HC Deb 24 February 1986 vol 92 cc700-31

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

4.27 pm
Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I am sure that all members of the Select Committee on Social Services are glad to have an opportunity to debate, even for a short time, the report that it produced on children in care. The Committee had the benefit of the Government's reply and of the Government's working party on the legal issues. A good deal of evidence has therefore been collected together.

I thank all those who helped the Select Committee in its inquiry into the problems of children in care. The inquiry began in November 1982, which seems aeons ago, but it was interrupted by the general election. In 1983 the Committee decided to pick up the threads again and to complete its report, which was presented to the House in November 1984. The Committee is especially grateful to all the professional and voluntary organisations that gave evidence to it. The Committee is also especially grateful to the local authorities, including two in Scotland. They showed the Committee what they are doing in caring for deprived children who are sometimes delinquent. We are also grateful to those who develop the training of social workers in this difficult and sensitive work.

We learnt much from our visit to Denmark and Holland. We are also grateful to our three specialist advisers who have great experience in social work, administration and research and in the massive intricacies of the law.

Caring for children who are separated from their families is expensive. In 1981–82 we spent £370 million, mostly on residential homes, hostels, and boarding out. It costs £137 a week to keep a child in a community home, £123 a week in a voluntary home and £197 a week in residential accommodation, whereas fostering costs between £60 and £70 a week. We must be sure that we are right when deciding what we are to do to help a child in difficulty.

When we began our inquiry there was a debate going on about the rights of children and of parents. Now it is even more urgent to deal with the many shortcomings that were highlighted recently in the tragic Beckford case. Children in care are not obviously different from others of their age. A small minority might be in trouble for truancy, for example — often the first sign of difficulty in a family. Generally, the parents or other adults are in most need of help in dealing with a child who has difficulties.

We found that 8,400 children are in care because of parental neglect or abuse, 11,200 because their single parents cannot cope, 8,000 because of unsatisfactory home conditions, 5,700 because of parental illness and 3,200 because they have been orphaned or abandoned. Not all the children require long-term care.

Children in care are the victims. They are in care because the care system is designed to protect children against adult society, not to protect society against children. Although the state can never be a substitute for good parents and the good, loving home, it has an overriding responsibility to protect children when parenthood breaks down, for whatever reason.

The Committee accepts that parents and the family have rights and that they should be involved in the process of care, especially if the break-up of the family can be prevented. However, when the family cannot provide for the child, for whatever reason, the state must intervene. Poverty and unemployment increase the risks of marital breakdown and, therefore, the risk of juvenile delinquency. Many children in care come from families on supplementary benefit who live in poor housing, or from families with too many children. We tend to forget the appalling strain on mothers, especially mothers bringing up children singlehanded. Children from prosperous families are also in care. We must not forget that most children from deprived families are well cared for by their families. We must keep the issue in perspective.

Local authorities are closing down many of their community health and education facilities and their residential homes, so fostering has increased. The number of interim care orders has increased, as have remands into care and matrimonial care orders. That means that the courts have an increasing role in child care.

Our report covers some specific areas which need specific Government action. It makes a number of recommendations for local authorities about the large number of placements experienced by some children. Sometimes they must move within weeks or months from one foster home to another—perhaps for good reasons—but that can be unsettling and set a child back at school. Our report recommends that children attend their reviews where possible so that they are involved in the decisions made about them. We recommended that local authorities encourage foster parent groups. It is important to bring foster parents together so that they can discuss their mutual problems and perhaps exchange good ideas

We say that the inspectorate should assess the way in which local authorities monitor their policies and practices so that good ideas can be passed between authorities. We say that the Department should keep itself well informed about developments so that if necessary other Departments can become involved. Housing and education often need to be involved. While different avenues of research are being pursued, the more consultation across boundaries the better. When more than one Department is involved it is often difficult to bring together different groups of Ministers and civil servants. We hope that the Department will do its best.

We should like to know what progress has been made in recruiting black foster parents. We found that to be a serious gap, according to the evidence taken in the House and as a result of our visits to various local authorities. There is a shortage of black foster parents and there are problems in persuading local authorities to provide support, training and housing accommodation for young people leaving care. It is not good enough that young people should be in care until they are 16 and then be pushed out into the big world. That is the time when they are most vulnerable and in need of help. We must consider the problem of finding accommodation and bringing the Departments together to ensure that provision is made for young people. Lack of care at that age is one of the reasons why so many young people drift to London, all too often with disastrous consequences.

We were encouraged to learn of the formation of the National Association for Young People in Care which gave evidence in the House. We met representatives from that organisation when we visited Bradford where its headquarters are. We found them to be stimulating, intelligent and caring. The association is run by young people who have been in care. They deserve every support, including financial support, that the Department can give.

Is the Minister satisfied with the protection provided for handicapped children in care and leaving care? Such children are vulnerable. What progress has been made with our recommendation that a named medical adviser, should be responsible for the oversight of all children in care in each local authority area? What progress has been made towards establishing a permanent medical practice for children in care? If teachers, social workers, foster parents and others can get in touch with a medical adviser, that could provide the necessary co-ordination.

Doctors and teachers should have some understanding of the wide range of circumstances that can lead to a child being taken into care. That is important for teachers because they will receive children in care into their classrooms. The Blom-Cooper report into the tragic case of Jasmine Beckford shows that many important recommendations were not carried out in that case. That report was made some time after our report was published and showed that inadequately trained young people should not deal with such cases.

We urge the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work to take on board our recommendations about training its students. We urge it to finalise its proposals for the better training of social workers generally, who are expected to carry a very considerable responsibility. We do not underestimate the burdens that social workers, particularly young ones, are expected to shoulder. They carry considerable responsibility for widely disadvantaged groups, and their training should therefore be as adequate, careful and conscientious as possible.

We recommended that the training period should be for three years. It is clear that we have been expecting too much of young, inadequately trained men and women who are very keen to do social work but who have not been adequately prepared. We must extend the training course and improve its content.

I hope that the Minister will have some contact with the central council and will be able to give us some information about that. It is essential for directors of social service departments to provide the support and supervision that young social workers need. In recent cases it has been clear that that has not been provided.

I remind the House that we are still awaiting the Lord Chancellor's proposals, following our recommendations which arose from our visits to Scotland and Denmark, for the setting up of family courts. We saw admirable examples of what can be done in an informal atmosphere to help young people in difficulties, and their families, to deal with their problems. That may not necessitate taking the child away from home. The informal atmosphere that we saw is a great improvement on what can sometimes be a rather adversarial situation in juvenile courts in England. We have much to do to enable the legal side of the inquiries to function more effectively.

Before coming to the House I had some experience as a magistrate and sat on the juvenile bench. During our inquiry I visited three juvenile benches—two in London and one in my constituency—to see whether practice had changed. I was very depressed to find that it had not. The presence of uniformed policemen in the court, the magistrates sitting on a dais separated from the witnesses and the completely bewildered parents, guardians or whoever is representing the young person, makes for a very difficult atmosphere. There is no real heart-to-heart conversation, which is necessary if one is trying to find out from a young person what motivated him or her to steal a car or to try to bump a policeman on the head.

We are waiting anxiously for the Lord Chancellor's proposals. We have had the advantage of the review of child care law, which made interesting reading, but it is for the Lord Chancellor's proposals that we are waiting. I hope that this debate will stimulate all of the organisations that are working in this area of social care and that we shall be able to give them, through the decisions made by the Department, all of the help that they obviously need.

4.44 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Ray Whitney)

I am very happy to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) and to congratulate her on her personal contribution in these matters. I also congratulate her colleagues on the Select Committee, who have examined this vital topic. It is of the greatest parliamentary and public concern, as recent debates have shown. I refer to the debate initiated by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) and the Second Reading of the private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) a couple of weeks ago.

The Government fully share the anxiety about these matters, which is due to some extent to the steady and depressing succession of child abuse cases that have come to light. It is not possible to make with any confidence any assertion about whether that phenomenon represents a serious rise in the incidence of child abuse or whether such cases are now detected and reported more frequently.

I remind the House that it is no coincidence that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which does such good work and of whose Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) is a member, is more than a century old. This is by no means a new problem. There can be no disagreement, however, about our having to do anything to reduce or, as far as possible, eliminate this horrifying cancer in our society.

We must be careful not to over-react to any headline. My colleagues and I will continue to pay tribute to the thousands of unreported successes of social workers and other professionals. They achieve a great deal in extremely difficult circumstances. The Government are not content, however, with present circumstances. As the hon. Lady said, we have responded in Cmnd. 9298 to the Select Committee's report, which we greatly welcome. It made a valuable contribution in an area which is a matter of great public concern, which is complex and sensitive and in which fashions change. Indeed, fashions conflict and there is most certainly no one simple clear solution.

The Select Committee's report covered a great deal of ground. It made no fewer than 108 recommendations and reached 42 conclusions. We tried to respond positively. We also covered much of the ground in the triennial report for 1982–84, which was published last December under the Child Care Act 1980. It, too, is available to hon. Members.

