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Mr. Wakeham : I do not accept for a moment the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question. Therefore his request for a debate is likely to fall on rather deaf ears. However, I recognise that he raises important issues. I wish I could arrange a time for a debate but I regret that I cannot at present.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on local government in London? Is he aware that domestic rates have increased by more than 60 per cent. in Haringey and by more than 30 per cent. in Ealing and Brent compared with increases in Conservative-controlled authorities of 7.7 per cent.? Does that not demonstrate that only Conservative councils give value for money and provide decent services?
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : In view of the Recruit affair in Japan, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Takeshita, should we not examine our own organisation of recurring financial interests, have a debate on the Register of Members' Interests and consider tightening up the rules, so that, for example, people have to declare an interest at Question Time and the amount of money that lobbyists pay, mostly to Conservative Members, is also declared and that the practice whereby Members of Parliament put down many written questions at a cost of up to £200 each and get subsidised information from the taxpayer is brought to a halt? As the Leader of the House will agree, it is not fair that private organisations should be subsidised by the taxpayer through paying Members of Parliament.
Mr. Wakeham : Certainly some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised are a clear abuse of our procedures. It is a matter for the Select Committee that is charged with examining these matters to make any recommendations, which the House will then consider.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling) : Will my right hon. Friend find a time for a major debate on local government finance so that we can underline the strengthening case for the introduction of the community charge, particularly in Nottinghamshire, and draw the attention of a wider public
Column 1103to the dramatic and appalling consequences were the Labour party to introduce its new two-tax system for local government, which would adversely affect ordinary folk on average incomes in my constituency?
Mr. Wakeham : I hear what my hon. Friend says and I recognise the strength of his argument. Unfortunately, I have yet to see the precise details of any alternative form of local government finance that the Opposition may propose. Therefore I cannot comment on the specific point he raised. However, the Government are convinced that the community charge is the fairest means of raising a contribution from local residents for the provision of local services.
Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle) : Is the Leader of the House aware that many hon. Members would like to have a look in the Chamber at the Government's proposals for selling Girobank at the knock-down price of £130 million to the Alliance and Leicester building society? When the final details of the sale have been hammered out, will he arrange for a statement to be made in the House and not leave details in the announcement to be slipped out in the form of a written answer to an unheard of Conservative Member, as happened last week? Is he aware that there is great concern about the 6,000 jobs at Girobank in Bootle and is he aware that no assurances have been given by the Government that the sale will safeguard those jobs? Surely such a major privatisation proposal, which is a failure because the bank has been sold at a knock-down price and the taxpayers are suffering, should be the subject of a statement in the House so that we can question the Minister concerned, especially as legislation was not required for the privatisation?
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has a constituency interest in the matter, so it behoves him not to put his question in an explosive and extreme fashion that would cause unnecessary fear. I recognise his concern, but I do not accept his premise that the business is being sold at a knock-down price. I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and see what can be done.
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : With regard to the timetable motion proposed for the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill next Wednesday, may I urge my hon. Friend not to be over-generous with the time necessary because, as those of us who have served in Committee thus far have seen, the Labour party does not want to debate the real issues? Is my right hon. Friend aware that just an hour ago I did a radio interview for BBC Scotland and the Labour party refused to debate with me on that programme? It is clear that my right hon. Friend does not need to be over-generous. Clearly, the Labour party does not want to debate the Bill in the House, in Committee or even through the media.
Mr. Wakeham : In my timetable motion I am seeking to provide adequate time for proper consideration of the outstanding parts of the Bill. I expect that Opposition Members will criticise the motion for not giving enough time and if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he may be able to make his point in the debate.
