HC Deb 31 October 2000 vol 355 cc641-54
Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 4, line 30, at end insert— '23CA.—(1) Any person aged eighteen or over who makes a valid election not to be treated as a former relevant child shall not, so long as such an election is in force, be a former relevant child for the purposes of this section. (2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision as to the procedure for the making and withdrawal of elections under subsection 1. (3) In respect of a person in respect of whom a valid election is in force, a local authority shall not discharge any of the duties in subsections (2) and (3) of section 23C. (4) Subject to subsection (1C), a local authority may in respect of any person in respect of whom a valid election is in force offer services or assistance of a type required or permitted to be provided under this Act to former relevant children, but shall be under no duty to do so.'. I cannot allow the Bill to progress without raising what I believe to be an important issue, although in anticipation of what the Minister will say, I have to confess that we debated the matter on Second Reading and in Committee.

The Bill originally focused on children aged 16 and 17. During its passage through the House its scope has been considerably extended to place on local authorities all sorts of duties in relation to people over 18 who left care before reaching that age. We have broadly supported the Government in those changes to the Bill. Indeed, our noble Friends were partly instrumental in making the changes in the other place. However, I fear that in their enthusiasm to ensure that the Government facilitated proper support for care leavers over 18, those in the other place may have lost sight of a rather important and fundamental principle: when we talk about people over 18, we are dealing not with children but with adults who have to be treated as people capable of making decisions for themselves, with all the respect that that implies.

In his reply to the previous debate, the Minister spoke about his desire to build a consensus around this and other measures that seek to protect children. We fully support that view, but I would suggest to him that to be durable, a consensus must be not merely a consensus between the different views represented in this place at any particular time, but must sit comfortably with the traditions of our legal system.

The Bill places on local authorities a requirement to maintain pathway plans in respect of former relevant children—people who were relevant children when they left care and who are now over 18. It also requires local authorities to keep in touch with former relevant children and to re-establish contact with them if that contact has been lost. I acknowledge, as I have done before, that that would be a positive measure for the vast majority of children leaving care and we welcome it, but upon becoming adults some children leaving care may wish to put their past behind them and sever the link with the local authority that looked after them during their childhood. The Minister may think that it is right or wrong, helpful or unhelpful, in their best interests or otherwise, but the point is surely that as adults they have that right. The intentions of others, and the outcomes, may be good, but we should not subject a singled-out group of competent adults to compulsion, simply because something is for their own good. We do that only when people's competence is in question.

The essence of the Bill is to normalise the position of care leavers as far as possible and make their treatment as close as possible to that of other, perhaps more fortunate, individuals, and not to single them out for compulsory treatment in a way that marks them apart.

Currently, we have no way of knowing how assiduous local authorities are likely to be in seeking to keep in touch with former relevant children. Without wanting to be too cynical, I must say that much may depend on the financing mechanisms yet to be announced. Local authorities may take a relatively assertive line in seeking to discharge their statutory duty to take reasonable steps to stay in touch with former relevant children and to re-establish contact if it is lost.

We raised these issues on Second Reading and in Committee, and the Government argued that an opt-out, allowing an adult who is a former relevant child to choose not to be included in the provisions, would allow some local authorities to avoid their responsibilities under the Bill. Clearly, we do not want that. A balance needs to be struck. Local authorities must not be given a route that is open to abuse, but fully competent adult care leavers who do not want to participate further in the scheme must be given the right to free themselves from contact with their social services authority. There was a consultation conference on the Government's document, "Me, Survive, Out There?". One of the comments recorded in response to a question about whether it was right to have a plan was: Some young people have good reason for not wanting anything more to do with Social Services. They shouldn't be forced to have a plan or maintain contact. Their decision should be respected. We believe that that is right when we are talking not about 16 and 17-year-old children but about 18-year-old adults. The amendment would modify the statutory duty on local authorities to allow for the making of an election by an adult who is a former relevant child, in a manner to be prescribed by the Secretary of State. That is important, because it addresses the Government's legitimate concern about creating a loophole through which recalcitrant local authorities might escape. The Secretary of State would prescribe the way in which the election was made, and indeed the way in which it could be withdrawn. An election in force would relieve the local authority from its obligations to maintain or re-establish contact, and to maintain a pathway plan and appoint a young person's adviser, and indeed would prevent that authority from pursuing those duties. It would not prevent them from offering other types of assistance.