In all of our debates in this House, in all the guidances and consultations which issue from our Department, in the flood of articles in the general media and in the professional journals, in all the deliberations of the courts, our objective must always be to find practical ways in which to help children who may be in need or even in danger. Whatever may be the structure of the court system, the state of the law, the level of liaison and control of all the various agencies involved, in the end, the effectiveness of that whole system must rest to a very large extent on how one adult can work with one child and his family.

We must ensure that he or she has the best and most relevant training for that task and the best possible support from the appropriate services. As the Select Committee states in paragraph 27 of its report, there is a crying need for improved liaison between the many statutory agencies involved. That observation and passages in a number of the other sections of the report highlight a crucial message which also emerges clearly from Mr. Louis Blom-Cooper's inquiry into the Jasmine Beckford case and the reports of other child abuse tragedies. That message emphasises the importance of the role and responsibilities of the elected members of local authorities to see that there are satisfactory arrangements for discharging their child-care responsibilities and that in practice they work as intended.

The local authorities are at a critical point in the whole system. They must ensure that the right staff are selected for this very difficult work and that the staff are given the appropriate training. They must ensure that the social services departments are able to work harmoniously and productively with other departments such as education and housing, and that there is good co-operation at the local level—and I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East about the importance of co-operation and liaison at the national level—but even when co-operation is achieved at the central level, it may not be at the local level.

It is essential, therefore, that there is co-operation at the local level between the local authority and the other agencies involved in the care of children. It is through the elected members of local authorities that the deep public concern about child-care issues can be given its most effective and immediate expression.

In central Government, the responsibility must be to provide the framework in which the local authority and other services can meet the challenges confronting them. One element must, of course, be our responsibility to provide financial resources and we are all aware of the difficulties of funding local government expenditure in the face of mounting pressures and the overriding need for national financial restraint. Against that background, I believe it is encouraging to note that since 1979 expenditure on the personal social services has grown in cost terms by over 19 per cent. and that this year local authorities have again budgeted to provide for expenditure at another record level.

Another area of central responsibility relates to training, and we fully recognise the importance of training and the emphasis, interest and attention on the adequate training of social workers is increasing. The Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East noted, is very active. It is the independent statutory body responsible for the approval of training programmes and courses, and resources for that work come from a variety of sectors.

The council's overall expenditure has increased from £7.8 million in 1982–83 to £8.7 million in 1984–85. There has been an increase in the number of social workers and, together with the whole House and the Select Committee, I have been glad to note and welcome the fact that the number of trained social workers has been rising steadily and now stands at over 80 per cent. of the total.

As the hon. Lady said, the council has put forward new proposals for the training of social workers. These are being studied by all concerned, including the Department. We shall closely watch the results of the consultation which the council is conducting with the training institutions, professional bodies, employers and other central Government Departments to determine what the implications would be and how far they are feasible.

The Department is playing a full part in the council's consultations on which the council is to report by the middle of 1986.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I acknowledge the points made by the Minister, but it sounds from his description as if we cannot expect anything positive to happen quickly. What timescale does the Minister's Department envisage for the consultation processes and decisions to take effect?

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the increased expenditure, but over the timescale he mentioned it is arguable, when set in the context of the Government's other social policy, whether that constitutes an increase. The Minister must recognise that, as with the Health Service, the social workers' morale is extremely low. Social workers feel that they are not held in any significant regard by the Government. That is the feeling, but I cannot detect anything in the procedure which the Minister has just outlined which will reverse that fundamental problem.

Mr. Whitney

After talking to a great many social workers over the past few months, I found that they are conscious that they have been fully supported by the Government from the Dispatch Box and elsewhere, during what has been a very difficult time given the horror cases that have been in newspaper headlines.

The Government, of course, are looking for better training. We all recognise the need for that, but that is an area where we must move with due care, taking full account of the consultative processes. We are fully committed to that and I repeat that we welcome and certainly think that it is a matter, not for complacency, but at least for some degree of pleasure, that the number of trained social workers has steadily increased and is now more than 80 per cent. of the total. I hope that the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) would not want us to go helter-skelter into a reorganisation of this fundamental and important area. That would be misguided.

The most important of all the Department's roles is to promote the highest standards of practice in all aspects of social work and to ensure that those practices are understood and applied throughout the country. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East mentioned that point. Much of that responsibility rests with the Department's social services inspectorate, an organisation that was formed last April and that has already made a significant contribution in a difficult field, and I pay a warm tribute to what it has achieved so far.

The inspectorate will continue to be as active as it has been in many areas. Last week, for example, it published a report of an inspection it completed of 149 community homes in 29 English local authorities. These homes, as the House will understand, have been going through a particularly difficult time of change. As child-care policies have developed in recent years, a strong emphasis has emerged on reducing the amount of residential provision and the length of time that children spend in it. This has also meant that the homes are being used by those children who need the most concentrated and skilled attention.

The report makes positive recommendations for improvement in a number of areas. For example, it calls for improvements in the integration of field work and residential care staff and closer collaboration between homes and educational and employment services. Again the hon. Lady and I would agree on the need for improvements to continue in that area. Copies of the report, which are availabe in the Library, have been sent to all directors of social services and I am quite sure that they will provide welcome guidance in a difficult area.

Other areas where work by the social services inspectorate is in the pipeline include reports on assessment and supervision in child abuse cases and local authority practice on the provision of access to children in care and in the taking of parental rights resolutions—resolutions by which local authorities can take over all the parental rights and duties for a child in voluntary care. The inspectorate will also be looking closely at the operation of family centres, as recommended by the Select Committee, and on the scope and quality of planning for children in care.

As I said earlier, good social work with children depends on the quality of practical decision making and that is an area in which a number of major research projects have just been completed. The Select Committee recognised the need for research into the development of good social work practice and for the findings of such research to be properly disseminated. We entirely share that view and that is why, with the help of the group of practitioners, we have prepared a document which provides an overview of the findings of these projects and includes summaries of research reports.

The publication is entitled "Social Work Decisions in Child Care" and contains much material which, I believe, will be very helpful to local authorities, other statutory bodies and, above all, practitioners. Again, a copy has been placed in the Library. Important messages from the research include the need for social workers to develop and improve preventive services to keep families together; to avoid over-concentration on the actual point of admission to care; and to take a more positive approach to planning purposefully for children in care, either for return to their family or long-term alternative care. To achieve these objectives agencies need to set clear policy guidelines for staff based on clearer views about their objectives and purposes of care.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I welcome all that my hon. Friend is saying. However, does he agree that one of the great problems is that the concept of care often does not square with the pressures that social workers experience when living and working in urban areas? The turnover of social workers in children's homes often leaves much to be desired and subjects children in so-called care to added strain.

Mr. Whitney

I am sure that my hon. Friend has a valid point. It is one that should be noted by all the local authorities concerned. My hon. Friend will be aware that the move is away from residential care wherever possible, and I hope that it will continue. We hope to work on the need for improved training of workers in residential-care homes.

It is important that we disseminate "Social Work Decisions in Child Care". As a first step, we organised a national seminar on 10 January, which I was privileged to initiate. We were delighted to welcome to that seminar a number of chairmen of social services committees, other elected members and a number of chief officers. This will be followed by a series of regional seminars mounted by the social services inspectorate. We have also commissioned a training package that is based on the findings of the research so that all the benefits can be transmitted quickly to managers and practitioners throughout the country.

I have tried to highlight some of the areas where we are seeking to give practical help to those who have direct responsibilities in this sensitive area. It is not an exhaustive list and there is more to come in a number of areas—for example, our response to Mr. Louis Blom-Cooper's important report on the Jasmine Beckford case.

I should not conclude before referring to two other areas for which the Government and all of us in Parliament must be responsible, and these are the legal and judicial systems operating in relation to children in care.

One of the Select Committee's main concerns was, justifiably, the confused state of the law on the care and protection of children. The Committee commented on the harmful effect of the piecemeal implementation of the Children Act 1975, which I am glad to say is now fully implemented with the exception of a statutory adoption service. The Government responded quickly to the Committee's recommendation for an urgent and speedy review, and a team started work on this major task within two months of the Select Committee's report. It produced a thorough and detailed report to Ministers with commendable speed, given the complexity of the area. The report was published early in October 1985 as a consultation document, and comments were sought by mid-January. We have received over 180 comments which have generally been favourable. We are now in the process of considering this response and taking decisions on what changes need to be made in the law. I hope that it will not be too long before it will be possible to bring proposals before the House.

In fact, many of the report's recommendations simply encapsulate what is already good practice in the best authorities and in the voluntary organisations. In these areas, there is no need for other authorities to wait for changes in the law, which inevitably take time to go through the proper and necessary constitutional arrangements. Better practice can and should be achieved now. But other areas will have to await legislative change, and I would offer the House three examples which illustrate the main themes of the report.

First, given the existing state of the law, it can at present be difficult to take a child into care where serious harm is thought likely in the future. The working party therefore recommended changes so that children can be committed to care more easily by reference to a magistrates' court where substantial harm is thought likely. The working party has also managed to meet one of the Select Committee's main concerns by bringing into line the different legal grounds for care which exist in different legal processes.

