In our last debate, he jumped up and quoted three organisations that are against the idea, but all three of them subsequently contacted me. They wrote to me to say that they did not want to be connected with the comments that the Secretary of State had made, and said that they had been wrongly cited. Those letters were in the public domain.
The confidentiality of the full serious case review is not supported by the Conservative party, but it is supported by Lord Laming, and by the NSPCC and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, who both agree with Lord Laming’s recommendation that keeping the full serious case review confidential is essential to keep children safe. That was true three months ago, and six months ago, and it is true today. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his remark, because the fact is that the NSPCC, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner and Lord Laming once again all hold the opposite position to that of the Conservative party on the issue. They say that the Conservative proposals would put children at risk.
Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, whom I saw again just this morning, was one of those who contacted me straight after the Secretary of State made his remarks in our child protection debate, as was the NSPCC; its representatives came to see me the day after he made those comments. I do not take any issue with Lord Laming; I know his position on the subject, and we have had a full and frank discussion. I will not withdraw my comment that people whom the Secretary of State had prayed in aid came to me to say that their support had been misrepresented by the Secretary of State. That was the case that they made to me. I cannot withdraw those comments, because that is what they said to me.
The fact is, as we will see—I will provide the quotes during the course of the debate—that all I did was read out public, on-the-record comments from both the NSPCC and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, who both say that the full serious case review should be kept confidential. That was the position in November, and it is the position now. Again, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw those remarks. As for the idea that I misled anybody, I read out public statements that make the position very clear. It is the Conservative party that is out on a limb and isolated on this one.
As usual, the Secretary of State read out selective quotes, and that is why the people who wrote the letters were not happy. That is the point. However, I want to get on to the issue of serious case reviews. Why has the Secretary of State put up such a barrier against looking at the possibility of greater publication of serious case reviews, when such publication would do more to promote the credibility of local safeguarding children boards than anything else? Why does he not take the example of the mental health homicide reports, which are published in full, subject to anonymisation and redacting? Why does he not contrast the 178-page mental health homicide report on the Zito murder, which refers to nurse B or social worker C, and gives a full account of what went wrong, and the action that is being taken, with the 16-page executive summary of the baby P serious case review, which in any case was deemed to be inadequate and misrepresentative?
Why does the Secretary of State not think that publishing a fuller explanation of what went wrong, and putting it in the public domain, would give greater confidence to the families connected with the baby P case, to social workers and others involved in child protection, whose names have been besmirched generally because of the tragedies that have happened, and to the public at large, who have lost confidence in too much of the child protection system? Why does he not think that such a measure would achieve that? Let him tell us now.
I will quote from Lord Laming’s report:
“The future of SCRs depends, to a large degree, on the guarantee of confidentiality. Full reports should therefore remain confidential beyond the immediate partners involved in a case”.
Lord Laming says that that is because SCRs
“inevitably include a great deal of case material that should remain confidential, not only to protect vulnerable people but also because SCRs depend upon the cooperation of witnesses, often in a highly charged situation.”
Once again, all I am doing is accepting Lord Laming’s recommendation, supported by the NSPCC and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, but opposed by the Conservative party. One thing that is clear in this debate is that it opposes all the actions that we are taking to keep children safe. [Interruption.] It is very surprising indeed.
I would ask the Secretary of State to withdraw the comment that he has just made. We do not oppose all the measures that the Government are taking to make children safe. We never have done, we certainly would not, and we are not doing so now. Perhaps he would like to withdraw that comment, because it does not do him any credit to suggest such a thing. Will he withdraw it?
We have had a litany of criticisms from the Conservative party of all the different recommendations in Lord Laming’s report on the confidentiality of serious case reviews, on the national safeguarding unit, and on reporting to the Cabinet Sub-Committee. It is true to say that the hon. Gentleman seems to be supporting our proposal on lay members, but even then he is casting doubt on it. I have heard no support so far for the measures that we are taking in this debate, but if he would like to tell us which recommendations he supports, I will then withdraw.
The Secretary of State really does himself no credit. Some of us have worked for rather longer than he has been in the House on child protection measures post Victoria Climbié. We have supported every single piece of child protection legislation that his Government have introduced, but we did not do that by failing to question the efficacy of some of it. What we are doing today is questioning the efficacy of some of the legislative proposals for which he is seeking our support. I have made it absolutely clear to him that although I fully support Lord Laming’s dedication and the passion, we just disagree with him on some—not all—of his recommendations, including some of the key ones which, we think, are absolutely flawed. Certainly, in the case of SCRs, the Secretary of State has not been able to tell us why he is against their publication—he just cited Herbert Laming, with whom we disagree. His role is to scrutinise and question those people who give him advice, not blindly to accept everything.
We need legislation that has been thought through properly. If that is what we have, and if the Secretary of State can show that it will improve qualitative outcomes rather than just add to the body of legislation, of which we have had rather a lot, we will support him. So far, he has not done anything. I support the new clause— [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is the one who has been playing politics, by making some very wild and unhelpful remarks, on the child protection issue. I have no problem with allowing lay members to be added to local safeguarding children boards—I support that—but what I am questioning is how much it will add in the greater scheme of things. There is one thing that he could do here and now: issue guidance about the full publication of serious case reviews, which would do much more to make those LSCBs fully transparent and accountable.
It seems clear to me that the Secretary of State has not apologised. He said on the record that the Conservative party opposed all the measures that the Government were taking to protect vulnerable children. There may be areas in which it is appropriate to try to put dividing lines between the Conservatives and Labour for political purposes, but may I put it to the Secretary of State that this is not one of them, and it brings us all into disrepute to pursue this? He should take the opportunity now to apologise.
Order. This debate is becoming somewhat fractious, and I suggest that although there is certainly reference to the serious case reviews in the new clauses, it is not just or entirely about that. There are many other aspects to the new clauses, and it may well be appropriate for us to move on and discuss them.
Absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was about to conclude, and I shall finish briefly with new clause 24, which requires LSCBs to produce an annual report. Again, I have no problem with that—it is a good thing if it adds to transparency. But again, I would like to know from the Secretary of State what he thinks that will achieve. The publication of 150 brochures by LSCBs throughout the country—what will that include and what is it intended to achieve?
The exercise must be about restoring confidence in the child protection system. LSCBs are the guardians of the efficacy of the child protection system around the country, yet we are unable to see their full deliberations when that child protection system goes wrong, as has been shown by the debate that we have just had on the publication of serious case reviews. All I have tried to do is get some details about some very vague new clauses, which on the face of it give wide powers to the Secretary of State to add bureaucracy to the bureaucracy that already exists in the child protection system. I shall finish where I came in. I think that is the biggest enemy of social workers being able to get on with their job. We have been exceedingly supportive of social workers being able to get on with their job. We have made a series of recommendations through “No More Blame Game” and the submission that the commission on social workers made to the Laming inquiry in February, which is about peeling back the bureaucracy from social workers. My fear about the amendments is that unintentionally they may add to it. If the Government and the Secretary of State can show that they will add to the bureaucracy but that that will add to the quality of the outcomes, we will support them.
I wait for a proper explanation when the right hon. Gentleman responds to the debate. In his opening remarks, there was no detail at all. The House and all those working in child protection in the country are entitled to rather more detail and a far more substantial explanation than the Secretary of State has given us thus far.
I shall speak to amendment 15, which stands in my name, as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The amendment was tabled on behalf of the Committee to give effect to one of the recommendations in our scrutiny report on the Bill.
The Bill places children’s trust boards on a statutory footing. In its 2008 concluding observations on the UK, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, commenting on the UK Government’s overall strategy for implementing the UN convention, welcomed the fact that the convention was referred to in the children’s plan, but expressed its continuing concern
“that the Convention is not regularly used as a framework for the development of strategies throughout the State party and at the lack of an overarching policy to ensure the full realization of the principles, values and goals of the Convention.”
We agree with that criticism and we asked the Government what, if any, would be their objection to the Bill being amended to require children’s trust boards, first, to have regard to the need to implement the UN convention when preparing their children and young persons’ plans, and secondly, to consult with children and young people in the preparation of the plans, as envisaged by article 12 of the convention. We welcome the Government’s commitment in relation to the second suggestion that children and young people should be consulted when the children and young people’s plan is being drawn up, and the fact that this will be made a requirement in the new regulations governing the adoption of such plans.
However, my Committee is disappointed by the Government’s refusal to adopt the UN convention as the strategic framework for children’s plans. In their response to our question, the Government state that they consider it
“unnecessary to have any specific provision falling on the Children’s Trust Board to have regard to the UNCRC when preparing its plan.”
The Government’s reason is that they say that the UK complies with its obligations under the UNCRC through a mixture of legislative, executive and judicial action, and they are content that their legislation is consistent with the provisions of the convention. They say that the broader issue of embedding the UNCRC into UK policy and practice is covered in the Green Paper on a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, and they consider that the appropriate way to take the issue forward.
Although the Green Paper welcomes public debate on whether children’s rights should be included in any Bill of Rights, and considers that such a Bill
“could contain a right for children to achieve well-being, whatever their background or circumstances”,
it nevertheless acknowledges that the UNCRC is
“the overarching international treaty for children’s rights ratified by almost all UN member states.”
