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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my understanding is that some staff have been disciplined and some have been dismissed. That will be a matter for the employing authorities to deal with. I repeat my earlier point that it is important that when the authorities concerned review the question of staff responsibility in the light of the conclusions of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, they do not overlook the role of senior management in accepting its own responsibility and accountability. If one looks back over instances of failure in organisations over the years, it is striking that it is often the people at the lowest level who pay the ultimate price. That is unacceptable.

I do not believe that I can go into the details about why Brent made the decisions about its budget. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, found failures of priority and leadership within the local authority. He found that it had a weak management structure, that there had been service reductions and that there was a lack of senior supervision and monitoring. The evidence that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, found shows that the local authority was in many ways dysfunctional in terms of the way in which it dealt with social services.

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Our current aim is that, using the Social Services Inspectorate and our intervention powers, we intervene where we identify that local authorities are failing in that way.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, one of the most appalling aspects of this tragic case is that two professional people refused to visit Victoria Climbie because they were frightened of catching scabies. Will the Government place more importance on giving those concerned in such cases more training in infectious conditions of all sorts? Some people have a real fear of infectious conditions. Does the Minister agree that there should be far more control of infections? There should be more experts on call who can come in when people put their own safety in front of poor helpless little children.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. The rise in infections concerns us all, and we have a number of initiatives in place to try to reduce that. However, this is simple stuff. If there is effective collaboration between local authorities and the health service, it does not, frankly, take a great deal of organisation to ensure that the ready advice of NHS professionals on such matters is readily available—and it should be available.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I want to ask the Minister a question about language. I welcome his statement that there should have been much more effort to talk directly to Victoria. Victoria Climbie came from francophone west Africa, and it is reasonable to suppose that some at least of those people with whom she came into contact would have had no difficulty in speaking to her in French; I do not know whether that was the case in this instance. There must be many children who are in need of care or in danger of abuse who have little or no English. Is it possible to say with confidence that interpreting will be available in such cases to enable members of social services, hospital staff, the police and so on to converse directly with the children?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the report contains a number of instances in which social workers and other professional staff mentioned the need for an interpreter. In some cases, interpreters were present. However, this is a more fundamental issue. One of the problems is that many of the professionals involved seemed to be inhibited about talking to Victoria. That was not so much a question of language as about their professional practice. There was also professional confusion about which section of the Children Act related to Victoria at any one time. That confusion caused many problems and led to a hiatus in taking appropriate action.

The revised guidance that we issue will need to deal with the issue of the appropriate use of the specified section of the Children Act and the issue of communicating with the children concerned. I agree with the point about translators and interpreters.

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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I return to the important points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, about accountability. Much of what the Minister said was about accountability. Some years ago, when I was the chairman of an NHS trust, I chaired a committee that was investigating the death of a patient in hospital who should never have suffered what he suffered. He was an adult, not a child. I got the most unsatisfactory answer from a senior nurse on the ward. When we asked her, "To whom do you consider yourself accountable?", she said, "I am accountable only to the General Nursing Council". If there is not in addition proper line-management accountability of the practitioners on the ground to the senior professional managers who are in charge of them, one will have many problems.

When the Minister lays great emphasis—and I do not disagree with this—on the role of the professional bodies concerned, there must on the ground be a clear line of accountability, so that managers can deal effectively with the staff for whom they are responsible. I hope that in the further consideration of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming—and I agree with everything that has been said about him and the report—that can be taken into account.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord. One should look at the report's description of what happened at the Central Middlesex Hospital and at the North Middlesex Hospital. At the Central Middlesex Hospital one had a situation where nursing notes were inadequate; some of the doctors' notes were inadequate; and there was no effort to reconcile medical differences about whether Victoria had scabies or had suffered abuse. At the North Middlesex Hospital there was no formal attempt to speak to Victoria to find out what had happened; the record keeping was poor and there was a failure to get the notes from the Central Middlesex Hospital; no thorough examination of Victoria ever took place; and when she was moved to a different ward, nurses failed to record their observations.

The whole situation cries out for someone to be accountable. There is no doubt in my mind that, alongside getting the guidance right and getting consistency in practice, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, is saying that there needs to be a clear system of accountability, so that within each organisation it is clear who is accountable. With his suggested arrangements at local level—a local member committee and a management board—he is trying to achieve accountability between the agencies so that someone can be identified as the person responsible for making it work.

That is not easy. We shall have to look carefully at what the noble Lord recommends. But there can be no disagreement about his aim, which is to try to pin down responsibility within each organisation and, when organisations have to work together, between those organisations, so that no one can run away and say, "I was not responsible".

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Courts Bill [HL]

5.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Clause 2 [Court officers, staff and services]:

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen moved Amendment No. 7:


    Page 2, line 7, after "(1)" insert "or transferred under Schedule 1"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 7, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 8. I shall be brief. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 aim to clarify this part of the Bill and to ensure that all relevant employees are covered by the Civil Service pension scheme.

The amendments stem from the concerns of the involved unions about the current wording of the Bill. Amendment No. 7 makes explicit that relevant staff transferred to the Lord Chancellor's Department will be eligible to join the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS 2000) and that they will be covered by the scheme from day one of their transfer.

Amendment No. 8 aims to ensure that the Bill covers any contracts and sub-contracts entered into. There is always anxiety among staff when transfers occur. These amendments seek to help alleviate that worry. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: I can be even briefer on the matter. We on these Benches entirely support the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I cannot be quite as brief, but I shall not be too long. I add my support. The noble Baroness does the Committee and especially employees a service by tabling these amendments. We do not always see eye to eye on employment law, but today I am sure that we shall.

Perhaps the noble Baroness will also want the Minister to place on the record some of the assurances that have been given, both in the letter that the Minister was kind enough to send to noble Lords over the Christmas period, and in the letter of 28th January that was sent to the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, a copy of which was handed to me as I came into the Chamber. Both letters are useful.

Today is a significant day for the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, to move the amendments. Over the past 24 hours reference has been made, both on the radio

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and in The Times law supplement, to the fact that this may not be the last of the Lord Chancellor's empire building with regard to transfer of responsibilities. The report by Sir Andrew Leggatt is waiting hot in the wings and it looks as though tribunals—another not "unconsidered trifle"—are about to be snaffled up by this Autolycus of a Lord Chancellor.

So any provisions which the Government implement with regard to magistrates' courts may well become a model for what might happen to tribunal property and employment rights. Therefore, we should all look carefully at the assurances given by the noble Baroness. Perhaps we shall need to return to them on Report simply to tease out some of the details, because they will undoubtedly be of future significance if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has his way.


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