I must draw attention to an error in the amendment. The reference to subsection (1C) should be a reference to subsection (3). The numbering changed between the blue and the white copy, but the subsequent reference in the amendment was not changed.

The amendment is not in any sense intended to be a wrecking amendment. It would recognise the real and important difference between the treatment of care leavers who are still children—minors—and of those who are have attained majority. In the first instance, the local authority must take on the role of the parent and discharge that duty diligently; in the second, the local authority's role is to be supportive, where such support is welcomed by the individual.

This is the third time that we have discussed this matter. I have as yet heard no case for requiring local authorities to maintain plans for, and to keep in touch with, competent adults who have expressed through a mechanism to be defined by the Secretary of State a clear wish to the contrary. The amendment would recognise the fundamental right of a competent adult to choose to be left alone by a local authority.

As I have said before to the Minister, it is imperative that the Bill be in accordance with the spirit at least of article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which gives the right to privacy and respect for family life. Therefore, a person who has attained the age of majority should be able to express a desire not to be included in the scheme proposed by the Bill.

My attempts to argue that case on two previous occasions were met with torrents of abuse—not from the Minister, but from Labour Back-Bench Members. Perhaps their absence today means that they have decided that they have lost the argument. However, nothing is more typical of the tendency to interfere and nanny people—so unhelpful in creating good and durable legislation—than this attempt to coerce competent adults into something that they may express a desire not to have.

A moment's reflection shows that it would be wrong for a local authority to monitor competent adults against their express wishes. I thought about the matter at some length over the summer recess, and could think of no circumstances in which it would be morally right to do so. I hope that the House will think carefully again about the implications of what the Bill proposes.

Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight)

Fewer hon. Members are in the Chamber this evening than attended the Committee deliberations. That is clearly a measure of the general support for the Bill. At the risk of going over old ground, I want to say that I support proposed new subsection (1) of the amendment, although my argument is not that advanced by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond). Clearly, in an ideal world, an unruly 17-year-old in care can become a competent adult on his 18th birthday, but that does not square with my experience. The argument in favour of support for young people is as relevant for people of 16 as it is for those aged 18 or 19.

Mr. Hammond

The hon. Gentleman presumably accepts that the law sets a watershed for people at the age of 18. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, people who attain majority are regarded as competent adults.

Dr. Brand

Clearly, I recognise the law, but perhaps my definition of competence differs from the hon. Gentleman's. According to my definition, a competent person can make well-informed decisions for himself about how to lead his life, and can do so without support. I would be worried if all parts of the amendment were accepted. The local authority would then have a licence to have nothing more to do with a particular young person. I would be as worried if parents suddenly said to their child when he or she turned 18, "Never darken our doors again; we have no interest in you." There is a great difference between the requirement to receive all one's sustenance, benefits and means of sustaining oneself from the ages of 16 to 21, as the Bill provides for leavers, and the duty of caring about the outcome of the decisions that they make in their lives.

5.45 pm
Mr. Hammond

The hon. Gentleman has just referred to 16 and 17-year-olds. We are not talking about them, but about 18-year-olds. Will he concede that an 18-year-old who wished to distance himself from his family would be entitled to expect his family not to harass him, if that was his clearly expressed wish?

Dr. Brand

Absolutely. I would not give licence to parents to harass, either. However, there is a great difference between continuing care and harassment. I hope that the Bill does not give a power to harass.

What concerns me—which is why I support the first part of the amendment—is that the powers that the Bill gives local authorities over young people who are over 18 are greater than those of the average parent. If young people are in education or are in need of benefit because they are not self-sustaining in the work place, their only means of support is not—as it is for children with parents—a benefits system into which everyone can plug, but through their local authority.

In Committee, I moved an amendment that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge described as a wrecking amendment. When young people—it does not matter to me whether they are 17, 18, 19 or 20—become disaffected with the local authority and refuse to accept its help, is there a mechanism flexible enough to ensure that they are supported in a legitimate way? That is what my amendment was designed to test with the Minister, because I am extremely concerned that when young people who cannot go to a Benefits Agency office, do not qualify for social loans and refuse to be in touch with their local authority take flight, their only means of support is through drug dealing, prostitution or stealing.