However, the Green Paper contains no proposal for further embedding the UNCRC into UK policy and practice. If anything, the Green Paper appears sceptical of the value of such a proposal, preferring to emphasise that the goal of achieving improved outcomes is pursued in distinctive ways across the UK, and indicating that any Bill of Rights and responsibilities should allow for recognition that responsibility for many aspects of child well-being is devolved.
My Committee was not persuaded by the Government’s reasons for not taking the opportunity in the Bill to embed the UNCRC in further policy-making. The Bill’s provisions on the drawing up of children and young people’s plans provide an opportunity for the Government to respond positively and constructively to the concern of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that the convention is not regularly used as a framework for the development of children’s strategies. We recommended that the Bill be amended to require children’s trust boards to have regard to the need to implement the UNCRC when preparing children and young people’s plans, and in our report we suggested an amendment to achieve this, which is the amendment that I tabled for today’s debate.
This is, in effect, a more specific version of the duty that now appears in clause 1 of the Equality Bill. It requires the strategic decision-making authorities for children—the children’s trust boards—to have regard to the need to implement the UNCRC when drawing up strategic plans for children. The UNCRC includes a duty to realise progressively various social and economic rights—for example, the right to an adequate standard of living, access to health, education and so on—as interpreted by the UN committee. Both the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Economic and Social Rights want states to adopt strategic plans for the implementation of the rights, particularly the social and economic rights, in the UNCRC and in the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights.
The point of our amendment is to require the strategic decision-making authorities for children to have regard to the need to implement the UN convention, including by progressively realising their right to an adequate income and so on, when drawing up strategic children’s plans. Like the Equality Bill clause 1 duty, it could be judicially reviewable if the children’s trust board does not have regard to the UNCRC when drawing up its plans. This is a way of ensuring that the CRC, which protects children’s social and economic rights, is more firmly embedded in strategic decision making about children. That is what the amendment seeks to achieve. It is regrettable that the Government have not accepted it so far, and I hope they will now reconsider, in the light of our amendment.
The Liberal Democrats welcome new clause 21 and consider it a good response to the debate that we had in Committee.
On new clauses 22 to 24, I shall reflect on the significance of our debate today and the Government’s announcements tomorrow, given the additional shocking news that was revealed in the past week and the “Panorama” programme last night, which had some serious messages for us all. Child protection is the most important issue that we face, and it should not be used as a political football.
I shall comment on each of the Government’s proposed new clauses. I have concerns about new clause 22 in particular, and those concerns are deep set, because my reading of Laming’s review is not the same as the Secretary of State’s. I do not think that new clause 22 addresses what Laming had to say. For example, Laming stated:
“The performance indicators currently in use for the safeguarding of children are inadequate for this task. Discussion with local authorities”—
I do not regard that as full consultation, by the way—
“suggested that this was because of concerns that current indicators focus on processes and timescales”—
I agree with that, but Laming went on to say that they
“are not helpful in creating shared safeguarding priorities amongst statutory partners, are unclear in their impact upon positive outcomes for children and young people, and do not drive improved services.”
Laming went on to recommend that the statutory targets
“should be reviewed to include safeguarding and child protection targets”,
but he said:
“These indicators must be specifically agreed by the Department of Health and the Home Office to ensure they are reflected in the performance management frameworks of Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs), Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and Police Authorities.”
The new clause does not seem to be directed at the right body. It is directed at the children’s services authority, and I do not understand why it is not directed at the children’s trust board, which would involve the other agencies. I do not see how the new clause would result in the important partner bodies fully accepting the targets. I make that point in extreme seriousness, because one great concern is that the new clause will not be fit for purpose.
My other concern is that we do not know the precise targets that the Secretary of State has in mind, and we all know that targets can have unintended consequences—there have undoubtedly been some in children’s legislation. Therefore, we do not feel able to give our unequivocal support to the provisions without knowing a lot more about them. We wish to reserve our position, because we want to ensure that we have the best possible legislation for the protection of children, and we are not convinced about the measure at this stage.
Under new clause 23, lay members would be included on the safeguarding children boards, which is perfectly sensible, although I have some concerns about the training that would have to be given to those members, and about their exact role and status. At this stage, we do not know about that.
On new clause 24, the Laming review clearly recommends that the safeguarding children boards should produce annual reports, and I cannot see anything whatever to object to in that. However, the process in respect of which Laming recommendations are brought forward for consideration today, what will be in the announcements tomorrow and what might be introduced into the Bill at its next stage seems a little “pick and mix”.
My hon. Friends and I have tabled an amendment on the independence of the chairman of a safeguarding board. Interestingly, Lord Laming made a recommendation on the chairmanship of the board, when he clearly said that he did not think that the same person should occupy the chairs of the children’s trust board and the local safeguarding board. Therefore, it seems relevant to consider our suggestion, which is carefully written, because it would permit a member of another authority to move across and aid the scrutiny role of an authority. That issue needs to be discussed, and I hope that the Secretary of State will give it some serious consideration.
I shall take a minute to comment on the Laming review generally. It was important to have a speedy review, and full congratulations must go to Lord Laming on what he achieved in the time that he had. However, his time was limited and the consultation was limited, so, yet again, I make the point that, notwithstanding Lord Laming’s experience and considerable knowledge of the issues, a fresh pair of eyes should look at the system, because they may see things that others have missed.
New clause 20 is the slightly amended version of an amendment that we discussed in Committee, and it is right to revisit a subject that was raised at the end of a very long sitting on 26 March. On that occasion, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) outlined most eloquently why we feel that its provisions are necessary. The new clause would introduce a statutory duty to ensure that the investigating or key worker saw the child separately from his or her parent or carer.
My hon. Friend had the advantage of having read the serious case review regarding baby Peter, so he was able to reflect on the issue more deeply than I shall be able to today. However, it is vital that we think about what happened in two infamous cases. We know that nobody spoke to Victoria Climbié, yet she died in shocking conditions. We know also that baby Peter had his face smeared with chocolate to conceal the bruising and injuries to him. How can we—anybody—suggest that it is not important for a key worker to have time alone with a vulnerable child to talk to them, where appropriate, and to communicate with them in all sorts of ways? It is accepted that the child’s views must be presented, but I suggest that we need to go one stage further: will we really be able to hold our heads up if we have yet another case in which a baby or young child is severely abused or even killed and the social worker has not had any meaningful and direct communication with them?
Although my hon. Friend put forward an excellent case at the end of that very long sitting in Committee, it was clearly a tiring time for the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and I take issue with some of her comments at the time. That is not to attach any blame whatever to her, because it was a very long sitting. Indeed, she did not have all the time that she might have wanted to reflect on the new clause, because, under normal circumstances, we would probably have considered it some days later.
Will the hon. Lady clarify something? I understand why she might want a child to communicate on their own with a key worker, but many such children are very small and many of their problems are physical injuries that would require a physical examination. If a third person, other than a parent or carer, did not monitor such communication, would it not leave the key worker open to all sorts of separate allegations? There are problems with the new clause, so will the hon. Lady talk me through them?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but it is important to appreciate that the Government’s argument is that the provision in our new clause is already available, so that rather unpicks her remark.
I shall revisit the Minister’s remarks on what was technically 26 March, although it must have been the morning of 27 March. Basically, she said that the requirement to see the child separately is already embedded in statutory guidance. Although the guidance, entitled “Working Together to Safeguard Children”, makes strong statements about the principle of listening to the child, about the parents’ needs being subordinate to the child’s and so on, it does not require the key social worker to see the child separately from the parents and carers when visiting the home. One would like to think that, if a key worker visited a home and, time after time, was told that the child was asleep or out, alarms would start to ring, and that is what the new clause is all about—ensuring that the alarms ring.
The guidance says that section 47—of the Children Act 1989—inquiries should include separate interviews with the child, but those interviews are conducted to discover whether suspicions of significant harm can be substantiated. A section 47 inquiry can run for several weeks, even if the time limits in “Working Together” are adhered to—and in practice, not surprisingly, they may not be. The key worker will probably make a number of home visits during that period, having already conducted the separate interview with the child, as the guidance requires.
Regularly seeing the child separately is about not just trying to detect the risk of harm, but developing the key worker’s relationship with the child as the client and primary focus of attention. The only time Victoria Climbié was seen alone was in two awkward section 47 interviews, both of which failed to establish the truth. That issue was highlighted by Lord Laming in his post-Climbié report.
Helpfully, the Minister stated that the Government are planning to revise “Working Together” and may include in the rewrite the issue of seeing the child separately. However, the matter should be put into statute because it is as central to effective child protection as information sharing, which is in statute. Furthermore, in many cases social workers appear to be neglecting to see the child separately. There are many—often understandable—reasons why that may happen, so social workers need a reminder that is more compelling than a new mention in a lengthy piece of guidance that covers many other issues.
The Minister emphasised the powers that local authorities have at their disposal if parents refuse to give the social worker access to the child. That does not affect the need for new clause 20, however; the question of using the powers arises only if the social worker has been blocked from seeing the child separately, and that would not happen unless they had tried to see the child separately. I therefore contend that that new clause is more important than some that are being rushed through today. It would highlight to social workers the key priority of building a genuine relationship with the child, to get a whole understanding. We have all heard about the closeness of relationships that can develop between the parent, carer and social worker. The relationship that I am discussing is all-important. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider the issue.
I turn briefly to the other amendments in this group. Personally, I support amendment 15. During consideration of almost all the children’s Bills with which I have been involved, I have argued that the United Nations convention on the rights of the child should be embedded in legislation. It would be inconsistent of me not to support the amendment. The issue is so important. As a nation we have signed up to the convention, but we do not fully implement it.
