HL Deb 23 January 1974 vol 348 cc1439-40

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action is being taken towards implementing the recommendations to the Local Government Training Board of the Report on the Role and Training of Education Welfare Officers, as presented under the chairmanship of Dr. F. Lincoln Ralphs, early in 1973.


My Lords, the Government hope that all desirable improvements in the training of these officers will be introduced. But decisions on the specific recommendations of the Ralphs Report are a matter for the Local Government Training Board, in consultation with the other parties concerned.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. But is he aware that truancy to-day is a social phenomenon hitherto never seen in Britain; and while one is not asking for the primitive authoritarianism as envisaged with the appointment of the first officer by the 1870 Education Act, will he explain why there seems to be, on the part of the Government, such parsimonious indifference to the work of these people? Finally, are the noble Lord and the Government aware that the work of the local welfare officer now extends into many areas, including health, careers, police, and the courts, and it is therefore a job of high standard and one that has been hitherto under-valued? Will he do something to place a higher value upon it, regardless of how local government reacts?


My Lords, of course we are aware of these problems, and we are as concerned as the noble is Lord is with them; and we should be glad to debate them. This is all the more reason why we are particularly grateful to Professor Ralphs for this Report: we now have guidelines on which action can be taken. But, as I say, action falls in the first instance to the Local Government Training Board.


My Lords, while one appreciates the difficulties, and is not committed entirely to every one of the recommendations of the Ralphs Committee, may I ask whether or not the noble Lord would agree that the important point is that the education welfare officers should know what their future is going to be? Is he aware that for the last ten years there has been this uncertainty within the service: first of all, about the department into which they were going to be placed, and secondly, about exactly what their functions were going to be? Would he not make this clear, not only in the interests of those who are in the service now, but in the interests of the service in the future, where people will be recruiting for this work?


My Lords, the House will see that the Question related to the training of these officers, and my Answer related to that, too. I agree that there is this further question of what their position should be within local government. That arises, not from the Ralphs Report but from the Seebohm Committee Report. I myself believe that, although this is a problem which has to be solved, the time is not ripe for any general guidance from local government at the moment—certainly not before local government reform. Local authorities have more than enough on their plate at the moment. But I recognise, with the noble Baroness, that there is here an issue which needs to be resolved.