Secondly, the working party followed the Select Committee, and indeed the Beckford report, in recommending better safeguards to ensure that removal of a child to care is properly and thoroughly tested by a court and that the parents should have an early opportunity to put their case even if it is not, in the event, accepted. For example, it proposes that there should continue to be power for a magistrate to make an emergency order removing a child from home without the parents necessarily being present to challenge it. But these orders should last for only up to eight days before being carefully examined by a court rather than 28 days at present. This is in line with the Select Committee's report, although I note Mr. Blom-Cooper's report has suggested that these orders should last only 72 hours. We shall need to consider which approach gives the better protection to children, both from harm from their parents and from arbitrary and unjustified removal.

Thirdly, the majority of children enter care not as a result of being abused or neglected, nor because they have offended. The parents of many children simply find themselves unable to cope, generally for a short period as a result of a parent's illness, sometimes for extended periods. As a result, they themselves ask for a child to be taken into care. This includes parents of handicapped children, who can make particularly stressful demands. The working party recommended that we should try to get away from the old stigma of "care" and develop new models of "respite care" to give families a break from caring for a child and of "shared care" where parents share the responsibility of looking after their children with the local authority. This will also ensure in law that any handicapped child living away from home receives the careful supervision and review which the Select Committee recommended.

The House will also have noted that simultaneously with the review of child care law we embarked last October on a consultation on day care legislation, the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948, and I am glad to say that here, too, we have had a similar volume of helpful responses.

The working party on the reform of child care law emphasised that the changes it proposed would be able to fit either into the present court system or into any future family court system, and the Select Committee itself said that the review of the law should fall short of a fundamental examination of family courts, which must of necessity take longer.

However, there is a powerful and increasing demand for the creation of a family court system, and the Select Committee recommended that the Government should provide the House with a detailed and fully costed scheme for the establishment of such a system. Accordingly the Government set up the family court review to consider the feasibility of a unified family court. That team, which was made up of officials from the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office, the Treasury and my own Department, will be producing a consultation paper around Easter which will set out the main options for such a court. I share the regret that it has taken the review such a long time to produce a paper, but I hope that the House will recognise the inherent difficulty and complexity of devising a family court which would not only take on jurisdiction in care proceedings but in all other family and domestic proceedings as well.

Many questions arise from the contemplation of such a major step in an area as complicated and sensitive as the administration of justice. There are questions, for example, on the best use of judicial manpower. Would it be appropriate to require judges to specialise only in family law cases? Are lay magistrates to continue to play a role in this field? How are the very different jurisdictions of a county court registrar in a divorce court and the lay magistrates in the domestic court to be brought within a single unified jurisdiction? There are questions of resources and of accommodation. And what would the family court provide for the family which is involved in the multiplicity of court proceedings? To what extent are criticisms of the present court structure really criticisms of a very complex system of law?

I do not have the answers to these questions, but it is certainly not my intention in raising them to suggest that answers cannot be found. I merely wish to make the point that those who say that family courts could be established overnight have probably failed to consider the practicability of the form of family court that they have in mind. I hope that the forthcoming consultation document will focus attention on the many questions involved, and that it will also point the way to the answers which must be found if family courts are to fulfil the hopes now held by so many people about the positive contribution they could make to the handling of the problems of children in care.

I have spoken at length about some of the things the Government are doing in this crucial area. I shall listen to the contributions of all hon. Members during the debate. The care of our children is not just a matter for Parliament and the Government or for local authorities and social workers. It is a matter for each and every one of us as parents, as neighbours and as individuals. Children brought into care represent a challenge to society—all too often a failure of society — that all of us must recognise and deal with.

5.11 pm
Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) for the important contribution made by the report of her Committee. One of the most valuable aspects of the Select Committee report was the emphasis on the need to reduce the number of children coming into care. The Government have not responded to that emphasis and that is the Government's most serious failing. Children that are well housed and have a decent income and go to nursery schools are unlikely to find themselves in care.

The Select Committee rightly emphasised the well established link between poverty and reception into care. Not all children of the poor are, in care, but most of the children who are are children of the poor. Since the report was written, there has been a relentless increase in unemployment, in the number of people claiming supplementary benefit, and in the number of people who are forced to claim single payments. That means an increase in the number of families where children are at risk because of a combination of poverty and other problems.

The Government's response seems to be that families are better off than they were and long scale rates for unemployed families with children are too expensive. The Government are taking steps that will increase the financial problems of the very families that are already vulnerable. For example, child benefit is a major bulwark against poverty. It is paid to the person who is responsible for feeding and clothing the children, which is usually the mother, and it is used for the purpose intended. It is a universal benefit and does not suffer from the problem of other benefits of a low take-up. The Government have already undermined child benefit by not increasing it last November in line with the rate of inflation. While the Government have not abolished it altogether, I fear they are allowing it to fade away. There is unanimous hostility to the Government's failure to keep child benefit up as a meaningful contribution to the cost of upkeep of a child. There is hostility even from the Government's own Conservative women's organisations.

Mr. Whitney

Would the hon. Lady not agree that the Government's proposals for social security reform and especially for the reform of family credit and income support that concentrates help on the poorest families is the right way to go? Should we not do that rather than continually and steadily spread the family benefit across the board? The statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has uprated above the rate of inflation, but the major thrust of our social security review with the important proposals on family credit and income support is directed towards those members of the population with whom the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and all of us are concerned.

Ms. Harman

The Minister has clearly revealed his hostility to the universality of child benefit. That is precisely why child benefit is so important. The other advantage of child benefit is that it is paid to the person looking after the child, whether or not that person is a wage earner. A further threat to low income families is the proposal in the Social Security Bill that instead of single payments there is a proposal for a social fund. That will plunge tens of thousands of families into further debt because, instead of cash grants for necessary items, families will have to seek payments in the form of loans that are later repayable to the DHSS by way of weekly deductions from the new income support.

There are already 300,000 claimants with direct deductions for fuel payments that amount to about 10 per cent. of their supplementary benefit. This proposal is likely to increase indebtedness, especially among those identified as vulnerable in the Select Committee's report, that is, children of single parents and children of the unemployed. A further threat is the ending of the work expenses disregard for calculating income support. Apparently, work expenses are disregarded when assessing income for the purposes of calculating supplementary benefit. One of the major work expenses, especially for a lone parent. is child care. Because of the drastic shortage of day nurseries and nursery education and the lack of local authority-sponsored child minder places, most single parents have to pay for child care provision while they are at work. If a lone parent in part-time work cannot get child care expenses of, say, £20 a week disregarded, that person will become ineligible for supplementary benefit. That means it will be no longer be worth while for that parent to work. That will arise if the Government's proposals go through and would mean an increase in the number of lone parent families where the parent in not working and suffering a combination of isolation and poverty.

The Select Committee not only identified money as being important in preventing families reaching a stage where children have to go into care but highlighted the importance of services. The Select Committee referred to children who are vulnerable out of school, that is, after school hours, in school holidays or during half term. There should be comprehensive provision for out of school care. Children with nothing to do during the school holidays, in half term and after school hours, instead of enjoying themselves, can end up in hospital or in the juvenile courts. Far from encouraging such out of school care the Government are inhibiting its development. Education authorities who might be the main source of such schemes are being told by the Government that they are indulging in spending sprees. Last year the Government cut £400,000 from the urban programme of holiday play schemes. Because of great protest about that, at the last minute the Government restored the money. But it was too late and sponsors of many of the schemes had to cut the length of time they operated or the number of children they were able to care for.

Pre-school care and education is important for all children. The first five years of life are vital for the mental and physical development of children, who blossom when they can play and learn with other children. As a means of preventing children coming into residential care, day care is crucial. In response to the Select Committee's anxiety about provision for the under-fives, the Government have the cheek to say that there has been an increase in day nursery places. I say to the Minister that that has been despite Government action, not because of it. The Government have been trying to reduce local authority spending and have branded as irresponsible councils that have increased spending to expand provision for the under-fives. The increase in day nursery places is attributable to those councils that have refused to bow down to the Government and have stoically defended and improved services in spite of the fact the Government have told them not to do that. The Government have even financially penalised them for doing so.

The list of authorities that make provision for the under-fives bears an uncanny resemblance to the list of authorities that the Government are ratecapping or heavily penalising. For example, at the top of the list for day nursery places for the under-fives are: Camden, Islington, Brent, Lambeth, Manchester, Hackney, Southwark, Liverpool, Greenwich, Lewisham, Haringey and Birmingham. According to the response to the Select Committee report, the Minister apparently thinks it is a responsible policy to provide day nursery places. Perhaps the Minister will tell that to his colleagues in the Department of the Environment and his Conservative colleagues in local councils, because a number of Conservative local authorities provide not a single day nursery place. They are: Cornwall, Warwickshire, West Sussex and Wiltshire. What about those caring Liberal councillors? In the Isle of Wight — the Liberals' flagship, because it is the only authority where the Liberals have had control for a number of years, and where they can be judged on their record—there is not one single day nursery place. This is not because there are no children under five, but because the "caring" Liberals do not think it is important to provide parents with the choice of provisions.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Far be it from me to defend Liberal councils or, indeed, any other kinds of council, except good Conservative ones, but is the hon. Lady really saying that the only form of child care is day nursery provisions provided by the paid staff of a local authority? What about play groups, child minders, voluntary care and all the other people who look after children? Many of them do not require any assistance and would not accept it from the state.