I have difficulty in understanding Conservative amendment 54. Clause 187 refers to bodies that are to co-operate for the well-being of children. I welcomed the Bill’s extension of the definition of “bodies” to include schools and academies. That is absolutely first class. I am sympathetic with the inclusion of some of the bodies mentioned in the amendment, including short stay schools and Sure Start children’s centres. GPs are also mentioned; it will be difficult to impose the measure on them, but personally I think it important that we do. However, also mentioned on the list is
“a representative of an extended school provider with authority”.
That looks like a bit of careless cutting and pasting. If the phrase had been expressed a little better, it might have fitted into an amendment on children’s trust boards. When people criticise amendments that I have written, they usually suggest that they are technically deficient, so it gives me great pleasure to point out that I believe amendment 54 to be technically deficient.
I turn to amendment 67; the Secretary of State will no doubt point out that it is technically deficient, as I wrote it. There are to be lots of players on the children’s trust boards and everybody will have lots to say. However, where will the buck stop? I fear that there is no clarity on that in the Bill. The amendment suggests that the children’s and young people’s plan should have sections clearly identified as the responsibility of particular agencies. When there is a joint responsibility, I suggest that a lead agency should be nominated.
I appreciate that the amendment may not express those ideas in the best way, but I really think that the legislation is deficient. It is not clear that, whatever happens, the director of children’s services will be ultimately responsible. Why should they be? As far as I can see, they have only one seat on the board. As the legislation stands, why should it all come back to the director of children’s services? The Government need to consider amendments that relate to that issue.
My comments on this cluster of amendments will focus primarily on the role and make-up of the local safeguarding children boards and the children’s trust boards. In Committee, I mentioned one or two concerns specifically about consultation. I am not sure that I received any answers, so I hope that I will today. The Local Government Association has been keen to state the case for ongoing consultation within the role of children’s trust boards. It recognises that it was consulted prior to the Bill’s drafting, but it is concerned about ongoing consultation.
Local authorities will have responsibility for a range of commissioning arrangements and accountabilities across a number of aspects of planning and delivery. If local authorities are to fulfil their accountabilities effectively and ensure that young people get the best education, training and support, the Bill must contain provisions for explicit liaison and consultation between local authorities, the Secretary of State, the Young People’s Learning Agency and the Skills Funding Agency, and for the avoidance of any micro-management.
I hope that the Minister feels that that point has been reached. It is fair to say that the directors of children’s services will be responsible for the setting up of children’s trust boards. From that point of view, we can be clear that local authorities will have a key role as a consultative partner and in steering delivery. However, these new bodies have to be as democratically accountable as possible. New clause 23 will include lay members, and that is welcome. However, the ongoing inclusion of local authorities will also help.
I join other Members in paying tribute to Lord Laming and his enormous interest in and dedication to child protection. Only recently, he gave evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Committee, on which I sit. Even though he said that this would be his last report, it was clear that he remains committed to child protection. Only yesterday, he was commenting on the future of that issue when he said that social services still needed to act more quickly and decisively to protect youngsters on the at-risk register. He also said that
“Drift is the enemy of good practice”.
That tells us that Lord Laming, as he also made plain in his report, remains exasperated with the lack of progress since the Victoria Climbié case. Although that case ushered in a number of major reforms such as the child protection system, it failed to deal with the problem on the front line of child protection.
Since that report, far too much time has been spent on organisational changes and not enough has been spent on the social work force, on whom we rely so heavily for the protection of vulnerable children. The service has remained underfunded, under-resourced and, unfortunately, unable to cope with the demands placed on it.
Although it is important that we try to find ways to improve the structure of our child protection system, I have concerns about new clause 22 and how we are going about those changes. The Secretary of State has put his weight behind the statutory targets as a way forward, but I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). The Secretary of State supports the statutory targets, which he believes to be right to protect children, but unless we have some idea of what they may be, it is difficult, particularly for Conservative Members, to fall in step with the new clause.
Although my instinct is that targets will not necessarily solve the problem, we can see that some would be beneficial to the child protection system—for instance, on the quality and consistency of social work care, the timeliness of protective measures for vulnerable children and, most importantly, the outcomes for children who have some contact with the child protection system. If we are to have targets, those are the sort that I would have expected the Secretary of State to mention in response to my hon. Friend.
Another difficulty is to do with the training, recruitment and retention of social workers. In some local authorities, almost 50 per cent. of front-line child protection staff have less than two years’ experience in their job. I have seen that for myself in the work that I have done in the family courts representing local authorities, children and their parents. On far too regular a basis, a social worker, or even a team manager, working for the local authority has made the application to take a child into care but their experience is woefully short for the extreme complexity of the case that is facing them. That is not their fault: it is the fault of all of us in failing to ensure that measures to improve the status of social workers, to invest in the social work profession and to train social workers better have come to fruition.
Perhaps, through my hon. Friend, I could appeal to the Secretary of State to consider placements of trainee social workers. Because of evidence that we received in the Select Committee, I conducted a survey of 79 universities around the country and found that although they believed that placements, where they are provided—by local authorities, in the main—are generally good, there is a chronic shortage of training places and that, in a minority of cases, some social workers go through their entire training without ever being supervised by a trained social worker. The Secretary of State needs to do something about that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes the case clearly. Unless we ensure that social workers have not only sufficient training but experience through their training and the work that they do on the front line, they will not be able to do the job that we are asking them to do, which is one of extreme importance in our society—the protection of our children. We need to ensure that training is at the forefront of our minds when we look at what we are asking social workers to do.
One of the remaining problems that the new clause does not address fully, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) eloquently told us, is that, although the introduction of children’s trusts was a commendable idea in trying to involve the whole community in dealing with child protection and to ensure that there is an exchange of information about issues that that community faces, it has not—as the Audit Commission said in its report, “Are we there yet?”—resulted in an improvement in child protection. That goes back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham about bureaucracy. One of the reasons why children’s trusts have failed to make the impact that we hoped for is that the complex bureaucratic systems that have been set up to control child protection engender a culture of trying to comply with the bureaucracy and targets, instead of helping social workers and those involved in child protection to see the wood from the trees and to commit to children’s needs, as they are supposed to.
I hope that the targets that the Secretary of State is asking social workers to comply with do not exacerbate the situation that they already face, and that they will be allowed to be free to get on with the job that we all want them to do—spending time looking after children to ensure that they are safe and have a happy and prosperous future. That should be achieved through good practice and a universally sound and robust child protection system that protects all our children, not just some of them.
I want briefly to mention new clause 23 and put in a plea to the Secretary of State. Although it has been drafted quite widely as regards who could be the lay representatives on trust boards, those who are involved in foster care, particularly foster carers themselves, could play an important role in ensuring that their views and experience, which are often left to one side, are taken seriously and make a positive contribution to child protection in their community.
I am sure that several hon. Members saw the “Panorama” programme to which the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) referred. I was deeply worried by some of the things that I saw on it, particularly the interviews with Wes Cuell, who was at the NSPCC and, prior to that, head of children’s services at Luton borough council. I knew him well; he is a very good man. He said that, in the past 30 years, there has been very little change in the rate of deaths of children who have been abused. That is an appalling record bearing in mind that we have moved on in so many ways. He said that if things do not change radically, we will have the same death rates over the next 30 years as well. That must not be allowed to happen. I hope that the changes that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench propose—and that we will, I hope, support—will make a real difference.
Another worrying factor is that these days in social services in general, and in the health service, there is so much emphasis on budgeting, with officers being rewarded for running a tight ship financially. One wonders whether that underlies some of the problems that have arisen. In the baby P case, it was also apparent that nobody wanted to take final responsibility. The local authority, social services and the police were involved, and the national health service saw the injuries to the child on a number of occasions, yet it seemed that no one wanted to say, “This child must not be allowed to go back home, where it is clearly being abused.” I do not want to prejudice any statement that may come out at a later stage, but that is appalling. If I had been in that situation, I would simply have said, “This child must not go back into that home; it is clearly being abused.”
I find it astonishing that there was apparently so little information and knowledge. The programme suggested that the man around the house was barely evident; although some evidence emerged, it did not seem to figure much in the action that was taken.
The financial pressures on funding for local authorities must be a factor in all this. Another worrying aspect that emerged from the programme—I think that finance was a factor in this respect too—is the so-called optimistic future strategy: the idea that people should hope that somehow the family could look after the child in future and look forward to that instead of looking at what was happening in the present. Focusing on a point in the future meant that what was happening to the child at the time was missed or, indeed, ignored. I am concerned that that strategy is yet another attempt to disguise what people are really about, which is trying to keep the child in the family to avoid the expense of taking it into care. The pressures on local authorities not to do that must be financial at root. In future, whatever happens, we should provide the resources to ensure that children are not kept in dangerous families when they should be taken into care. I hope that my remarks have been helpful to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench.
I start by agreeing with the comments of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr. Timpson), who has great personal as well as professional experience of these matters, about Lord Laming and his contribution. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments and questions, to which I shall return in a moment. I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) probed in a way that was pointed and forensic, but which I hope will allow us to move forward consensually as far as possible.
