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Transport Multi-modal Studies (Midlands)

9. Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): If he will make a statement on the progress of the multi-modal studies on the M1 and east midlands/west midlands movements. [55535]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): On the west midlands to east midlands multi-modal study, there has been recent public consultation across the corridor on the emerging strategy, and the consultants will be working towards option identification over the coming months. The final report for the study is due in April 2003.

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The final report for the Ml multi-modal study has just been published by the consultants, W. S. Atkins, and copies will be placed in the Library of the House. The East Midlands Regional Local Government Association will be carrying out consultation on the report before presenting advice to Ministers later in the year. The Government will give very careful consideration to the report and the views of the region before reaching their conclusions.

Mr. Todd: May I commend the methodology employed in the studies, which has been innovative, and specifically some of the schemes that affect my area? The National Forest line featured in discussion of the M1 study and will feature in the west midlands to east midlands study, and it certainly deserves further support. The opening of the Donington loop from Willington to Nottingham will significantly improve east-west links. However, there have been shortcomings in the process of resolving the issues regarding the parkway station south of Derby, which would improve the access of Midland Mainline customers to London. There have been obstructions that the Strategic Rail Authority could assist in overcoming.

Mr. Spellar: I thank my hon. Friend for his observations and suggestions, which he has made not only today but on previous occasions. He is rightly representing the views of his constituents. It would be a little imprudent for me to be seen to endorse any particular suggestions before the examination by the East Midlands Regional Local Government Association. However, I will take serious note of them.

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Point of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had a request from the Foreign Office or the Ministry of Defence to make a statement on what Klaus-Peter Klaiber, the European Union's envoy in Afghanistan, has said about prison camps? He told Agence France-Presse that

There have been horrific pictures and, if the west is really responsible for the prison camps, it is a matter of shame and it is something about which the House of Commons should be told.

Mr. Speaker: I have had no approach from any Minister.

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Area Child Protection Committees

3.32 pm

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I beg to move,

The Bill seeks to establish a framework for child protection that will be based on best practice and be uniform throughout the country. I acknowledge support and assistance in the Bill's drafting from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Association of Directors of Social Services and the Local Government Association.

The recent tragic case of Victoria Climbié has demonstrated that there is an urgent need to strengthen the current child protection system in this country. The huge cross-party support for the early-day motion on an end to child cruelty that stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley) is a reflection of the House's determination to move child protection into a new era. The Bill seeks to do just that.

The Children Act 1989 and the Department of Health guidance that accompanied it set out the basis for a system whereby all the main agencies involved in child protection, ranging from local authority social services to the local NSPCC, should work together to protect children in a defined local area. The mechanism to carry out such a multi-agency approach is the area child protection committee, or ACPC. In theory, it should ensure that the different agencies co-operate effectively. The committee should use the combined knowledge and expertise of professionals to set appropriate procedures and protocols to identify and protect every child at risk from abuse.

In some instances, where authorities such as my own in Sandwell have the commitment and a culture of partnership working, the committees have worked well. However, research carried out by Christine Hallet, professor of social policy at Stirling university, and the NSPCC has shown that the situation is not uniform throughout the country. There is a huge gulf between theory and practice in different areas.

That was clearly demonstrated in the evidence from phase one of the Climbié inquiry. If there had been a strong, effective ACPC for the London boroughs, it is more likely that representatives from the agencies involved with Victoria Climbié would have collectively identified the abuse, assessed her correctly and prevented her death. As it was, the system failed her. That has led to overwhelming demands to strengthen ACPCs in a range of submissions to phase two of the inquiry. The time has come to end the lottery of postcode protection for children.

The key problem lies with the absence in the Children Act of a defined legal obligation for local authorities to set up a committee. It is mentioned in the section and guidance that accompanies the Act, but crucially there is no statutory obligation on the local authority or other agencies involved to fulfil their functions in relation to the committee. The wording of sections 27 and 47 of the Act compounds that problem. Neither the police nor GPs

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are named as a necessary part of the ACPC. There is also a "get out" clause for other agencies. They are required to participate only

From that gap in legislation a number of problems have arisen. The two most important are, first, that it reinforces the view that child protection is mainly a social services responsibility and that the other agencies involved are marginal, both to the development of child protection policy and in their consideration of individual cases. That may be reinforced by the professional isolationism in some social services departments where partnership working has not been fostered.

Secondly, the gap in legislation permits those agencies with a wide range of professional responsibilities to downgrade their role in child protection. It becomes an add-on responsibility, not central to the work of the agency and therefore not justifying the same level of resources, time or professional commitment as others. To work, ACPCs effectively rely on the good will of professionals. Without a strong level of commitment from other agencies it is all too easy to leave things to the perceived expertise of the social services professionals without inputting the specialist skills or information that other agencies can bring to the deliberations.

My Bill seeks to change that. It would place an obligation on every local authority to establish an ACPC. It would also place a statutory responsibility on the local authority chief executive to appoint an independent chair of the committee and to agree that appointment with the social services inspectorate.

The reason for that is to ensure that, although the chair would be of a level of competence commensurate with his or her responsibilities, no one agency would dominate the committee and, in the event of a failure of any of the agencies involved to live up to its professional responsibilities, the independence of the chair would ensure that subsequent inquiries were conducted in a suitably impartial manner.

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The Bill defines the agencies to be involved, and it would place upon them an obligation to be represented by a person of appropriate professional competence and status. It would provide flexible arrangements so that the committees' boundaries could cover more than one local authority where the boundaries of the other agencies involved made that a more suitable basis for organisation. It would commit the committees to providing staff with training and policy development opportunities.

In short, the Bill would place a statutory obligation on local authorities to set up committees that would be independent, representative, inclusive and proactive in the protection of children. Those committees would actively develop local child protection strategies in an environment where all professionals could work effectively. It recognises the concerns outlined by the many who gave evidence in the Climbié inquiry, and it would give ACPCs the strong role needed to make child protection work at a local level.

As politicians, we should use the legacy of the Victoria Climbié case as a spur to put in place legislation that will do everything possible to prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy. We must accept responsibility for child abuse across all sectors of our society and work together to end it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Adrian Bailey, Mr. Hilton Dawson, Ms Debra Shipley, Mr. Tom Watson, David Wright, Mr. Paul Burstow, Mrs. Gillian Shephard, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Rev. Martin Smyth and Mr. Andrew Lansley.

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