Column 1104disrupt education in Scotland not proof positive that such legislation should be considered in a directly elected Scottish Parliament, unencumbered by hon. Members from Gainsborough and Horncastle, Brigg and Cleethorpes or anywhere else south of the border? Will the Leader of the House let us into a secret? Was the guillotine proposal discussed in Committee Room 11 late on Tuesday night when Tory members of the Committee--English and otherwise--were apparently joined by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) over a bottle of champagne? Were such discussions--
Mr. Wakeham : It is hardly likely that I can give a report of a meeting at which champagne was drunk when I did not know about the champagne. I am less than likely to know what happened at the meeting. All I can say is that this is a unitary Parliament and Conservative Members did not complain when the Labour Government used their Scottish majority to timetable the 1976 Education Bill, which severely damaged education in England and Wales. I see no reason why Scottish Members should complain that we are using our English majority to improve Scottish education for the Scottish people.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Is my hon. Friend aware that some of us who served in Committee are teetotal and that, therefore, if champagne was going around, we were unable to participate? However, is my right hon. Friend aware that the reason why we were debating late at night was that the Labour party was so badly organised that it did not know how to handle matters when the Government said that they accepted Opposition amendments in principle, but believed that they were flawed and would have to be brought back on Report in a manner that was more acceptable? In addition, the Government accepted amendments, yet Opposition Members kept the Committee sitting for hours discussing matters that could have been dealt with quickly. We were, therefore, unable to get on with matters that should have been dealt with. That is why the guillotine is necessary.
Mr. Wakeham : No one has greater admiration for my hon. Friend than I do but I sometimes find that he is not the most unbiased observer of the scene in Committee. However, I have heard what he says and I look forward to the debate next week.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate before the Madrid summit on proposals currently before the European Community? If the proposals really do represent such an important new initiative and a departure for the Community, and if their constitutional implications are so considerable--both of which propositions are true--surely hon. Members of all shades of opinion should have an opportunity to express their views.
Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend raises an important matter. I cannot promise him in specific terms the debate for which he has asked but we shall seek an opportunity of discussing those important matters when we have the time.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : May I give an unreserved and genuine welcome to the fact that the Prime Minister held a seminar on global climatology yesterday? Possibly next week may we have an answer to the question that was put by the chiefs of the Kayaipo people who were in the Gallery earlier this afternoon, Megaron and Pai-ikani, who were seen by you, Mr. Speaker, and who are serious men whose forests--
Mr. Dalyell : Will the Leader of the House tell me what the Government are going to do as a result of the seminar and other discussions about the rain forests? Will the Leader of the House persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer-- [Interruption.] This is a very important subject. Will the right hon. Gentleman persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell Parliament what instructions are being given to the British director of the World Bank on these delicate and sensitive issues? Mr. Wakeham : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the seminar held by by right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Downing street yesterday. It enabled her and other Ministers to hear at first hand the opinions and advice of some of the foremost experts on climate change. Although there are many uncertainties about climate change, and especially about its effects on particular regions and countries, there was a consensus that measures such as the use of non-fossil fuels as an energy source, more efficient use of energy, better forestry practice and the phasing out of CFCs all have roles to play in ensuring the success of international measures. It was a successful seminar.
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : My right hon. Friend will have heard earlier that one of our honourable colleagues was protesting about the length of time that it has taken to hold debates on the European Parliament and I have to agree, but only to the extent that, to my knowledge, we have never discussed in this House two other important European institutions, the Council of Europe and Western European Union. May I remind my right hon. Friend that it is the 40th anniversary of the Council of Europe in May and that Finland is joining the council of Europe in May, which will then comprise 23 countries and be almost twice the size of the European Parliament? In addition, Western European Union has recently been joined by two other countries, Spain and Portugal, making nine countries in all and making it very much a part of the burden-sharing for NATO defences, yet to my knowledge there has never been any time set aside, either by the Opposition, who should be interested in this, or by the Government to discuss some of its important documents, especially that on transfrontier television satellite broadcasting which, as my right hon. Friend knows, our Government picked up in its entirety. Will my right hon. Friend give a little time to those two important institutions?
Column 1106tribute to my hon. Friend and others who have served on those important institutions. As I am having enough difficulty in finding time for foreign affairs debates and for debates on European matters, I cannot be too optimistic about a special debate on the subject that my hon. Friend has raised. However, as several of the subjects that those bodies have considered come up under other guises, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to contribute to those debates.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : Does my right hon. Friend think that it might be helpful to arrange a debate on industrial relations bearing in mind the likelihood of a dock strike? Would this be a suitable opportunity to find out what Labour's policy really is? Some of us cannot quite believe that it can be that enunciated by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who said that it would enthusiastically support such a strike.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Can I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 767, which calls for a debate next week on the very urgent matter of the proposed strike by London Underground from 8 May bearing in mind the serious inconvenience to Londoners that this will cause, as well as the great damage to London's economy that will ensue?
