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Mr. Cash: I am sure that the Minister will not be disappointed when I say that what I am seeking to do in this debateI did so when I assisted in pressing the Committee to a Divisionis to ensure that a proper balance is struck between what goes up and what comes down. That is the key point. The difficulty was that we were faced with the knowledge that there had been a threefold increase in fees, which we thought was too much.
Ms Winterton: I think that the hon. Gentleman would also accept, however, that there was a great deal of criticism of the previous cross-subsidy, and that it was important to achieve the right balance in terms of one client paying for another's services. That was affecting some of the least well-off, so we wanted to ensure the proper balance.
I shall now turn to the issues raised by a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), who is a member of the Public Accounts Committee. As I said, I could not quite remember all the previous chief executives of the Public Trust Office, as some of them were before my time as a Minister. The point about the Billthis is where some of the confusion may have arisenis that in setting the future fees, we hope to establish that there is not a statutory requirement for full cost recovery. We will consider how fees may be increased to meet certain of the Treasury criteria and to ensure that we do not face criticism from the Public Accounts Committee. We certainly want to ensure that we can have an element of public subsidy to protect the very poorest clients if necessary.
The hon. Members for Somerton and Frome and for Stone mentioned overheads and the way in which the trust function previously operated. Prior to the transfer of the trust function to the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee, that function of the office was already operating at a deficit in cost recovery of some £500,000. Overhead costs originally increased by about £1.2 million in April 2001. That was the result of two factorsfirst, the higher cost of accommodation at Chancery lane, which the hon. Member for Stone recalled nostalgically, as compared to the costs of Stewart house and, secondly, the share of the higher overheads that had to be borne by the trust function at the new office. Recent discussions with my Department about projected forecasts for the current financial year suggest a further increase in overhead costs of about £700,000.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked whether there would be retrospective liability in terms of costs not being recovered. We believe that it is highly unlikely that we would face a legal challenge from somebody who wished to pay more than they had previously paid, so it is unnecessary for the Bill to apply retrospectively. It is extremely unlikely that someone would say, "We want to take action in order to ensure that we could have paid more previously." Consequently, there will be no such liability.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned fees orders. Those are made by the Lord Chancellor and are not laid before the House, but they will be considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
Mr. Heath: May I return the hon. Lady to the potential confusion between the various offices? Can she confirm whether the legal person of the Public Trustee is now identical to the legal person of the Official Solicitor, and whether that is set out in any statute or might be incorporated into the Bill?
Mr. Cash: On the question of confusion arising in respect of legal capacity or legal personality, the use of such expressions may create confusion in itself. I am worried about people's perceptions. Many of those involved would not necessarily be able easily to make such distinctions. The same probably applies to many Members of Parliament, but that is another matter.
The debate has been thoughtful and I am grateful for hon. Members' support for the Bill. I am pleased that the House has recognised the valuable work of the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee, especially that of protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The Bill will enable us to continue to provide that vital protection, and to modernise some of the financial and other procedures in government.
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): I regret that the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) was not in his place. The speed of our proceedings has been such that we have not so much debated as waved at legislation as it passed by. I understand why the hon. Gentleman was not present.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the subject of tonight's debate. I cannot believe that many hon. Members who are present are not as exercised as I am by the increase in complaints from their constituents that fall within the broad ambit of antisocial behaviour. Clearly, it is not a new problem. I believe that some Sumerian clay tablets were recently unearthed and that they were translated to reveal the statement: "The youth of today have no control and are causing mayhem on the streets." That was a few thousand years ago. However, we clearly have a problem and we need to deal with it.
We owe it our constituents and the wider electorate to be thoughtful about antisocial behaviour. Simply saying that people should be locked up and swept off the streets is not good enough. We lock up more people than any other European country and we owe it to our electorate to examine the causes a little more deeply. I should like to narrow the focus slightly to concentrate on teenagers and young people, and my area of north-west London.
When people complain about the antisocial behaviour of teenagers and young people, they must accept that the young people responsible for graffiti, vandalism, noise nuisance and all the other problems that worry us have not leapt on to the streets fully formed in their feral shape; they have a background. I understand that some, who have all the advantages in life and could be described as "A Clockwork Orange" generation, will still commit the foulest antisocial activities with no possible excuse, but we castigate and criticise many people who have been victims and are often the product of unfortunate and unhappy backgrounds.
