|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, perhaps I may put this matter straight. The President was not invited to this country. He came on a private visit. That position was also the case under the previous administration.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene at this point. Noble Lords should take note of the warning given by the Leader of the House. The matter is being considered at this very moment within this building. Without being critical of many of the questions put, I suspect that some have touched upon what could be considered matters of influence, in particular as I understand that the noble and learned Lords of the Appellate Committee are themselves taking evidence in this case. I strongly advise the House to leave the matter to another day. We can return to it once the Law Lords have reached their decision.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we were much too prompt in stopping the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, from intervening. I am sorry that we did so. I understand that he simply wished to congratulate my noble friend. We were in the wrong--on that occasion.
I had the opportunity of speaking to the Dyspel conference on Tuesday. Dyspel was set up to explore and address the relationship between dyslexia and offending, and I am pleased to support the essential work that it is undertaking.
The Prison Service is taking a number of steps to recognise dyslexia among the adult population in terms of research, development and current and future practice. It will be issuing advice by the end of this year on screening prisoners for dyslexia.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he agree that, if we are to deal with the problem within the prison population, of which it is thought that up to 50 per cent. may be suffering from dyslexia, help must be given in a way that is suitable to adults who are in prison? Giving help which is based on school assessment and teaching may merely accentuate any feelings of isolation or resentment towards the system.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many dyslexic school children do not receive enough help and remedial teaching and therefore drop out of school and turn to crime through frustration and boredom? The level of those who have dropped out in young offenders' institutions is very high. Could the Department of Education and the Home Office work together in looking at the problem?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we believe that that is central. We cannot fragment the Prison Service from the Probation Service and the rest of the criminal justice system and from mainstream education. There has unfortunately been a misapprehension in the past that dyslexic children are dull or stupid, and that has caused them to lose heart. They are not dull or stupid; they have special needs which must be attended to.
Lord Elton: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that the connection between the frustration of intelligent people in school at their failure to progress has been established as a link with offending, that the link between that and dyslexia is obvious and that the progress of the programme which he proposes is therefore urgent? Can he tell us whether resources will be available to guarantee sufficient out-of-cell time to make it effective?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I agree with the proposition made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The STOP research project, which was run by Shropshire Probation Service, discovered that, of a large number of those who had learning difficulties, including dyslexia, in one study 90 per cent. had truanted from school at some time, 64 per cent. habitually. I stress the importance that we attach to this matter. The screening guidance in the dispersal regime will be available to governors not later than 1st January next year.
Lord Henley: My Lords, as one of those classed as hopeless by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, perhaps I may put a question to the noble Lord. Does he agree that funding is of crucial importance in terms of tackling dyslexia in prisons? Does he, therefore, also agree that it was unfortunate that last year the Prisons Minister announced a cut in funding from some £1,774 million to some £1,733 million? I accept that since then the noble Lord has announced an increase in funding of some £200 million. Is that an increase on the previous figure or on the higher figure, or is it an increase on the figure that we would have announced had we remained in office, which would have been a figure larger than that announced by the Government?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not know what figure the noble Lord would have announced had he still been in government. On past form--if I may use that phrase in this context--it would probably have been a
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's reply. Does he agree with Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons that rarely have adequate needs analyses been undertaken of prison education? Would he consider it appropriate to set up monitoring machinery at every prison reception so that dyslexia is identified at an early stage? The sooner it is identified, the sooner it can be dealt with.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is quite right. The reference I made to instructions being given to governors in the dispersal estate by 1st January 1999 dealt with precisely this point. Dyslexia needs to be identified at the induction stage, which is when the screening is intended to occur. I am glad to say that, not for the first time, we are both in complete agreement.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I must declare an interest as the father of a dyslexic and therefore, genetically, in part to blame. Is the Minister aware that, while dyslexia affects between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of children, it affects 52 per cent. of prisoners? Does that discrepancy suggest that the Dyspel report is correct in saying that dyslexia is a factor in offending behaviour in a significant proportion of offenders?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am glad to hear from the noble Earl that he recognises that the hereditary principle is not immaculate. There are different views about the proportions. Dyspel has one view; other research has another, which we need to evaluate. However, there is no doubt in the mind of anyone who has studied these matters that there is a connection between failure educationally, for whatever cause, and the drift into crime and re-offending.