Ms Harman

The hon. Lady was not listening. I said that it was important for local authorities to provide day nursery places so that there is a choice of provision based on what suits the child and what suits the parent. That is what I always say. I said that just as the hon. Lady rose but she was too quick to intervene.

I believe that a statutory duty should be imposed on local authorities to make them take account of the needs of children under five and make available a range of provisions to meet those needs. The Government must ensure that they match with resources the responsibilities of councils to children under five in their area. Not only is this an important step in preventing children from coming into care but it gives all parents what they want—a comprehensive range of services so that they can choose the services that meet the needs of their families.

The Government appear in their response to endorse the Select Committee's correct concern to improve child minding and, in particular, to increase legislation. The Government talk about local authorities "encouraging registration" by making support for child minders available. This will be greeted with hollow laughter from those authorities which are trying to improve the services available to child minders and which are told, as a result, by the Department of the Environment that they are reckless overspenders.

Under the under-fives initiative fund, the National Childminding Association set up three experimental schemes—in Trafford, Southwark and Stafford. Last week, I visited the excellent Trafford scheme and I know very well the work of the Southwark scheme. The schemes' aim was to give children who are minded, minders and parents a better deal by providing support services, training and information for minders, not least about how to recognise signs of child abuse, in case a child minder feels that a child in his or her care is being abused by its parent, and about what to do if his or her suspicions appear to have some basis.

All these schemes are coming to an end. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will respond to this point and tell us what will happen to the schemes. Unless they obtain finance from local authorities—which, courtesy of the Minister's colleagues in the Department of the Environment, already have their backs against the wall—they will disappear. The schemes were an experiment which has clearly worked. However, it is difficult for councillors to take up this useful experiment and put it into practice — a practice that would benefit hundreds of thousands of children who are minded.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the child minding service comes from the Social Security Bill. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to respond specifically to this point. Two thirds of a child minder's fees are disregarded in assessing eligibility for supplementary benefit. It is not entirely clear, but it is feared by the National Childminding Association and many other organisations that the new social security framework will mean that all child minders' fees will be taken into account when assessing them for supplementary benefit and that they will therefore lose that two thirds disregard. That will mean that a large number of minders will become ineligible for supplementary benefit and, for many, it will mean that it is not worth their while working. Increasing their fees is not an option, not only because the women who are paying the fees are already low paid but because, with the implementation of the Social Security Bill, their position will be even worse because of the ending of the work expenses disregard.

Camden council has estimated that, if the earnings disregard for child minders is ended, it will lose up to 50 per cent. of its minders overnight. Will the Under-Secretary of State assure the House that child minders will not lose their two thirds disregard, as this will undermine one important plank of the provision for children under five?

The Select Committee asked the Government to examine and cost proposals for a family court. The case for a family court is overwhelming. Implementation of the proposals is long overdue. Current court procedures for dealing with children are complex, overlapping and lengthy. Our adversarial system, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East has said, is not always the best way of reaching the correct conclusion on a case. We have no inquisitorial arm for the courts as in the Scottish system. Magistrates and judges are inexpert in these matters because they lack specific training and experience with respect to child care because they deal with a wide range of issues. It is therefore impossible for them to build up the expertise that such a complex aspect of law and public policy requires.

We should do well to remember what Mr. Blom-Cooper said about magistrates in the report on the Jasmine Beckford case. He said that they had been "utterly misguided", had "failed to protect" abused children and should be "publicly upbraided". Clearly, we need to demonstrate the inadequacies of the current system, but they are well known to the Government. Action should be taken. There is a definite demand for a family court.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

The hon. Lady called for action. I believe that in 1974 the Labour party's manifesto called for family courts but, when the Labour party came to power, it found all sorts of reasons not to take action.

Ms. Harman

This has been a long-running saga. It has run for far too long. The tune is now right for all vested interests to unleash their grip on whichever part of the system they are hanging on to. It is time for a bit of change and progress. The momentum and consensus behind the family courts issue is enormous. All the organisations involved agree on the need for family courts. There is a broad measure of agreement on the shape of that court.

The Government still have not provided their report on family courts. When may we expect that overdue report? This creates a problem, because the child care law review is nearing its end. The Select Committee's report provided the impetus to that review. There are many organisations whose support for the changes in the substantive law is conditional upon a change in the procedural law. It would be madness to jeopardise the consensus emerging on the substantive law changes by failing to get a move on and to set up family courts.

In a way, the subject of intermediate treatment parallels the child minders' support schemes. In 1983 the DHSS gave £15 million in finance for intermediate treatment. More than 90 schemes have been set up throughout England, providing 3,000 places. They have made a useful contribution by providing courts with an alternative to taking a child into care or imposing a custodial sentence. The money is running out, as the schemes were to continue for only two or three years. The Government have responded by extending the period to six months, but that merely postpones the evil day. The Challenge project in Durham, the Milestone project in Sunderland, the Community Alternative for Young Offenders project in Sandwell and several National Children's Home projects in Devon are under threat because their funding is about to end. I hope that we can have an assurance from the Government that those schemes, when they have taken the initiative of providing pump-priming funding, vial not disappear as a result of the enormous pressure on local government finance which the Department of the Environment has been exerting.

When reading the Government's response to the excellent Select Committee report one gets the feeling that the Department of Health and Social Security recognises what needs to be done but refuses to acknowledge it because it is afraid to do anything to undermine the Government's relentless drive towards public expenditure cuts. It is difficult to see how we can improve preventive measures and provision for children while they are in care while the DHSS acts like a sub-division of the Department of the Environment and both the DHSS and the Department of the Environment act like sub-divisions of the Treasury. The DHSS Ministers have abdicated their reponsibility for social services in favour of being an arm of the Government's brutal economic policies.

5.30 pm
Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and I have crossed swords before on child care. I always think that it is rather sad that she seems to feel that children are a burden and that families have to be assisted by the state in all the ways that she has outlined. I think that most Conservative Members would say that most people have children because they want them and they should be encouraged to look after them by themselves as far as possible. The only other party point that I would make is that it is sad that the Labour party has largely seen fit to ignore this debate. For much of it the only other person on the Opposition Benches, Back or Front, has been the hon. Member of Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) who is the distingushed Chairman of the Committee which produced the report.

The report was the first act of the Select Committee in the new parliamentary Session. Although I was a member of the Committee when it produced the report, I was not a member when it did all the work. I would like to pay tribute to all those hon. Members in the previous Parliament who put in what must have been a staggering amount of work, going round the country and visiting other countries to see how child care policies worked. I am sorry that it is likely that I shall have to leave the Committee soon. I regard the work that I have done during the two years that I have spent on it as being among the most valuable things that I have been able to do in the House.

The report is first class with a wealth of excellent detailed work in it. It is a pity that it has taken nearly two years to get to the stage where we are able to debate it, but perhaps the Committee has done quite well in having had a recent debate on community care for the adult mentally ill and mentally handicapped. Much of the current interest in the subject is the result of recent child abuse cases. One could only wish that those feelings of shock and horror among the public, councillors and members of the responsible bodies, such as health authorities, which are aroused when they read the reports of cases in the newspapers were effective at the time they take the decisions which determine what level and what type of resources are available to prevent such cases.

Much of what I feel about such matters arises out of my service in Birmingham. In 1978 and 1979 we commissioned a major report to look at the child care we were providing in an authority which was not poor and which was not divided on political grounds over how to look after our 4,000 children in care. We found to our horror that at that time we were spending about £ 15 million each year to keep children in care and about £400,000 to keep children out of care. We had 104 children's homes, including nine residential nurseries, many of which were half empty. About 70 per cent. of the children we were looking after came from broken homes and we were shuffling those poor children around like brown paper parcels. As a result of that we changed the pattern of child care in Birmingham. I believe that it has stayed changed. The number of children in care is now below 2,000, so the figure has dropped by about half. My colleagues in Birmingham seem to be making a much better job of it than we did some years ago.

The report examines in detail two of the thorny problems of children in care. On the whole it steers a clear course between the extremes that are offered in the particular problems. I particularly want to direct my attention to two issues—when a child is in trouble, or is to be rehabilitated. Who should we favour, who should we believe and who should we give power to? Should we give power to the parents or the statutory worker, usually the social worker? The other main problem is how should we look after a child when it is in care. Should we aim for children's homes or fostering? Those are the broad arguments.

I shall deal first with the problem of the pattern of care. The report devotes a great deal of attention to that. We should recognise that vested interests are at work in that issue, particularly the National Union of Public Employees. I am not surprised. Why should it not be? If NUPE does not speak for its members I suspect that nobody else will.

