MPs have voted to reinstate the controversial ‘exemption’ clauses to the Children and Social Work Bill.
The measures give the education secretary powers to exempt councils from certain statutory duties for up to six years. They have been the subject of fierce opposition from campaigners and were removed from the bill in November when the government suffered a defeat in the House of Lords.
But last night MPs voted through an amended version of the proposals by 10 to 5, despite opposition from Labour and shadow children’s minister Emma Lewell-Buck.
The vote came as a survey of 1,000 social workers by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) found 76% opposed the exemption clauses. Almost 50 organisations, including BASW, also submitted evidence to the bill committee voicing opposition to the clauses. The Local Government Association submitted evidence voicing support for the proposals.
The government claims the clauses will enable councils to remove red tape and test new ways of working. Opponents say the powers allow councils to opt out of legal duties that protect children’s rights.
Children’s minister Edward Timpson said in December that the amended version of the powers should allay concerns from the sector. If the bill passes, councils will not be able to request exemptions from specific sections of the Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004, including child protection and child in need duties.
The amendments also mean that local authorities will not be able to use exemptions to remove restrictions around contracting profit-making providers. During yesterday’s debate, Timpson cited support from Professor Eileen Munro, the children’s commissioner and chief social worker for children Isabelle Trowler as a reason to back the clauses.
Writing in Community Care yesterday, Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, called on the government to scrap the clauses, and said: “Conducting a constitutional experiment with the most vulnerable in our society can never be an acceptable way forward.”