Tonight, I want to concentrate particularly on looked-after childrenchildren who were until recently described as being in care. Until 1934certainly within living memoryin my constituency, there was a huge building, which is now Hanwell community centre, into which were swept any young boys and girls who happened to be found wandering the streets of an evening. Charlie Chaplin was one famous example. He was found on the streets of Southwark and ended up in Hanwell, which I would say was a step upwards, although he did not see it that way. These young children were trained, in the case of girls, to be downstairs maids or between-stairs maids, and, in the case of boys, to be buglers or carpenters.
We have moved on a bit from the idea of warehousing young people, and from the old idea of the children's home, and the reason that I am raising this matter tonight is that we are in transition. We have a lot of very needy young people, and we have a range of responses to their needs. We must be absolutely sure that we are proceeding sensibly and logically towards meeting their needs and the needs of the communities in which they live.
In my area of north-west London, we had a commercial organisation that placed vulnerable young children on behalf of a number of other London boroughs. I want to ask the Minister whether she would be prepared to examine the issue of cross-borough placements in this context, from the point of view of both inspection and monitoring. There is a temptation for boroughs to place young people in other boroughs, and for the old principle of "out of sight, out of mind" to apply.
An additional problem, which I shall come to in a moment, is the definition of the term "hostel". In these circumstances, we are talking about small, residential units above shops. They are not hostels. In planning law, the definition of a hostel includes shared provision for cooking and eating. A group of small units does not constitute a hostel; therefore there can be no licence. There can, therefore, be no local authority locus, so when the local people turn to the council for assistance, the council is unable to help because the premises in question are not a licensed hostel.
People turn to the local councillors in these circumstances, but, in many cases, they are unable to respond to their needs. Had this taken place in Victorian times, when Mr. Bumble strolled the streets, those people would at least have had a figure to go to. Now they have my colleagues, Councillors Richard Porter, Fred Varley and Shital Manro, who are just as responsive as Mr. Bumble and far more approachable than he ever was. They are, however, unable to assist.
It is appropriate that we are considering the issue of vulnerable, fragile young peoplewhose needs must be considered at the same time as those of the community in which they liveat this time, because this is foster care fortnight. I would like to pay tribute to the Fostering Network for providing the lapel badges that I see many right hon. and hon. Members wearing, and for its work in raising the profile of fostering. We know that it needs 8,000 more foster carers, and that there are 45,000 children being fostered on any one day in this country.
If those children are not fostered, they end up in the sort of accommodation that I have described. The commercial organisation to which I referred earlier is now working in partnership with the local authority. It has agreed to reduce the number of young people placed in the hostel, and I hope that the partnership between the organisation and the local authority will continue, to the benefit of all the young people concerned.
I am also optimistic about the general thrust of Government policy in this direction, which is considering in depth the needs of young people in parallel with the needs of the local community. This issue is not capable of resolution by a simple sweep of the kind that we find described in the red-top tabloids; it is one that we have to address in some detail. I would particularly like to share with the Minister some of the developments in Ealing's children's services, and, in all honesty, to pay tribute to the Government's impressive programme of reform for better futures for vulnerable children and looked-after children in our society.
The House does not hear often enough of the advantages and the benefits of the innovative national quality protects programme or of the significant extra resources for children's services, which we would all agree have made a real change in the lives of children and their families. That work, as we know, links in with the
Twenty years ago, when I was first elected a councillor, a 16-year-old woman came to see me with a baby in her arms. She had a terrible housing problem, which I was able to address, as we had council housing in those dim and distant days. Sixteen years later, that baby, grown to maturity, came to my surgery with her baby in her arms, but I was unable to assist. That is the cycle of deprivation that we must address, because it leads to exclusion and marginalisation. I pay particular tribute to the Government for their work on that.
It is not necessary, I would have thought, to state that the provision of a stable, loving and secure home for children with substitute families, should no parental family exist, is the clearest way to ensure that they have the opportunity for a positive future or that successful outcomes in terms of education, health and career opportunities as well as emotional stability with such a family base to return to is more likely to succeed.