Those in children's homes see themselves as offering a safe haven for children at risk, and very often they are doing just that. However, they often fail to see the risks of putting children in homes — the risk of institutionalisation, not only of the children but of the people who work with them. They fail to see the tendency to treat children as brown paper parcels — shuffling children around. We discovered to our horror in Birmingham that the bulk of our homes were set up for short periods of care only. Each child made an average of six moves during their child care career with us, and many children were moved around 10 times or more. Many children set up the move as a means of controlling their environment. They would make themselves exceedingly awkward, get themselves moved and feel that they had managed to achieve something.

Many people in residential child care fail to prepare children for the outside world. That is not surprising when a child never sees a gas bill and thinks that food rolls up on a Monday morning in large refrigerated vans. Residential child care also fails to catch up with changes in the type of child and the type of need.

I have not seen the report of the inspectorate, but I should like to refer to an article by David Hencke in The Guardian which deals with that report on children in care. It points out that nearly four out of five residents in homes are now aged 13 or more, and half were first admitted to care after their twelfth birthday. Many of the comments that the inspectors made pointed out that the homes had become unsuitable: 'Adult-sized young people were sleeping in small beds and occasionally having to use wash basins and lavatories designed for young children."' It is not only a matter of the physical environment of the home, but the people concerned have not been trained to look after what are no longer little children or babies but extremely difficult, disturbed and frequently dangerous adolescents. The child care provisions have been set up as if we were running orphanages, but well over 98 per cent. of those children have parents and we are not talking about orphanages at all.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

My hon. Friend has told the House that she was not on the Committee for the majority of its work, but came on to it when the Committee was reconstituted in the current Parliament. Is my hon. Friend aware that the association representing young people in care — the National Association of Young People in Care—gave us strong evidence to support the continuation of residential care homes. It believed that, with those homes being restructured, it was a very valuable facility for those young people who did not want fostering, were not prepared to be adopted and could not go back to their original homes. Will my hon. Friend confess that there are a number of young people who would wish to see residential care homes maintained for the future?

Mrs. Currie

Yes. With the greatest respect to those young people, I wonder how many of them have been influenced by foster parents to speak in favour of fostering. I am not aware of whether the Committee took any evidence at that time from foster children or whether there is an organisation for children who are being fostered, but I feel that the institutionalisation to which I referred can affect everyone concerned, including the children. I am not saying that we should close all children's homes. Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to continue and I shall reach the point with which I think he will agree. I am concerned that residential care staff are often the Cinderella staff of social services departments, which are themselves the Cinderella departments of many local authorities. If we are to move from the staff being frequently untrained, unqualified and often very young, who think they will be looking after little babies and doing a lot of nappy changing but who find to their surprise that they are looking after great hulking teenagers who are in care because of some horror they have committed, we have to ensure that those residential care staff are properly trained, supported, advised and have the appropriate status in terms of the advice that they are able to offer. It always seems curious that it is social workers who feel so hard done by in all these discussions when it is residential child care staff who perhaps have some grievances.

The other extreme of what to do with children in care requires an answer as to whether we need children's homes at all. I think that we do, but I feel that we could make more progress using foster parents. In those local authorities which regard foster parents as a vital and valuable resource, over 50 per cent. or 70 per cent. of the children in their care may be out with foster parents. In that way I believe that children can experience normal home life, and they are offered some kind of model for their future. They come into a home in which rows are not resolved by somebody pulling out a kitchen knife, in which bills are paid and the electricity does not get cut off and in which children are treated with love and dignity and encouraged to treat other people in the same way.

Fostering requires a lot of strenuous effort, and it should not be regarded as a cheap option. It will not be possible to do without some form of residential accommodation especially for severely disabled children and for respite care for those families who might need some assistance from time to time.

The other major hassle to which the report devotes a great deal of attention is the balance between parental influence and the role of professional workers, particularly in the context of the court, but there are other aspects to the matter as well.

For some time there have been moves to take powers away from social workers and return them to the parents. Some of them have been resurrected recently in the case of Mrs. Gillick and the role of doctors vis-a-vis parents and children. I would dub that as the "parents know best" argument. I think that parents usually know best, and that is why I am all in favour of foster parents, but years of seeing what some parents do to their children, and the way in which some parents treat their children, and the way in which some parents have damaged and abused their children, as I saw over all those years in Birmingham, has led me to believe that there are occasions when other people know best. Indeed, sometimes even children know best. I know that it sounds like a cop out to say that we should look at each case on its merits, but that is really the only way.

What is wrong, and what annoys me, is when social workers are blamed by the media for the deaths of children in care. It is worth remembering that Tyra Henry was killed not by her social worker, but by her mother's lover, and that Jasmine Beckford was murdered not by any social worker or health visiter, but by her father. Whether we should regard the social workers as culpable in any way, the fact is that it is the murderers who are in prison, not the people employed by the local authority.

Just as good community policing requires officers who understand the local people and can gain their respect, that is true of social workers and care staff. We have a lot more social workers around. I understand that in 1978 there were 22,000 social workers on the books, and in 1984 there were 24,300, which is a substantial jump. However, I wonder whether, instead of just recruiting more social workers, instead of just looking at the input and the amounts of money that we spend on them, we should not look at the quality of what we are getting. I believe that we should recruit far more social workers from the ranks of mature people who have had families of their own and whose experience of life and child care should alert them when something is going wrong, instead of nice girls with philosophy degrees—often from other countries—from good homes where no one ever tells a lie, and whose understanding of some of the families that they are dealing with leaves a great deal to be desired.

I should like to make one last comment. All children in care are the results of failure. Most are the results of failure in the family. In the survey in Birmingham, which I mentioned earlier, in 1978, 70 per cent. of the children came from a broken home. I guess that if that survey were done again, we would find a much higher proportion, yet all those children had parents. Is it not about time that we thought again about putting together a family policy? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in a House of Commons written reply back in March 1983: Improving family life is one of our principal objectives".—[Official Report, 3 March 1983; Vol. 38, c. 204.] At the time there was a great deal of discussion about family policy, how to make it effective, and so on. Such thoughts go back to the most impeccable Socialist origins, in 1976, when in New Society Brian Jackson suggested a Minister for the family. I believe that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has called for a family policy. The all-party penal reform committee called for a Minister for the family. I suggest that it is about time that we had another look at that.

It is said sometimes that asking for a Minister for the family is rather simple-minded. I am a simple-minded soul, and I think it is worth while looking at whether we can, in a simple-minded way, emphasise once again that the family is important, and the collapse of the family is disastrous, particularly for the children concerned.

Other countries have a Minister for the family. For example, West Germany has something which I understand is called —slightly unfortunately -- the Ministry of Family Affairs. All that we have is something called the Study Commission on the Family, funded by the Department of Health and Social Security and the Social Science Research Council, which produces excellent reports that nobody ever reads and, as far as I can see, nobody ever acts on. We can see in the social security reviews that were published last year, and in the Social Security Bill, now in Standing Committee, of which I am a member, the result of not having a family policy or a review of family policy. We found that, contrary to public opinion, it was not pensioners who had become worse off, although everybody believed that, but families with children, whose position had worsened in recent years and nobody had noticed.

I should like to see a Minister for the family, and in the Department of Health and Social Security. Such a Minister could do four jobs. The first job should be to administer that part of the DHSS that supports family life—child benefit, family income supplement and its future incarnations, with all the billions of pounds that are involved.

The second job should be to administer the funds for voluntary organisations that support the family. At the top of my list would be marriage guidance and family conciliation services. The Government's response to recommendation 10 in the report of the Select Committee on Social Services was a little mealy-mouthed. We could wait for ever to prove that those services are worthwhile. Meanwhile the number of divorces increases, the number of children affected by divorce increases, and more and more children are at risk. It is axiomatic that if we help to support good quality, experienced marriage guidance services with some money we might help to keep some marriages together and help some families.

Ms. Harman

I think that the hon. Lady is muddling up marriage guidance counselling, which is an attempt to resolve differences within a marriage and to keep marriages together, with conciliation services, which are about conciliating the partners on the breakdown of a marriage, to ensure that arguments about property, money and the children are kept to a minimum. The two are entirely different. The conciliation services are not for repairing broken marriages, but for minimising the damage that may be caused.

Mrs. Currie

I take the hon. Lady's point entirely. I should not muddle them up; I should help them both. I should particularly help voluntary organisations that are working in the field—not just in marriage guidance. I was involved with the family service units in Birmingham. A Minister for the family should pay more attention to such an organisation.

The third job that such a Minister could do would be to take responsibility for all those bits of legislation that affect the family. I have counted seven different major statutes since 1975 that affect children and the family. One tiny little bit was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State — the triennial report under the Children Act 1975, which has to come to the House. There is more than enough for a Minister to do there.

The fourth job should be to create and promulgate a family perspective, which has been called for repeatedly over the past 10 years, to liaise with other Departments so that the effect of legislative or fiscal action on the family can be highlighted, and so that priorities can be urged to put the family first—for example, the reform of taxation of the family. We have been promised a Green Paper; we have been promised action to assist families where the mother chooses to stay at home and look after the children. We should ensure that that happens. With somebody actually pushing the family perspective, we should make a lot of progress.

