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Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Six children from my constituency were at those homes and were sexually abused. I am particularly concerned about the role of the insurers in suppressing two major reports--the Cartrefle report and the Jillings report. Had they been published, that abuse might have been discovered much earlier. The role of the insurers in suppressing that information was a disgrace.

Mr. Hutton: I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the Waterhouse report made some specific recommendations on that aspect of the tragic events in north Wales. I assure her that the Government are looking closely at those parts of the recommendations. Our response on that will be part of the full response that we publish in the summer. I am conscious of the broad consensus of concern that has been expressed on that aspect of the terrible events. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we take those concerns very seriously.

We took two immediate steps on the day of publication of the Waterhouse report. First, we extended the Department of Health's consultancy index--the list of individuals deemed unsuitable to work with children. That enabled Ministers to include on the index a number of individuals named in the report who had been convicted of offences against children or against whom a clear finding had been made and who had not already been referred to the index by previous employers. Some of those individuals should have been referred to the index many years ago.

Secondly, we took immediate steps to check that those individuals named in the report who had been convicted of offences against children or against whom a clear finding had been made and whose current whereabouts or employment status were not clearly known were not currently working in regulated services with access to children.

In the days immediately after publication, the Government distributed many copies of the report to ensure that it was easily accessible to all those who needed to read it. Copies have been sent to all local authorities, chief constables, health authorities and NHS trusts.

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge): The consultancy index is clearly important. The provisions of the Protection of Children Act 1999 allowing for the updating of the index are not yet operational, because many things need to be done first. I understand that it is hoped that they will come on-stream in the summer. Will my

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hon. Friend tell us when? Will the index be updated before the Department for Education and Employment's pilot schemes for summer activities for young people are under way?

Mr. Hutton: I pay tribute again to the work that my hon. Friend did in ensuring that the Protection of Children Act 1999 reached the statute book. She has raised two issues. The first is when the Act will become operational. There are a range of measures in the Care Standards Bill designed to extend protection to vulnerable adults, based on the provisions in the Bill that she took through the House. We are trying to ensure that the new protection of vulnerable adults and the Protection of Children Act measures are consistent. I am afraid that it is likely that the implementation date for the Protection of Children Act might slip a little into the autumn, because we need to ensure that the two measures are consistent.

The second issue is the updating of the names on the list. That work is well under way. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that, as part of her measure, we agreed that it was appropriate to review all the existing names on the list to ensure that they were suitable for inclusion on the new list that will be maintained under the terms of the 1999 Act.

Ms Shipley: I am grateful for that clarification. There are implications for the pilot schemes for outdoor activities run by the Department for Education and Employment. I hugely welcome those excellent schemes, which are the way forward. I fear that if the Department for Education and Employment is not able to draw on the measures in the 1999 Act, it will have insufficient powers to conduct proper vetting. The 1999 list and the Department for Education and Employment's measures go a long way to protecting children in such situations, but some people will not be covered. I should be grateful for clarification on that.

Mr. Hutton: We may need further discussions on that within the Department and with Ministers at the Department for Education and Employment. When I said that there might be a slight delay in implementing the Protection of Children Act, I was trying to be candid with my hon. Friend and tell her how things were going. We may be able to implement the Protection of Children Act slightly earlier, but at the moment it is not entirely clear whether or not that will be possible. However, given the obvious need for synergy between provisions in the Protection of Children Act and measures for the protection of vulnerable adults in the Care Standards Bill, it is important that we try to get it right. Guiding us throughout is our determination to make the protection of children our top priority, as I have said this morning. The concerns that my hon. Friend has raised will be taken seriously in the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): Will the Minister clarify that he is saying that in the summer, or perhaps after a short delay in the autumn, the Protection of Children Act will be fully operational and that certificates from the criminal records agency will be available?

Mr. Hutton: I am not sure that I can be quite that specific this morning. We still need to resolve a number

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of issues. My hon. Friend's Protection of Children Act may need to be amended in the light of discussions in another place about the scheme for the protection of vulnerable adults. I am trying to be as honest as I can with the House, but I cannot go quite as far as the hon. Gentleman is inviting me to do. We certainly hope that the main provisions of the Act will be implemented in the autumn, but obviously we are keeping the situation under careful review.