We had some discussion on this in Committee. The Minister talked about exceptional arrangements or, by regulation, listing exemption groups. However, having reread Hansard, I am not sure whether that exemption can be made for individuals when the situation has broken down. Will the local authority and the Benefits Agency liaise when a young person is clearly in need of financial support, and can such support be forthcoming other than through direct contact with the local authority if the authority cannot meets its commitments, even if it wants to, because of that young person's bloody-mindedness?

Mr. Hutton

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) is in the classic Liberal Democrat position. He supports some parts of the amendment but not others. Unfortunately, the rules of the House do not allow him to choose which parts he supports. He either supports the whole package or he does not.

Dr. Brand

I am always happy to be rebuked and to learn, but I thought that one of the opportunities available on Report was to explore further with Ministers their approaches to amendments and the Bill. That is why I am happy to support only part of an amendment. How I will vote is a matter that will become clear should we be called on to do so.

Mr. Hutton

I look forward to finding out how the hon. Gentleman intends to vote if the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) pushes the amendment to a vote.

I must begin from where I would not choose to start by correcting the assessment of the Bill made by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge. It is not true to say that we did not envisage this part of the Bill extending to people aged 21. We always saw it that way. The argument in the other place was over whether that should be made explicit in the Bill or implemented through the regulation-making powers that we had originally said we wished to use. His description of a Bill whose character and nature had been fundamentally changed by the amendments accepted in another place is not right. As is made clear in the Bill and in the document, "Me, Survive, Out There?", we always had those points in mind.

Secondly, and more substantially, the hon. Gentleman fundamentally misunderstands this part of the Bill, and his concerns are therefore misplaced. He characterised the local authority in conducting its responsibilities as an intrusive arm of the nanny state that would harass and monitor people in some covert, police-style operation. That is completely inaccurate. We do not expect local authorities to exercise their functions and duties in that way.

We argued that point on Second Reading and in Standing Committee, and I am sad that we seem to have seen no progress in the hon. Gentleman's thinking on it over the summer. However, his friends in the other place did not raise that argument at all, although they had plenty of opportunity to do so. He seems to have got his arguments into a twist. His perfectly understandable arguments about civil liberties are misplaced.

I must also argue with the hon. Gentleman's amendment on the grounds that his attempted solution to the civil liberties deficit that he says that he has identified would be likely to make matters worse rather than better. We explored the reasons why that should be in Standing Committee, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight has rightly said. The attempted solution might in fact operate as effective encouragement to some local authorities to make young people leaving care exercise the choice that the amendment would provide. In that case, the amendment might deny the local authority the opportunity to provide the sort of help that we would wish to vulnerable care leavers—the very people who prompted our concern to legislate.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's arguments, but they traduce the duties that we want local authorities to have for young people. He misdescribed, in particular, the way in which we expect the duty to keep in touch to operate. We shall deal with that through statutory guidance, which we intend to issue as soon as we can. We shall consult the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the nature of that duty.

The hon. Gentleman did not address the point that we are trying to strike a balance. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight, to his credit, did mention that, and, to be fair, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge alluded partly to it. We accept that we are striking out into new territory. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge and his party had 20 years in which to address deficiencies in the system for leaving care, and did not do so. We have tried to strike a balance between the needs of young people leaving care, who are often vulnerable, socially excluded, damaged youngsters, and what we expect of a responsible parent—in this case, the local authority.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the amendment misses the point that a vulnerable young person of 18 may want nothing to do with the local authority, which will in turn be unsurprised by that. Two years later, at the age of 20, having grown up a bit, the person may seek support. It is not unusual for 18-year-olds to leave home wanting nothing to do with their parents, but for the same people, in their early 20s, to realise that they have cut off all support and seek to return in some way. We must build into the Bill the possibility of rapprochement, should the young person want it.

Mr. Hutton

I agree. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that a recent assessment by the National Children's Bureau, which was published in September, showed that young people who have left care often admit, when they look back, that they were far less ready to live independently than they had thought at the time. Under the amendment, it might be difficult, once the young person has taken an option, for the local authority to discharge the responsibilities that we expect a good parent to deliver.