We shall never avoid some kinds of child abuse. There will always have to be some statutory intervention when things go wrong. Ultimately, the child has to look to the House and all the delegated responsibilities that we hand down to protect him, but I believe that by strengthening the family and by the other changes that I have suggested we could make a far better job of it.

5.48 pm
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I am tempted to do so, but I shall not follow the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) too far down the line that she has been sketching out. When the hon. Lady described the range of issues with which a Minister for the family would deal and the breadth of responsibility which he would enjoy, it struck me just a little that we were hearing a delicate effort to sketch out a job description for herself. However, I leave it at that. The Minister is warned. There is a problem about proposing new Ministries. The Department of Employment tends to deal with rising unemployment, and the Minister responsible for housing tends to deal with an ever-more rapid decline in the quantity and quality of our housing stock, so if a Ministry responsible for the family were to follow the approach laid down by Ministers elsewhere, I hate to think what we would end up with. Beyond that, the hon. Lady raised a legitimate matter, in which she may have a legitimate interest.

Any discussion of children in care is clouded in the minds of the public by some of the horrific reports of child abuse last year. Yesterday, the Sunday Times said that after the enormous publicity following the horrific death of Jasmine Beckford and the subsequent public inquiry and report, there had been a significant increase in the reporting of child abuse. That was also reported in the social work magazine Community Care.

Whatever line we take on social policy in the broadest sense, I am sure that we all echo the approach adopted by the Minister when he said that, ultimately, the care of children cannot be a matter only for statutory or voluntary organisations, but must be a matter for us all. I do not want to go too far into the argument about the relationship between poverty, declining social opportunities, increasing social inequalities and the degree of incidence of care for children. However, when referring to that relationship the Select Committee report said: Studies have shown that the majority of children in care come either from one-parent families or from families with an unemployed head of household—or both … Social work can however be expected to ensure that the full range of services provided by the state and others reach those most at risk.

The thrust of that observation is self-evident. It shows that those most at risk are often those in the most deprived circumstances. I shall not indulge in a great political harangue about that, as I have no time for such an approach. However, it is an important point that is worth bearing in mind.

In the Government's continuing consideration of children in care, I hope that they will remember the effects of their social security revisions. The announcement this afternoon of the consultative paper to the Social Security Advisory Committee on the future of single payments, and what appears to be a fairly drastic reduction in both the scope and level of single payments to families, cannot be isolated from the subject that we are debating.

Child benefit has already been discussed. I believe it to be a detrimental and retrograde step that family credit will be paid through the wage packet. Some provision should be made for family credit to go direct to the caring parent. It cannot be beyond the wit of the DHSS and those involved in bringing tax and benefits closer together to leave some scope for the benefit for the child to go direct to the caring parent, which, as we know, is the mother in nine out of ten cases. Obviously the social security reviews and the incidence of deprivation cannot be overlooked.

The Minister rightly said that emphasis must be given to prevention. There is general consensus in the Select Committee report that more should be done to advance prevention as part of the general strategy. The AMA, in paragraph 32, accepted that preventive work was all too often an early casualty of financial pressures. That is an important point. For example, all too often joint funding projects—especially those involving the voluntary sector—are the first to suffer when a local authority's rate support grant is threatened, penalised or cut by the Government because of overspending commitments. That is especially relevant to the taper effect, as most of the burden of joint funding lies with local authorities. Similarly, the preventive aspects emphasised by the Government and the Select Committee, which would command full support, will be an early casualty when there are excessive financial pressures.

I am in no way defending those local authorities which have tried—even if they have backed down at the last minute — to behave illegally by not setting a rate —[Interruption.] It is interesting to note the unholy alliance between the two Front Benches, which the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) was so willing to exemplify—

Mr. Whitney

The hon. Gentleman said that he did not wish to indulge in a political harangue—a sentiment that I share—but he has entered into a typical Liberal facing-both-ways attitude. He suggested that he was with us in our approach to overspending authorities, but then demanded more expenditure. He cannot have it both ways, any more than he and his colleagues in the alliance can have it both ways on other matters. He must be clear about that.

The hon. Gentleman should also be clear about the impact of the social security reviews. He should recognise the switch of emphasis in all that we have proposed to give more aid to the families at the lower end of the income scale. I hope that he will have the good grace to acknowledge that.

Mr. Kennedy

In the context of political harangue, it would be tempting to enter into an argument on the Minister's last point about redistribution. The redistribution towards the working poor, if we can so define them, will be at the expense of the childless poor. The redistribution of finance within the family will be away from women and towards men. That is not an egalitarian redistribution.

I have made a common sense argument. It is that we need more emphasis in certain areas, but do not want the confrontation politics that lead to illegality to be the means to achieve that. It is ridiculous to suggest that that is somehow having one's cake and eating it. The Minister is likely to be summoned by the chairman of the Conservative party, beause he committed the unholy crime of referring to the alliance, when he should have referred to the SDP or the Liberal party.

Ms. Harman

The hon. Gentleman mentioned prevention with regard to children in care. May I take it from that that he is critical of the Liberal council on the Isle of Wight, which has not provided a single day nursery place? Does he think that the council ought to make provision for day nursery places, or does he condone its complete failure to provide any nursery places?

Mr. Kennedy

My constituency could not be further away from the Isle of Wight. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has visited the area and gained first hand experience.

Ms. Harman


Mr. Kennedy

The hon. Lady has not visited the area, but has looked at a set of figures—

Ms. Harman

There is nothing to look at.

Mr. Kennedy

If that is the contempt with which the hon. Lady holds the people of the Isle of Wight, this is a rather ridiculous issue. Before the hon. Lady makes this kind of—

Ms. Harman


Mr. Kennedy

Perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to respond to her question. I said that I did not want to get involved in a political harangue, but I am being goaded by the two Front Benches. If the hon. Lady makes such a point about the Isle of Wight, she should have the courtesy to go there to study the provisions that have been made. I am neither defending nor condemning. I have not visited the area, and I am not willing to speak through ignorance, but apparently the hon. Lady is willing to do that.

Ms. Harman

The hon. Gentleman has misconstrued my intervention. I meant that there is no child care day nursery provision to go to look at.

Mr. Kennedy

The hon. Lady has put that on the record. I would add, however, that the hon. Lady has studied the figures, but that she has not visited the area before pronouncing, tonight and on other occasions, on the level of provision on the Isle of Wight. Perhaps her mail bag is full of complaints. I have not received any complaints about my Liberal partners' dreadful behaviour in this respect. Perhaps the hon. Lady has had a different experience.

I have said enough about preventive aspects. 1 thought that would be the least controversial of the matters discussed.

The Minister referred to social worker training and to what I thought was a rather depressingly long consultative process. I am not pouring cold water on the idea of consultation. It is necessary, and it has to be practical, and realistic. However, I thought that there was a certain amount of "Sir Humphrey's" style as the Minister described what was involved in the consultative process—the interest, concern and almost watching brief which the Minister's Department was to adopt. It would be interesting to hear the Minister's response to the support which the four social services associations have given to the need for the three-year training of social workers. The three-year training would include modules in particular specialties of the type referred to by the Select Committee on Social Services.

It is clear that the family courts will be the subject of considerable discussion when the report is published after Easter. I acknowledge that north of the border we have a slightly different situation. If I may be so bold, I think that it is one which could be commended to other parts of Britain. In Scotland, emphasis is given to the principles that are discussed in the family courts, whatever shape or form they may take. The children's panel system is important. The status of the child, the parents or the foster parents—indeed, the whole relationship which is built up within the Scottish system — would repay further attention. Once the report is published, perhaps we will have the opportunity to discuss some of these matters further.

I welcome the debate. The horrific incidents of last year have led to much discussion and public debate. It is important that in the course of this debate—I think the House has done this despite the odd difference of opinion—the matter is discussed in a calm and reasoned way. I hope that the results of these deliberations will be the right ones, especially for children, who are at the centre of our concern.

6.4 pm

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I welcome this important debate. I am delighted to be one of the members of the Select Committee on Social Services which undertook this lengthy and full inquiry into a vital issue of growing concern to all British people.

I commend the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) who introduced the report of the Select Committee. It has been a pleasure to serve under the chairmanship of the hon. Lady for nearly 12 years, as she has provided considerable leadership to the Committee, not least in this report. I do not intend to follow the hon. Lady by giving a broad sketch of the conclusions and recommendations which are, as the Minister has said, 150 in number. I wish to concentrate on wardship and family courts and fostering.

First, I want to pay a tribute, as the hon. Lady has done, to our advisers. They have been immensely helpful to the Committee in a detailed and complicated area involving difficult legislation. I also wish to pay tribute—as I did perhaps in an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)—to the National Association of Young People in Care. Before the association gave its evidence to the Committee I viewed its evidence somewhat dubiously. I wondered about the type of evidence it would give. We met members of the association on one of our visits and subsequently they came before our Committee to give formal evidence. I was highly impressed with their grasp of the problems that faced young people in care. They were not the eight to 10 year-olds, or babies in nappies, or young people who require feeding and the type of advice suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South. They were relatively mature young people, teenagers, who for one reason or another had got themselves into trouble and subsequently into care.

