Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Seear: My Lords, we also welcome these new regulations on the care of children. It is, I believe, the case that in Northern Ireland there is a higher proportion of children living in poverty or suffering from disabilities than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Therefore provision of this kind is especially

23 Feb 1995 : Column 1292

necessary and in many ways—perhaps to some extent we can understand this—it is overdue. But nonetheless it is extremely necessary. We welcome the fact that provision is now being made.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I, too, think that this is a big subject which cannot perhaps be suitably dealt with in a discussion on a regulation. I believe that many of us would like the opportunity to discuss it more fully on some other occasion. I see the noble Baroness nodding her head. I am sure she will be willing to give us that opportunity. There are several questions that I wish to raise with her.

In the account that she gave us of the plans it was plain that considerable emphasis was being put on the provision of residential care and on the standards to be provided in residential care. But I understand that there is within the overall schemes provision for family support—the attempt to build up care for children in their families by giving assistance to the family. I would not claim to be at all expert on this subject, but as I understand it most people would agree that if the child can be supported within its own family that is much to be preferred to support given in any kind of institution. However, where there is considerable poverty, where there is disability and where there has been turmoil, distress and the psychological disturbance which is inevitable in many families in Northern Ireland, it will not be easy to do that. The kind of support that families will need will inevitably be extensive and expensive.

Those who have talked to us about the hoped-for developments in Northern Ireland for family support have raised the whole question of funding. We all know that giving care inside the family is not cheap if it is done properly. It involves, for example, the provision—and the noble Baroness referred to this—of day care services. It requires a great deal of support and the provision of services to enable the families we are talking about who live with the degree of deprivation we are talking about, to cope and to be able to give the proper upbringing and support and care to those children who are so greatly in need of it. As we understand it, a considerable amount of money will be needed. Over a period of five years as much as an additional £45 million a year will be needed if the schemes are to be properly run.

I also wish to ask the noble Baroness how these schemes are to be controlled. What kind of plan is there for the development of a strategy to ensure that these new schemes are put into operation properly and are monitored so that we know that the desired results are being obtained? As the noble Baroness knows so much better than I—and I dare say other people in your Lordships' House—in Northern Ireland a remarkable amount of work has been done by voluntary organisations. Their contribution to the work that has gone on in Northern Ireland has been quite outstanding and very extensive. Will the noble Baroness assure us that in the planning and development of care for children and the implementation of all the schemes that they have in mind, the voluntary organisations will not merely be consulted but will be given an opportunity to take an active part in the development of those schemes? However good they may be officials cannot have the day-to-day intimate knowledge of what is involved in

23 Feb 1995 : Column 1293

dealing with problems of this kind. The knowledge and experience of people who have long worked in these voluntary organisations surely needs to be used at the time of formulating policy and in the follow-up of the implementation of that policy, not just in a consultative capacity. They should be given the opportunity to take an active part in the formulation of the plans, the monitoring of the plans and the revision of the plans.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister for presenting this order to the House today. It gives me particular pleasure to speak in this debate. Although I am half a Scot, half English and not Irish, nevertheless I have been delighted to be invited to the Province of Northern Ireland on four different occasions. I have met social workers in the Province and members of the voluntary organisations. I pay tribute to the work which they have done throughout these difficult years and to the high standard of that work.

I was interested to hear my noble friend the Minister say, first, that the welfare of the child is paramount and, secondly, that children are the responsibility first of parents. We must never forget that. The English Children Act 1989 lays down that all those responsible for the well-being of children should co-operate and work alongside one another. I wish to pay tribute to the Children Act 1989, remembering that when that Act was being thought about everyone in the country was consulted by the Department of Health. Meetings were called with social workers, probation officers, magistrates, doctors, lawyers and judges. That Act was well thought out and deep consultation took place at all levels so that when the Act was brought before your Lordships' House by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I dare to suggest that it went through easily without much acrimonious discussion, or rather disagreement, because there is rarely much acrimonious discussion in your Lordships' House as we are so polite.

I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in her place because when the regulations and guidance for the Education Bill were issued, she and her civil servants consulted widely with the people involved in dealing with all handicapped children. I welcome the fact that she paid tribute to those people working in the field who helped to produce those regulations.

I should like to ask the Minister whether the position will be the same in Northern Ireland under the order. Will there be close contact between civil servants and others who are interested in the order? I had the privilege of meeting senior civil servants, as well as social workers, voluntary organisations, members of the Bar and judges. The success of the order will depend on their close co-operation.

Can my noble friend say whether senior civil servants will hold discussions and co-operate with social workers, voluntary organisations, lawyers and judges in formulating the regulations and guidance? I am given to understand that the guidelines produced for England are being looked at in the Province.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, touched on the question of resources. I say with the utmost diffidence that there

23 Feb 1995 : Column 1294

have been difficulties in England and Wales with the implementation of the 1989 Act due to lack of resources. I know that everyone is talking about lack of resources in every area in this country at present, and I admit that we have to cut back on public expenditure. However, I contend that if, as Lord Williams of Mostyn said, there are insufficient resources to implement the order as it should be implemented, we shall cause more trouble and lower expectations. In the end, having the right resources will be cost effective in this area. That should be recognised. Therefore, I plead with the Minister to look at the whole question of resources very carefully.

I am given to understand that estimates have been produced by civil servants and also by social workers and the voluntary organisations. I underline what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said. The voluntary organisations play an important part, and they are having great difficulty in raising money—as we all are. They have particular difficulties and I hope that their financial situation will be taken into account.

On the subject of monitoring and the annual report, can my noble friend the Minister say who will be responsible for producing the annual report? Will it be brought before this House? Will it be a public report? Will it be considered only in Northern Ireland, or will it be brought before the House?

Training is very important. I do not understand fully the question of the financial help that will be provided for the training of social workers in the Province. However, that is a matter which also has to be taken into account. We on this side of the water wish this order well. We believe that children, parents and particularly families in Northern Ireland require and deserve the best service that we can give them. I support the order.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, I apologise for not having been present when the noble Baroness presented the order. I was otherwise detained.

I rise for only a few minutes to support fully the plea which has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, for the provision of adequate resources to implement the order.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, as I entered the Chamber, that perhaps this House—and indeed the House at the other end of the building—is not the best centre to debate an order such as this. This order replaces the 1968 order. I recall vividly when that order was debated in the Northern Ireland Parliament. I suggest that the Northern Ireland Parliament, as it was then constructed, with Members who represented local communities and were close to the ground and aware of the needs of the Northern Ireland community, was far more in touch with the needs which gave rise to the 1968 order.

Everyone will recognise that over the past 25 years children and young people in Northern Ireland have been sadly affected by all forms of terrorism. There cannot be a higher priority for this House, or anywhere else, than to provide for the welfare of children in Northern Ireland. We all hope that the document which

23 Feb 1995 : Column 1295

was produced yesterday and the signs of peace that are emerging in Northern Ireland will produce a peace dividend and that money will not have to be spent on the security forces and on barriers on roads. If surplus money is retrieved as a result of non-provision for those aspects of security, it could not be better spent than on the provision of welfare services for young people in Northern Ireland.

I hope that in the implementation of the order the Government will pay due regard to how children in Northern Ireland have suffered over the past 25 years, and take whatever steps are necessary to make certain that those children who will be the beneficiaries of the order will not have to suffer in the same way as young people have suffered in the past.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page