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The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I have to confess at the outset that we are bound to reject the amendment moved by the noble Earl. However, perhaps I may try to reassure him. Her Majesty's inspectors of schools are currently developing detailed operational guidelines for their future inspections of the welfare of residential pupils. Welfare provisions at three independent schools in Scotland have recently been inspected in pilot inspections—with satisfactory results, I may add—to test the thoroughness of those guidelines. Further fine-tuning is being made to ensure that from school session 1995-96, Her Majesty's inspectors of schools can start a rolling programme of such welfare inspections in line with the provisions of Clause 34. Those guidelines include references to schools' strategies on child protection to combat bullying and abuse. I can assure the noble Earl that his point is already covered in planning currently under way for those welfare inspections.

Child protection guidelines for independent schools are currently being drawn up by Professor Kathleen Marshall, of Glasgow University, in consultation with a number of interested and expert parties, including Her Majesty's inspectors of schools and the social work services inspectorate, for use by the independent schools in meeting their welfare duty under the clause. Those guidelines will cover, for example, the responsibilities of schools, the appointment and training of staff, the designation of a senior member of staff with special responsibility for co-ordinating child protection within the school, and detailed guidance on action required in specific cases.

Clause 34 as presently worded will provide an effective means of ensuring that appropriate welfare standards are in place in independent schools.

I hope that the noble Earl can derive considerable comfort from what I have said. I should also point out that although he may have received nine letters, I believe that there are 100,000 or so children in private residential schools. So there is a silent majority out there reasonably satisfied with the education their children are receiving.

I was a little surprised that the noble Earl should think that one disenfranchises one's child when one sends him or her to school. In most cases, the parents make a positive choice in sending the child to a particular school. If there is any dissatisfaction, there is very often the option of changing the child's school. I hope that the noble Earl will accept those reassurances.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he say whether he distinguishes between welfare and rights? I ask that question because the debate that has taken place to date during the course of the Bill's passage has established that it is all right for the inspectors to go in and ensure that the welfare of the child is all right, that the rooms are all right, and

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so on, as mentioned by the noble Earl. However, as I understand it, the focus of the amendment is the right of the child within the school system.

Parents who have to go abroad and who cannot perhaps take their children with them often choose to put them into the independent school system. The whole issue which has been debated throughout the various stages of the Bill is not a question of welfare—in other words, it is not a question of welfare or whether the children are well fed and have clean bedsheets, and so on—it is a question of whether the child has reasonable access to a complaints procedure if he is capable of making up his mind on the matter and seeks such access.

The noble Earl referred to the prison system, but you cannot have a protracted procedure of complaint about bullying and such matters that happen in any school. Bullying is not unique to independent schools; indeed, it is something which takes place in every school throughout the land. I wonder whether we have grasped the purpose of what we have been discussing during the passage of the Bill. We are talking about the child who has been in an independent school for whatever reason—because his parents have gone abroad; because they do not fancy having him about the house; or because they want to lead a better social life as they see it and therefore, as they can afford it, have put him into the independent system. I wonder whether we are looking at the real issue involved as regards this particular focus of the Bill. I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, if I have misrepresented him in any way, but that seems to me to be the real issue.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am sure that I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay. The detailed operational guidelines currently being developed by Her Majesty's inspectors of schools and also the child protection guidelines for independent schools being drawn up by Professor Kathleen Marshall, of Glasgow University, cover welfare duties in their widest sense. Therefore, the rights of the child as enshrined in the Bill will be consistently co-ordinated with the detailed investigation of the welfare of the child pursued by those two groups. I can also tell the noble Lord that complaints procedures and their operation will be reviewed in the course of inspections. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel reassured.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, we have had a very good debate about independent schools and their relationship to the future of the Children (Scotland) Bill. I do not believe that we intended to do so when we began, but certain parents made sure that the debate was brought to the Floor of the House. It is important to qualify press reports which suggested that I had received a dossier of correspondence. I do not know how many letters a dossier is supposed to contain, but I have established that I received nine from different sources.

Finally, although bullying happens in every school, one of the different features of a boarding school is that one cannot go home. It is a total institution from which one cannot escape in the way that is possible if one goes home in the evening. I should like to draw that distinction. It is most important that schools should have effective anti-bullying strategies. I am most grateful to

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the noble Earl for detailing how Her Majesty's inspectors will be dealing with independent schools in the future. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 [Short-term refuges for children at risk of harm]:

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 27, line 39, leave out ("seven") and insert ("fourteen").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 11. This is an amendment to Clause 37 which involves the question of a child at his own hands seeking the help of the local authority where he is at risk of harm. As noble Lords will see from Clause 37(1) (a):

    "Where a child appears to a local authority to be at risk of harm, they may at the child's request provide him with refuge",

and so on.

I would hope that the Government might take this amendment on board. It seeks to amend Clause 37(5) to allow a little more time to deal with the problem of a child who seeks help from a local authority. It goes without saying that if any child is in a situation where he has to leave home and seek help from the local authority, there must be something badly wrong either with the child or with the home. The Minister will no doubt be familiar by now with these amendments which relate to the whole concept of the Bill, which is to help children. For example, if a child turns up at a local authority home, the first thing that must be done is to find out who the child is. The child may claim that he is called John Smith or Jimmy Brown but the local authority staff must find out his identity, where he lives, his age and the school that he attends.

The philosophy—if that is the correct word—behind this amendment is to give a local authority time to find out what the problem is. If the relevant period is restricted to the period mentioned in Clause 37(5), the child can be thrown out of a refuge without his problem having been solved, if there is a problem. All that that will achieve will be to create the situation where the child will return to the refuge. I cannot see that it would constitute a great imposition on a local authority to keep a child for 14 or 21 days, as my amendments propose. I am the first person to recognise that keeping children in a refuge may be considered by some people to be an infringement of civil liberties. However, the Government have provided in the Bill that a local authority,

    "may at the child's request provide him with refuge".

It is not a question of a child being apprehended and put into a home, but rather of a child seeking help. If local authorities are to help these children they must have the time to do so. Once a child has been identified under its correct name, one then has to find his mother or father, if the father is on the scene at all, but all that requires time. I am advised by people who are involved in these matters that the experience in England has been that the timescale we are discussing is far too short and that a longer timescale is better suited to the interests of the

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child who is seeking refuge and in terms of solving whatever problems may have caused the child to seek help from the local authority. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, before my noble friend the Minister replies, I hope I may ask him a question at this stage. Even if the local authority manages to find out nothing more than a child's name, from my reading of the legislation I do not think that the child could be thrown out on the street at the end of seven days, which is rather the impression I obtained from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay. I accept that the noble Lord referred to that as the worst case that could befall a child. I want to make quite certain that under no circumstances would a child be thrown out on to the street because a local authority could not find out anything about him, or who his parents were and whether, for example, they had disappeared off on holiday. However, from my reading of the legislation, I do not think that is the case.

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