Report (1st Day) (Continued)
33: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Profit-making and children’s social services functions
(1) Social services functions conferred on or exercisable by a local authority so far as those functions relate to children shall not be discharged by a body corporate that is carried on for profit.(2) “Social services functions” has the meaning given by section 1A of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970.”
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has been called away and has asked me to move Amendment 33, which I am pleased to do, because I shall speak also to Amendment 35 in my name in the group.
Clause 29 refers, some would say euphemistically, to “different ways of working”, and others have spoken of the need for “innovation”, both of which are essentially code for exempting local authorities from some requirements hitherto imposed by children’s social care legislation. We hold strongly to the view that child protection and wider social care should not be run by an organisation seeking to make a profit. That is why we joined Liberal Democrat and Cross-Bench Peers, as well as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, in Committee, demonstrating the breadth of support for that requirement to appear in the Bill.
The Minister has consistently been asked to explain what problem Clause 29 is designed to address. I have to say that from our point of view he has been unable to do so. At the briefing on this part of the Bill held last week, the Children’s Minister was also unable to come up with a convincing answer. A representative from three London boroughs highlighted one aspect of their joint operations, but it did not seem to be in an area in which they were constrained from operating as things stand. Indeed, those London boroughs were in a list of local authorities that I read out in Committee, all of which have been able to innovate within existing legislation.
However, I do not want to pre-empt the argument that we will advance when we come to consider Amendment 54, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Nash, on our second day of Report on 8 November, so I will say no more about the detail of that just now.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, acknowledged that an amendment seeking to give extra force to an existing regulatory ban on profit-making in children’s services by enshrining it in primary legislation did not sit easily in a group of clauses headed “Care and adoption proceedings in England and Wales” but, he added, neither did any fear that the Government might use Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008, which enables the social care functions of a local authority to be discharged by a body corporate, to defy that ban. Such a fear was articulated by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, as well as many other organisations delivering children’s services, which, in its response to a 2014 consultation on draft regulations concerning a significant extension to children’s services that could be outsourced, strongly rejected any profit motive in their provision. The association wrote:
“Decisions taken about a child’s life should only ever be based on what is”,
“the child as assessed by skilled and qualified social workers and the courts system. These decisions cannot, and must not, be subordinate to the pursuit of financial profit”.
The Government’s response at the time included the insertion of a prohibition on profit-making into the final regulation of those services that could be outsourced, and the Minister assured noble Lords at Second Reading that the Government had no intention of lifting that ban. However, many in your Lordships’ House, not to mention the plethora of organisations which have contacted noble Lords since the Bill was published, feel a distinct sense of unease that his assurance sits awkwardly with Clauses 29 to 33, which allow local authorities to opt out of some of the provisions in existing regulation and legislation.
In his recent review, Sir Martin Narey questioned profit-making, despite the fact that the Government repeated their assurance on the ban in their submission to him. As events in July demonstrate, Ministers come and go, often unexpectedly, and government policy changes abruptly as a result. I need only mention the words “grammar schools” as proof of that. There have been too many government U-turns in recent history for any noble Lord to feel entirely comfortable that all will be well with the ban on profit-making service deliverers in future.
The simplest way to assure practitioners and noble Lords who feel the same way as I do on the issue would be for the Minister to confirm that the Government will reconsider their refusal to enshrine their regulatory function in the Bill. I would therefore be grateful if he would agree to take the matter away for further consideration and come back to me before Third Reading. I should say that when I say “me”, I mean the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
Amendment 35 has been resubmitted and is of the type that has a habit of surfacing regularly, because it seeks to get the Government to collect and collate information, publish a report and submit it—and, by extension, themselves—to Parliament to be held to account. It could be said that that is fairly basic democracy, but rarely do the Government agree. They usually cite some bureaucratic reason for being unable to comply. On this occasion, it is primarily an attempt to ensure that local authorities, rather than the Government, are held to account. If the Government are not minded to accept this amendment, then perhaps the Minister will inform noble Lords how he intends local authorities to be benchmarked. How are they to be measured in terms of how they deliver services to children in and leaving care? If there are no known outcomes, how is progress to be measured?
The Government have conceded that children’s services in some areas are not delivering the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children. Society as a whole has a responsibility to do better for these groups of children. If the Prime Minister was serious about wanting to create a country that works for everyone, these are exactly the type of young people whom she needs to focus on, because they are those who all too often get left behind. Ministers have identified improving outcomes as a priority and this is the driver for the DfE innovation programme and for the controversial innovation clauses, which as I said will be debated next month. However, the only way to measure whether innovation is working is to have an outcomes framework with annual reporting obligations. That would enable comparisons as to how different local authorities were performing and test whether different models for delivering social services are, or perhaps more importantly, are not working. It would also allow good practice to be identified and—crucially—to be shared.
