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20 Nov 2008 : Column 368

Ms Harman: I am sure that everybody will have taken note of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. As one hon. Member said earlier this week, it is an important time for everyone, including different countries, to pull together, to ensure that the impact of the global economic downturn in this country is as short and as shallow as we would all wish.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the future of the British manufacturing industry? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that Rolls-Royce has today announced 2,000 redundancies worldwide, including a significant number in this country. I must tell her, in the nicest possible way, that there is a school of thought among those in the manufacturing industry, including both employers and employees, that the House does not give priority to manufacturing when compared with other things. That has been crystallised today by the Leader of the Opposition, who is more interested in John Sergeant and who is drinking cups of coffee.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is a long-standing champion of manufacturing industry, in Scotland and throughout this country. He has raised the question of Rolls-Royce job losses, which are very worrying indeed. This is an important British company, and 4 per cent. of its work force in this country will be affected. Once again, this shows the importance of Government action to support investment, apprenticeships and training, and of Government action through the regional development agencies. This is not the moment to stand back and say that there is nothing we can do. This is the moment for us to step forward and to recognise the importance not only of small businesses but of our big manufacturing companies, and for the Government to back them up. [Official Report, 24 November 2008, Vol. 483, c. 7MC.]

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I seek the assistance of the Leader of the House regarding the efficiency of ministerial correspondence and response rates. I say this following the remarks made by the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), on local radio on 14 October. When talking about upper gastro-intestinal cancer surgery at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, he said that “twice as many people” were “dying unnecessarily” at the hospital. That has caused deep offence to the clinicians and staff there. Patient groups, the trust and I wrote immediately to the Minister asking him either to provide evidence for his claim or to apologise, but we have received no response whatever. Will the Leader of the House use whatever influence she has to expedite a response?

Ms Harman: I will look into the question of ministerial correspondence that the hon. Gentleman has raised, but I would also say, in respect of the stance taken by my hon. Friend the Minister, that he was making what I think is a very important point. That is that the outcomes for those suffering from gastro-intestinal problems are very much dependent on specialisation and expertise, and we obviously want services to be accessible to people as locally as possible. However, we must also keep a close eye on what is the best outcome for patients, especially those who are suffering from cancer. My hon. Friend the Minister was engaging in a big
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discussion that has been taking place in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the country, on how we can ensure that the very best services are delivered for patients, and that we do not have a postcode lottery.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Twice in the past 18 years—in Bosnia and in Rwanda—western Governments have been reluctant to intervene in ethnic conflicts that subsequently escalated into genocide. This month, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is on the brink of another civil war, only two years after its presidential election, following 10 years of civil war and 35 years of dictatorship. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence will shortly have to decide on our Government’s position regarding providing further assistance to the Government in the DRC. May I suggest that we have a debate on this matter, so that the whole House can consider the arguments for and against increasing our involvement, and that of our European partners, in the eastern DRC, to ensure that the present conflict does not escalate into total civil war and genocide?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend’s concern about the Democratic Republic of the Congo was echoed widely in our topical debate on the subject a couple of weeks ago. He will know that the Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for Africa, Lord Malloch-Brown, has recently returned from that part of Africa and is working with our international partners in the United Nations and the European Union. I will also raise my hon. Friend’s points with the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Can the Leader of the House tell us whether Her Majesty’s Government will accept the strongly worded recommendation from the European Parliament earlier this year that piracy be treated as a criminal offence rather than an act of war? The effect of doing that would be to require our armed forces to risk their lives trying to capture pirates—who might then, in some circumstances, be able to claim asylum—rather than simply blowing them out of the water, as the Indian navy has just done.

Ms Harman: If the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to look at the draft legislative programme that we published earlier this year, he might have seen our proposal to change the law on our obligations in relation to piracy at sea. I suggest that he await the inclusion of such issues in the legislation to be introduced following the Queen’s Speech.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I would like to call for a debate on the misuse of drugs, whether controlled drugs or otherwise. In the past two weeks, the House has been denied a full debate on the reclassification of cannabis, unlike in 2004 when there was a full debate on that matter. A further controversy involves the vigorous debate that is taking place outside the House on whether treating addicts in residential accommodation or treating them by maintaining them on substitute drugs is the right way forward. It is a long time since we had a debate in the Chamber on the misuse of substances, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree to organise one.