The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge was right to say that a competent adult may say that he or she wishes to lead his or her own life exactly as he or she chooses. The Bill will not stop any young person doing that. We are concerned with the duties that a corporate parent, acting as a good and reasonable parent, should have. The hon. Gentleman is a parent himself, and I cannot imagine that he would accept a situation in which he would make no effort to keep in touch with one of his own children should something happen that resulted in that child not wanting to remain in touch. I should certainly wish to remain in touch. No matter what the difficulties in their relationship, we should expect a parent to make some effort to keep in touch. That is a hallmark of a good parent.

The hon. Gentleman's concerns are misplaced, and he has misdescribed the nature of the duties, particularly the duty to keep in touch. He has characterised that duty as if it were some covert, police-state duty, which it clearly is not. We shall ensure that it is not when we issue statutory guidance.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

What would happen if a young adult in the pathway plan made it clear that he or she did not want contact with a local authority? Would that fit with how the pathway plan might work? Does not that point provide a response to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond)?

Mr. Hutton

Those issues will arise, as the hon. Gentleman knows from experience. We cannot legislate for good relationships between children leaving care and local authorities. We must put in place the right framework of duties and responsibilities, and that is all that we seek to do. We expect pathway plans to be kept under regular review, and if difficulties arise, the pathway plan should reflect them. The plan can ultimately record only the agreement reached between the parties.

Mr. Hammond

I want to be clear on this point. Is the Minister suggesting that the pathway plan could provide for no further contact, which, I think, was the import of the point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas)?

Mr. Hutton

We should wish to ensure that the duty to keep in touch was preserved at all times. That is an extremely important principle. How it would translate into practice would vary from case to case. In some cases, a young person leading a successful, independent life may feel that minimum contact is necessary, and that could be reflected in the plans. We are not dogmatic about telephone conversations or visits every hour or every day. That would be absurd. We need to tailor arrangements to suit the particular circumstances of the young person concerned. We want flexibility. I suspect that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge is not reassured by all that, and I know that he feels strongly on these matters. I hope, however, that he will draw some comfort from the fact that we intend the arrangements to operate sensibly and realistically but in a way that achieves our fundamental objective for the Bill, which is to ensure that local authorities act in future as responsible and good parents. I argue strongly that it is characteristic of a good parent that he or she should at least try to keep in touch with a child.

Mr. Hammond

I have listened carefully to the Minister. He and I approach the problem from fundamentally different points of view, but I acknowledge, as I hope he would, that we are both well-intentioned.

The Minister referred to the pathway plan of an individual who was leading a successful, independent life, saying that it might propose minimum contact. In whose view would that life be successful? It is the local authority's view. It draws up the pathway plan. That is precisely the point. It is the nanny approach. The local authority will decide when, if and how one is entitled to break free.

6 pm

The Minister is not correct when he characterises my position as that of having misunderstood the Bill. I understand it well and I agree with him that, whatever it states, it will not prevent young people from going their own way—probably successfully—if that is what they want.

As the Bill is drafted, the local authority will retain a statutory obligation to use its reasonable endeavours to maintain or re-establish contact with the young person. It will retain a statutory obligation to appoint a young person's adviser. The young person's adviser for all those who have gone away and asserted their rights to be completely independent will have a good job because he will not be busy. There will also be a statutory obligation to maintain and update the pathway plan for the young person. Essentially, in the case of someone who has clearly stated his intention to set himself apart from the process, as the Minister has acknowledged young people will de facto be able to do, the local authority should be relieved of its statutory obligation to continue to do all those things laid down in clause 2 and, in case there are over zealous local authorities, should be prevented from pursuing aggressively—not all authorities would do so, but some might—the person in question.

The Minister got himself a little confused when he suggested that his resistance to the amendment was based in part on his desire to avoid abuse by local authorities. At one stage he told us that he did not want to create a mechanism that would allow local authorities to encourage individuals to make an election that would prevent the authority from providing the advice and support that it would like to provide to the young person. If authorities want to provide that, they will scarcely encourage the young person to make an election. I am not persuaded by the Minister's argument. We come at the problem from fundamentally different points of view.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) made a good point. I hope that we have dealt with it through the proposal that an election could be withdrawn as well as made. A young person who changed his or her mind would not be permanently excluded from the system.