Lord Addington: My Lords, as the figure for re-offending once people have got into the prison system is much lower for those who are in work than for those who are without work, is there not a strong case for pump-priming this project to ensure that more dyslexics can gain literacy and therefore become employable, thus ultimately not only cutting crime rates but also saving the Treasury considerable sums of money?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is no doubt about the link between lack of employment on release from prison and re-offending and re-conviction rates. We are pump-priming very significantly. The figure of £226 million is a vast improvement on anything that could formerly have been contemplated. Some of that money will go to improved educational regimes and targets.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. The Statement is as follows:
"This was not just a failure by the care staff directly concerned. It was a failure by social services managers, councils, councillors, the police, the criminal justice system, schools, voluntary organisations, neighbours, the news media, the Government's social services inspectorate, government departments, Ministers and Parliament. Some people from all these institutions and in all these categories had worked hard to do a good job for these children. But too many had not. The whole system had failed.
"Last November I reported to the House that the Prime Minister had asked me to lead a ministerial task force to draw up the Government's response to the children's safeguards review. The task force involved Ministers from 10 government departments together with outside representatives from social services, education, the police and the voluntary sector. It also included a young woman who had recently been through the care system. She made some most valuable contributions to our deliberations and provided salutary reminders of the real world in which some children are being expected to grow up. I am grateful to her and all the other members of the task force for their positive contributions to the work of developing a comprehensive and practical set of measures.
"In July this year the Health Select Committee strongly endorsed the need for action. Its report covered some aspects not the subject of the Utting Report. The Government will be making a full response to the Select Committee after the publication of our White Paper on social services.
"Today I am publishing the report of the task force. It sets out the practical measures it has proposed and which the Government have accepted. We want to make sure that in future children in care are looked after properly and get a decent start in life. We started from a recognition that if the whole system had failed these children, then the whole system had to be put right. Tinkering with a few aspects was not enough.
"Throughout our deliberations I asked everyone involved to look at things from the point of view of the children and to ask, 'Would this have been good enough for me when I was a child?' or 'Would this be good enough for my own children?' And that is what the task force has tried to do. As a result, our proposals are intended to ensure that those responsible, at any level, for children in care behave towards them as any good parent tries to behave towards their own children.
"With this in mind, the Government are implementing the recommendations of the task force. We have already launched a three-year programme called Quality Protects. Its job is to transform the care system for children by setting clear objectives and targets, putting action plans in place and measuring whether those targets have been met. It also provides new guidance to strengthen the hand of conscientious elected local councillors. That will call for joined-up government--all government departments, local authorities, the criminal justice system, schools, the police and voluntary organisations working together towards a common goal with clear targets and a demanding timetable. There can be no more excuses. All this cannot be done for nothing. So today I can announce that we are establishing a new children's services grant which will provide an extra £375 million over the next three years to help fund the improvements which are necessary.
"To stop potential child abusers from working with children we are establishing a new criminal records agency to improve and widen access to police checks on people wishing to work with children. This is a first step towards a 'one stop shop' which will be able to give employers access to police records and the separate lists kept by the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health. The present system is a confusing mess which denies an elementary protection for the children concerned.
"The present law provides that councils have a duty to children while they are in care up to the age of 16 and a discretionary power to help them up to the age of 18 when they leave care. As a result, some unfortunate children are turned out at the age of 16, with little or no help after that. That cannot be right.
"So that the task force could consider the question of when young children should leave care, and how they should be helped to do it when they do. I insisted that my officials produce a paper which spelled out what parents usually provide for members of an ordinary family between the ages of 16 and 18 or 21. Can I ask Members of the House to think for a minute about when they were between 16 and 21? Or what we did or are doing for our own children in that age group? And now can we think about having to do any of that? No home to live in or return to. No shoulder to cry on. No encouragement to do our work at school or college. No morale boosting chat before an interview nor anyone to console us if it went badly. No one to give us a lift, or to make us a meal. Nowhere to get our washing done for nothing. No
"We will change the law to extend the duty of care for these young people from 16 up to the age of 18 and ensure that councils' responsibilities up to 18 and beyond correspond more closely with those accepted by any good parent. And that includes trying to keep in touch with children after they have left home.
"We are taking steps to ensure better school attendance by children in care and setting targets so that they achieve more at school than they do at present. We are taking steps and setting targets to reduce the number of children exposed to a succession of placements every year and to make sure that those placements are more suitable. We are taking action to increase the number of foster parents through new recruitment campaigns. We will also increase the skills of foster parents by providing new funds for training and by establishing a code of practice and national standards for foster care.
"We propose to bring all children's homes, whatever their size, and residential schools and independent fostering agencies within a new and more effective regulatory system, with simpler and faster action against schools and children's homes with unacceptable standards.
"We are taking steps to monitor and safeguard better the welfare of children in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices and improve the health of children in care, including their mental health. We are changing local government law and practice to bring about across-the-board improvements in services for children in care or with special needs. In future the whole local authority will have to accept its responsibilities for supporting them.