I am delighted to tell the Minister that 80 per cent. of Ealing's looked-after children are now placed with substitute familiesa very significant increase over the past three years. That is the result not just of extremely hard work by people such as Judith Finlay and Professor Norman Tutt OBE, director of housing and social services in Ealing, but of the active and ongoing publicity campaigns and outreach work with local communities to recruit local carers and reduce the number of children placed outside the borough, thereby obviating precisely the cross-borough placement problem to which I referred.
I am also delighted to share with the Minister the fact that foster carers are actively sought and recruited in Ealing. We do not wait for them to come to us; we go out and find them. We value the important and challenging work that they do. Each year, I am honoured to attend the foster carers' awards dinner and ceremony, which celebrates their important contribution to our local community and rewards their achievements with certificates for one, 10, 20 and, in one case that I recall, 30 years of service to vulnerable children.
We celebrate a special award for the outstanding contribution from an individual carer, nominated by the children themselves, in recognition of Ealing's first-ever black carer. I am particularly pleased to tell the Minister that Ealing, which has a population as diverse as that in any borough, matches that diversity with the diversity of its carers, who come from all ages and backgrounds and from all communities.
The number of children placed for adoption recently reached the highest ever in Ealing22 adoption orders were granted last year and a further 44 children are currently placed for adoption. Those figures reflect implementation of the Prime Minister's review of adoption and the establishment of the national taskforce on adoption to share good practice, on which Ealing's director of children's services is represented.
Another development, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), the Minister of State, Department of Health, was present, was the launch last month of the Westminster and West London Consortium on Adoption. That returns us to the theme,
The new consortium is an absolute breakthrough in that it provides a wider pool of adoptees and children to match up across the central and west London area. As the Minister knows, that will be further facilitated by the establishment of a national register of adopters and adoptees. The consortium model is already contributing to a marked increase in the speed of adoption and the number of children placed for adoption in Ealing and across west London.
The Government's agenda on improving education outcomes for children in public care, following the issuing of national guidancethe Minister formerly held the relevant roleis also leading to the raising of expectations and achievement in Ealing. I do not often stand here and blow a trumpet for the London borough of Ealing, but when we do something well I think the country needs to know it. I hope that the House will allow me to say that the percentage of children leaving care in Ealing with at least one GCSE rose from 16.7 to 35.2 per cent. in 200102, and we are currently on course for more than 50 per cent. of year-11 looked-after children achieving that target this academic year.
Those figures are still nationally too low, but they show the progress that can be made with a concerted effort, additional resources and partnership between children, social workers, carers and schools. A positive education is clearly the best opportunity we can give vulnerable children, especially those who grow up in the care system. Those children may be diverted from what we consider antisocial activities into useful, productive activity for the benefit of society, themselves and the community at large.
In Ealing, we currently have five specialist teachers to help looked-after young children with their educational needs. They provide a short-term service for children not currently in school placement, and integrate them back into mainstream school places. They also offer additional support for schoolteachers and carers. In addition, they run homework clubs and SATs and GCSE pre-exam holiday clinics. The council has made a clear commitment to providing financial support for looked-after children in higher education.
Members will probably be aware of the appallingly low number of looked-after children nationally who make it to higher education. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) was once quoted as saying that in his constituency in any one year more teenagers go to jail than go to university. That is a horrific and terrifying statistic, and we need to take great and careful heed of it.
In Ealing, we are not quite in that position. Thirteen young people who were care leavers are currently at university. That is 13 more than we had a few years ago, and the number is expected to rise to 25 over the next two years. That is a real response to the needs of young people, and a real diversion away from the antisocial behaviour of many young people in the past. The figure includes a young man who is a 4th-year medical student, and a young woman who I am delighted to say will start this September at the world's finest university, the London School of Economics, of which I am an alumnus. Another outstanding young
In addition, Ealing was very involved in the Department for Education and Skills teenagers to work programme in May this year, in which 28 young people took part, including three Ealing young people in care who had a two-day placement in Brussels with MEPs and three who had placements with fellow MPs at the House of Commons. Others chose such settings as the fire station. I cannot comment on that: the young person I had working with me seemed to enjoy herself. Opportunities for children who are often excluded from the chances that many young people in mainstream families take for granted can only increase their understanding and ability to exercise real choices about their own future, to be involved in the wider society, and to be diverted from antisocial behaviour.