Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations are essential to implement the safeguarding reforms set out in the Children Act 2004, as inserted by the Children and Social Work Act 2017. I welcome the work of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in drawing these regulations to the attention of the House as an instrument of interest.
These reforms aim to improve the protection of children. As noble Lords may recall, they were based on the findings of the 2016 Wood review, which found widespread agreement that existing multi-agency working arrangements should be replaced with a stronger, more flexible statutory framework. Alan Wood also recommended a learning-focused system of reviews to replace serious case reviews. The Act enables the establishment of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. The panel will identify and commission reviews of serious child safeguarding cases which are complex or of national importance.
I am glad that, following a recruitment exercise conducted in accordance with Cabinet Office procedures, Edward Timpson has agreed to take on the role of panel chair. Following his advice and that of a skilled and representative assessment panel, we last week confirmed five appointments who will bring a range of experience to support him in this important work.
The Act also requires the three safeguarding partners —police, clinical commissioning groups and local authorities—to work together to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area. As part of this, they must determine the agencies with whom they intend to work. They must also identify and commission reviews of serious cases which raise issues of local importance.
These regulations will enable these provisions to operate effectively. The regulations set out the criteria which the panel must take into account when deciding whether to commission a national review. The panel must also set up a pool of potential reviewers. This arrangement will support our aim of improving the speed and quality of reviews. The panel may, however, select other reviewers if no one in the pool is available or suitably experienced. The panel may also remove potential reviewers from the pool.
As the panel cannot let its own contracts, the Secretary of State will hold the contracts with reviewers. Therefore, these regulations require the Secretary of State to appoint or remove reviewers from national reviews based on the panel’s recommendation. The regulations also specify details of the panel’s supervisory powers during a national review and of its final reports, including publication. Requiring public availability of reports for at least three years will ensure that national-level learning can be spread throughout the system, the key purpose of these new provisions.
The regulations also cover local reviews—the responsibility of the safeguarding partners. As for national reviews, the provisions cover review criteria, the appointment and removal of reviewers, reports and publication. Like the panel, safeguarding partners must make decisions on when it is appropriate to commission a local review, taking local review criteria into account. This includes any advice from the panel on whether a local review may be appropriate. The regulations support the timeliness and quality of local reviews. The safeguarding partners must monitor the progress and quality of local reviews and may seek information during the review to enable them to assess this. The regulations also specify some details that final reports must include and require reports or findings to be available for at least one year.
The regulations set out a list of agencies with which the safeguarding partners may choose to work. The Government first published the list in indicative regulations during the passage of the Bill. Safeguarding partners should select agencies relevant to their local areas. The list of those selected may change from time to time, although we expect schools always to be involved. The safeguarding partners should consult the agencies selected, and the published arrangements should include a list of those agencies. Duties on relevant agencies apply only to agencies included by the safeguarding partners in local arrangements. The Government consulted on these regulations and the associated statutory guidance last autumn. Consultees were largely positive, although some clarifications were made to the regulations as a result.
The panel will begin work on 29 June 2018, when the transition to the new multi-agency arrangements will also commence. Safeguarding partners will have 12 months to prepare and publish their arrangements, including selecting relevant agencies, and a further three months to implement them. Provided that the regulations are agreed, we will publish the final version of the statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children within the next few weeks. This will support the new arrangements and complement these regulations.
I thank all those who have contributed to work on these reforms, including noble Lords present. These regulations will support more flexible joint-working arrangements, as well as promote better and more timely learning from reviews, and I commend them to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, the protection of children is perhaps one of the most important things that we should be doing. We welcome the safeguarding practice panel; if noble Lords do not mind me saying so, what an inspired choice Edward Timpson is as its chair. His work on the Children and Families Act was second to none.
I want to raise a particular issue that I hope the Minister will address: self-employed tutors. Unlike tutors employed by agencies, they are not legally obliged to apply for a Disclosure and Barring Service, or DBS, check. Accountants, vets, even traffic wardens are required to have such checks, despite the fact that their jobs do not involve regular access to children, yet private tutors who regularly work and are involved with children do not. In a Commons Oral Question, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education said:
“It is ultimately the responsibility of parents to assure themselves about the suitability of any private tutor they might choose to employ before they engage them, for example by seeking and checking references, and asking to see a copy of any Disclosure and Barring Service certificate”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/3/18; col. 12.]
As it stands, self-employed tutors cannot apply for a DBS check. Instead, they can apply for a subject access request, containing similar information, for a fee of £10, but they are not legally obliged to do so. I hope that the Minister will use this opportunity to deal with this rather strange anomaly. Either we insist that all tutors, whether self-employed or employed by an agency, have the correct requirements or, as a second-best option, they can apply for the certification, as suggested by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these important regulations. We recognise the paramount importance of child safeguarding, which should never be compromised, no matter the circumstances. We further recognise—in doing so, we are confident that we reflect public opinion—the need for a revamp of the system of serious case reviews following a number of deeply disturbing cases in recent years, compounded by the often inept handling of reviews into how such crimes were allowed to occur.
Many of those concerns were articulated during the passage through your Lordships’ House of the Children and Social Work Act and I do not intend to revisit them. Revised regulations and a new system of reviews was necessary and, in clearly outlining the requirements for such reviews at both local and national levels, these regulations perform an important function—no less so the requirements being placed on the relevant agencies to ensure the kind of joined-up action that was often absent in the past.