The most important aspect of the outcomes highlighted in Amendment 35 is that they are about children’s well-being and life chances. This must be at the heart of any innovation, however that is described and no matter the context in which it is operated. It is essential that we make sure that changes are not made solely or even mainly for the sake of efficiency savings, which is tempting at a time of increasing demand and decreasing resource. I beg to move.
My Lords, it seems to me fairly demeaning that the state cannot collectively care for vulnerable children without resorting to a profit motive. In all the private meetings we have had with Ministers in regard to the Bill, we have been reassured that there is no background intention on the part of the Government to enable services to be outsourced to give a profit motive. That would require a change in legislation. The period of changes that we are now undergoing needs guarantees and I point to a report that I believe was in the Guardian newspaper a couple of days ago, which refers to Sandwell Council having been ordered to contract out its children’s services. It will mean,
“that services, including child protection investigations, making applications to the courts to have children removed from their families and the management of children in need plans will be outsourced to an independent organisation, and accountability will only be back to the council through a contract”.
I thought we would have learned enough from the academisation of schools to know that contracts do not necessarily provide sufficient accountability, either for financial management or—certainly not—for providing services in the best interests of children. We are talking about the most vulnerable children. As far as I can find out, no other country allows this sort of intrusion by a private company into the lives of vulnerable families, and decisions about the welfare and protection of children to be taken by private companies which are not directly accountable to the state, either to the Government, or in this case to local authorities. It raises a fundamental principle. As we have discussed at great length throughout the Bill, we are all very concerned to provide the best possible protection and care for vulnerable children. However, we are possibly undermining that by allowing and enabling the outsourcing of children’s services for a profit motive, which by its very nature may result in children not being first and foremost in the mind of the company undertaking the work.
For those reasons, we totally support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. We hope that the Minister will be able to give a categorical assurance that the outsourcing of children’s services for profit will not take place, and that, failing that, he will include such an assurance as an amendment at Third Reading.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 33 and 35, to which I added my name. It is very clear from the Bill that government Amendment 54 is much narrower than Amendment 33. I do not want to get into the detail of that amendment—we will discuss it in due course—but it relates only to the power-to-innovate section. From my reading of the Bill, it does not have the more general effect that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, does. So there is still an issue, even if one accepts the good offices of the Government on Amendment 54.
Perhaps we might explore a little more the issue of profit. We started to do this in Committee and I think that we got into a bit of a muddle. I am not a staunch supporter of public monopolies, so I do not have a problem with a degree of competition. I was at the event that LaingBuisson organised for the department on the whole issue of market-making, particularly in relation to failing organisations. I am not sure whether the Government have ever published the report that LaingBuisson produced—but it certainly did produce a report. I spoke at the conference, where there was a strong feeling that there were certain functions that needed to be carried out by a state body. I think that the question of whether you could contract out some of those services to a not-for-profit social enterprise or a voluntary organisation started to get a bit fuzzy, but there was a very strong core feeling that some of the services charged with statutory child protection were not areas that you could contract out. Then we went through a range of services where people were more or less comfortable with the idea of a degree of profit-making.
Here, it is important to be very clear about what we mean by profit-making. I mean profits that are available to be distributed to the shareholders of the organisation. I do not think that we could run very good services for children in their entirety if we did not accept some voluntary organisations running the services on a contract basis. However, that is on the basis that they are perfectly entitled to create a surplus in some of their activities in order to reinvest that money in the services they provide. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition, and we certainly do not want to put anything in the Bill that stops people having a contract with local authorities, not to make profits in the well-understood sense of profits to be distributed to shareholders but to run the services efficiently so that they can engender some kind of surplus that can be reinvested to make the services better, particularly as demand for some of those services increases over time. So the Government need to come clean about what happened when they had this interest and set LaingBuisson loose on the whole market-making issue, because it has raised a great deal of concern in the wider world of children’s social care about their intentions. A little more clarity on what they are in this area would be very welcome.
On Amendment 35, we know that looked-after children have, over many decades, had bad outcomes—that is why we are soldiering along trying to improve these services. However, it is only a pretty long time after the event that we get any kind of clear measurement of how bad the situation was. This amendment would enable us to build up a database and to see, in a more timely way, whether things are improving—and improving both nationally and locally. It would make it easier to find out where the hotspots of poor performance were in some of these service areas if we had this kind of data collection.