[That this House strongly deplores the proposed all out strike of London Underground staff from 8th May with the severe inconvenience and suffering it will cause for the London public and the economy of London ; and urges all concerned to think again and to continue to try to resolve their problems round the negotiating table, remembering that no problem is too large to be insoluble by responsible and fair negotiations.]
Will he give the House an opportunity to discuss all aspects of the whole problem of London Underground manning and services, but particularly this most unwanted strike over a matter which could, I am sure, be solved with good will on both sides?
Mr. Wakeham : I agree with my hon. Friend. I certainly welcome his motion and regret that the Underground station staff have decided to pursue their grievances through industrial action rather than negotiations. The resolution of this dispute is, of course, a matter for the board and management of London Underground Ltd. I regret that I do not see myself being able to find time for a debate in the immediate future but I very much hope that negotiations will be resumed and the matter resolved.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the announcement which he has made today about the guillotine motion in respect of the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill will have come as the greatest relief to the Scottish Labour party, whose members have been knocked all about the ring by my hon. Friend the Minister in the Standing Committee and whose incompetence and lack of convincing argument have been daily increasingly exposed to the Scottish people? If any evidence of this were necessary, at the moment there is not a single Labour member of that Committee in the Chamber.
Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich) : As another member of the Committee on the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill, may I assure my right hon. Friend that the hours were long and the allocations of champagne that have been referred to extremely modest? In fact, his timetable motion is a kindness to members of the Labour party in Scotland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) rightly says, they are simply not present in the Chamber at the moment. It would be a kindness to them to get them out of the confusion and chaos into which they have sunk.
Column 1108for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) merely illustrates the desperate straits to which the Labour party has reduced the Committee? Will he take up the suggestion by his hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) regarding consultation with the minority parties? Will he consult with the Committee of Selection about discharging the Labour party members for their incompetence and let the rest of us have a sensible discussion on these matters?
1. Security Service Act 1989.
2. British Railways Act 1989.
Column 1109Points of Order
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, arising out of Question Time. No doubt you too were depressed by the Scottish wrangle during Business Questions. May I lift your spirits by asking again whether you have any further guidance after the slight confusion at Question Time on Tuesday and also today, when maybe other hon. Members were, like myself, further bemused when you selected a questioner who was not rising to his feet to put a question? On the assumption that you are not now in the process of developing new metaphysical forms of questioner selection--and I appreciate the difficulties in the Chair--can I ask your guidance as to our reversion to normal practices?
Mr. Speaker : I made a mistake on Tuesday. We were proceeding rather rapidly. There was a good deal of confusion, and I called an hon. Member out of sequence. It is difficult when dozens of hon. Members are rising. A list is kept of hon. Members who are rising. The hon. Member whom I called today was rising, but he did not get to his feet as rapidly as I had expected.
Mr. Michael Colvin
Mr. John Butterfill
That the proposals described in the unnumbered explanatory memoranda submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry on 15th and 27th October 1987 and 25th November 1987 on negotiations between the European Community and Japan under GATT Article XXIV.6, on 15th October 1987 on such negotiations with Argentina and on 21st March 1989 on such negotiations with Canada be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
Ordered, That the draft Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Preservatives in Food (Scotland) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 581) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. -- [Mr. Dorrell.]
Children Bill [Lords]
Order for Second Reading read.
[Relevant documents : Second Report from the Social Services Committee of Session 1983-84 on Children in Care (HC 360-I), Government Response thereto (Cmnd. 9298) and Second Report from the Social Services Committee of Session 1988-89 on the Children Bill (HC 178) .]
Mr. Speaker : A large number of hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. I therefore propose to apply a limit of 10 minutes to speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock. I hope that hon. Members who may be called before that time will bear that limit broadly in mind. 4.21 pm
I am particularly pleased to be able to introduce to the House, following its successful passage through the other place, such an important and keenly awaited Bill--a Bill which is the most comprehensive and far- reaching reform of child law to have come before Parliament in living memory. I am delighted that the House is so well filled for this occasion.
It is a Bill motivated by our overriding concern to put in place an effective legislative framework to ensure the welfare of children. At present, children's legislation is confusing, piecemeal, outdated, often unfair and, in important respects, ineffective--most notably when it comes to our ability to protect children at risk. The Social Services Committee's report entitled "Children in Care" in the 1983-84 Session recognised that, and recommended the thoroughgoing review of the body of statute law concerning children which, in turn, led to our 1987 White Paper entitled "The Law on Child Care and Family Services".