I believe that there is consensus in the country that we need to take all the measures necessary to keep children safe. With that in mind, and because of my determination to have ready this year, if at all possible, a revision of “Working Together”, the guidance for all areas on safeguarding, I went to Opposition Members a week or so ago to ask their permission to introduce these new clauses at this stage. I am pleased to say that the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) gave his, subject to agreement that there would be further discussion on the contents of the targets in new clause 22. I commit to those discussions happening in future. I was pleased also to have the agreement of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) to the introduction of the new clauses, which was confirmed to my office. Because these issues are vital, I hope, as I always have, that we can move forward consensually.
I shall come to the points made about new clauses 22, 23 and 24 at the end of my comments, but first I shall respond to the detailed points made by Members of all parties about the other amendments. On new clause 29, we are absolutely committed to independence in the chairing of local safeguarding children boards. There has been debate about Lord Laming’s consultation process, because there are some concerns in the children’s world about whether we will have independent people of sufficient quality. We believe, as Lord Laming does, that that concern can be overcome. There will therefore be full independence. I believe that that needs to be independence from all agencies involved in safeguarding children, but we are not putting that in primary legislation because we believe that statutory guidance will provide more flexibility. It will give some areas time to find the type of high-quality, trained, independent person we will need. On that basis, and with our clear commitment to independence, I hope that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole will not press the new clause.
I turn to the hon. Lady’s second probing amendment, amendment 67, which is about accountability. We believe that current legislation makes clear the need for accountability in the role of director of children’s services, and the Bill will make it clear in the case of children’s trust boards. It will also make clear the importance of the children and young people’s plan being owned by all agencies in a children’s trust. The new targets will be duties on the local authority, but they will be owned by the whole trust. It is important that the individual agencies that are part of a trust are also accountable individually for playing their proper role in it. That is why we do not believe that we need to change legislation in the way suggested in amendment 67. The way in which we have designed the responsibility for the plan within children’s trusts meets the hon. Lady’s concerns. We will ensure that the regulations under section 17 of the 2004 Act about how that plan is drawn up make it clear where the responsibility for individual actions should lie. We will be able to discuss that with her in the coming months.
I looked into the matter covered by the hon. Lady’s new clause 20 in detail when I read it. Our belief is that, aside from the odd drafting issue about the exact role of the key worker, which we do not need to go into today, the existing statutory law and guidance in the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 achieves the objectives that she sets out. The statutory guidance is clear that section 47 of the 1989 Act should always involve a social worker undertaking separate interviews with the child wherever appropriate. It is also clear that seeing the child alone is not enough, and that the child must be observed interacting with their family and, if appropriate, with other adults or care givers. We will revise that statutory guidance later in the year to make it absolutely clear that if at any point the parents refuse to allow the child to be seen alone, the local authority has powers under that Act to apply for an emergency protection order to require parents to comply with any request to produce the child. The Act authorises the removal of a child in those circumstances if necessary. Current statute therefore provides the powers that the hon. Lady seeks in the new clause.
Turning to amendment 15, I place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and the Joint Committee on Human Rights for their contribution and their positive comments about the education of young offenders. We believe that in the Bill, and more generally through the children’s plan, we are meeting our obligations under the convention on the rights of the child. We appreciate the scrutiny and proposals of the Joint Committee. I would not want a piecemeal approach that applied the convention to children’s trusts differently from the way in which we approach the obligations of schools, local safeguarding children boards, children’s centres and GPs. We need wider discussion on the Green Paper on rights and responsibilities, which is coming up shortly, but I do not believe that pursuing the amendment would be the right thing to do at the moment.
The Conservatives’ amendment 54 suggests that more bodies join the children’s trusts in addition to the list of groups that are already on them, which is being extended in the Bill. It proposes that a series of groups should join, the first of which is short stay schools. Such schools have a management committee, which takes on some accountability and responsibility separate from that of the local authority, and I am happy to repeat the commitment made by the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), that we will add the management committee of short stay schools to the list of relevant partners in the guidance that is coming shortly.
Sure Start children’s centres do not have governance arrangements separate from the local authority, like those of a school. They are more places where a range of services are brought together. We therefore think it more appropriate for the local authority to be the representative body on the children’s trust rather than individual Sure Start children’s centres. In the case of extended schools, the situation depends on how the private and voluntary sectors and schools provide the services in question. It would be hard to define which body other than the local authority should represent extended services on a children’s trust.
Finally, in the case of GPs, we made it clear in the child health strategy that there would be a lead GP with child-related expertise on the children’s trust in each area. Our view, and that of the Secretary of State for Health, is that extending the duty to co-operate to GPs at this stage would weaken rather than strengthen our ability to ensure health engagement. The primary care trust, as commissioner, should play that role. I hope that I have covered the points that have been made about Opposition new clauses and amendments, so I shall return to the new clauses that I have tabled.
May I take the Secretary of State back to the survey that I conducted recently on social care placements? The good news is that 86 per cent. of the universities that I surveyed thought that placements were good or excellent. The bad news is that only 24 per cent. thought that they were sufficient in number. They attributed that to a lack of reward for social workers and local authorities for taking on placements and, critically, to the fact that the Government have stopped making it necessary for local authorities to report how many placements they provide. May I ask the Secretary of State to respond to those points?
I am not sure whether that quite fits into the new clauses and amendments that we are debating, but in our statement a few weeks ago we said clearly that we accepted Lord Laming’s recommendations. Tomorrow we will give some more detail—not new policy—about how we will take them forward. The reform of social worker training is being considered by the social work taskforce, and I have made clear commitments about it. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I will ensure that his survey of placements goes into the taskforce’s work. I thank him very much for his contribution to the debate.
I turn to new clause 22. Lord Laming recommended that the Government should
“introduce new statutory targets for safeguarding and child protection alongside the existing statutory attainment and early years targets as quickly as possible. The National Indicator Set should be revised with new national indicators for safeguarding and child protection developed for inclusion in Local Area Agreements”.
We are taking powers in the Bill to meet that recommendation. We shall not bring forward any detailed proposals on new statutory targets or which indicators should change until we have had much greater and lengthier consultation with local authorities, social workers and the social work taskforce. I am happy to consult Members of all parties as part of those discussions. However, if we did not take the power set out in new clause 22, we would have to postpone taking that action for many months and also postpone our revisions to “Working Together”. That is why we have decided to bring forward the enabling power now, but it must be followed by debate, consultation and secondary legislation, which will follow in the autumn.
We are absolutely committed to delivering Lord Laming’s recommendation that we should have targets that properly support, encourage and incentivise the work of social workers, which is to protect children. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich is quite right: bureaucracy or processed targets that get in the way of proper practice are exactly what we need to remove, as part of delivering that objective and as part of the consultation. We want to reduce bureaucracy and focus social workers on their important task. For me to come along today and give details of what the end point will be before we have even had those consultations would be wrong. We want to deliver Lord Laming’s report on such matters, and the enabling power allows us to do so in due course.
The same goes for the role of lay members. The opening up of safeguarding children boards is vital. The power gives us the ability to consult over the next six to nine months on the revisions to “Working Together”, which will include much more detail about how we encourage, bring in, reward and support lay members. Again, the power enables us to take that forward this year, rather than postponing it for perhaps 18 months or longer. As part of openness and transparency, the power in Government new clause 24 for the safeguarding children board to issue an annual report to the children’s trust will be welcomed by experts and professionals, as well as by the wider public, as it will allow them to scrutinise what is being done in their local areas.
As I have said, I am keen to move forward consultatively and consensually, as far as possible. I do not want to dwell for too long on the final points that I have to make, but I want to clear up a couple of confusions. On ContactPoint, Lord Laming said in his report:
“The new ContactPoint system will have particular advantages in reducing the possibility of children for whom there are concerns going unnoticed.”
It is exactly to make children safer in future that we are implementing ContactPoint, as Lord Laming says.
Similarly, Lord Laming is clear in his recommendations about the importance of keeping serious case reviews confidential. He said in his letter to me—and repeated in his report—that
“there must be produced an Executive Summary for publication that in every respect is a fair summary of the report. However, and I attach great importance to this point, the main report must remain confidential not only to protect vulnerable people, especially the children, but also because all Serious Case Reviews depend upon the willing cooperation of important witnesses often in a highly charged situation.”
The deputy Children’s Commissioner wrote to me on 3 February to say:
“A system which ensures we can establish the full facts behind any tragedy is essential for keeping children safe. I believe that a confidential process which enables agencies to thoroughly and effectively examine all relevant facts is crucial to securing this goal, supported by a comprehensive executive summary which makes public the key issues and recommendations for change.”
On 15 March, the NSPCC said in a statement that full reports should not be made public, as sensitive information must be kept confidential to protect vulnerable children, but that local safeguarding children boards must publish comprehensive summaries of serious case reviews. I agree. I also agree with Birmingham city council, which also made its position absolutely clear.
Before the Secretary of State moves on, can he point out to me where Lord Laming says that the primary purpose of ContactPoint is child protection? That is not what he has said, but it is what the Secretary of State asserted. Also, can he tell me why he has not given the same reasons for being against the full publication of mental health reports in homicide cases as he is now applying to serious case reviews? Why are the two different?
I have tried very hard to proceed on these matters in a consensual way, and I have consulted the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and many others on them. I wish we could have agreement on all of Lord Laming’s recommendations, but all the central recommendations that were put forward are being opposed by the hon. Gentleman. I regret that, but we need to move on. I will read again what was said about ContactPoint:
“The new ContactPoint system will have particular advantages in reducing the possibility of children for whom there are concerns going unnoticed.”