The representatives of NAYPIC were highly articulate and a responsible group of people. The Committee was impressed with the evidence they gave. I wish to emphasise to my hon. Friend that many of them were keen for residential care places to be available for the likes of themselves and those who come after them. These young people could not just be dealt with through fostering, adoption or the other facilities that are available through the social services. They believed that residential care homes were essential, though perhaps not in such large numbers as in the past. However, there remain some young people for whom this type of care is ideal.

I remind my hon. Friend that there has been a great restructuring of the procedures and structure in these homes. The young people do not have breakfast, luncheon and evening meal produced for them as in a hotel or hostel. The young people have to get the meal for themselves and they play an important part in the running of the home under the supervision of residential home care social workers. There is an important role for residential care in the future.

I share the views expressed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East and by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South. I believe that fostering can play a vital role in dealing with young people who get themselves into trouble, who are thrown out of their home, or who come under the responsibility of the social services. Will the Minister comment, if he is to respond to this debate, on the three main recommendations on fostering in the report? With regard to fostering contracts, the Committee recommended that guidance on written agreements on foster placements should be included in the guidelines accompanying the revised boarding-out regulations. It is important, not only for the young people who will be fostered but for prospective foster parents, and those who are existing foster parents but who are unsure of their future.

The Committee also recommended a pilot project for the use of voluntary organisations to recruit foster parents. I consider that the voluntary sector has a vital role to play in recruiting foster parents and I believe it will have an increasing part to play in dealing with young children in care in the future.

The Select Committee recommended that local authorities consider extending further support to local foster parent groups. My hon. Friend the Minister rightly talked about the real growth of 20 per cent. since 1978–79 in the allocation of expenditure to the personal social services. But I hope that he will not overlook the fact that the Association of Directors of Social Services, which is in the process of analysing outturn figures for 1985–86 and public expenditure trends, has said that they show that real expenditure in the shire counties is down by 1.07 per cent. on the 1984–85 figures, down by 0.23 per cent. in the metropolitan district councils, and up by 2.81 per cent. in the London boroughs.

I presume that my hon. Friend will say that some of the most deserving areas in inner London are getting the 2 per cent. built-in increase which has been carried forward from 1976, when it was decided that that sort of growth rate was required and it was set out in the Government publication "Priorities for Health and Personal Social Services in England". I hope that my hon. Friend will not take it for granted that every social service in London and the metropolitan districts and counties is benefiting from the substantial increase in real terms that has taken place under this Government.

I am most concerned about child care legislation and the family courts which have been touched upon, particularly by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East. Our Committee clearly recognised the unsatisfactory state of child care law in Britain. Legislation, as we all know, has developed piecemeal over the years in an attempt to reflect the changing needs and attitudes of society. Our Committee recommended that the DHSS set up a working party on child care law. All the members of the Committee were impressed by the case put to them for a change in jurisdiction for children and the establishment of what we have come to describe as a family court.

The Government, as the Minister said, have now published as a consultative document their review of child care. I was pleased to learn that that had generated about 1,000 representations to the Department. That is a substantial number and I welcome it.

Mr. Whitney

I said 180.

Mr. Winterton

My hearing is obviously beginning to go as my age advances, but even that is a substantial number of representations and I hope that he will heed what they say.

The Lord Chancellor and the Home Office have established a separate working party to review the case for a united family court and they are planning to issue a consultative document shortly, perhaps in two months' time. I hope that that can be brought forward because it will be valuable in deciding exactly what is required for the establishment of a family court. I, like many members of the Committee, am already sold on the idea of a family court because they already exist and are working extremely well in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Minister may say that the law in Scotland is different. Indeed it is, but the example is there and the precedent is set and the sooner we have it established in England and Wales the better it will be for our dealings with young people.

Let me refer briefly to some of the horrific cases that have been highlighted in the press and media and which have been referred to during the debate. The Jasmine Beckford report refers to the gratuitous comments of the magistrates, which, as we all know, set the pattern for the subsequent handling of that case. In the Andrew Riley case, which relates to my constituency, the decision of the Chester Crown court to make a probation order effectively prevented any subsequent action by the local authority to remove young Andrew Riley from his mother's care, and what a tragedy that turned out to be.

Early in 1982 in Cheshire the social services brought a four-year-old child before the local magistrates court with an application for a care order. Sadly, the magistrates made a supervision order and within four months the child was dead. That mirrors the Wayne Brewer case in Somerset. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) will not take it amiss if I say that that perhaps casts some doubt on the efficacy of his private Member's Bill.

In 1983 two parents were prosecuted in the Chester Crown court for abusing their little girl. Surprisingly, they were found not guilty, and gratuitous comments by the judge that he entirely supported the jury's verdict and that the case should not have been brought before the court again made the subsequent management of that case difficult. In the event, the Cheshire county council social services department took wardship proceedings and the court was well satisfied with the submissions presented.

The main point that we can draw from the experiences in Cheshire and of the Select Committee is that the Crown court structure was not designed for and is not able to deal properly with the matter that we are discussing. The adult court is concerned wholly with offences and it is clear from the court transcript of the case of Sandra Riley that the need to ensure Andrew's proper protection was not satisfactorily or properly considered.

We all know that the juvenile court has been shown to be seriously deficient in its ability to deal with complex child care cases. I understand from the social services in Cheshire that it increasingly has to have recourse to wardship proceedings in the family division where the proceedings are non-adversarial. There, as some hon. Members know, the priority is overridingly the interest of the child and decisions are made on the basis of probability rather than proof. That is probably the situation nationally, but it is clear that the family division was never intended to deal with the generality of child care cases and as a consequence it is becoming overloaded.

The message to me from cases that have been drawn to my attention and from the Cheshire county council is that we clearly need something akin to the family courts. The director of social services for Islington, Mr. John. Rae-Price, would argue for the Lothian type of family courts which now operate in Scotland. From the investigations of the Select Committee and from representations made to me, I believe that in Lothian the reporter would have intervened in the tragic Andrew Riley case in my constituency at an early stage and ensured a proper consideration of that child's interests within the judicial process as it applied to the mother.

The experiences of the Select Committee suggest that there should be an integration of the legal process in all matters relating to children. I make one particularly forceful plea—where child abuse occurs the prime interest should always be that of the child and not of the parents. The child should always be considered first. The parents' interests are important but in no way should they be considered as the first priority. That is the plea which I make not only as a layman, but as a member of the Select Committee. If that position had prevailed in the Andrew Riley case, that young eight-year-old boy, who was drowned in a bath by his mother who had previously killed two of her children, would be alive today. His case would have been treated differently in a family court. I make that plea from the head as well as from the heart.

In arguing for integration of all matters relating to children, I am sure that the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) would support me if I mention the Finer committee of 1974, which recommended a family court. The report states: An institution to which the whole business of family law now dealt with in the Family Division of the High Court, the County Courts and the Magistrates' Courts will be assigned. The proposals of the Finer committee have not been adopted by any Government in the intervening 12 years, although the debate in professional circles has continued with varying interest.

I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, who chaired the Select Committee, back in her place. The Committee believes that a family court could offer a better service to children and families, but in noting the lack of success under successive Governments does not suggest that family courts are likely to be established unless there is sustained political demand for them. I hope that our recommendation to the Government will be seriously considered and that there will be no procrastination.

In the unlikely event of an alliance Government, the position could be worse, because, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, the alliance is inclined to be a Janus looking in both directions at the same time, wanting more money spent and expenditure pegged to bring down inflation. I look forward to the continued membership of the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) on the Committee. He has come on to the Committee only recently by the decision of the House and he has already made a contribution. From the articulate way in which he dealt with the report rather than the political controversy in which he became involved, I am sure that he has a major contribution to make to the Committee.

I make the plea that the Government should seek to introduce in this House, or in another place if that is more appropriate to speed up the process, legislation to introduce family courts. That would be to the benefit of families and to those people about whom I am personally concerned—young people.

6.22 pm
Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) had a point when she said that the strictures of the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) about the Government's lack of concern would have sounded more convincing if the hon. Lady had not been left so isolated, not only by the Front Bench, but by her Back Benchers. She did not seem to have much support.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), who chaired—

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I do not believe that it is fair for Conservative Members to attack Labour Members for not being present. The position has been the same on both sides of the House. No more than six or seven Conservative Members have been in the Chamber since the beginning of the debate, so come off it.

Mr. Walters

I was perfectly cool, but the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) appears not to be cool. The position on attendance was about 15:1. We even had the Secretary of State present during the debate, and it was nice to see him. There would appear to have been a difference of emphasis in the interest shown.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East on her speech this evening and on having chaired the Committee, which presented such an impressive, massive and relevant report. The report runs to several volumes and I cannot pretend that I have read it word for word, but I have studied it carefully and been much impressed by its recommendations.