This Bill follows directly from that White Paper, but it has been reviewed and revised in the light of Lord Justice Butler-Sloss's report on events in Cleveland and, of course, in the light of other comments that have been made both within and outside the House. It also integrates the private and public law relating to children into a single rationalised system, as recommended by the committee, and it now incorporates the reforms of guardianship and custody recommended by the Law Commission. It also bears upon private and public law. I am glad to have the assistance of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General during the debate, and I hope that that will be to the advantage of the House.
As I hope I made clear, we have high ambitions for this Bill. We hope and believe that it will bring order, integration, relevance and a better balance to the law--a better balance not just between the rights and responsibilities of individuals and agencies, but, most vitally, between the need to protect children and the need to enable parents to challenge intervention in the upbringing of their children. Recent well-publicised cases, including the tragic cases of Kimberley Carlile, Doreen Mason and the events in Cleveland in 1987, have graphically shown the consequences of getting that balance wrong. Of course, of itself, legislation cannot stop
Column 1111such tragedies, but we hope that a clear legal framework will help to make more likely clear-eyed judgments by key people involved in child welfare, whether they are in social services departments, health authorities, the police, education or the courts.
So, as I have said, the Bill is first and foremost an attempt to establish a unified and consistent code of law covering the care and upbringing of children in both the private and public domains. We aim to provide a comprehensive and comprehensible framework of powers and responsibilities that we hope will secure our central goal, which I think would be the central goal of all of us, that children receive the care, upbringing and protection that they deserve.
Two basic principles run through the Bill. First, there is an improved statement of the welfare principle governing court decisions in respect of children ; that is, the child's welfare must be the paramount consideration. All courts in reaching all decisions about the care and upbringing of children must do what is best for the child. Secondly, we are proposing major reforms of the law governing parental responsibility, guardianship and the court's powers to make orders in respect of children in family proceedings. The Bill's emphasis on the primary function of parenthood will, we hope, sharpen our perceptions and highlight the obligation on parents to care for their children and bring them up properly.
The first parts of the Bill deal with new provisions in private law. New orders are introduced to reflect our emphasis on encouraging parents to participate fully in the child's upbringing.
Much of the remainder of the Bill deals with our proposed reform of the public law on children. It follows, as I have already said, the guiding principles set out in our 1987 White Paper. First, parents should be responsible for bringing up their children, but local authorities and other agencies should be ready to help when this reduces the risk of family breakdown. Secondly, such services should be provided in voluntary partnership with parents and in a way that promotes family relationships as fully as possible.
Thirdly, a transfer of the parents' responsibility for caring for a child to a local authority should require a court order following due legal process and the court being satisfied that that is in the interests of the child. Fourthly, in such proceedings parents and children should have full party status and representation. Fifthly, emergency powers to remove a child at serious immediate risk should be of short duration and subject to court review if challenged. Sixthly, where local authorities are caring for a child away from home, their powers and responsibilities, and those of the child's parents in those circumstances, should be clear-cut.
In clarifying and improving child care law in line with these principles, the Bill has a number of key provisions. It rationalises local authorities' responsibilities towards children in need, including disabled children and their families. It proposes fairer court procedures for parents and children, improved rights of access to children in care and clarification of local authorities' responsibilities to children they look after.
A vital part of striking the right balance is the introduction of a new emergency protection order to replace the present place of safety order. This will give those with parental responsibility a right to challenge the order, and power for the court to give directions on access and medical examinations.
Column 1112We also aim to restrict the use of wardship as a means of giving local authorities compulsory powers over a child. In regard to court jurisdiction, the Bill outlines arrangements for child care cases to be heard at the level of court appropriate to the complexity of the case.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : In the opening passages of his speech the Minister has been talking, understandably, in terms of children and parents. He has not made any reference so far to the rights of grandparents. Will he address himself to that aspect?
Mr. Mellor : The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I can satisfy him later when I make it clear that there will be a broader definition of party status in the proceedings than children and their parents. If he will bear with me, I shall come to that point ; I acknowledge that it is significant.
It is a complex Bill. So as not to outstay my welcome and so that as many hon. Members as possible may make a contribution, I hope to provide in a limited period a clear account of the Bill's main aspects. Obviously, in a sensible time scale I shall not be able to cover all the details, which is why I look forward, as does my hon. and learned Friend, to careful consideration of the Bill in Committee.
