The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the Baroness Ashton of Upholland has made the following written ministerial statement in the other place today
"The final stages of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 were implemented on 30 December 2005. This date saw the commencement of the core provisions for local authorities by the Department for Education and Skills and the National Assembly for Wales and rules of court from my Department that underpin the new provisions. Subsection 1(a) of s122 provides for representation of children within placement proceedings and rules made to come into force on 30 December 2005.
Subsection 1(b) and subsection (2) provide rule making powers for the separate representation of children in Children Act cases generally and in particular in section 8 cases. Both provisions were commenced on 7 December 2004. To inform our consideration of what rules of court might be made, my Department commissioned research by Cardiff University. We wanted to understand whether formal representation through a solicitor and guardian is meeting children's needs, or whether there are other ways in which their needs can be met. It also met our commitment to consult with children on this issue.
The Cardiff University research with children and families focused on their views on how they were heard/how involved when children were separately represented under the existing rule 9.5 of the Family Proceedings Rules 1991. We have now received the first draft of that research which I hope to publish next month.
The views of children themselves were not conclusive due to the small sample size, but when added to other evidence the research does not indicate that separate representation would be right for all children in all cases. New rules of court will be developed in the light of this research evidence and CAFCASS's important proposals in 'Every Day Matters'.
Existing provisions for the representation of children remain unaffected and offer a range of ways in which a court making decisions about them may hear children's wishes and feelings. In the first year after the issue of the rule 9.5 Practice Direction by the President of the Family Division in April 2004, CAFCASS figures indicate that courts made more than double the number of rule 9.5 appointments by comparison with the previous year. An updated analysis of figures at the end of the current financial year will provide further information about the extent of the courts' use of CAFCASS officers to undertake rule 9.5 work on behalf of children. The increased use of rule 9.5 appointments following the issue of the Practice Direction appears to have refocused issues on the child at an earlier stage in the proceedings, alongside consideration of the protracted concerns of the parents".
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): The protection of children is a top priority for this Government. The case which has come to public attention this week raises very serious issues.
The LIST 99 barring scheme is a process that has operated for decades. In a number of specified serious offences an individual will automatically be included on LIST 99. Initial inquiries indicate that there have been a small number of cases where, on the basis of advice, in accordance with the process that has been in operation for many years, Ministers have made the decision not to include on LIST 99 an individual on the Sex Offenders Register.
It is of the utmost importance that the House and wider public are not misled by any information put into the public domain. I have therefore decided to commission as a matter of urgency an exhaustive review of all such cases since the introduction of the Sex Offenders Register in 1997a register which provides an additional safeguard for prospective employers. I will also review the decision-making process surrounding such cases and any immediate policy implications. For example, I will consider:
The Government are already committed to implementing Sir Michael Bichard's recommendations to tighten the system for vetting and barring those who wish to work with children and vulnerable adults and to bringing forward legislation in this session of Parliament.
In the meantime, with immediate effect, I will personally consider any cases of individuals on the Sex Offenders Register where a Ministerial decision is required as to whether they should be placed on LIST 99.