That is what Lord Laming says in his report—that it will have particular concerns to keep children safe. I believe that keeping serious case reviews confidential is vital to keeping children safe. The reason why I do so, as I have said, is that that is the view of Lord Laming, the NSPCC and the deputy Children’s Commissioner. They have advised me on such matters, and I am taking their advice.
Well, I did take rather a lot of interventions from the Secretary of State. He has not answered my question. Lord Laming sees ContactPoint and the database that was envisaged in the Children Act 2004 as a way of keeping track of children who fall out of the education, health or other systems. He has never asserted that its primary objective is child protection, and the quotation that the Secretary of State has given from his report does not say that.
As I said, my aim—I think that we can achieve this with hon. Members from most parts of the House, including the hon. Member for Surrey Heath—is to move forward consensually. I regret the tone with which parts of this debate have been conducted by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). Implementing Lord Laming’s recommendations are important, and that is what the Bill does. I repeat:
“The new ContactPoint system will have particular advantages in reducing the possibility of children for whom there are concerns going unnoticed.”
It is clear what Lord Laming says in his report, “The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report”. I am absolutely confident that he, Barnardo’s, the NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner, as well as many other organisations, support ContactPoint. I really do wish that we could have a consensus that took politics out of this important issue.
I am going to conclude. I am grateful to the House for allowing me to bring forward these new clauses at this stage of the Bill’s progress. It is vital that we lose no time in putting in place the further reforms needed to keep children safe. I wish that we could have a consensus on the matter. I welcome the many speeches that have shown that we can indeed achieve a widespread consensus, and I hope that all the Government new clauses can be supported. I commend new clause 21 to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 22
Targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children
‘(1) Before section 10 of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) insert—
“9A Targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children
(1) The Secretary of State may, in accordance with regulations, set safeguarding targets for a children’s services authority in England.
(2) The regulations may, in particular—
(a) make provision about matters by reference to which safeguarding targets may, or must, be set;
(b) make provision about periods to which safeguarding targets may, or must, relate;
(c) make provision about the procedure for setting safeguarding targets;
(d) specify requirements with which a children’s services authority in England must comply in connection with the setting of safeguarding targets.
(3) In exercising their functions, a children’s services authority in England must act in the manner best calculated to secure that any safeguarding targets set under this section (so far as relating to the area of the authority) are met.
(4) “Safeguarding targets”, in relation to a children’s services authority in England, are targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in the authority’s area.”.
(2) In Schedule 1 to the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 (c. 42) (social services functions) in the entry relating to the Children Act 2004—
(a) in the first column, after “Sections” insert “9A,”;
(b) in the second column, after “to” insert “targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, and to”.’.—(Ed Balls.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 23
Local Safeguarding Children Boards: lay members
‘(1) Part 2 of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 13 (establishment of LSCBs) after subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) A children’s services authority in England must take reasonable steps to ensure that the Local Safeguarding Children Board established by them also includes two persons who appear to the authority to be representative of persons living in the authority’s area.
(5B) An authority may pay remuneration, allowances and expenses to persons who are included by virtue of subsection (5A) in a Local Safeguarding Children Board established by them.”
(3) In section 14 (functions and procedures of LSCBs) in subsection (1)(a) after “the Board” insert “by virtue of section 13(2), (4) or (5)”.’.—(Ed Balls.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 24
Local Safeguarding Children Boards: annual reports
‘After section 14 of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) insert—
“14A LSCBs: annual reports
(1) At least once in every 12 month period, a Local Safeguarding Children Board established under section 13 must prepare and publish a report about safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in its local area.
(2) The Board must submit a copy of the report to the local Children’s Trust Board.
(3) For the purposes of this section—
(a) the local area of a Local Safeguarding Children Board is the area of the children’s services authority that established the Board;
(b) the local Children’s Trust Board, in relation to a Local Safeguarding Children Board, is the Children’s Trust Board established for the Board’s local area.”’.—(Ed Balls.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 1
Quality of further education college buildings
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall commission an audit, to be completed by a person or body he considers appropriate, of all further education colleges in England with the objective of establishing the quality of the college buildings and facilities.
(2) The audit commissioned under subsection (1) shall be completed within twelve months and the results submitted to the Secretary of State.
(3) The Secretary of State shall publish the results of the audit submitted to him under subsection (2).’.—(Mr. Hayes.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 11—Duty to make an annual report on progress of capital funding—
‘(1) As soon as reasonably practicable after the end of each financial year the Chief Executive of Skills Funding must prepare an annual report on the condition of infrastructure of colleges of further education.
(2) The report must provide information about which applications for capital funding by colleges of further education in that financial year have received approval—
(a) in principle,
(b) in detail.
(3) The Chief Executive must send a copy of each report prepared under subsection (1) to the Secretary of State.
(4) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of each report received under subsection (3) and arrange for it to be published.’.
It is good to make my first contribution on Report on this important Bill.
New clauses 1 and 11 reflect the profound concerns that exist up and down the country—I will not go as far as to say that there is fear, but there is certainly profound concern, disappointment and uncertainty—about the Government’s freeze on capital projects in further education. They also relate to fundamental principles enshrined in the Bill, the first of which is the ability of providers to deliver an entitlement to apprenticeships.
You will understand, with your considered view about such matters, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that apprenticeships are critical to rebuilding the nation’s skills. FE colleges play a crucial role in delivering apprenticeships, and their facilities and resources are central to that purpose. A fundamental part of any apprenticeship framework is the training provided off site, which frequently takes place at an FE college. The 361 FE colleges in England do an incredibly important job. It is perhaps appropriate at this point to pay tribute to them and to the people who work in them because they make such a big difference to so many lives. They educate and train more than 3 million young and older learners each year, including about 750,000 16 to 18-year-olds. That is more than school sixth forms, private schools and training providers.
The new clauses are relevant to the transfer of responsibilities resulting from the division of the Learning and Skills Council into three new bodies: the Skills Funding Agency, the Young People’s Learning Agency and the National Apprenticeship Service. Some people have described the Bill as a “bureaucratic muddle”. The British Chambers of Commerce made that very remark during the witness sessions that we enjoyed before the Committee stage of the Bill. Others have described it as “opaque”, “obtuse”, “obscure” and a “missed opportunity”. These new clauses attempt to go some way towards improving a very imperfect product.
New clause 1 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to commission a report on the FE college buildings and facilities that are so vital to delivering the training necessary to build the skills that we need. New clause 11 would place a duty on the chief executive of Skills Funding to provide a report on the progress of applications by FE colleges for capital projects.
The reasons for the new clauses have become all too clear recently as a result of the gross mismanagement of the FE capital programme. I do not entirely blame the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), for that. I still regard him as a young man of promise, although many in the House regard him as merely a young man of promises. As he knows, I have defended him, on the Floor of the House and elsewhere, against some of the assaults that have been made on him from all quarters, not least the FE sector itself when it found it was facing disappointment and disillusion resulting from the freeze on FE capital projects.
After many months of uncertainty, the Government announced in March that they would be freezing the approval process for 144 college building projects. Seventy-nine of the frozen colleges had already received agreement in principle and were awaiting approval in detail, which is the final stage of the approval process. To be considered for approval in detail, the colleges would already have had to secure planning permission and put together a full project brief. That involves not only the college staff but many other agencies, including those involved in designing the buildings, putting together the necessary infrastructure plans and project managing the process. Many others have been affected detrimentally by this cruel freeze. The colleges have therefore incurred considerable costs in order to reach that stage of development.
The other 65 frozen colleges are waiting for approval in principle. Some have already assembled a project team and put money towards preparing their bid. In my area, Boston college is in just that situation. It provides an outstanding service to many young people and adults from my constituency. In the areas neighbouring my constituency on the south side, Peterborough regional college and Stamford college are also both affected by the freeze. The new clauses would go some way towards ensuring that such matters would be identified and dealt with at a much earlier stage than they have been thus far.
My hon. Friend knows of the anger that exists in places such as Hull and Beverley as a result of what is happening to our FE colleges. Unemployment is rising fast in Hull and the surrounding area; I think that it has doubled in the East Riding in the past two years. The colleges there could have made more modest investments if they had been guided to do so, but Ministers allowed their expectations to be raised beyond the finances that were available. Hull college, which does not have permission in principle, is therefore just sitting and waiting, and two years on from getting approval in principle, the East Riding college in Beverley is sitting there—with the centre of Beverley looking like a bomb site at the moment—not knowing whether it will be able to proceed.
I note that barely a day goes by without my hon. Friend representing the interests of Beverley and the other parts of his constituency in this regard. Indeed, many hon. Members across the Chamber have raised this issue in respect of their own local circumstances. We have heard similar cries from those on the Labour Benches whose constituents have been affected. Lives have potentially been damaged, hopes have been shattered, and dreams have at least been postponed, and possibly abandoned. What a cruel thing a feeble Government are. It was Edmund Burke who said:
“Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government.”
This Government are certainly feeble, and that is putting it kindly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) visited the Tresham institute in Kettering at the end of last week, and we heard the sorry tale of £60 million of investment in further education colleges in north Northamptonshire—at Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough—being stalled, thus stalling the redevelopment of the town centres in Corby and Wellingborough and potentially imperilling the university challenge bid that north Northamptonshire is putting forward. The whole redevelopment of north Northamptonshire could be put on hold unless the Government get the situation sorted out.