I need hardly say that I hope and believe that the constructive and non- partisan approach which marked the Bill's passage in the other place will be repeated here. I have great respect for the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), who leads for the Opposition on these issues. I hope that we shall have a happy passage of the Bill, without in any way diminishing the critical scrutiny given to it. I should like to make it clear that we shall be receptive to contributions and we shall not hesitate to make changes if they appear right. The Bill was improved during its passage through the Lords and I dare say that there is room for further improvement here.
From the general reception that the Bill has received, I am encouraged to hope that we have struck something like the right note. Inevitably, a number of outside organisations are still suggesting amendments. We shall come to those in due course. I hope that, when we have finally done our work in the House, we shall have played a part in the passage of a piece of legislation that can be hailed as a landmark of social legislation in this country. That should be our aim, because Parliament will not return to the issue for a long time. The Bill will be an important and significant milestone that may point the way for many years to come.
There is one representation that I know concerns a number of hon. Members ; indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) raised it with me privately this afternoon. I believe that it would assist if I were to say that a number of hon. Members wrote to me following representations from the Church of England Children's Society concerning services for runaways. I am happy to confirm the Lord Chancellor's undertaking that an amendment will be tabled at a later stage to give effect to the proposal in the White Paper that organisations temporarily looking after children who have run away could be specified and then exempted from liability for the offence of harbouring in defined circumstances. I hope that that meets the point. Those who have written will be delighted to know that they have not written in vain. I hope that that shows the kind of spirit in which we shall approach these matters.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that assurance. Of course, a limited number of organisations will fit the bill, and those which are exempted will need specifying carefully. Will my hon. Friend give his assurance of that, too?
Mr. Mellor : That is why I said that we shall want to define the circumstances clearly. I shall look forward to assistance from my colleagues on the Committee in ensuring that we get that right in the amendment.
In the Bill, we have set down in outline a new scheme of concurrent jurisdiction for all children's proceedings. I am afraid, however, that in that respect the Bill still lacks some final details ; indeed, there are one or two other provisions that have been sought that I believe will be welcomed but that we have not as yet been able to add to the Bill. That is partly attributable to the fast pace that we set ourselves following Cleveland and partly to the prolonged indisposition of the senior parliamentary draftsman, who has done such good work on the Bill. I assure the House that we shall bring forward the remaining matters in good time for there to be a full discussion on all of them in Committee and on Report.
Mr. Mellor : This is a reform of the law relating to children, and is not intended to be a reform of the legal structure. The hon. Gentleman will have noted that there are provisions that allow for reallocation of cases from one court to another, which, as he knows as an experienced lawyer, is not possible under the present arrangement. One authority has said that that is the family court in embryo. It is for others to say whether that is a fair description. There are changes to the mechanism from which I believe those who are in favour of family courts could take some comfort.
This is already a bulky Bill. It is a major reform of the substantive law. It is not intended to be a reform of the legal structure. I appreciate that many hon. Members in all parts of the House want to see a change in the legal structure. I do not believe that the Bill gives them any discouragement ; I could say that it gives them some encouragement.
Without more ado, I shall give a brief account of some of the principal aspects of the Bill, which I hope will help the House. Parts I and II deal with the private law, on which my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor- General is the authority. They establish the general welfare principle, to which I have already adverted. The requirement is that the child's welfare should be the paramount consideration. Following on from that, all orders about children should be made only if they contribute positively to the child's welfare.
Clauses 2 and 3 bring up to date and elucidate the nature and incidence of parental responsibility. A parental responsibility order in clause 4 repeats the existing law in enabling a father of an illegitimate child to achieve full parental status and also allows the mother and the father to achieve the same effect by formal agreement without recourse to the courts. That is a helpful change. Clause 5 also makes some significant changes to the law on guardianship.
Column 1114Part II of the Bill introduces four new orders relating to children--the residence order, the contact order, the specific issues order and the prohibited steps order. They replace the present orders for custody, legal custody, care and control and access that are on the statute book. The new orders will seek to concentrate the minds of the parties and of the courts on the concrete issues relating to the day -to-day care of the child. They are designed to encourage parents to continue to participate fully in the child's upbringing, subject only to any particular matter provided for by a court order. We hope that the new orders will be found more approachable and more workable than the present arrangements. We also propose changes in deciding who may apply for orders, which relates to a point that was made earlier. In general, anyone who has parental responsibility for the child may apply for any order as of right. The court, whether prompted or not, may itself make any of the orders in family proceedings if it thinks fit, save where there is a local authority involved.
