Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is clear that all noble Lords recognise the importance of advocacy. I certainly do, and hope to explain how the Government are taking forward a number of important strands in ensuring the development of advocacy services in this country. But because the Government are involved in taking forward work in a number of areas, we believe that it would be premature to legislate at this stage. Noble Lords should be under no misapprehension that we very much recognise the importance of advocacy.

The Waterhouse report highlighted the need for looked-after children to have a means of having their voices heard. The report certainly provides many examples of where a child's plea for help fell on deaf ears, often with tragic consequences.

We believe that advocacy has a very important role to play in protecting the interests of looked-after children. It is a fast developing area and we are supporting a range of initiatives to encourage the development of high standards in this field. My noble friend Lady David has already referred to the principles of children's participation and listening to children which underpin the Quality Protects programme. That was a priority area for grant funding for local authorities in year 1 of the programme, with almost £5 million invested in listening to children. It will again be a priority in year 2. Indeed, in setting the stage for year 2 of the programme, we also wrote to local authorities in October last year stressing that particular attention should be given to the involvement of young people collectively and to enhancing their individual voices through the development of advocacy services.

The Government are committed to advancing the development of high quality advocacy services through the overall Quality Protects programme. I can confirm to the House that local authorities have now submitted their management action plans for year 2 of Quality Protects. Those are currently being carefully

28 Mar 2000 : Column 746

assessed. On the basis of that assessment, we shall have a much better feel for the progress that is being made by individual authorities.

I believe that it is worth pointing out to noble Lords that the much stronger performance assessment framework that we now have in place in relation to social service authorities provides us, together with the Social Services Inspectorate, with the tools to ensure in the future a much greater consistency of approach than has ever been apparent in the past.

Through a grant to the National Youth Advocacy Service, the Department of Health is also funding the development of national standards for agencies which provide advocacy services for children and young people. We hope that the finalised standards will be published in June.

The Department of Health will issue shortly a draft consultation paper on the reform of the complaints procedure for looked-after children. We realise that the existing system is imperfect. As part of the consultation process we shall look carefully at whether the existing arrangements which involve an independent person should be replaced with the right to an advocate for looked-after children who wish to pursue a complaint.

Noble Lords who have followed the Children (Leaving Care) Bill will also be aware that the Government will introduce a complaints procedure for those children leaving care who do not receive the support and advice to which they are entitled. Of course, the role of the young person's adviser will be crucially important in this area. We hope that instances where the relationship breaks down between the young person and his adviser will be few and far between. However, where a young person does not receive the support to which he is entitled, we believe that it is right that there should be a complaints procedure. Accompanying guidance will make it clear to local authorities that they should make advocacy services available in those circumstances.

Although we have talked about the unevenness of provision by local authorities, I believe that it is worth making the point that many authorities are already providing an advocacy service. The provisions contained in the Children (Leaving Care) Bill are based on good practice in a number of local authorities.

I want to emphasise again the Government's commitment to developing high quality advocacy services. I believe that the range of measures that I have outlined demonstrate that commitment. I know that we all wish to see effective arrangements and mechanisms in place to ensure that high quality advocacy services are available.

In speaking to this amendment, I have used the word "developing" on a number of occasions. I believe that it reflects the situation in which we find ourselves. Independent advocacy services are still at the development stage, and the availability and quality of those services is not consistent across the country. As I said, some local authorities are much more advanced than others.

28 Mar 2000 : Column 747

We want to see advocacy develop appropriately and to see high standards across the board. I believe that the actions that I have outlined will go far in ensuring that that happens. However, I would also say to my noble friend that, given the ongoing programme of work, I believe that it would be premature to legislate further in this area at this stage.

Baroness David: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. It was not quite so good as having the amendment accepted but I do think, if he is listening, that his response was really quite good. I was also rather relieved to hear from my noble friend Lord Warner that there has been an advance since his report. I am grateful to the Minister for handing me the guidance to local authorities on developing children's rights and advocacy services which does show that quite a lot is being done.

So I shall be watching very carefully what advance is made and I shall be inquiring from everybody round about whether things are happening satisfactorily. But in the light of the Minister's response, I am prepared to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 42 [Inspection by registration authority of adoption and fostering services]:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 54 and 55:


    Page 19, leave out lines 22 and 23.


    Page 19, line 24, at end insert--


("( ) The powers under subsection (2)(a) include--
(a) power to require the local authority to produce any records, wherever kept, for inspection on the premises; and
(b) in relation to records which are kept by means of a computer, power to require the records to be produced in a form in which they are legible and can be taken away.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 45 [Regulation of the exercise of relevant fostering facilities]:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 56 and 57:


    Page 21, line 17, at end insert ("about the exercise by local authorities of relevant fostering functions, and may in particular make provision").