A few weeks ago I moved the Second Reading of the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Bill, which deals specifically with children in care under court orders. I do not feel that I should debate the Bill now with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), but I should point out that the Bill does not inhibit the argument about family courts. It aims to introduce in the immediate future reforms and safeguards, which its sponsors from both sides of the House believe would be helpful and relevant.

I had the opportunity on Second Reading to set out the Bill's objectives and to put forward several personal reflections and views on that important and emotive subject. I was able to do so at considerable length and I therefore intend to intervene only briefly tonight to make some observations, of which I hope that the Government will take note.

It is important that the DHSS should reassure social workers that the changes that may be required in child care law do not imply a diminution or loss of their status. Social workers should welcome provisions which reinforce judgments and conclusions reached by them and which, on occasions, might disagree with those conclusions. The speed at which cases are decided should not be significantly affected. As I said on Second Reading of the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Bill, I strongly believe that if one should err, one should err on the side of caution.

I was concerned about an article in The Sunday Times which said that social workers were worried about the possibility that cases would be held up by my Bill, because I do not believe that the proposed adjustments and changes in the law would have that effect.

Costs inevitably feature prominently in discussions of this type. The care of children separated from their parents is an expensive service. The DHSS told the Social Services Select Committee during the preparation of its report that about £370 million was being spent on services for children in care, mostly on residential homes, hostels and boarding houses. At any one time, 18,000 children are in local authority care under section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 because they have been neglected or ill-treated. My Bill is, of course, specifically directed to the protection of those children who have been ill-treated and abused.

The Social Services Committee in its report refers to the fact that There is now"— that is in 1982 and 1983— a far greater awareness than 10 years ago of the horrors of child abuse, and of the ways in which children can be protected from the worst of its effects. There are now fairly complex administrative arrangements for detecting and following up suspected abuse. Prudently and sensibly the Committee went on to say: Any temptation to be complacent about arrangements for dealing with child abuse will always be checked by another appalling tragedy. Sadly, we have witnessed how accurate that comment has proved to be, because not one, but several appalling tragedies have shown that it would be unwise, irresponsible and foolish to be in any way complacent about the level of safety for children under threat of cruelty and abuse.

That brings me back to the question of expenditure. It is inevitable that improvements and changes in this area will cost extra money. It is not invariably the case that improvements cost more. Indeed, there are occasions when streamlining an organisation can make it better, more efficient and, at the same time, less expensive. If we decide to implement some of the proposals of the DHSS review on child care, and some of the recommendations which were spelt out so effectively in the Blom-Cooper report, which include better training and greater resources, greater expense becomes inevitable.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my hon. Friend agree that the improvement in the court system that I suggested would also be valuable? He may be aware that the Sandra Riley case had nothing to do with incompetence or inefficiency of the social services. If anything, it was a breakdown in communication between the psychiatrist dealing with the case and the probation officer. A new court scenario could bring that kind of situation to an end.

Mr. Walters

I agree with my hon. Friend. As I said, my Bill does not inhibit the debate on family courts. I should like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to some of the provisions of my private Member's Bill, which includes improvements in the present court structure, and which would meet some of his points. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's earlier comment that priority should always go to a child. Where a child has suffered abuse, the parents no longer have equal rights with the child, as they would have had if that had not been the case. The child's right must be pre-eminent.

To return to the question of expense, if some of the provisions in my Bill, which introduces new safeguards and better legal procedures to protect vulnerable children in care, are accepted, as I hope that they will be, extra expenditure will also be incurred. We are talking not about vast sums, but about more money. Although I am fully aware of the need to act responsibly over public expenditure, it would be most unwise for the Government to make the issue of cost fundamental to change, reform and progress when dealing with child protection. It is an extremely sensitive area, about which there is widespread and very deep and justified public anxiety. People rightly care profoundly about the matter, and not merely as a result of a few horrifying cases which have recently been brought to public attention. The Government should take heed of that feeling and act accordingly.

6.34 pm
Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)

Today's debate gives me the opportunity to raise a specific issue that is causing perplexing anxiety among an increasing number of parents. I have one such family in my constituency. Their nightmare began in August 1985 when Louise was admitted to hospital with a spiral fracture of the left femur. The local authority commenced public proceedings against her parents, and during those proceedings 15 witnesses gave evidence, five of whom were doctors. The medical opinion was divided, and at least one doctor, a leading expert on the subject, was convinced that there was no evidence of non-accidental injury. However, the weight of medical evidence was in favour of the other opinion, and on that basis the magistrates made a court order.

I accept that children must have the full protection of the courts, and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) explained why that must be so. But what about the rights of parents in cases where medical opinion is divided? Louise's parents have no right of appeal against the order, and, subsequently, the local authority can place the child for adoption, terminating nature's strongest bond—that between parents and child.

The terrible aspect of the case I have mentioned is that the child may suffer from a congenital bone disease known as osteogenesis imperfecta. The fracture was entirely typical of the disease, and the child shows at least one sign on clinical examination that she probably suffers from that fairly rare condition. It may be months or even years before another fracture occurs, if she has that condition, but meantime the family may be destroyed.

It seems wholly wrong that parents in such a position have no legal recourse, and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to institute an inquiry into the injustices practised against such parents.

6.37 pm
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I am glad to take part in the debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) because a similar case has occurred in my constituency.

The case continued for five months and included court cases. Although it has now been solved satisfactorily, to the extent that the child has been returned to the parents, both the child and parents went through a period of agony and nightmare. I wish to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to two points that arise from the case.

First, there is a need for more medical research to establish a diagnosis for the disease without dispute. In my constituents' case there were six medical opinions, two of which held that it was a case of brittle bone disease, but four felt that they could not rule out non-accidental injury. More research should be carried out to establish how we can diagnose this disease beyond doubt.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

My hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) and for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) are drawing into the debate an aspect that has not so far been part of our deliberations. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East believe that in the case to which he refers there was any reason why the social services and other expert bodies might have been worried? Had the social services been involved with the family earlier?

Mr. Thurnham

The family had a good background and there was no question about the care that they gave the child. In view of the divided medical opinion, I do not wish to criticise the social workers, who have to be particularly careful in these cases. The public concern that has arisen in other cases shows the need for such care, as does the fact that these decisions have to be made by a committee, which has to consider all the evidence before it. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to say that there should be more research into the medical causes so that we can have a diagnosis that establishes the matter beyond all doubt.

Secondly, we must have court procedures that do not lead to such long delays. In this case the child was separated from the parents over Christmas. That was a particularly harrowing experience. The court case could not be held earlier because, among other reasons, the court was full of licensing applications. This highlights the need for court proceedings that will enable such cases to be heard more quickly.

I speak from the point of view of my experience of constituency cases that have come to my attention and my personal interest, having adopted last December a severely handicapped child. The child had been in care for eight years, had been with our family as a foster child for two years, and had spent six years before that being shuffled about from pillar to post. Therefore, I have personal experience of the problems of children in care.

This evening, I wish to speak about the most deprived people in our society—handicapped children in Long-term institutional care, of whom there are some 3,000, some in NHS hospitals and some in local authority care. The Government's response to recommendation 93 rather misses the point. It calls for the recommendations of the Harvie report, which came out in 1974, to be implemented. However, in their response the Government concerned themselves only with children in voluntary and other homes, whereas two thirds of such children in long-term institutional care are in statutory institutions, of which NHS hospitals are those that cause the greatest concern because the children may not be properly in care. They may have broken their contacts with their parents and be, to all intents and purposes, parentless, but also not in the care of the local authority from which they came. They may be hundreds of miles away, and not even known to the local authority. The group Exodus has drawn attention to the plight of these children, the number of whom has been substantially reduced. However, there are 500 in NHS hospitals in England and Wales and a further 500 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Government should do more to help in such cases.

On the fostering and adoption of handicapped children, I once again ask my hon. Friend to consider the need for standard adoption allowances. Only last month, I had a surgery case of a family that had adopted one handicapped child and had a second handicapped child in foster care. The parents were unable to fund the costs that would be incurred if they adopted the child and thereby lost the fostering allowances. They were having difficulty in heating the house, because the children need to be kept in warm conditions because of their handicaps. They have had to move to a smaller house because they could not manage, and they have asked why more help could not be given to them in their task. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) said, such adoption relieves the state of enormous expense because fostering and adopting care is less expensive than institutional care. This family is providing care, but has been hindered in providing it in the way that it would like to do. It should be encouraged to do so rather than discouraged by the financial situation.

I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to the case made by the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering. It strongly feels that there should be standard adoption allowances and that the present scheme, which is sometimes defended as being experimental and providing variety, is nothing but a cause of great confusion. The problems vary from one part of the country to another as local authorities try to come to grips with them in different ways, and find that they cannot do so as they would wish because of the costs involved. I ask my hon. Friend to look at this carefully and come to a decision before he is forced to do so when the present arrangements lapse in 1989.

I have sufficiently covered the points about the brittle bones cases, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to work closely with his colleagues in the Department of Education and Science to see whether more provision can be made in the Budget to provide for research into this disease.

Mr. Archie Hamilton (Lords Commissioner to the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.