We have pre-legislative impact assessments so that we can look at legislation and try to understand what its impact is likely to be. Why do we not have post-legislative impact assessments and collect data to assess how well Parliament’s intentions have been delivered? The amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has produced would enable Parliament to better understand what has happened to its legislation in this particular area.
I would have thought that any well-run organisation such as a local authority would not object to collecting this data because it would want to know how well its services were performing. That is all part of being a well-managed public body. So I cannot see what the arguments are against the principle of Amendment 35. It is all about getting value for money, good performance and better outcomes for children—so what is not to like about an amendment of this kind that makes a local authority a better manager of its particular services?
My Lords, I rise briefly and with some trepidation to give a word of warning about Amendment 35. Having previously chaired corporate parent panels and attended foster carer forums, which included listening to the views of looked-after children, I am aware that we need to remember that at the end of these checks—I am going to speak particularly about physical health checks—there is a child. In the past, looked-after children were often pulled out of class for a medical check-up with a GROUP—which, of course, their peers sitting around the classroom did not have to do because they had parents who would monitor their health. So, while it is really important that we collect the data, ready for report, the assessments for looked-after children have to be made extremely sensitively so that they are not stigmatised as they have been in the past.
My Lords, I have a question about the data on outcomes. In the recent care leavers strategy, it was published that 90% of care leavers up to the age of 21 are in satisfactory accommodation. But the data that that was based on suggested that 81% were in satisfactory accommodation. Will the Minister take that away and get back to me to explain why those outcome measures seem not to agree with each other? I hope that that is clear enough.
My Lords, I would like to thank noble Lords for these amendments. I will speak about each one in turn, commencing with Amendment 33, which would prohibit profit-making in children’s social services functions, and then Amendment 35, which would put a duty on local government to report on several outcomes for vulnerable children and for the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on these outcomes.
I recognise that profit-making in children’s social care is a sensitive issue, and I entirely understand noble Lords’ desire to ensure that legislation is clear on this point. We believe that it is. There is already a clear legislative restriction on the outsourcing of children’s social care functions in the 2014 relevant care functions regulations. There are also restrictions on profit-making by adoption agencies through the fact that the Adoption and Children Act 2002 allows an adoption service to be operated only by a local authority or an organisation that is not carried on for profit. These restrictions as they stand in secondary legislation have exactly the same force as they would in primary legislation. Any attempt to remove them would need to be debated in both Houses. Therefore, although I entirely understand the intention, I do not think it is necessary to move this to primary legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to the LaingBuisson event—an ideas-generating event exploring new approaches to service delivery. As he said, concerns were raised about profit-making in child protection, and these are reflected in the 2014 regulations to which I have already referred.
I understand, however, that there is some concern about whether Clause 29, the power to test new ways of working, could be used to reopen this matter. I have therefore tabled a government amendment that will explicitly rule out using Clause 29 for profit-making. This was never the intention behind the clause, but by including this amendment I hope to put the point beyond doubt.
On Amendment 35, the Government are committed to understanding what drives successful outcomes for vulnerable children. It is critically important that we collect data from local authorities and others to steer evidence-based and effective policy-making. The Government have already placed a duty on local authorities under Section 83 of the Children Act 1989 to provide information to the Secretary of State on their performance on a wide range of children’s social care functions, including on vulnerable children and care leavers. The Department for Education already publishes annual reports on the outcomes for vulnerable children, including their educational attainment and levels of absence and exclusion from schooling. For looked-after children, we also collect information from local authorities on offending, substance misuse, healthcare, and emotional and behavioural health. For care leavers, we publish information on their accommodation—
I welcome the information that the Minister has given us about the Children Act. However, can he say whether any of the headings listed in Amendment 35 appear in that legislation and whether any of them are reported on as things stand under that legislation?
I will check that and come back to the noble Lord, either today or in writing.
For care leavers, we publish information on their accommodation and its suitability, as well as information on their participation in the labour market. Statistics are published annually.
As with national data, it is essential that local authorities collect the data they need at a local level to offer bespoke services to their communities. We know that many local authorities are making great progress on their data analysis capabilities. Noble Lords may be interested in looking at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services report, Pillars & Foundations: Next Practice in Children’s Services. The Department for Education is exploring ways of improving data collection on the experiences and outcomes for vulnerable children. Last year, for the very first time, we published factors identified by social workers in assessments of children, including parental and child risk factors. This helps us to understand the risk factors that are likely to lead to social work intervention with families.
