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While it is not possible to guarantee that future human rights challenges will not arise in this area, the Government believe that the Bill strikes the proper balance between the rights and interests of all the parties involvedfather, mother and child. Above all, it is about the truth of relationships, which is extremely important.
I am happy to welcome and support my noble friend's Bill. I congratulate her on the way she introduced it and on commanding the support and respect of the House in so doing. I very much hope that the Bill will receive cross-party support through its remaining stages.
Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I am enormously grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken this morningthey are distinguished in this field and made distinguished contributions. It was tremendously important that we were reminded of the history of this issue and given important perspectivesI refer to human fertility and reproduction, medicine and the law, and our view as legislators and midwives. It was also important to be reminded that although this is a very narrow measure, it sits in the context of much broader debates concerning public policy. I am sure that the Government and other noble Lords take note of the importance of debating and resolving some of those issues at a later stage.
I shall answer a couple of questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. It appears that it is the place of birth that determines the given period of time; where the baby is born is the point. In Scotland, the mother has 21 days because that reflects the time in which birth must be registered, according to current registration procedures.
There were very interesting contributions on the issue of retrospection, and I am grateful to noble Lords for accepting that this is a very unusual case for registration. In response to the noble Baroness's question, I am not sure that I can help any more in that regard. However, she indicated that in this case she does not object to the principle, although she understands that it may have been done in a different way.
I do not want to keep noble Lords long or to comment on other contributions. Above all, I thank noble Lords for the compassion with which they approached this issue. That reminded us that families in this situation need the utmost support and that there should be the utmost scrutiny and safeguard of the law. When the Bill finally goes through your Lordships' House, a small but important group of people will be very grateful.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the order being debated this afternoon is designed to disapply the requirement for councils in England to produce a community care plan under Section 46 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. Community care plans covered community care services for all client groups. Their primary purpose has been to ensure that councils have a robust planning process to manage their community care responsibilities and that they work with health bodies and housing and other agencies. The plans have also
Since April 2002, however, local authorities have not been legally required to submit community care plans. This forms part of a wider initiative between central and local government to rationalise and streamline planning processes and to promote more joint working by health and social services.
Directions were passed disapplying the requirement to produce a community care plan for each of the years 200203 and 200304. The order before us is aimed at making this change permanent. It also consequentially removes Section 46 from the list of social services functions, in relation to England, which is found in Schedule 1 to the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970.
Those changes were driven, first, by a determination to simplify planning processes, and, secondly, to ensure that national priorities were more effectively delivered at local level. Let me briefly explain the background. In 2001 the Government commissioned a review of the plans they required councils with social services responsibilities to submit for scrutiny. It was widely accepted across local and central government that the then planning requirements constituted a heavy burden on local authorities. Social services alone were contributing to at least 40 plans each year, equating to more than 6,000 plans nationwide. Furthermore, the plans did not constitute a coherent whole from a local perspective. They took a variety of forms on a variety of timescales and were required by a variety of sources. A recurring theme was that the current process failed to make clear what the national priorities were, with each planning requirement concentrating on its own set of priorities. It was an unsatisfactory position that we attempted to address.
For example, one of the arguments for the original introduction of community care plans in the 1990s was that integrated community care packages were not developing on a sufficient scale and that the whole process needed much greater impetus. The introduction of community care plans helped to achieve that. I should add that councils had also been given the option of incorporating the essential elements of community care plans into their joint investment plans and health improvement plans, or they could remain as stand-alone plans. We were looking for change and best practice.
The 2001 study acknowledged that local authorities were drowning in planning bureaucracy, and suggested that a new framework was needed to assure Ministers that national policy priorities were being successfully translated into local action. The department accepted the report's recommendations and, as in many other areas of government policy, where joint working has been strenuously developed in recent years, the past two years have seen the introduction of more integrated and streamlined planning processes within both local authorities and NHS bodies.
Most significantly, a new planning framework for health and social services, which came into effect this April, now means that the majority of current planning requirements will be replaced by a single, integrated three-year local delivery plan for health and social care. Just as the community care plans helped to inform the joint investment and health improvement plans, so they have informed the development of the local delivery plans. All aspects of the community care plan have been incorporated into the new planning framework, which is linked to health, as appropriate. I am sure that noble Lords will applaud the fact that the plan also has the advantage of having fewer national requirements and fewer targets.
The focus and coherence of community care plans have provided a strong basis for what we consider to be a more responsive and rigorous planning structure. The functions and the profile of community care will, we anticipate, be enhanced as the partnerships gear up towards a new generation of planning and service delivery. But we are also looking to better community care planning in terms of both the national service frameworksfor example, in the National Service Framework for Older People and the National Service Framework for Mental Healthand the local community strategies themselves, which bring together all aspects of community development.
I want to make a few additional points. First, when the department embarked on a consultation process in August 2001, it sought the views of all chief executives of health authorities, directors of social services and selected voluntary groups on removing the legal requirement to produce the community care plans. We were very pleased with the response. Ninety per cent of respondents were supportive of the proposal because they argued, as we had, that in many cases community care plans had failed to reflect user views, they were considered to be time-consuming, much of the work was replicated within other planning documents, partnership working had progressed and, indeed, other options had been found for meeting the needs of diverse groups.
However, they raised two important concerns, which I want to conclude by addressing. The first was that the needs of users and carers should be reflected positively in the existing planning processes, and, secondly, that the needs of vulnerable groups should not be "lost" in the plethora of planning reports. The issue of inadequate information and confusion was raised repeatedly as being a barrier to the involvement and participation of service users. Frequent references were made, in particular, to the needs of minority ethnic groups, people with sensory and physical impairment and people with learning disabilities.
In the light of the comments received, the Department of Health issued a response which stressed the need for clear sign-posting for service users to ensure that minority groups' needs were addressed. It also stressed that health and local authority partners needed to identify and address any gaps in provision and that local authorities and health partners needed to own as well as develop their joint plans.
Since then, many actions and developments have taken place. Local authorities have indicated that they are providing "sign-posts" for service users, demonstrating the range of plans, and, where there are gaps in addressing specific service requirements, the local authority, together with its health partners, will now have to address how best to reflect those in what they do. Many local authorities are also preparing an annual publication, which will provide an additional sign-post to plans, together with a co-ordinated statement for smaller groups of service users where the needs were not accounted for in the main plans. I hope that all that will be seen as a positive response to the problems which we picked up.
We have drastically reduced the number of plans required to be submitted to the department from 30 to two. We are convinced that, by replacing the community care plans with the local delivery plans, we shall strengthen the focus. We shall be addressing and identifying proper priorities for care, with all client groups involved, and the coherence which is needed will be enhanced. I should say that only the local delivery plans now have to be submitted to central government.
Therefore, the order addresses different kinds of realities. In particular, it addresses the fact that Section 46 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 still requires councils to produce community care plans, which is why we seek the disapplication. The proposed change was consulted on in autumn 2001 and was subsequently approved with the full involvement of Ministers. The proposal for the order has lain in the House of Commons and the House of Lords for the required 60 days without comment from either House. Therefore, I hope that suggests that we shall have the support of all parties. I commend the order to the House.