My hon. Friend makes a telling point. College building projects are often highly regenerative in their nature. They have a much bigger effect than just the immediate impact on learners and potential learners. They can involve land sales as well as work with a variety of other agencies, employers and education providers. The effect of this freeze is devastating for many communities. I know that many Members across the Chamber are feeling that cold chill in their communities and want the opportunity to explain that to the House.
There have undoubtedly been problems with the LSC, and the Government are now doing their best to pick up the difficulties and to improve the situation. But do not the difficulties derive—in part, at least—from the decision by the previous Conservative Government to throw all the colleges into a competitive business environment, instead of the planned public service environment that I would prefer? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that putting sixth-form colleges back into the Schools for the Future programme is a sensible approach?
The hon. Gentleman attempts to take me down a path that I know you would not want me to go down, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because that would take us far from the new clauses before us. Nor am I prepared to have a debate about ancient history. I am rightly drawing the House’s attention to the mess that we are in now, which is directly attributable to the mismanagement that, in the end, finds form on the Treasury Bench. It is true that the LSC has something to answer for in this respect, but the buck stops with the people in Government, does it not? I know that the Minister will take on that responsibility squarely and own up to it. I am hoping for the apology that, so far, we have not had in the fullest, most extravagant form—
The Secretary of State and I have both said in this House more than once that we are sorry for the situation that we are in. Surely there can be no more extravagant apology than that. It is not really fair of the hon. Gentleman to demand that I come and apologise when I have clearly apologised on the record, and so has the Secretary of State.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has said that, and I take it in the spirit in which it was offered. What he has not done, however, is give an absolute assurance that colleges will not go bust as a result of this crisis. Speaking on the “Today” programme on 19 March, he was specifically asked for such an assurance and said that he could not offer it. Because the Government do not know the full extent of the problem—new cases seem to emerge daily—it is very hard for the Secretary of State to make such an open-ended commitment. Perhaps the Minister will make it for him. Will he now give the House an open-ended commitment that the Government will support all those colleges that have been so badly affected? Will they provide the money promised by the LSC in a full and fair way?
I will not give way again until I have made a little progress. As well as that commitment, I hope we have extracted an ongoing commitment that, as new cases emerge, they will be dealt with appropriately. I say to the Minister, and I do not say it lightly, that many of the colleges at a much earlier stage of the process have well-established bids. A number of colleges with which we have been in discussions as a result of their fears about these matters have made it clear that although they have not secured approval in principle—still less approval in detail—they have been planning a capital project for a very considerable time with the knowledge, approval and encouragement of the Learning and Skills Council. If the Minister has a better idea of the scale here—both the breadth and depth of his problem—and is prepared to underwrite the necessary capital commitment here and now, I will happily give way to him again. Certainly what has been offered so far goes nowhere towards that kind of financial commitment.
We have heard that once already, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What I was actually asking the Minister for was a further assurance that those colleges that have gone a long way down the road towards putting capital bids and projects together will receive the sort of support they need. If these new clauses were in place and the Government had agreed to their addition to the Bill, we would not, frankly, be in the present position with me having to extract these promises from the Minister, because a report would have been made in good time, anticipating much of the problem that we are now dealing with. I happily give way to the Minister one final time, but then I must make some more progress.
I have to explain to the hon. Gentleman that he has not “extracted” anything, as all this information is clearly on the record. The problem is that there is a greater expectation of funding out there than can possibly be met. We obviously cannot commit to funding the unfundable commitments of the LSC; what we have committed to, however, is that no college will go bust as a result of the LSC’s mismanagement.
We will talk a little bit more about how the Government prioritise funding and how they intend to allocate the money that has been announced. I repeat for the benefit of the House—and, in particular, for the Minister—that many projects that have not received agreement in principle, still less in detail, despite being well worked up, critically important in a regenerative sense to the community and having received encouragement, advice and guidance from the LSC, will not, I suspect, receive any degree of Government help now. That is because they do not fall into the category that the Minister will conveniently identify as deserving cases. I simply do not buy the idea that the Government will get the criteria or the support right or that they will not disappoint a very large number of colleges and learners up and down the country.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend and I welcome the Minister’s apology to the House today. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that what we have not yet heard from Ministers is any explanation of their role in the Learning and Skills Council’s exciting of these expectations around the country? We have seen the LSC blamed and we have seen the resignation of its chief executive, but are we really to believe that Ministers played no part in all this and had no awareness of what was going on? I think that that is incredible and that the House deserves an explanation this evening.
I cannot really answer that in my all too brief contribution. I know that Members will want me to go on and on and on, but the House will understand that others may wish to speak. That point does matter, however, particularly in respect of the new clauses that I am supporting, to which I shall now turn my attention in more detail.
If the new clauses formed part of this Bill, we would know, for example, how much money had been committed in preparing capital bids. The Association of Colleges estimates that colleges have incurred costs of £170 million in planning capital bids—and that is just the colleges we know about. As I have already said, many have fallen between the cracks, as it were. Some £300 million was announced in the budget for FE capital funding, but that is not nearly enough to fund the projects that are now in limbo. We are yet to have clarity from the Government about the criteria that will determine which projects go forward. It is clear that where colleges were in the approval process tells us only so much; we need a much fuller picture of the economic value of individual projects, how far advanced in practice they are and how much colleges and other bodies stand to lose if their bid is not approved.
This crisis exposes the Government’s inconsistency—I hesitate to use the word “hypocrisy”, Mr. Deputy Speaker—as far as capital spending is concerned. It is a crisis entirely of the Government’s own making. The Government commissioned Sir Andrew Foster, a distinguished commentator, writer and thinker on these subjects, to write a review. It was he, after all who, at the behest of the Government, wrote “Realising the Potential: A Review of the Future of Further Education Colleges” in 2005. Sir Andrew Foster concluded that
“senior staff in Dius could have probed more actively the robustness of the forward projections of future funding commitments. Their challenge was insufficiently incisive to uncover ongoing flaws in implementation.”
So we know that Sir Andrew Foster’s answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) would be that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills had a key role to play. When we speak of DIUS, furthermore, do we not speak of Ministers? It would be quite wrong for the buck to stop with civil servants, officials and quangos when it is the politicians and the Government themselves who answer here in this House.
You will have recognised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that new clause 11 refers to
“an annual report on the… infrastructure of colleges”
“information about which applications for capital funding”
have been approved, which should be broken down to show which have been approved “in principle” and which “in detail”. The provision also makes reference to the key role of the Secretary of State because the report proposed in the new clause must go to him, making a direct link between what is happening on the ground in colleges and what the Secretary of State knows and does on—
Order. I want to assure the hon. Member not only that I had indeed noticed it, but that I was rather hoping that at some point he might notice it, too, as he has been conducting a rather general debate as opposed to engaging with the more particular points at the heart of his proposed new clauses.
I am grateful, as ever, for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I can assure you that I had noticed the new clauses. Indeed, they are highly pertinent to the exchanges taking place across the Chamber because they tie Ministers to an empirical assessment of where bids are, where they have come from and how much they are going to cost. That contrasts with what has happened over recent weeks and months, where the link between Ministers and those things has been opaque, obscure and obtuse. That is simply not good enough.
Since it was established in 2001, the Learning and Skills Council has undergone three major reorganisations. Under the Bill, it will be abolished and replaced, as I said, with three quangos. Perhaps it is not surprising that the LSC took its eye off the ball. The Government are, of course, now keen to attribute blame to the LSC; we hold no candle for that body, but because legislation of the kind we propose in the new clauses was not in place, it is perhaps not surprising that Ministers lost control, were unable to anticipate these matters and were unaware of some of the facts.
Indeed, Ministers now claim that they did not know what was going on. They must claim that, must they not? If they did know what was going on, they would take full responsibility rather than partial responsibility for the mess we are in. The projection of costs seems to me to be a pretty fundamental part of managing capital budgets. How can we possibly not know how much we have planned to spend against how much we have got—surely this is bread-and-butter stuff? To be told, in the Minister’s words, that the Government could not possibly meet the ambitions of colleges is extraordinary when those ambitions were fuelled and fostered by the very body charged with that purpose—a body that was, in the end, answerable to Ministers.
Despite causing the disruption, Ministers failed to monitor information that their Departments were receiving. The crisis puts into sharp focus the issue of responsibility for capital projects under the new arrangements proposed in the Bill. If the Bill remains unamended, I suspect that we might get into such a mess again, so these new clauses and what we said on Second Reading, in Committee and subsequently are made all the more pertinent by the circumstances that I have described in these few words.
The circumstances regarding FE were not entirely known when we began to debate the Bill; the truth has come out gradually. As I say, more and more colleges have made it clear that they, too, were promised the large investments that, clearly, the Government now are not in a position to make available. However, it is not entirely true that Ministers knew nothing until very recently, because an examination of the LSC minutes makes it perfectly clear that, as early as February 2008, doubts were raised about the capital funding of FE colleges. Certainly by autumn that year, it was as clear as crystal that a major crisis was about to engulf the sector and the Government.
We did not receive an adequate explanation from Ministers in Committee, and last week at departmental questions, the Secretary of State said:
“one of the reasons why our universities are so good is that I do not run them”.—[Official Report, 30 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 1027.]