I recognise that there is more we can do to make better use of data. Putting Children First, published in July, sets out the programme of work we are following to improve our data. We want to ensure that our data collections are focused on the most useful information without placing unnecessary burdens on local authorities. We are working with local government and with Ofsted to align different data requests and avoid duplication.
We also recognise that data collected by other departments or agencies offer the potential to gain a fuller understanding of the outcomes achieved by vulnerable young people. We plan to identify opportunities across government to align and analyse different data collections to understand trends and to target resources effectively. We are already working with HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice. The Department for Education will soon run its first children’s services omnibus survey, which will include questions on children’s social care to gather information from senior leaders and managers in local authorities. This biannual survey will run initially for two years, enabling us to collect data to track changes. We expect the first results to be available in early 2017.
On the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I will write to him on that matter. I will also write to the noble Lord, Lord Watson, on the point that he raised.
I hope that the noble Lords, having heard that I am tabling a government amendment around profit-making and of the existing legal requirements and planned activity to report on outcomes for vulnerable children, will withdraw or not press their amendments.
I thank the Minister and look forward to receiving his letter. I note what he says about further legislation on profit-making not being necessary. As I have moved the amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I should just say that he asked whether the Minister would meet with him in advance of Third Reading. As the Minister is nodding, I take it that he accepts, so that is welcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, mentioned the LaingBuisson report. The Minister may recall that I recently asked a Written Question on when the report was going to be published, and his response was something like “in due course”. It would be helpful if we could have it published before we return for day 2 of Report, which is nearly a month away. That would perhaps give us the ability to have a fuller debate. I think it is there; it just has not been published. If the Minister could push that along, that would be helpful.
I note what the Minister says about collecting data and that leading to evidence-based policy, which is something that I very much agree with. In terms of the information collected already, he seemed to suggest that the means were already there for the information mentioned in the amendment to be collected. When his letter is received, I will see whether that is the case. At the moment, there is still concern. Given the changes in this Act, and moving forward not least after today on mental health, we would like to see something measured as a benchmark against which we can measure progress. I am also interested to hear about the children’s services omnibus survey, and I think that will be widely welcomed. I look forward to the outcomes of that in a year’s time. On the basis of the Minister’s responses, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 33 withdrawn.
Amendments 34 and 35 not moved.
Clause 12: Functions of the Panel
36: Clause 12, page 11, line 10, leave out “arrangements” and insert “regulations”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 36, 39, 42, 45 and 48. Amendments 36, 39 and 42 relate to Clause 12, regarding the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee noted that the Bill sets out the functions of the new panel through a combination of provisions in the Bill and arrangements. The committee’s view was that the proposed use of such arrangements constitutes the delegation of a legislative power. As I noted in Committee, I agreed with the committee’s arguments, and these amendments reflect its recommendation that the arrangements should instead be set out in regulations, which are subject to affirmative parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that noble Lords will welcome these amendments, which provide for robust parliamentary scrutiny.
Amendments 45 and 48 amend the regulation-making powers referenced in Clauses 15 and 17. In setting up their local safeguarding arrangements, safeguarding partners are required to consider which agencies they may need to work with and how they organise themselves most effectively to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The regulation-making power in Section 16E(3) of Clause 15 provides for the Secretary of State to specify the relevant agencies that exercise functions in relation to the welfare of children and with whom the safeguarding partners need to consider working.
The Government have considered the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report and recommendations. The report recommended that the relevant agencies should be named in the Children and Social Work Bill, rather than in regulations brought forward by the Secretary of State. Our view is that the relevant agencies should not be listed in the Bill. In order to allow for arrangements to be fully tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of each local area, we need safeguarding partners to know that they have flexibility and discretion. Specifying relevant agencies in primary legislation would not adequately signal this.
However, we are bringing forward Amendment 45 to provide that the regulations made by the Secretary of State that specify the relevant agencies will be subject to the affirmative procedure. The draft regulations will therefore be considered in both Houses of Parliament, which I hope noble Lords will welcome. Furthermore, as promised to the DPRRC, an indicative list of relevant agencies has been provided to noble Lords, on which I would very much welcome noble Lords’ comments.
Section 16G(6) inserted by Clause 17 sets out that regulations can provide for enforcement of the duty imposed in Section 16G(4) by the Secretary of State. This would occur only where the Secretary of State considers there to be no other appropriate means of enforcing that duty.