I take exception to the Minister's remark that it took us 20 years in government to protect children effectively. He may want to remind himself of the date of the Children Act—1989—which is, I think, by consensus the basic building block from which we start. Indeed, the architecture of the Bill builds upon that Act. Most hon. Members—I include the Minister—have sought, in debates on this Bill and on others, to emphasise the consensual nature of most of what we do in the House for children.

Of course, the Minister was right to say that the regulations will determine the substance of the matter that I have raised. If they are drafted in such a way as to ensure that local authorities do not pursue individuals who express a clear wish to break free and they do not give authorities incentives to pursue people whom they should not pursue, the practical effect that I am seeking will be achieved. Therefore, although we have to disagree, I am mindful of the Minister's reassertion today of his commitment to consult with Conservative Members and hon. Members from other parties to produce those regulations.

I will withdraw the amendment and thus spare the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) the embarrassment of having to decide which part of it is most important to him. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Spelman

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 5, line 2, at end insert— '() The assistance given under subsection (4)(a) and (b) may be subject to such conditions regarding adherence by the former relevant child to his pathway plan as the local authority shall reasonably determine.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 3, in clause 4, page 7, line 39, at end insert— 'in accordance with his pathway plan'. No. 4, in page 7, line 44, after "training", insert— 'in accordance with his pathway plan'. No. 5, in page 7, line 46, at end insert— 'in accordance with his pathway plan'.

Mrs. Spelman

The amendments are a matter of common sense from the perspective of the corporate parent. The compliance with the pathway plan that we want to achieve will be instrumental in the effectiveness of the Bill.

All eligible relevant and former relevant children and young people must have a pathway plan under the Bill. It will take over from their existing care plan and will run at least until they are 21, covering education, training, career plans and help needed, for example, to move into supported lodgings. Regulations may be made on the review of pathway plans, but it is envisaged that they will be reviewed only every six months.

Having reflected on the matter since the Bill was in Committee in July, we have decided that, from the perspective of the corporate parent and given all the effort and resources that go into drawing up a pathway plan, we need to ensure that it is adhered to. If the Bill is not strengthened in that way, a more minimalist attitude towards compliance with this part of the Bill may result.

This is a classic role for a corporate parent. Many hon. Members will be in a similar position—seeing their children go on to further and higher education and becoming heavily involved in the cost. Parents are diligent in reassuring themselves that their money is spent on the purpose for which it was intended. Many of us who went through further and higher education remember our parents holding us to account about what we had done with the money—not necessarily every penny, but we certainly had to reassure them that we were following the course that we had together agreed. Sometimes, child and parent face the difficult decision to change course halfway through. Changing our minds had consequences—the implications might have been to increase the financial load on the parent. It is no different for corporate parents.

We want to encourage vulnerable young people to obtain educational qualifications. Statistics show that they are often very short of such qualifications. One of the purposes of the pathway plan is for the young person's adviser and the care leaver to agree together the appropriate development plan. There is little point in all that activity if the young person is simply allowed to depart from the plan. Such a departure might go undetected if the review does not take place more frequently than once every six months.

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)

The hon. Lady's colleague, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), asked who were the local authority to judge whether a pathway plan had been successful. He accused the Government of acting like the nanny state. The amendment seems to state that we must judge failure. Is that not a contradictory perspective? If we say what is successful, we are being the nanny state, but if we judge something to be a failure, we are not.

Mrs. Spelman

We do not want to use labels as brutal as "success" or "failure" for this group of young people. Statistics show that 15 per cent. of them are unemployed and 75 per cent. do not have educational qualifications. On the face of it, that looks like failure if one is putting it baldly, but it will not be particularly helpful to attach that tag to such vulnerable young people.

The amendment's purpose, of which the hon. Gentleman seems to have lost sight, is to assist the young person's adviser to see through the investment made jointly with the vulnerable young individual—let us not talk of success or failure—so that the individual keeps on the agreed course. One of our concerns is that as a review is planned only once every six months, much could come unstitched. I invite the hon. Gentleman to think back to his own further or higher education—during a six-month period much can happen to a young person.

The amendment will help the young person's adviser to take a proactive approach to the implementation of the pathway plan. That is not to say that that would not entail change. If we consider the matter realistically, young people often make their choices quite late in the day, at short notice and so on. My understanding of the explanatory notes supporting the concept of pathway plans is that that is all perfectly possible within the role that the personal adviser would have under the plan.

