MPs today debated the exemption clauses, which would give local authorities the power to seek exemption from specific pieces of children's social care legislation, as the Children and Social Work Bill passes through the House of Commons.

Although these clauses were defeated in the House of Lords, government has reintroduced them with some changes at Committee Stage in the Commons, where they are now listed as New Clauses 2 - 9.

Labour MPs, led by Shadow Children and Families Minister Emma Lewell-Buck, cited a long and diverse range of problems with the exemption clauses, including:

  • The risk that Parliament is being asked to sign a 'blank cheque' opening up children's legislation to an unknown extent of deregulation
  • The lack of consultation with the children's sector before the Bill was published
  • The lack of concrete evidence for which legislation local authorities are finding prohibits innovation
  • Whether it's safe or appropriate to use legislative exemptions to 'experiment' in children's social care and whether the right monitoring and evaluation plans are in place to make these legitimate 'pilots'
  • The protection of certain children's social care legislation from exemption (the current clauses protect pieces such as Sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989) while other important duties for children will be susceptible to exemptions

As well as drawing on her experience as a social worker, Emma Lewell-Buck quoted evidence from several individuals and organisations opposed to the clauses, including Children England.

Our evidence to the Public Bill Committee said:

These powers have been drafted and put before parliament too quickly and without any prior consultation with the public or the professionals who support children and families. They threaten the consistent nationwide application of other provisions in the very same Bill – for instance the Corporate Parenting Principles that have been welcomed by the sector and which many stakeholders are keen to help extend and reinforce. They are accompanied by very little detail as to why they are a necessary, proportionate response to a clearly stated problem; nor what specific ways of working local authorities are expecting or asking to ‘trial’ that would require using an exemption from primary law.

We are very concerned that the exemption clauses would represent an unprecedented constitutional challenge to the principle of universal application of primary legislation everywhere and at all times throughout the land, and an equally fundamental challenge to the primacy of parliament in democratically debating and deciding upon it. At most, an exemption would require an affirmative resolution in parliament, which is almost never opposed: historically parliament has passed 9,999 of 10,000 resolutions since 1965.

Read our full submission of evidence to the Public Bill Committee here.