Amendment 48 states that the regulation-making powers of the Secretary of State introduced by Section 16G(6) to enable the enforcement of the duties imposed by Section 16G(4), cannot “create criminal offences”. Again, this was set out in response to the DPRRC. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome these amendments and support them. I agree with the Minister about his Amendment 45: that is a better way to do it. It gives a certain amount of flexibility, which is clearly required because no one today can specify which organisations in 10 years’ time are likely to be involved. Affirmative regulations give us some safeguards.
Amendment 36 agreed.
37: Clause 12, page 11, leave out lines 15 to 17 and insert—
“( ) The purpose of a review under subsection (1)(b) is to identify any improvements that should be made by safeguarding partners or others to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 37, 38, 41, 46 and 47.
These relatively minor refinements, through Amendments 38 and 47, to the terminology used provide greater specificity and focus to the clauses. The Government believe that this will more precisely clarify the overall purpose of the new local and national reviews. Clauses 12 and 20 refine and strengthen the description of the purpose of local and national reviews, to be conducted by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel and the safeguarding partners respectively. Amendments 38 and 47 provide more specific detail around what should be published following those reviews, where it might be inappropriate to publish the full review. The amended wording states that the purpose of a review should be to identify,
“improvements that should be made”,
“to ascertain what lessons … can be learned”.
Amendment 37 relates to the national child safeguarding practice reviews, and requires the identification of improvements that the safeguarding partners should make to improve safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, following the review. Amendment 46 relates to the local child safeguarding practice reviews, and requires the identification of improvements that persons in the local area should make to improve safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, following the review.
We have listened to noble Lords’ comments in Committee, and heard consistently that reviews of incidents of serious harm to, or death of, children should focus on what can be done to reduce the chances that such incidents will be repeated. We therefore feel that it is necessary to step away from the broad language of “lessons learned”, which all too often has focused on what went wrong and who is to blame, rather than focusing on why things went wrong, and what can be improved to reduce these incidents in the future. Amendments 38 and 47 are linked to this.
In the unlikely event that it is deemed not to be appropriate to publish the full child safeguarding practice review following an incident, Clauses 12 and 16 require the panel and safeguarding partners for national and local reviews respectively to publish certain information about the case. Amendments 38 and 47 specify that the information published, in the absence of the full report, should relate to the,
“improvements that should be made”,
rather than the “lessons to be learned”.
Amendment 41 adds to new Section 16B(9), inserted by Clause 12, a definition of who the safeguarding partners are. This is necessary as Amendment 37 introduces the safeguarding partners into new Section 16B(2). I beg to move.
My Lords, I think we should welcome this and thank the Minister for listening to what was said in Committee. I take it that in setting out an improvement agenda, which is to be welcomed, the Government will, of course, draw on lessons that will have been learned from cases that have gone wrong. As I understand it, these should be used in a non-punitive way, as much more a learning experience.
Amendment 37 agreed.
Amendments 38 and 39
38: Clause 12, page 11, line 29, leave out “lessons to be learned from the case” and insert “improvements that should be made following the review”
39: Clause 12, page 11, line 31, leave out “The arrangements under subsection (1) may include arrangements” and insert “Regulations under this section may include provision”
Amendments 38 and 39 agreed.
40: Clause 12, page 12, line 10, at end insert—
“(c) handling the implications for a local authority’s discharge of their safeguarding responsibilities in respect of any judicial decision-making in a particular review.”
My Lords, we now turn, slightly later at night than I would have liked, to Amendment 40 in my name, which seeks to encourage the Secretary of State to cover in guidance what happens when the actions of a court have implications for the way that a local authority discharges its safeguarding responsibilities but these cannot be considered by the new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.
I have framed this amendment in the way I have because of my considerable concerns about what happened in the tragic case of Ellie Butler, who was placed by the court with her father, who brutally murdered her some months later. We went over that ground in Committee and I am grateful to the Minister for the letter he wrote to me on 9 September—I think he copied it to other Members who spoke in those Committee debates. However, that letter raises more questions than it answers.
Leaving aside the devastating consequences of the judge’s error of judgment—for which, incidentally, I would say a social worker would have been publicly crucified—the case raised some serious systems issues that the new review panel apparently cannot explore, because the Government are ruling that it would be unconstitutional for the panel to review the conduct of a judge. Yet the Minister’s letter makes it clear that the guidance in Working Together, published in 2015, does not specify that the judiciary is exempt from the serious case review process. We have here a conflict between what the Government’s guidance says and what the Minister is saying during the passage of the Bill.