Such changes should, however, be agreed, just as they would be discussed by a parent and child, who were looking together at further or higher education—as I pointed out. Such changes might be made when young people who had completed one term of a course in a further or higher education establishment came to the conclusion that, at the end of one term, or even after half a term, the course was absolutely not for them. Such occurrences are not unusual.

As matters stand, if the young person's adviser was unable to undertake a review more often than once every six months, half an academic year would be lost. That is important in relation to further education choices. Such courses may last for only two years, so a quarter of that potential for academic furtherance could be lost.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Given the spirit of the hon. Lady's remarks, does she also argue that her proposal would help the young person's adviser to put pressure on a local authority to provide resources for a young person who was following the pathway plan?

Mrs. Spelman

There is no dispute about the Bill placing a duty on local authorities to provide assistance, but having given public money—both to support the role of the young person's adviser and for the whole process of working together to produce a suitable plan for the young person's development, training and furtherance—it is perfectly reasonable for that local authority to determine whether the assistance is correctly applied and whether benefit is being gained from it. The amendment is clear on that point.

Dr. Brand

I seek clarification. I understand that if the relevant child is receiving money for education or training needs that are not being taken up, there may be an argument for withdrawing the money. However, does the hon. Lady really suggest that assistance of the kind referred to in section 24B(2), to the extent that his welfare…needs require it is included under her amendment? If so, that would worry me greatly.

Mrs. Spelman

Welfare is difficult to define precisely, although of course it must be the paramount concern. The focus of our amendment is on consistency between the pathway plan on education and employment choices and what the young person actually pursues. That is a perfectly reasonable position for the corporate parent to adopt and one that a young person will meet in later life. There is accountability for money spent on, or invested in, a person—whether in a business or public service context. There is accountability for resources invested to pursue a particular path of development. It is wholly reasonable that the authority committing those resources should ensure that the outcome reflects the agreed purpose of the initial commitment.

6.15 pm

There will always be accidents, in education or employment, when young people begin a particular course of action and, for good reasons—such as a course being wrapped up for lack of participants—do not complete it. In my constituency, I have encountered that. However, such cases are in the minority; we do not want to multiply them, but to add strength to the Bill and to tighten the role and responsibilities of the adviser.

The amendment, which is a small but important alteration to the Bill, will ensure consistency between the pathway plan and the eventual outcome for the care leaver, to the benefit of that young person. It will increase the responsibility of the adviser to follow up the agreed course of action and to be satisfied that it is being pursued. It is very much in the interests of the welfare of the young person. The amendment is a practical and realistic proposal; it will help to improve the Bill's effectiveness in practice.

Mr. Hutton

This amendment and amendment No. 1 demonstrate some of the turmoil and tension among Conservative Members as to whether they want to take a libertarian view on these matters or whether they are more in favour of the control freak tendency view on the power and role of the state. Amendment No. 1 would have allowed young people to opt out of the arrangements altogether; amendment No. 2 would enforce their compliance with arrangements.

I want to reassure the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on one or two points on the way that we envisage the operation of the legislation. I hope that then she will not feel the need to push the argument further.

In essence, as I understand her arguments today and during our Standing Committee debates, she and her hon. Friends are concerned that the pathway plan will represent a one-sided bargain and that it will require the local authority to make available significant resources and other support, care and assistance to a young person who might either choose to disregard the terms of the pathway plan or fail in some way to comply with it. That would thus be an unacceptable use of public money and would not encourage the rights and responsibilities that we think necessary in this matter. We are talking about a good parent and the children for whom that parent has responsibility.

The pathway plans will not be one-sided bargains. I make that clear to the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends. There are responsibilities and rights in this matter. They need to be addressed and we intend to do that.

As the hon. Lady knows, the pathway plan will set out whatever assistance—for example, with education, training or employment—the responsible authority agrees to provide. The young person's adviser will keep in touch with the young person. There will continue to be reviews of the pathway plan—at least every six months—but a review can, of course, be initiated either by the young person or by the council itself.

If the council became aware that a young person was not complying with his or her plan—either because he was abusing the council's support or for some other reason—of course the council would be able to call a review and, if necessary, to revise the terms of the plan. We intend that type of rolling revision to happen. It is one of the reasons that a young person's adviser would keep in touch with the young person and one of the factors that would determine the level of contact that he and the young person would wish to maintain.