"The voice of the children involved has been ignored for too long. We will improve the arrangements for whistleblowing and fund a new group to provide a national voice for children in care and those formerly in care.
"These are just some of the major measures which the Government are starting to put in place. Many others are set out in the report. It will take time to thrash out the details of some; others will depend upon the availability of parliamentary time. But action is already under way.
"The task force report covers England and Wales and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales shares my commitment to its implementation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is today publishing a separate response to the Kent Report which covered the same issues in Scotland.
Earl Howe: My Lords, from these Benches I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The issues addressed by Sir William Utting in his report are of the most serious and disturbing kind. We welcome the importance that the Government have attached to considering Sir William's recommendations, both in depth and inter-departmentally. The previous government commissioned the report in June 1996 in the face of widespread reports of abused children in care. When it was published almost a year ago, I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, that the Opposition would support any fair and workable proposals which Ministers chose to bring forward to address the fundamental shortcomings in the care system which the report exposed. I repeat that assurance today.
I welcome in particular the establishment of a new criminal records agency as a precursor to setting up a one stop shop for employers wishing to verify the backgrounds of those who apply to work with children. Can the Minister tell us what is the timetable for setting up that one stop shop? It is widely felt that there should be a single, readily accessible database--a single blacklist, if I can put it that way--to prevent the sadly all too common phenomenon of unsuitable individuals, sometimes people with criminal convictions, moving from one institution and being employed by another.
I have one or two further questions to put to the Minister. The Statement announces additional funding in the form of a special grant for children's services of £375 million over three years. Can the Minister say whether this is new money, or is it funded by a reduction in the social services SSA in the revenue support grant settlement? If it is not the latter, is it simply an allocation of money already announced within the totals of the comprehensive spending review?
My second question relates to local autonomy. We entirely accept the need for the setting of national standards to ensure the safety of children living away from home, but we also believe that local authorities should retain the autonomy to develop service provision to meet local needs. The risk of centralising any function is overprescriptiveness. It is right and proper that local councillors should be held responsible for the quality of the service they oversee. But alongside that, and within a framework of national safety standards, they must also be able to exercise discretion in implementing the delivery of a locally appropriate service. In other words, local authorities should not become merely an agent of the Secretary of State in the delivery of children's services to meet the targets which he will be setting.
Finally, can the Minister confirm that the announcement of a new and more effective regulatory system will include an inspectorate that is dedicated to children's services, or is it intended that there should be a broader, all-encompassing inspectorate with a wider remit? Can she say also whether the inspectorate, if it is to be set up, will be a nationally based system?
I recognise, as the Statement does, that the measures the Government have announced, which we broadly support, are aimed at a very small number of individuals--rotten apples in the system--and that the vast majority of those who work with children in care homes, boarding schools and other environments away from home are skilled, dedicated and of unquestionable integrity. The task now is to ensure that a robust system is set up which identifies the rotten apples at the earliest possible moment. From these Benches, we will follow the new initiatives in a constructive spirit. We wish them well.
Lord Meston: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this important Statement which introduces the Government's response to the Utting Report. Both the report a year ago and the Government's response today are substantial documents which undoubtedly provide blueprints for the future to reduce the mess to which the Statement refers.
Earlier this week we were being asked to consider more abstract questions of supporting family life. The problems being addressed today are the all too real problems of the state's response when family life breaks down or really does not exist at all and local authorities have to step in to take over parental responsibility. I welcome the suggested response of asking in almost every situation whether this would be good enough for our own children. Children who go into care following abuse of whatever type are particularly vulnerable. They must be protected from further abuse if damaged children are not to become damaged adults creating problems, generation after generation.
I welcome the safeguards proposed in the recruitment of those who work with children and the elementary precautions which must be taken to ensure that those who are manifestly unsuitable go nowhere near children's homes or foster care situations. In that context, it is noticeable that the Statement does not mention training, particularly the training of those who work in children's homes or residential care situations. That clearly needs investment in staff and in training.
I welcome the attention paid to 16 to 21 year-olds. We all know that family life does not dissolve when children leave home, or leave school at 16, or when they become legally adult. I welcome the extension of the statutory duty for children under the Children Act to the
At the beginning of the care process, since the Children Act the courts have played their part in ensuring that care proceedings are dealt with quickly, a responsibility which both the courts and family lawyers take seriously. The difficulty is that once the court makes the order the court has no further function or responsibility. The court makes an order on the basis of a local authority care plan which it has to accept. It has no ability to review cases when care plans are not put into operation. I suggest that there is now a need for serious consideration to be given to giving the courts some ability to review care plans after a year if they have not been put into operation.