That is certainly true. If he ran the colleges, I guess that we would have had the same thing repeated in revenue terms as we have had in respect of capital bids.
The new clauses, plainly and simply, would improve the Bill. If I were in government in such difficulties, I would grasp the new clauses with both hands and take the view that the Opposition were trying to be helpful. Nothing in the new clauses is partisan. They are entirely consistent with the rest of the Bill. They would provide better lines of communication and better information to Ministers. They would prevent Ministers—whether Labour or Conservative—from finding themselves in the circumstances in which this Government find themselves in respect of FE. At a time of great economic uncertainty, the last thing we need is a Government who create more uncertainty, yet that is what all this has done.
We do not think that the LSC is perfect and we know that it needs reform—that is why we have outlined plans for a streamlined agency to fund FE—but we do not think that this is the right time to spend money on restructuring rather than on training.
The FE capital funding crisis shows what happens when Ministers are more interested in changing structures than transforming lives. Fallacy follows falsehood, and failure follows both. We need Ministers who mean and do what they say, not pass the buck. We need a structure for the funding and management of skills that is cost-efficient and effective. Most of all, we need a Government who trust FE to deliver the training to build the skills that our people want, our communities deserve and our economy needs.
I welcome the new clauses that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) has just spoken to. I met the new chief executive of the LSC, Mr. Russell, shortly after his appointment. First, we should thank him for his public service in taking on the poisoned chalice of trying to bring some coherence to an organisation that is not only in its dying days, but is dying in a sense of crisis and much public ridicule. Mr. Russell has already commissioned consultants to develop new criteria for an assessment against which college bids can be assessed. Both new clauses would complement that in-house procedure and review.
In DIUS questions last Thursday morning, this issue came up several times and the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), was unable to say when the review being undertaken by the LSC will reach a conclusion so that colleges can get some clarity and certainty in this area—perhaps he will elaborate on that today—or how far the £300 million announced in the Budget will go.
The scale of the problem that we face is indeed large: more than 140 different schemes up and down the country have reached various stages of application—either application in principle or detailed approval—while others are the subject of early discussions, although they are still incurring costs as part of their bidding. One such college is Star college, which works with adult disabled people. I have visited Star college. It is in the Cotswolds and has been mentioned on several occasions by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), who has not yet returned to the Chamber, has asked me to mention also Yeovil college.
I wrote to Mr. Russell on his appointment, asking him to tell me the parliamentary constituencies in which colleges are waiting for detailed approval finally to be granted by the LSC—and 77 parliamentary colleagues have at least one college in their constituency that is at the detailed approval stage. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) tells me that the bid made by the college of North West London in her constituency is essential for the regeneration of Wembley. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) has two such colleges in his constituency—Colchester institute and Colchester sixth-form college—and I should also refer to Plumpton college, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), and North Devon college, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey).
Bournemouth & Poole college is near to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who has been with us for most of the debate. She tells me that several million pounds have been spent on that college’s bidding process so far. I visited the college with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) in September last year as part of our party conference and saw the excellent training work that was going on there. It is a centre of excellence, in particular for catering. It is a shame if the students of that college are at all uncertain about the future facilities for their courses.
The hon. Gentleman spoke well about these matters in Committee and does so again today. The point that I hope he will agree with is that this matter involves not merely the colleges that have received approval in principle, let alone those awaiting detailed approval, but many other colleges and, therefore, many other constituencies across the country. Unless the new clauses are accepted—I think the Minister will accept them—we could get into such a situation again.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think I said that there are two formal parts to the process: approval in principle and approval in detail. Many other colleges are involved in early discussions, but have none the less incurred costs. Some have commenced work and are part way through their building programme. Many of us have been shown photographs of part-demolished Barnsley college by the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis). I could mention many other colleges on the list—for instance, South Devon college, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders). When he was in the Chamber earlier, he told me that the scheme is worked up and ready to go. Work could start tomorrow and all that is needed is approval to proceed.
It is not at all clear from the Budget debate, DIUS questions last week or various Westminster Hall debates on the topic how the £300 million brought forward in the Budget will help in the current financial year. It appears from the letter sent by the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills to vice-chancellors and college principals on 22 April that, as well as the £300 million for the current financial year, 2009-10, there will be a planning assumption of a further £300 million a year from 2011-12 to 2013-14. That totals £1.2 billion and rather implies that the capital budget for 2010-11, which is the next financial year—I know that I am mentioning many years—has been raided to bail the Government out in this financial year. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will confirm whether that is the case, because the £1.2 billion over five years clearly does not correspond to £300 million for each year. One year must be missing, and it appears to be 2010-11, which of course is the year straight after the next general election.
The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on an important point. In many areas, the Government appear to have adopted a scorched-earth policy. They are raiding future budgets in order to bolster their current popularity as they approach a general election which, as they are increasingly aware, they are likely to lose.
That is an excellent point. It is indeed a political scorched-earth policy. Not only are the Government producing money from budgets allocated for the period after April 2010, but many tax rises are due to be introduced immediately after the next general election.
When the Minister replies, he should bear in mind that what the sector needs is more certainty about how the extra £300 million for the current financial year will be spent. A rationing exercise will clearly be necessary. Not all the bids currently lodged with the LSC can possibly be funded from that £300 million. Many bidders, indeed most, will miss out, and the sooner they know that, the better. All of them will have incurred bidding costs and planning fees, and will have commissioned architects to help them to draw up their proposals and submit them to the LSC’s capital board.
Following a survey of its membership, the Association of Colleges calculated that 30 of its colleges had spent at least a quarter of a million pounds on bids, and 18 had spent more than £5 million. All that expenditure may be in vain if the capital programme does not go ahead. Many of the bidders will want to know whether their costs will be met by the LSC. The irony is that those costs, not only for the colleges at either end of the range but for the 100 or so in between, will probably be close to the £300 million allocated in the budget. There is an urgent need for an assessment of what is required by the further education sector—which is the purpose of the new clauses—and for clarity from the Government on the funding criteria that they will apply in future, through the LSC.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings began by observing that further education was crucial to our economy, and I shall end my speech in much the same way. The FE college system is essential to helping people to negotiate their way through the current recession, and even more essential to ensuring that we emerge from the other side of it with a world-class, well-skilled work force. We must meet not only the industrial demands that we will face in the future, but the demands of climate change. We shall need skilled engineers to meet the 2020 targets on which consensus has been reached. There is no point in setting such targets if we do not have the engineers and technicians to meet them. The FE sector has a crucial role in bringing those skills to the workplace and the design board, and it deserves rather better than the ineptitude that it has suffered from the Government so far.
I want to highlight the problems that the freezing of the college building programme has caused on the Isle of Wight, although I believe that there should be regulated annual audits in all areas to establish what capital is spent.
The Isle of Wight College is the only further education institution on the island. For many islanders, it represents the only opportunity to receive further education before entering the workplace. Employers value colleges as a source of training, especially during a recession. As the island has relatively high unemployment, taking a college course can make a real difference to someone’s prospects, but all that is now in jeopardy. The freezing of funds promised to the council has not only indefinitely delayed vital renovation work, but cost the college more than £2.3 million in development fees alone. It would have cost a great deal more had the college not benefited from the common sense and prudence of its principal, Debbie Lavin—common sense and prudence that the Government and the LSC evidently lack.
The Government are guilty on a number of fronts. There is evidence that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the LSC knew about a possible overspend as early as February 2008. Mrs. Lavin says that the college was encouraged to continue with the building project until as late as December 2008. DIUS and the LSC were too slow to respond, having had a good eight or 10 months in which to flag up a problem. During that period, colleges—blissfully unaware of the impending crisis, and egged on by the national LSC—spent money, made plans and, in some cases, tore down old facilities. Fortunately, that did not happen on the Isle of Wight. If the colleges had known then what the LSC and DIUS knew back in April—or February—2008, they would not have been so hasty. DIUS Ministers and the LSC should not have encouraged colleges to go ahead if they did not have the money to see the projects through. Colleges throughout the country are now paying the price for the delay. Temporary cabins are being hired in which to teach students, and fees for retaining contractors and professional advisers continue to be paid.
Adding to all the financial woes, the Government are muddying the waters by further complicating an already complex system. The ineffectual LSC is to be abolished, only to be replaced by three new bodies. That has led to further confusion and worry, especially as there is no evidence that the more complicated system will be any more efficient.
The Government are seeking to gloss over the whole issue with their announcement of £300 million earmarked for colleges. We have not been told where the money will go, but it is clearly an insignificant sum in comparison with the scale of the crisis. This is akin to putting a sticking plaster on a disembowelment. We need transparency in regard to further education funding, so that we all know where we stand. New clauses 1 and 11 will help to clarify the situation for the House, colleges and the public. This sorry affair cannot be allowed to happen again.
Sir Andrew Foster’s independent and damning report on the college building debacle highlights the existence of Government and LSC incompetence at almost every stage of the process. The LSC chief executive did the albeit late but none the less honourable thing, and fell on his sword. Why have not DIUS Ministers taken their responsibilities just as seriously? Or were they and their officials kept ignorant as well? I can tell the House that it was ignorance. The LSC made decisions—or perhaps it is better to say that it did not even make them—in a state of failure. That is the problem, and we must put it right.
