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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I do not believe that there is much wrong with the way we are treating children. We have expert and excellent services for children in the NHS, but the national service frameworks enable us to look across the whole provision of care and see how we can improve joint working, co-ordination and processes and investigate the organisation of staffing and the development of staff roles. They enable us to look at improving and raising standards so that they are more effective and coherent.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, will the Minister recognise in what she has said that while there are many good services for children there are huge gaps in provision as regards, for instance, children's mental health and the workforce needed to provide that service? Does she agree that the national service framework is an opportunity for us to think more strategically and carefully in the long term about how to ensure that our children receive the vital input from good quality mental health services?
Will she also explain to the House what progress has been made in mapping mental health services for children? Can she confirm that that mapping will be a continuing process so that we can be well advised on the availability of and access to child and adolescent mental health services?
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Earl put it very well. Of course we can do much better, and mental health services for children is one such area. It is a relatively neglected area, which is why we are investing £250 million in it over the next three years. The crucial issue in improving the service is to improve the manpower. The noble Earl is right in indicating that we need to develop a new approach to planning the workforce. We are mapping mental health services and will continue to do so as part of our national strategy. But we need also to find new ways for staff to work, earlier identification and more effective services. We have set up a group of experts specifically to look at those issues and the practical measures that can be taken in terms of training and recruitment at all levels.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, April 10th was a good day for children and it shows how much we are doing. Apart from the Green Paper, we have all kinds of separate initiatives; for example, Sure Start, a children's taskforce looking at a great deal across health and the action programme on inequalities in health, which is extremely important in terms of improving services for children. Much is therefore happening and I hope that we shall see it all coming together.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, during our recent debate on the trafficking of children, the Minister's noble friend admitted that more than 70 children have disappeared from the care of West Sussex social services. Can she tell us any more about the fate of those children? In the national framework, are the Government looking at this most vulnerable group of children to ensure that the existing inadequate provision is not further weakened?
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord on the follow-up to the trafficking of children. Unaccompanied asylum seeking children will certainly be covered by the external working group that is looking at vulnerable children and children in special circumstances.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is the Minister aware that what she said about the wishes of parents in regard to the education and future of their children being respected will be very welcome to the parents of many mentally handicapped children who find that their wishes are totally overridden by local social services, local authorities and others? Often when parents want special schools for their children they are directed towards mainstream schooling against the wishes of those parents.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, throughout the NSF great effort is being made to consult children and parents; for example, the National Children's Bureau has set up 14 consultative opportunities to listen to children.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, as I said in answer to the noble Lord's previous Question, the Government are now considering their response to the report from the Joint Committee of both Houses on the way forward on reform of your Lordships' House. We shall have to address the question and timing of any further reform Bill as part of our deliberations. We hope to be able to publish our response within the normal two-month deadline.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend for having tabled this Question again. She did not answer, I am sure inadvertently, some of the points put to her. At the time she told the House that the Prime Minister was to make a statement shortlythat was three weeks ago. Perhaps she could define "shortly". Is it fair to assume that we shall not have a House of Lords reform Bill this Session, or even the next? In those circumstances, when can we expect to see a list of new working Peers?
Lord Renton: My Lords, will the Government bear in mind that your Lordships' House contains many Peers and Peeresses accustomed to various kinds of responsibility such that cannot be found in another place and that, if we were to be democratised, we would become a mere microcosm of another place?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, first, it is our view that this House forms a very important part of the democracy. We are already democratised to that extent. Secondly, it is right that the Peers in this House perform a very wonderful function. We have the advantage of Peeresses visiting the House at certain times, but currently none of them sits on any of the Benches of the House.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, I wonder whether I shall have any greater chance of tempting the noble Baroness than the silver-tongued noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Does the Minister accept that at least we all agreed on one matter in the reform committee and in debates both in this Chamber and in another place; namely, that this House has too many Members?
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, what would be the point of fattening us up further and making additional appointments at this stage in defiance of the clearly expressed opposition of the House of Commons to an all-appointed upper House?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says about there being too many Members. There are those who say that this House is a lean, mean working machine and not one Member will be lost to us. Of course, we have to see what the final resolution will be and the recommendations that will be made. But a tragedy for this House is that in the past two years we have lost 49 of our Members who sat on all Benches. They are sorely missed and there are many who say that they should be replaced.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, if the Government are genuinely considering the report from the Joint Committee, particularly in respect of the recommendation that a statutory appointments commission of some kind should be established, why have the Government recently renewed the appointment of the chairman of the present appointments commission?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have no confirmation of that matter. I shall repeat what I have said on a number of occasions. The Government are obliged, in the normal way, to give a response to the committee's report within the average time of two months. We shall use our very best endeavours to do just that. I am afraid that we shall all have to await the outcome of that response.
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