Clause 10 adopts a general presumption that delay in deciding children's cases prejudices a child's welfare and provides for the courts to draw up timetables and to give directions to ensure that they are kept to. Those of us who have been in the law as well as those who have not--it is not a well -kept secret--know that delay is endemic in our system. The Bill means to ensure that there is no delay in vital matters affecting children. Finally, clause 14 introduces a new order, the family assistance order, allowing a court welfare officer to advise, assist and befriend any member or members of the family taking account of the interests of the child. It replaces the existing family proceedings supervision order. Let us consider the public provision--the public law. If any one issue makes this legislation necessary and urgent, it is the need to ensure that the most vulnerable children are not let down by indecision--that is, a failure to act when the signs of abuse are there, or, of course, by sanctioning over-zealous interference. We want to ensure that, as Lord Justice Butler-Sloss counselled in her report, the child is always treated as a person and not just as an object of concern.
Part III and schedule 2 deal with the powers of local authorities to promote the welfare of children and to help prevent family breakdown. We believe that their provisions will improve and consolidate the present law. I want to stress the emphasis in the provisions on the family, preventive work and voluntary partnership. Local authorities will have a new duty to promote the upbringing of children in need by their families, so far as this is consistent with their welfare duty to the child himself.
Among the services which will be picked out for the first time as having to be provided by local authorities on such a scale as they consider appropriate--we think that it is a matter for them--in order to discharge their general duty to children in need and their families is day care for under-fives. We are considering a proposal from the other place that local authorities should keep under review the provision of such facilities, consulting, of course, the local education authority. We intend to strengthen what is at present a power of local authorities in clause 16 to provide care and supervised activities for older children outside school hours. Part III also clarifies the responsibility of local authorities in relation to the children they are looking after, whether under voluntary arrangements or as a result
Column 1115of compulsory care proceedings. The local authority will have an absolute duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of any child looked after by it, to review his needs at specified intervals, to promote contact between the child and his family and to consult the family on decisions. It will also have to establish a procedure with an independent element for considering complaints. I hope that those are in line with the common-sense views of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
Local authorities will also have enhanced responsibilities for preparing children they are looking after for when they leave care, and for helping them and other children who are accommodated away from home at the age of 16 after they leave that accommodation. We cannot, however, go as far as the Social Services Committee would like by requiring local authorities to provide assistance, including cash help for care leavers, which would duplicate provision under the social security system. That is because of the improvements that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security announced recently in benefit arrangements for 16 and 17- year-olds who are living independently. That matter is being kept under review by the Department of Social Security.
Let me turn, without further ado, to what are perhaps the most vital parts of the Bill--parts IV and V. Part IV makes major reforms in the processes for compulsory intervention in the care and upbringing of children. A court order under the statutory scheme will in future always be required. New grounds for care and supervision orders will focus on significant harm to the child, including the likelihood of such harm, and will apply in family proceedings as well as in care proceedings. Where anticipated harm is the issue, the new grounds will make it unnecessary for local authorities to continue to resort to wardship.
Rules of court will give effect to the White Paper undertaking that any person, including the child, whose legal position could be affected by the proceedings will be entitled to party status. I am happy to tell the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) that this will include those grandparents who wish to retain or take over care of a child. Parents will now be able to obtain full party status without the need for the court to rule that the child and his parents should be separately represented. The present position on legal representation of the child will be maintained, and arrangements will be made to speed the granting of legal aid to parties in care proceedings. We shall also provide for appeal rights, advance disclosure of documents, access to records, and so on, in line with the White Paper.
I hope that this shows that we have responded to points that have been made to us. This is a practical Bill. It is not full of rhetorical flourishes, but is full of the practical experience of those who have appeared in the courts and know the practical difficulties that arise in these cases.
Part IV also makes it clear that the effect of a care order is to give parental responsibility for the child to the local authority looking after him. On parental access to children in care, we are putting right the present legislation by providing that the court can make an order about contact, whether or not contact has been stopped or prevented--at the moment, the only circumstances in which a court may intervene. We think that that is an arbitrary restriction, which should be removed. A further major improvement is that a guardian ad litem will have to be appointed by the court to safeguard the child's interests in all care