Our immediate actions on the publication of the Waterhouse report were necessary to safeguard children from individuals who had been found to have harmed children in north Wales in the past, but those actions in themselves could not solve all the problems described in the report, which are bigger than any one individual or group of individuals. They are rooted in systematic failure. The tragedy is that we know that the children in north Wales were not alone in suffering in this way.

The clear evidence is that too many children in the past were failed by the very services that should have been there to help them. There has been too much inconsistent quality and poor management in children's services. We know from reports such as "People Like Us" and "Lost in Care", and from the shocking testimony of young people who have suffered abuse in children's homes, that the risks for children living away from home in the 1970s and 1980s were seriously underestimated.

We cannot dismiss these as problems of the past, however. In the 1990s, evidence from social services inspection and joint review reports of children's services show continuing problems--and not only in children's homes.

Social services inspectorate reports and joint reviews have demonstrated inconsistencies, both within and between authorities. They have shown poor assessment, planning and case recording, which has led to very unfocused work with families; decisions about who gets a service are often made on a haphazard basis; and poor planning for looked-after children has resulted in unnecessary delays and inappropriate placements.

That is why is September 1998 we launched quality protects, which is a programme to help local authorities improve the management and delivery of children's social services. We also announced that the programme would be supported by a £375 million new special children's grant, which is being paid to local authorities over three years. A similar programme, children first, is under way in Wales.

Quality protects is part of our wider plans, detailed in our White Paper "Modernising Social Services", to tailor services to real needs, delivered efficiently and to the highest standards. Today's public services have to be shaped around the people who use them--not the other way around. Social change, growing public expectations, an ageing population and shifts in family structures all call for a modernised system of social care.

That is why when we launched quality protects we announced for the first time new Government objectives and specific targets for children's services. That was a major step forward which has provided a clear framework for developing local services. The failures in the system also called for a new framework of legal protections for children and that is precisely what we are delivering.

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The Protection of Children Act 1999 will place the Department of Health's consultancy index on a statutory footing. Regulated child care providers will be required to check the names of anyone they propose to employ in posts involving regular contact with children against the index and DFEE's List 99, which is already on a statutory footing. People placed on the new list will not be able to work with children. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge, the Department of Health is working toward implementation of the Protection of Children Act later this year.

In particular, we want to provide greater protection and care for the most vulnerable children and families. This is why we recently introduced The Care Standards Bill, which has at its heart two key aims: first, to protect vulnerable people from abuse and neglect; and secondly, to promote the highest standards of quality in the care that people receive.

The Bill provides for the establishment of a new independent national body, the National Care Standards Commission, which will have significant responsibilities for safeguarding children. All children's homes will be regulated and subjected to rigorous inspections. This will include local authority homes, which are currently exempt, and small private children's homes for fewer than four children. That loophole in the current law has long been considered a scandal, and rightly so. We shall not wait for the establishment of the commission to bring small private homes within regulation. As soon as we have Royal Assent for the Bill, we shall bring them within the current regulatory regime.

Good quality care must be provided in all children's homes, whether they are in the private or voluntary sector, or run by local authorities. Children must be protected from abuse and their welfare promoted, whoever is responsible for running the home. In the past, problems have occurred in all types of homes. In future, all homes will have to meet the same rigorous standards.

The Bill will also introduce for the first time regulatory regimes for fostering agencies and for residential family centres. The National Care Standards Commission will also regulate the crucial and very specialised work of voluntary adoption agencies, in a way similar to the current system operated by the social services inspectorate.

In recognition of its role in safeguarding children, the National Care Standards Commission will appoint a children's rights director, whose job it will be to ensure that children's rights and welfare are at the heart of all its responsibilities for regulating children's services. The children's rights director will provide a crucial function in being the person who will be there when children or staff have concerns or suspicions about what may be happening in a children's home or other service. The creation of this new post in England is very much in the spirit of the Waterhouse report's recommendations.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has already announced that we will also use the Care Standards Bill to implement Sir Ronald's Waterhouse first recommendation, that an independent children's commissioner for looked-after children in Wales should be appointed.

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We believe that the appointment of the children's rights director in England and the children's commissioner for Wales will act as significant additional safeguards for looked-after children.

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