This ruling by the Ministry of Justice that it is unconstitutional seems to mean that no learning can take place from erroneous behaviour by the courts. This is particularly important in this case, because of the judge’s rulings in relation to the local authority, which I think has also been discussed between the London Borough of Sutton, the MoJ and the Minister’s department. The judge’s ruling in relation to Ellie Butler meant that the London Borough of Sutton, which had been responsible, with some success, for protecting Ellie became debarred from exercising the safeguarding responsibilities conferred on it by Parliament. Sutton had been exercising its statutory duty to safeguard children in the borough—a duty, as I say, conferred on it by Parliament.
However, the judge appointed two private independent social workers to review the local authority’s decision-making. These seem to have advised that it was safe to place Ellie with her parents, a diametrically opposed view from that of the local authority which had been safeguarding this child. These social workers, commissioned by the court, appear to have had no background experience of Ellie’s situation and to have been a small partnership without the back-up resources and supervision, including legal resources, of a local authority. My understanding—the Minister may want to confirm or deny this—is that entities such as those independent social workers are unregulated. They will be on the register as a social worker but we know no more about them. They are on a panel list but there is no regulation, as I understand it, of partnerships of independent social workers. I would be grateful if the Minister and his department can tell me whether that is correct.
It gets worse, because the judge also seems to have ruled that the local authority should desist from contact with the family, thereby effectively debarring it from discharging its obligations to safeguard Ellie—or, indeed, the other child who, as I understand it, was in that household. Again, I understand that the various agencies were also told to remove information about the father from their records. This is all in the public arena. I am not making this up; it is what happened in this particular case. Sadly, history suggests that there may well be other Ellie Butler cases of some kind, which is why the Government are setting up a very important Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel at the national level.
If the Government are to set up a new and more powerful national child safeguarding review panel, which I and I think other Members of this House totally support, it seems somewhat bizarre to prevent it exploring behaviour in the courts that could put vulnerable children at serious risk. For example, how are the courts to learn the errors of their ways and be provided with guidance and training? Perhaps as worrying is the clear lesson from this case that a court can apparently set aside a statutory duty placed on local authorities by Parliament to safeguard children in their area. To say the least, this is a very confusing situation in which to place local authorities and their hard-working social workers.
I know that there is supposed to be, or may have been, a meeting between the London Borough of Sutton and the President of the Family Division, but I am most intrigued about what the Family Division will do regarding this case. Will it give guidance to judges? Will it affect the training of judges in cases of this kind? Who knows? What we now have is a cloak of silence over what happens in the courts when something goes badly wrong.
My belief is that the Government should at the very least accept an amendment of the kind that I have produced. It would require the Secretary of State to make it clear in guidance what actually happens if the courts are to be excluded from the work of the new safeguarding review panel. How are social services departments to behave and learn from that experience? What relationship will there be with the Ministry of Justice and the courts for learning from mistakes, which will from time to time inevitably be made in the courts? Judges are human beings and not perfect. From time to time, they make mistakes. At the least, we have to make it clear in the guidance that goes out to local authorities about this new panel how they should deal with a situation of the kind that arose in this case. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for raising this issue. It looked a fairly innocuous amendment when I read it in the Marshalled List but out has come a really powerful case, based on an actual case that went before the courts, for a change in the Government’s legislation. So far as I can tell, there have been no answers as a result of that appalling tragedy, which was partly brought about by the judgment of the courts. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, is challenging the Government to be as responsive to errors in the courts as they are to errors in social services safeguarding practices. There is a case to be answered and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, clearly there are huge constitutional issues around the independence of the judiciary and there would be a very strong view in your Lordships’ House of the need to protect at all costs that independence in the judgments they make. Equally, what we would like from the Minister is some assurance that, in the generality of judicial actions in this area, there is at least some work in relation to lessons to be learned. The change in the wording from “lessons learned” to “improvement” reinforces the case that the impact of judicial decisions must surely be considered as part of a general improvement agenda, without in any way seeking to interfere in the role of the judiciary and, of course, its judicial independence.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for this amendment and for the important issue that he has raised. As noble Lords will recall, in Grand Committee he raised the role of the judiciary in serious cases involving children, with particular reference to the tragic case of Ellie Butler. I have since written to him further on this matter, as he said. Noble Lords will also recall that, in the Butler case, Ellie’s father had his conviction for grievous bodily harm in relation to injuries suffered by Ellie overturned by the Court of Appeal. Later, a finding of fact judgment, which took place as part of care proceedings, was also overturned. That led to the return of Ellie and her sibling to the care of her parents, a process overseen by an independent social work agency under instruction from the court, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has said. Tragically, within a year of being returned to her parents, Ellie was murdered by her father.