The amendment would affect former relevant children—young people aged 18 and over. Those young people will no longer be dependent on their responsible authority for accommodation and maintenance, because those duties—as the hon. Lady is aware—cease when the young people turn 18. The assistance for that group of young people, therefore, will consist of help with employment, education, training or general matters. Such help will normally be agreed between the young person and the responsible authority and will be given for specific purposes.

Councils are under a duty to provide such assistance to the extent that someone's welfare or his educational and training needs require it. If someone is not co-operating with the council, the council will be entitled to consider that his welfare does not require that assistance. That is hardly, therefore, a blank cheque. A pathway plan, setting out such assistance, will be reviewed regularly and as frequently as necessary. Clearly, that is not a licence for former relevant children to stay in bed all day—that is what the hon. Lady seemed to suggest—while limitless funds flow into their bank accounts. That is not likely to happen and it is certainly not what we intend. There is therefore no need to make specific provision in the Bill for that eventuality.

Amendments Nos. 3 to 5 would affect councils' powers—not duties—to help care leavers under section 24 of the Children Act 1989. The amendments seem to reflect some confusion and I bring that to the hon. Lady's attention. Of course, it is true that section 24 can still apply to former relevant children, but the proposed new section 23C sets out councils' duties to that group. In essence, the proposed new section 23C translates councils' section 24 powers to assist into duties to former relevant children. Section 24 will, therefore, apply in practice to care leavers who do not qualify for the new arrangements because, for example, they do not meet the eligibility rules that we will set out. That being so, I am sure that it is obvious to the hon. Lady that such care leavers will not have pathway plans and that it would be wrong for any help that they receive under section 24 to be contingent on their conforming to the plans. If they did, it would be perverse and unjustifiable.

We spent some time on this matter in Committee. I hope that I have been able to set at least one or two of the issues straight. We want very much for the new arrangements to work in the context of a relationship based around rights and responsibilities. I hope that my remarks will, to some extent, reassure the hon. Lady about the issues that she has raised.

Mrs. Spelman

I assure the Minister that there is no turmoil among Conservative Members, and there was no confusion until he started speaking. Although I shall ask for clarification on one point, I was pleased to hear that he understands exactly what we were driving at, something about which there is absolutely no confusion. We wish to strike a balance between rights and responsibilities. He used exactly the same language in that respect, and there is a clear consensus on that point. I accept that he does not take a one-sided view of this issue.

I take on board as a comfort the Minister's point that a review every six months will, in practice, mean a rolling revision process. However, such a process will have cost implications. As we are unsure about whether resources will be made available to make it successful, I underline to the Minister the fact that local authorities will consider the increased burden presented by rolling revision as a practical matter of resources.

I seek clarification on something that the Minister said. He seemed to suggest that if a care leaver did not co-operate or comply, the council could be right to assume that his welfare did not require support. If I understand him correctly, his point will not give comfort to the hon. Members for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand). However, I wish to point out to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight that our amendment No. 2 deliberately did not refer to subsection (4)(c), because we are interested in adherence in relation to education and employment. We are sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's point. However, I am left with the distinct impression—unless I am very confused on the matter—that the Minister said that the council could assume that the care leaver's welfare no longer required support if he did not comply with the agreement established with the personal adviser in the plan. Will the Minister help me on that point?

Mr. Hutton

I shall certainly try to help the hon. Lady. I tried to make the position clear and she can examine my remarks in Hansard. It is important that she understands that the issue will be addressed as part of the rights and responsibilities agenda that I have described. I do not want to be prescriptive about individual cases, and I am sure that she will understand that. However, the degree and extent of compliance with a pathway plan and a local authority's obligation to provide support for training and the other issues identified in the Bill are bound to be connected.

Mrs. Spelman

We may be reaching a degree of consensus on this point. I shall read Hansard carefully tomorrow, but the Minister has probably articulated the points that we were driving at in our amendments. My reading tomorrow will make the matter much clearer, but the Minister sought to finesse his reply. I think that I understand it correctly when I suggest that the balance of rights and responsibilities that we sought in our amendment is the same balance that he seeks to achieve. For that reason, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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