Most of the speeches that we have heard have ranged far beyond the scope of the new clauses. I understand why Members wanted a general debate about the further education sector as a whole, and about the FE funding situation in particular. Those are serious matters which are of great concern to Members throughout the country, to their colleges and college principals, and to the corporations of those colleges. Many of them are represented by lay individuals who might feel very exposed and concerned about the position they are in. I understand that Members are constituency representatives—and, indeed, are sometimes Opposition Front Benchers with that job to do—and that they will want to make their points and to seek answers from the Government.
With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I propose to speak initially to the new clauses themselves, which have so far received relatively scant mention in the debate, after which I will move on to try to respond to some of the general issues, and in so doing I will be at your mercy as to how wide and generally I may stray and for how long you think it will be appropriate for me to carry on speaking.
The hon. Gentleman says he understands why Members have ranged widely. If he does understand that, why have we had no debate in Government time on Sir Andrew Foster’s report, because that would be a more appropriate way of dealing with these matters than by addressing these new clauses?
Order. I think what the hon. Gentleman has just said rather underlines my intervention earlier. I allowed him to make a rather wide-ranging introduction to his amendments, and therefore I owe it to the Minister to let him at least reply. However, I hope that Members of all parties will recognise that there are still quite a lot of groups of amendments to be debated, so we do not want to spend an extended amount of time on this group—although let me stress again that, in fairness, the Minister must be given some opportunity to reply to the general nature of the debate.
I am very grateful for that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
New clauses 1 and 11 are not necessary. In terms of new clause 1, an ongoing benchmarking programme already exists. As part of the capital investment programme, almost all further education colleges—some 98 per cent.—are already participating in an existing property benchmarking programme called eMandate overseen by the LSC, and that programme will continue under the chief executive of skills funding.
The eMandate programme captures data on an annual basis from all participating colleges in the FE sector. Those data include information on the quality of their estate and their estate management costs. Participation in the eMandate programme is open to all FE colleges and is compulsory for any college that wants to apply for public capital funding for building. We simply do not need the kind of stocktake described in new clause 1, because precisely that process already exists, and because nobody has suggested that a lack of that kind of information caused the problems with the FE capital programme.
So the hon. Gentleman is saying that, in almost all cases, we know the state of college buildings, yet there was no relationship between that information—which presumably came to the Department and Ministers—and the business of encouraging capital bids. That is inconceivable, is it not?
It is not inconceivable at all. The problems with the colleges were to do with financial management, not with a lack of information about the state of the estate, or with the quality or the cost management of the builds themselves. The Foster report came to the explicit and clear conclusion that this was a good policy let down by poor implementation, and the manner of that implementation was not at all of the sort described—or apparently rectified—by new clause 1.
I simply do not understand that reply. Surely there should have been a needs-based assessment of what needed to happen to the buildings in the FE sector. How else could anyone properly approach this? Without that, it is not possible to assign priorities or to ensure that there is the most prudent use of public money. That is what perhaps most irritates my constituents. They realise that the Government have simply wasted millions of pounds on unnecessary projects, and that now tens of millions of pounds will be wasted on consultants’ fees for projects that will never proceed.
As the hon. Gentleman said, one of the key conclusions of the Foster report is that the programme should have been much more needs-based, and it is clear that it must be more needs-based in future. The reason why it was not needs-based was not because good information did not exist about the state of the FE estate; that information was being collected. The problem was that it was not used effectively. New clause 1 would set up the paraphernalia to collect that information, but that paraphernalia already exists. Good information already exists, but the right things were not done with it. New clause 1 is therefore not the answer to this problem.
It seems to me that that form of methodology applied to that level of spend is a strategic issue. Does the Minister therefore accept ministerial responsibility for failing to ensure that, in terms of that fundamental way of dealing with such huge sums, the Government, rather than the LSC alone, failed to do what they should have?
No. Foster was very clear that this was a good policy let down by poor implementation. He was also clear that—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman mouths “whitewash” from a sedentary position, but it was a very high-quality impartial report. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) said it was damning. It was not damning of Ministers; it was clear and explicit that the responsibility of Ministers was the direction of policy, and that the policy was a good one, but that the implementation of the policy was the responsibility of the LSC and that is where the policy was let down.
I shall move on to new clause 11. The new clause also raises the question of parliamentary scrutiny, but it is also superfluous because its measures already exist in the Bill. Paragraph 7 of schedule 4 requires the chief executive of Skills Funding to publish an annual report and accounts covering expenditure on all areas, including capital. That report will be laid before Parliament. I hope that that, together with the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to return to the House with a statement in due course, will give Members some reassurance about the level of parliamentary scrutiny. If the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) wants to have a debate in Government time, he will, as he knows, need to come back on a Thursday and talk to the Leader of the House rather than me—my pay grade is considerably beneath considering such matters.
We do not need new clause 11 in order to have transparency and parliamentary accountability, and we do not need new clause 1 in order to have good information about the state of the FE estate.
Let me turn to the general points that Members have made. The hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings and for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) raised the question of colleges that have not received, but have applied for, approval in principle. There are currently 79 colleges that have received approval in principle and 65 that have applied for it and have not received it. The points they make about the great amount of work—and potentially of expenditure, as well as of investment of time and energy—that will have gone into reaching the stage of submitting the application, which is itself a huge, thick pile of documents, are very well understood. We have been very clear in our discussions with the new leadership of the LSC that the colleges in that position will be treated broadly in a single pool with the colleges that have already received approval in principle. All of them will be deemed to have a difficulty which the LSC, under its new leadership, needs to help them to deal with.
Several Members—the hon. Members for Bristol, West and for Isle of Wight come to mind—mentioned the £300 million of new cash that was announced in this financial year to enable us to put through some of the most urgent and high-priority cases. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight said that it glossed over the entire issue—I believe that the rich phrase he used was that it was a “sticking plaster on a disembowelment”—whereas the hon. Member for Bristol, West said that it was a political scorched-earth policy. Naturally, I cannot accept any of those colourful descriptions. None the less I am clear about the fact that £300 million will not solve this problem, whose magnitude is much greater. I am not attempting to gloss over the entire issue, and I do not pretend to have solved the problem or put the matter to bed with £300 million. What the £300 million will enable us to do is to put forward, this year, in decisions that will be made in a few weeks’ time—in the early summer—the most urgent and high-priority cases across the country. That will still leave many colleges needing certainty and clarity about their future.
Interestingly, the Minister, at last, gives us some detail about this matter, for which I am grateful. We should have been given more detail sooner, but I understand the reasons why he has not been in a position to do that; as he says, this is not at his pay grade level. Will he tell us whether those high-priority cases will be drawn from colleges that have already received agreement in principle and colleges that are at an earlier stage of development? If not, what criteria will be used?
As ever in this evening’s debate, the hon. Gentleman congratulates himself on having extracted from me something that has been clear and on the record for weeks, if not months, and that I have said dozens, if not hundreds, of times. As I just said, the colleges that have received approval in principle and those that have applied for it but not necessarily received it will all be viewed in the same group when consideration is given to both the urgent and high-priority funding and the later down the line funding. It is probable that colleges that have applied earlier and secured approval in principle are more likely to be further down the road, and I would be surprised if more of them were not more urgent and high-priority immediate cases when compared with those that have yet to receive approval in principle. However, it is clear, and has been for some time, that both those categories will be eligible to be considered for the urgent and high-priority immediate funding, and to go into the second pool of cases that will go through the same process of prioritisation.
As for how those priorities were drawn up, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows—I am loth to say this, because I know that he will intervene in any moment to rejoice at having dragged this out of me, although it has also been clear for some time—the LSC, in partnership with the Association of Colleges, set up a reference panel and, between them, they have agreed, or are in the process of finalising within the next week or two, a set of criteria and processes that are to be open and transparent, and that I hope the whole sector can buy into, by which the prioritisations will be decided. The first criteria will be readiness, urgency and whether the case is high priority. In the second round, the same criteria will apply, but without the criterion of readiness.
Hon. Members have also mentioned the amount of money already committed in preparing bids. That is a problem for colleges and it is an issue about which college principals and corporation leaders feel worried and exposed. I am sensitive to that, and we have made it clear to the LSC that it will need to be sensitive to the difficulties in which its mismanagement of this programme has put college leaderships. It has retained an independent firm of property consultants, who are currently consulting all the affected colleges with a view to reporting back to them what level of support they could individually expect; again, that will take place within the next few weeks.
I could go on talking about these matters indefinitely, but I am conscious of the fact that other hon. Members wish to discuss this new clause and others, and that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings has to follow me so this matter is by no means close to conclusion. I am sympathetic to the desires of hon. Members to have a wide-ranging debate about this matter and I have tried to address some of the main issues in the time available, but I do not think it is appropriate for me to go on talking indefinitely. I am sympathetic to the intentions of new clauses 1 and 11, but both of them are dealt with in the Bill or within existing practice and are, therefore, superfluous. On that basis, I know that the hon. Gentleman, with his customary sagacity and courtesy, will be inclined not to press the new clauses to a Division.
The Minister has done his best to deal both with these new clauses and with the crisis that is not entirely of his making, given that he is a newcomer to his Department. He will understand why Conservative Members and, indeed, Members from across the House, are so exercised about this capital funding crisis. Joseph Conrad said that “reality beats fiction out of sight”, and nobody could have made this up, could they? This is stranger than fiction. The Minister first says that colleges might be allowed to go bankrupt and then says that they will not be able to do so.