There is a recognition that all too often lack of resources means that children are exposed to a series of short-term placements. One of the most depressing features of dealing with child care cases is that, even by the time the case comes to court, a child may have been in two, three, four or even more placements before a decision is made. Even then, more placements are likely before a final placement for that child is found. That places an enormous burden on foster carers and defers and hampers what the Statement refers to as a decent start in life. Can the Minister say whether attention will be paid to the recruitment and retention of foster parents, who must be amazingly demoralised if they see that all the hard work they put in comes to nothing if a final placement cannot be found?
We hear about children's homes when things go wrong and we must await the North Wales inquiry with some foreboding. But, as the Minister said, a great deal goes right. However, putting children into homes must be a last resort. It is disappointing that the Statement is silent on the question of adoption services. It is disappointing that the Government have left the adoption Bill on the shelf where it was placed by the previous government. The most precious untapped resources for children in care are those who are willing and able to adopt children. I hope that the Government will heed the initiatives of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, raised the issue of national standards as against local autonomy. A balance has to be struck. In the past, too many services provided locally for children have not been adequate and have fallen below minimum standard. Too many children have suffered as a result. We therefore believe that we need a tightly monitored system in which there is central support and direction and funding. But there must also be a balance with regard to local decision making so that local authorities can decide on the changes appropriate in their areas and can listen locally to the voice of children in their areas. That is an important theme running through the response.
The noble Earl referred to the £375 million. This is new money which is ring-fenced grant in terms of the children's grant and is part of the total announced in the comprehensive spending review, as in the case of many other aspects. That money is for the children's plans and part of the Quality Protects programme, but all the other financial repercussions have been funded as part of the comprehensive spending review. Referring to the inspectorate, I must ask the noble Earl to be patient until the social services White Paper is published. That document will provide the details as to that. In addition, a circular will be published quite soon on the targeting of the special grant.
The noble Lord, Lord Meston, raised a number of issues. He referred to the training and vetting of staff who work in children's homes. This is an enormously important area which must be tackled at both national and local level. This is an area to which we shall be devoting resources and attention as part of the implementation. The noble Lord also highlighted the importance of foster parents. We shall be initiating a campaign to recruit more foster parents and to give them more support and better training. We must recognise that sometimes we ask people to do very difficult jobs in these areas. It is hoped that both initiatives will help to reduce the number of placements to which children are subjected.
I deal next with the establishment of a criminal records agency. We are anxious to get on with that as soon as possible in order to improve and widen access to checks. The whole issue of the categories of people beyond those with criminal records that we do not wish to work with children is an extremely difficult one. This matter is being considered at the moment by an inter-departmental group. It is also looking at the question of abuse of trust. We hope that that will report by the end of the year so that we can see how to make progress.
It is also important that we make progress on the so far somewhat patchy implementation of the recommendations on recruitment and selection made in Choosing with Care. As soon as parliamentary time is available we want to put the consultancy index that lists social services personnel--rather than Department of Health or DfEE personnel--who are unsuitable to work with children on a statutory basis to make sure that it is an effective bar to employment and to put in place an appeals mechanism.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will not under-estimate the welcome that awaits the determination in this field. The report of Sir William Utting and the Government's policy--if they can bring it off--will be a landmark in the history of childcare. I hope that she will also not under-estimate the difficulty of what is being undertaken, particularly in the area of what is popularly known as joined-up government, which used to be called partnership. I cannot help recalling with a poignant pang the death of Maria Colwell about 20 years ago which was attributed to a failure in joined-up government or, as it was then called, communication between the voluntary and
The difficulty arises in part from the different languages that practitioners in various fields speak and the differing objectives set by their governing bodies. An important element is the training of all practitioners in a common language. That best starts as the Government's approach has started, from the position of the child so that everyone speaks from the same standpoint.
The subject of the child brings one to the essential element which government cannot introduce: compassion. A government can provide incentives, resources and administration. But what is essential to the growth of a healthy and (be it added) non-criminal child is love. Therefore, one must attract into the system not people who are looking for jobs but people with a vocation. That must be remembered in the recruitment programme.
With regard to selection, I should like to ask one question of the noble Baroness that is of particular interest to me and the DIVERT Trust which I chair. She said that there would be access to information about the criminal records and perhaps other characteristics of employees who might work with children. Can she now give an assurance--if not, can she strive to ensure that such an assurance is given--that that information will also be available to voluntary bodies who appoint volunteers they train but whom they do not pay or employ to take on equally responsible work?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page