    Page 21, line 19, leave out ("relevant fostering") and insert ("such").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 51 [Care Councils]:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 58 and 59:


    Page 22, line 16, at end insert ("or Cyngor Gofal Cymru").


    Page 22, line 35, leave out from ("Council") to end of line 37.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

28 Mar 2000 : Column 748

Clause 52 [Interpretation]:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 60:


    Page 23, line 4, leave out ("is").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Clause 52, we are seeking to amend the classes of worker who can by regulation be defined as a "social care worker". It is a key element in our plans for the new councils that they will develop the standards by which social care workers will undertake their duties. It is vital that we make provision for the right staff to be defined as social care workers, thus requiring them to meet these standards. That is how we shall continue to offer service users, their carers and the general public the greater degree of protection they deserve.

As we discussed earlier, rather like healthcare, social care is undoubtedly not static. Services change over time to meet developing needs and the public's expectations. As that happens, we need to be able to define new groups of staff as social care workers so that their conduct and practice can be subject to the councils' standards through the codes of conduct and practice and so that they can then become eligible to be registered by the councils.

We are here adding to the sorts of workers who we can define as "social care workers" by regulations as follows: persons engaged in the provision of personal care services for any person; and persons engaged in the provision of relevant services within the meaning of section 40; that is, staff in services which become regulated by the commissions.

In Clause 53, we are introducing a further amendment to replace the term,


    "persons engaged in relevant social work",

with, I hope, the more readily understood term "social worker". That change in itself leads to consequential amendments to other clauses in this part of the Bill.

Clause 57 changes the provisions for the councils to charge a fee for registering individual social care workers. We want to change the power so as not to tie the councils to an annual fee. The councils may well decide that an annual fee is the most appropriate but we do not want to tie them into it at this stage. For example, the UKCC, which regulates nurses, health visitors and midwives, charges a three-year fee. We are therefore proposing a periodic fee to give the councils flexibility in drawing up a scheme that will best suit the social care workforce.

The amendment to Clause 58 relates to the protection of title of "social worker". We want to prevent people using the title or wrongly claiming to be registered with any of the UK councils. We have introduced this amendment to avoid the situation where someone registered as a social worker with, for example, the Scottish council would commit an offence by calling himself a social worker in England if he is not so registered with the GSCC. We are very much alive to the need to avoid regulation putting unnecessary barriers in the way of movement across the UK of properly regulated social care workers. That is the reason for that change.

28 Mar 2000 : Column 749

In relation to Clause 59, on the employers' code of practice, the amendment in Clause 59 provides for the council to draw up and promulgate a code of practice for employers in relation to social care workers. This amendment reflects our intention as set out in Modernising Social Services and corrects an omission in the original draft of the Bill.

Your Lordships will already have seen in the Bill provision for codes of practice and conduct for social care workers. The code of practice for employers complements those for the staff. For example, it will emphasise the need for employers to have robust recruitment practices in place so that unsuitable people do not enter the social care workforce in the first place.

The amendment to Clause 64 is designed to give the Secretary of State flexibility regarding to whom he can delegate his functions in this part of the Bill. When the Secretary of State thinks it is right to delegate one of his functions it is important that he has the power to delegate it to the person or body best able to carry out that function effectively and efficiently at that time. With this amendment we are seeking to give him the flexibility to choose the right person or organisation at a given moment in time in response to the developing and changing world of social care.

In Clause 65 we are introducing a minor amendment to clarify our intention that appeals against a decision of a council should relate to the decision it makes about the registration of individual social care workers. That concludes this group of minor and technical amendments to the GSCC provisions. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, on a point of clarification, perhaps I am being stupid but I do not fully understand the implications of Amendment No. 68, which is in this group to which the Minister has been speaking, as I understand it. Am I right in saying that this, with other amendments in the group, segregates from the job of social worker the job of social care worker?

This is an important issue, because at the moment the qualification for a social care worker, or someone who works in a residential home, is the same as the qualification for a social worker who works in a local authority. The reality of the case is that the part of the course relating to residential care is very much regarded as second class, and the social workers who work in residential homes are regarded as second-class citizens. It is regarded as a less attractive job, and for that reason social workers are tempted to move away from residential work and into work with local authorities. In my view that is a tragedy, because the work in residential homes is of the greatest importance.

Can the noble Lord confirm, first, that social care workers are in future going to be people who work in residential homes? Secondly, will they have a separate and distinct qualification? Thirdly, will everything possible be done to raise their status in the profession?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page