Maggie Jones sets out Labour Peers’ stall on the Children and Families Bill
Today, in Grand Committee, the Children and Families Bill starts its long and precarious journey through the Lords. It is an untidy patchwork of a Bill, covering fostering and adoption, family courts, special educational needs, childminders and employment rights for parents. While some of the proposals are well-meaning others are politically provocative; and all sections have attracted considerable outside concerns from children’s charities and others.
Labour has been talking and listening to these groups on a regular basis over the past few months and will be pursuing many of the issues raised. But a key concern running throughout the Bill is the failure of the government to put the interests of the child at the forefront of any considerations, and we have put down amendments to reassert this principle.
On adoption, we will press concerns about proposals to outsource local authority adoption services regardless of how well they perform. The Bill, as it stands, gives the Education Secretary sweeping powers to privatise adoption and our amendment would bring such decisions back under increased parliamentary scrutiny and would provide an appeal mechanism for councils.
We recognise the need to speed up adoption processes, but this Bill places too great an emphasis on this solution, for example making provision for adoption proceedings to begin from day one that a child is taken into care. We are urging a more balanced approach, with amendments requiring that other family members or friends are considered for placement in the first instance.
We are also challenging the government’s proposal to remove any reference to the child’s ethnicity, religion or culture when adoptive parents are sought. This directly contravenes article 20 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that ‘children who cannot be looked after by their own family have a right to special care and must be looked after properly by people who respect their ethnic group, religion, culture and language’.
Importantly, we have put down an amendment to tackle the impact of the bedroom tax on foster parents and potential foster parents and calling for a government report on its effect on carers.
We have also tabled a wide range of amendments to later sections of the Bill including extending access to education, health and care plans to the widest group of disabled children and those with special educational needs; and requiring councils to specify what services will be offered locally to meet those needs.
Our PSHE-related amendments would aim to ensure that all young people are taught about sex and relationship education, including information about same sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent. We will also seek to protect children’s health by resurrecting the Tories abandoned policy of introducing plain packaging for tobacco products.
There is a considerable cross party interest in all of these issues, with over 200 amendments already tabled, and we intend to work closely with colleagues from across the House to improve the Bill.
Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a member of Labour’s Shadow Education team in the Lords
Published 9th October 2013