HL Deb 14 May 1970 vol 310 cc721-6

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The broad content and the objectives of the Bill will come as no surprise to your Lordships, particularly to those who have indicated their intention to speak in the debate to-day and who have been so closely concerned with the development of the personal social services in recent years, and to those of your Lordships who participated in the full-scale debate we had in January of last year on the Report of the Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Frederic Seebohm, on the Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services.

On that occasion my noble friend Lord Stonham outlined the chain of events, through Ingleby, Longford and the Government White Paper on The Child, The Family and The Young Offender which led to the setting up of the Seebohm Committee which was charged with the duty to review the organisation and responsibilities of local authority personal social services in England and Wales and to consider what changes are desirable to secure an effective family service. My noble friend on that occasion placed on record the deep gratitude of Her Majesty's Government to Sir Frederic and his colleagues on the Committee for the breadth of the view and care which they had brought to their comprehensive study of the services concerned and for their Report which has resulted in a major contribution to the development of the services for decades to come. These thanks, noble Lords will recall, were endorsed on both sides of the House, and on several occasions since many noble Lords have been pressing the Government to announce their decision on the implementation of that Report.

Furthermore, as recently as March of this year, in the debate we held on the second Green Paper on the Reorganisation of the National Health Service, I reminded your Lordships of the fundamental review which the Government had initiated across the range of the health and social services and of local government itself, of which the Seebohm Report on the personal social services formed an essential part; and I explained how we now proposed to fit those several parts together. I am sure your Lordships would not wish me to traverse again the same ground, except to remind the House that the proposals in the second Green Paper provide for integrated health service authorities coterminous with the proposed new local government unitary authorities, and that the public health and social services of the local authorities would be divided between the new area health authorities and the social service departments of local authorities according to the predominant professional skills required and by an interlocking membership between the health authorities and the new local authorities.

The Bill now before your Lordships' House deals with the personal social services to be administered by the present local authorities and their successors. It is clearly and closely related to the Health Service in the ways which I have already indicated at some length and is designed to provide a flexible and adaptable system of personal social services, both to alleviate and to prevent social distress. Like the Seebohm Committee's Report it is concerned not merely with social case work, but with the unification and deployment of a wide range of social skills within a coherent administrative framework closely related to other services associated with them. As one who was privileged to be a member of the Seebohm Committee almost throughout the whole of its deliberations, I should perhaps at the outset of the debate declare my own commitment to and personal involvement in the development of 'the health and social services.

I am convinced that with the passing of this Bill 1970 will be remembered as one of the watershed years in the development of these services. The proposals it contains will result in a general system of personal social services which will no longer be fragmented and subordinate minority services, and will establish a single major service alongside our other universal social services such as health, education and social security. Moreover, I hope it will provide a fresh and a stronger emphasis in the development of preventive work, for one of the major objectives of the Seebohm Report was to design an effective family service which was as much concerned with the prevention of social distress as with the provision of social care and support to those families and individuals who are in need of help.

Even, however, after these last five years, first of waiting for Seebohm and then for the Government to announce their decision on Seebohm, there are still some who question the decision to introduce legislation on the personal social services now and in advance of the changes that are being made in the organisation of the intimately related structures of the local government and of the national health services. It has been argued that the Government should defer reorganisation of the personal social services so that it would come into operation at the same time as other related services. It is generally accepted, however, "that the present state of the law as it affects the local organisation of these services is unsatisfactory. Furthermore, for at least ten years different proposals for amendment of the law have been canvassed and the staff of the services concerned has been increasingly affected by uncertainty about their future. This effect has inevitably been aggravated in recent years by the very appointment of the Seebohm Committee itself, a Committee which served and acted as a catalyst for the various arguments in favour or against change.