No one can fail to have been moved by the circumstances of that case, and it is understandable that queries have been raised about the impact of judicial decisions in particular cases, and the role of the judiciary in the serious case review process more generally. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has mentioned, the judiciary is independent and, for constitutional reasons, it cannot and should not be held to account by the current serious case review process, or, in future, by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. This does not mean that there is no process for responding to decisions made by judges—which may be appealed at the time. Alternatively, if there is concern about a judge’s conduct, a complaint may be made to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office.
I appreciate the noble Lord’s concern—which he has also put in writing to me— about the potential impact of judicial decision-making on the ability of local authorities to discharge their statutory functions. I agree that this may be a matter which reviews carried out on behalf of the panel could highlight. The noble Lord will appreciate that, through this Bill, it will be the role of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel to identify serious child safeguarding cases that raise issues which are complex or of national importance and to supervise the production and publication of reviews. The panel will certainly be concerned to make recommendations, through its reviews, as to what improvements should be made by safeguarding partners or others in respect of the safeguarding and welfare of children. Where such recommendations relate to, or could relate to, judicial practice, the Department for Education will continue to work closely with colleagues from the Ministry of Justice to communicate these recommendations to the judiciary, so that the judiciary can consider what, if any, impact there should be on judicial practice. Judicial practice does, of course, remain a matter for the judiciary itself.
It is not that the panel cannot review and make recommendations; it can. It just cannot direct the judiciary, although we will work with it to make sure that lessons are conveyed. Given the panel’s remit and concerns that have been expressed regarding the need for the panel to be independent of the Government, I do not feel that it would be appropriate to include guidance from the Secretary of State to the panel on this issue. The panel must be free to set its own terms of reference for individual reviews, and I would expect this to include consideration of how a local authority has discharged its safeguarding responsibilities under all circumstances—or if, indeed, it had had difficulty in discharging them for whatever reason. Indeed, this consideration would also apply to all other agencies and could be a significant finding in a review leading to improved practice across the country. However, as each case will be different, general guidance to address what will be a case-by-case consideration is not likely to be beneficial or practicable.
On whether independent social workers are regulated, I assure the noble Lord that all social workers are professionally regulated. In view of this, I hope that he will be reassured about the scope of the panel’s functions, including the need for the panel to be able to treat each situation on a case-by-case basis and make the recommendations it sees fit, and therefore will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I am partially reassured. The Minister mentioned appeals, but they can take a very long time, and there is a very good chance that Ellie would have been dead before an appeal was heard in her case.
There is another constitutional issue, which is that judges should not be able to change the law. In this case, the judge changed the law and inhibited the local authority in discharging its statutory safeguarding duties. I ask the Minister to think a bit more about this and to look at the guidance in Working Together to Safeguard Children because it is not consistent with what he has said today. I beg to leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 40 withdrawn.
Amendments 41 and 42
41: Clause 12, page 12, line 13, at end insert—
““safeguarding partners” means persons who, under section 16E, are safeguarding partners in relation to one or more local authority areas in England (see subsection (3) of that section);”
42: Clause 12, page 12, line 21, at end insert—
“( ) In section 66(3) of that Act (regulations subject to affirmative procedure) after “12B(1)(b)” insert “, 16B,”.”
Amendments 41 and 42 agreed.
Clause 13: Events to be notified to the Panel
43: Clause 13, page 12, leave out lines 25 to 34 and insert—
“(1) Where a local authority in England knows or suspects that a child has been abused or neglected, the local authority must notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel if—(a) the child dies or is seriously harmed in the local authority’s area, or(b) while normally resident in the local authority’s area, the child dies or is seriously harmed outside England.”
My Lords, I shall speak first to Amendments 43 and 44, which concern changes to Clause 13. These changes remove the duty on local authorities to notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel of deaths of children in regulated settings and of looked-after children. Under the original wording of the clause, notifications would have been required irrespective of whether these children had been abused or neglected. I assure noble Lords that this in no way weakens the scope of the panel’s powers. All cases where the local authority knows of or suspects abuse or neglect, including of looked-after children and of children in regulated settings, such as children’s homes and secure institutions, must still be notified to the panel under the general duty to notify cases of death or serious harm. These amendments will mean that cases for which the panel has no specific remit should not be notified.
The addition of a new notification criterion under new Section 16C(1)(b) clarifies that it is the responsibility of the local authority where the child is normally resident to notify when a child dies or is seriously harmed while outside England and when abuse or neglect is known or suspected. This responsibility to notify when the child dies or is seriously harmed while outside England will provide local authorities with clear accountability for notifying such events.