That said, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is another incursion by central government into what is properly a local government responsibility, yet more resources are being found to establish yet another ministerial body—or are there? Just what resources, in the form of new money, will be made available is less than transparent. Yesterday, when these regulations were considered in another place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Nadhim Zahawi MP, said:
“The funding should be sufficient to cover all elements of the arrangements. We do not expect the new arrangements to cost more than existing structures”.—[Official Report, Commons, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 8/5/18; col. 5.]
That suggests that the Government do not treat this serious matter seriously enough to commit to additional resources, should they be necessary. The existing system was not performing adequately, hence these regulations. To suggest that this revamp, and the appointment of a new body, will not add to costs is surely not realistic.
We know that the former Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson—he of the shoe shop family—will chair the new Child Safeguarding Review Practice Panel. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that, with his record, he is a man in whom we have some confidence to carry out the task effectively. He will bring experience and authority to the post and we wish him well. However, he will be a busy man because he was also appointed last month as chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. He will receive £500 a day as chair of the panel, and his members, £400 plus expenses. Those rates do not sound unreasonable but if I have a concern, it is over the number of times that the panel will be required to meet and the number of panel members that it will require. I suggest that the cost remains an unknown, but perhaps the Minister can give us the Government’s thinking on this and how much, in rounded figures, it is expected to cost. As I said, it is not realistic to think that establishing a new body will not involve additional costs.
In terms of the regulations, Regulation 4 is important, because it talks about potential reviewers. But it does not say who will be in the pool, just the process for appointing and unappointing. It says nothing about required experience and/or professional qualifications, and nothing about required training and quality assurance or professional supervision for the task. I am aware the Minister mentioned that five panel members have been appointed, and the Minister in another place was kind enough to list these people yesterday.
Of the five, I would say that four are very clearly qualified for the job on the basis of the information that follows their names. One I am less sure of, and it causes me some concern because there is no one from local government in terms of education. I cannot find the designation of the other member of the panel, but I think it was the chief executive officer of an academy trust. She may or may not be well qualified by dint simply of being part of an academy trust, but I am concerned that there is no representation from a director of education or a senior educationalist from the maintained sector. To me, there seems to be an imbalance, and I hope the Minister will tell me that the five panel members appointed are the first tranche rather than the final figure, because of the point I have just made, as well as the point I made earlier—that the workload is going to be considerable and that number of individuals, with their other responsibilities, will be insufficient to carry out the task.
I do not wish to say much more. The panel and its chair have very important work to do, and we hope it will quickly establish itself and help to restore some of the faith in the appropriate examination of child abuse cases that the public have, to a significant extent, lost in recent years.
I am most grateful to the noble Lords for their comments and questions on these regulations. I can address some of the points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, raised an important point about the role of tutors and how they should be checked. I will write to him on that, as it is a technical matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, raised several other points and I will try to address those. In terms of funding, it is important that the local areas have the flexibility to fund the arrangements that they design. The safeguarding partners should agree the level of funding secured from each partner, which should be equitable and proportionate, and the contributions from each relevant agency to support the local safeguarding arrangements. The funding should be sufficient to cover all elements of the arrangements. Any requirements for the national panel will be funded from the centre. We do not predict that there will be additional costs because we are hopeful that this will remove a lot of the overlap that there is in the system at the moment.
I am pleased that there is strong cross-party support for the appointment of Edward Timpson. He is very experienced in this area, but I take note of the noble Lord’s point about him being overstretched. The exclusion inquiry that he is looking into at the moment is a relatively short inquiry and should be completed within a few months, so I do not think that there will be significant overlap.
On costs, the fees and expenses of the members and chairs will be published and will be in line with the rates paid to other, similar expert panels.
The panel member that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to is from an academy trust. We would also consider someone from a local authority who has experience at senior level. Both the Chief Social Worker and Mark Gurrey will bring that as well to the team.
I accept the local authority involvement regarding those named, but I was particularly talking about local authority education, because there has been some concern expressed that education has been left out of the loop, as it were, in terms of those involved. For education to be introduced only in the form of what appears to be a businessperson from an academy trust—I do not know her experience beyond that—without anyone from the maintained sector is a concern. Can the Minister answer the question that I posed earlier, that the figure of five on the panel is just the opening number and that it can be—and probably will need to be—increased?
My Lords, I agree that we should keep an open mind on the size of the panel. We have made clear through the statutory guidance that all the published local safeguarding arrangements must set out how relevant agencies, including schools and education providers, will be engaged with the multiagency working. The multi-academy trust member that we referred to, Dr Susan Tranter, has had experience as a head teacher and has had long service in the education sector, so she is not just an administrator but someone who has been involved in education.
These regulations underpin important safeguarding changes, as we discussed. They will give the safeguarding partners a framework to identify who is most appropriate to work with in order to support the safeguarding of children in their area and will give force to these decisions. The new child safeguarding practice review panel will be high profile, operate independently of government and promote genuine change in the safeguarding of children. The new arrangements for local and national child safeguarding practice reviews will enable the clear identification of any improvements that should be made to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. National reviews will also identify improvements at the national as well as local level, and the panel will follow up progress on implementation. The regulations enable these changes to function as intended and I sincerely hope that noble Lords will be willing to support them.