I hope that I have, albeit briefly, explained the broad purpose of the Bill and why it is right in our view to introduce it at this moment of time. Turning now to its main elements, Clause 2 unifies the local administration of the present social services by requiring each authority to establish a social services committee, and this committee is the heart of the Bill. As many noble Lords will be aware, the present law requires an authority to establish a health committee, a children's committee, and a committee for the discharge of the authority's functions under the National Assistance Act 1948, commonly referred to as the "welfare" committee. In each case the law defines the scope of the committee by requiring that all matters relating to the discharge of functions conferred on the local authority by specified enactments are to stand referred to the committee. The law as it at present stands also requires the council to allow the statutory committee a say on all matters within that committee's sphere, although responsibility for the services rests with the council, which is not bound to adopt the committee's views.

The social services committee which is to be established by Clause 2 of the Bill is of the same kind. Its scope is defined by setting out, in Schedule 1, all the Acts conferring on the council functions which are to be discharged through the social services committee. Like the existing statutory committees which it replaces, the social services committee has a statutory right to a say, while its rights to decide depend on how far the individual council delegates its functions to the committee; that is to say, authorise the committee to exercise the council's functions on the council's behalf. The services which are provided under the enactments specified in Schedule 1, and which are therefore to be administered by the social services committee consist of all services at present administered through the children's committee and those through the welfare committee, and certain of the services at present administered through the health committee.

Having set up a new committee, the other main clause of the Bill, Clause 6, requires the local authority to appoint a new chief officer—a director of social services—for the purpose of the functions assigned by the Bill to the social services committee. The provisions regarding this post are broadly similar to those with which we are already familiar as applying to the statutory post of children's officer.

Clause 15 provides in the usual form for the provisions of the Bill to be brought into force on a date or dates to be appointed by the Secretary of State. It includes, however, a somewhat unusual provision, which noble Lords may well have noticed, which enables the Secretary of State to postpone the application of the Bill to the area of a particular authority. The Government want to bring the Bill into force as soon as possible and as widely as possible, but it has been represented to them that, because of the forthcoming restructuring of local government, particular authorities may make out a case, on efficiency grounds, for avoiding a double set of changes, and for postponing the reorganisation of the social services in accordance with the Bill. The Government intend that there should be few exceptions, if any, to the general policy of early unification of the local social services throughout the country, but the Bill enables an exception to be made if, in the Minister's view, a case for it is established.

Those clauses deal with the organisation proposals within this Bill. The Bill also touches on the very key question for the future development of these services: namely, the organisation of the training of social workers for these and other services throughout the United Kingdom. The Seebohm Committee, noble Lords will recall, recommended the establishment of a new Training Council to centralise the functions of the several existing councils concerned with training for different branches of social work. The Government accept this proposal, and have started the necessary consultations with the various bodies concerned. These consultations are making good progress. Little amendment of the law is required, as the Health Visiting and Social Work (Training) Act 1962 provides all the necessary statutory foundations except in two particulars, which are amended by the Bill. The law as it stands at present makes it obligatory for the two separate councils, which are concerned with health visitors and social workers respectively, to have the same person as chairman. Those two councils, I know, would wish me at this point to thank the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Grasmere, from whom we shall hear later in the debate, for his distinguished chairmanship. The Bill removes this particular requirement. By including "education" as well as "training" in the titles of the councils it removes the possible impression which has constantly appeared in the conduct of business under the present titles that the councils' scope is less comprehensive than in fact it is.

This Bill has the advantages of brevity and simplicity, and therefore I have sought to introduce it briefly. But it is—and I would stress this point—of enormous significance for the services with which it deals and for the people it is intended to help. For the first time our local authority personal social services will be recognised in law and practice as an entity. Many have said for years that they should be, and some indeed that this reform is now overdue. It will now be possible for the local authorities to plan comprehensively the social services of their area. It will be their responsibility to consider together the provision of social services, social care and social support for children and young persons; for mothers, including unmarried mothers and babies; the elderly, the handicapped and the mentally handicapped: in fact, to provide the comprehensive community based, family orientated service recommended by the Seebohm Committee. This reform should also make the services for families and individuals more effective, and at the same time more readily available and accessible to the citizen. It is in my view the first step in a new conception of the provision of social services, and I hope that the House will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Serota.)