I should stress that “outside England” includes where the incidents occur in the devolved Administrations as well as overseas. I should also stress that local authorities will be obliged to notify only incidents of which they are aware and which they know or suspect meet the criteria. The provision will enable the panel to consider potentially serious events that occur outside England. The amendment also makes clear which local authority is responsible for notifying relevant events that take place within England. By making the local authority in which an incident occurs responsible for the notification, it is more likely that incidents will be notified swiftly.
Amendment 44 is a technical change in response to changes made by Amendment 43. The removal of paragraph (d) of new Section 16C(1) means that the requirement for regulated settings to be given a meaning in regulations is redundant.
I shall speak also to Amendments 49, 50 and 51, concerning child death reviews. Amendment 49 provides further clarification of the scope of the child death review arrangements. It will explicitly enable child death review partners to review the death of a child not normally resident in their local area in order to ensure that improvements can be made, especially in the area where the death occurred. Amendment 50 is a minor technical amendment to allow for the introduction of Amendment 49. Amendment 51 sharpens the terminology of what should be reviewed and analysed by child death review partners by making it clear that they should review the death or deaths relevant to the welfare of children in the area or to public health and safety.
Clarifying the powers of the child death review partners to enable them to review the deaths of children not normally resident in the area will increase the opportunities for improvements in learning with regard to child deaths. For example, if a child normally resident out of the country dies as a result of an accident in a play area in an English local area, it is currently unlikely that the learning from that death will be disseminated to the local area in which the child died. We want to improve the opportunities for local areas to identify what more can be done to reduce the risks of any child dying, whether or not they are normally resident in the relevant local area. These amendments will clarify the responsibilities of child death review partners to do this where they consider it appropriate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this group of amendments and I will be brief. As we stated in Committee, we broadly welcome the section on the child death reviews, and now these amendments that address the outstanding issues and concerns that were raised. In particular, we note the Government’s response in Amendments 43 and 44 to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s concerns in its first report on the Bill that the Bill should contain a definition of the regulated settings in which a child death would trigger a notification to the safeguarding practice review panel. The committee rightly underlined that the definition of regulated settings would be fundamental in determining the scope of a local authority’s duty to provide information about cases to the panel.
The Minister, in his response letter of 11 October to the committee, and now in Amendment 43, has, in our view rightly, come to the conclusion that a broader definition under Clause 13 of notification by local authorities to the panel of a child’s death or of serious harm should also apply to looked-after children and children in any other regulated setting. Amendment 44 therefore removes the reference to regulated settings from the Bill, and we welcome this.
Amendment 49 enables child death review partners to review child deaths taking place in an area where children are not normally resident. We welcome this, too, in addition to the related powers that they will have to seek and analyse information related to such cases. The Wood review into the role and functions of local safeguarding children’s boards and children’s deaths overview panels highlighted the substantial problems in gathering and analysing data on child deaths. This proposal, combined with the general obligations that will be imposed with regard to gathering, providing and reporting will, I hope, begin to address this important issue.
Amendment 43 agreed.
44: Clause 13, page 12, leave out lines 39 and 40
Amendment 44 agreed.
Clause 15: Local arrangements for safeguarding and promoting welfare of children
45: Clause 15, page 14, line 10, at end insert—
“( ) In section 66(3) of that Act (regulations subject to affirmative procedure) after “16B,” (inserted by section 12) insert “16E(3)”.”
Amendment 45 agreed.
Clause 16: Local child safeguarding practice reviews
Amendments 46 and 47
46: Clause 16, page 14, leave out lines 21 to 24 and insert—
“( ) The purpose of a review under subsection (1)(b) is to identify any improvements that should be made by persons in the area to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.”
47: Clause 16, page 14, line 37, leave out “lessons to be learned from the case” and insert “improvements that should be made following the review”
Amendments 46 and 47 agreed.
Clause 17: Further provision about arrangements
48: Clause 17, page 15, line 25, at end insert “(but the regulations may not create criminal offences)”
Amendment 48 agreed.
Clause 23: Child death reviews
Amendments 49 to 51
49: Clause 23, page 18, leave out line 11 and insert—
“(1A) The child death review partners may also, if they consider it appropriate, make arrangements for the review of a death in their area of a child not normally resident there.(1B) The child death review partners must make arrangements for the analysis of information about deaths reviewed under this section.”
50: Clause 23, page 18, line 12, leave out “subsection (1)” and insert “this section”
51: Clause 23, page 18, line 13, leave out “death, or the deaths generally,” and insert “death or deaths”
Amendments 49 to 51 agreed.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
House adjourned at 9.29 pm.