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Ms Harman: As my hon. Friend has made clear, the question of drug abuse and addiction crosses a range of issues, including children and young people, crime and health. I will look at his proposal that we should find an opportunity for the House to debate the issue across the piece.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Has this week been so uneventful that the Leader of the House can find no subject at all for today’s topical debate, or is she beginning to lose confidence in this innovation?

Ms Harman: We are having a debate on fisheries this afternoon. That is a very important issue for our coastal towns. There will also be an important statement from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, which will be topical.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): On 7 October, I tabled early-day motion 2191, to express my concern that the Government had yet to ratify the United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

[That this House is concerned by the delay in the Government’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; notes that to date 41 signatories have ratified this progressive international human rights instrument, including Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, India, Kenya, New Zealand, Niger, Paraguay, Qatar, South Africa, Spain and Tunisia; believes that the UK’s delay in ratification compromises the Government’s existing achievements and objectives in tackling disability discrimination; and calls upon the Government to ratify the Convention without reservation or further delay.]

Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the reassurance that ratification would be announced before the end of this year is still on track? We run the risk of compromising our extensive achievements of the past 10 or 11 years in tackling disability discrimination, and ratification of the convention would be the last piece in the jigsaw. May we also have a debate on the subject?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is right to draw our attention to the need to press forward with our support for the rights of people with disabilities. I know that he will welcome and support our new equality Bill, which will entrench rights and opportunities, and offer people with disabilities protection from discrimination. I do not know the technical details relating to how on track we are with the ratification, but I would say that, across health, education, the Home Office and the Government Equalities Office, we are really pressing forward to highlight issues of concern for people with disabilities.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Please may we have an urgent debate on the impact that retrospective changes to rating arrangements are having on businesses in the statutory ports? I was recently told by representatives of those businesses, which employ about 100,000 people, that the ports sector is now facing multi-million pound bills as a result of those changes, which were carried out without any impact assessment. Those liabilities have to be accounted for in the current accounting year, and many firms risk being
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tipped over into bankruptcy as a result of those bills arriving at a time when the sector is being badly hit by the economic downturn.

Ms Harman: Across the piece, the Government are looking at how we can support business in this difficult time of global economic downturn. I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s point to the attention of the relevant Minister. The hon. Gentleman might also like to look for an opportunity to raise the matter during the statement on the pre-Budget report.

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): Is the Leader of the House aware that only 7 per cent. of UK households are able to leave out batteries for collection by a recycling scheme? Under new European Union regulations, we shall have to recycle 25 per cent. of our household batteries by 2012. Will she grant time for a debate on recycling, so that the House can explore ways of meeting that target, including making facilities such as battery bins more widely available—perhaps even in the House?

Ms Harman: It is important in all respects for this House to be setting an example, but my hon. Friend is right to say that recycling materials safely saves the cost of landfill and the pressure that that puts on space. People sometimes jeer at such suggestions as examples of political correctness or the nanny state, but they are really important for sustainability. I shall draw her remarks to the attention of Ministers in the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Two constituencies adjoin: in one, a secondary school has been demolished and not replaced, rail services have been cut and many post offices closed, and there is no hospital; in the other, there is to be a new railway station and a new hospital. What is more, the out-patient facility in the first constituency is being closed and transferred to the second constituency. The first constituency is the Conservative marginal seat of Wellingborough, and the second is the Labour marginal seat of Corby. Can we have a statement on Labour’s gerrymandering?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has made some very unjustified allegations about the motivation behind the allocation of investment. I am not going to look for time for a debate or pass his remarks on to Ministers; in fact, I am going to ignore them.

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Safeguarding Children

12.11 pm

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the actions that I have taken over the past week, since I received last Wednesday morning the serious case review of the tragic death of baby P.

As I said to the House on Monday, the whole nation has been deeply shocked, appalled and angered by the terrible suffering that this little boy endured. Since the jury reached its decision on 11 November, we have all read of the abuse that he suffered at the hands of adults that he lived with. That is something that I think we all struggle to comprehend.

The case has also raised serious questions of public concern about how such a thing could have happened again, despite numerous contacts with social workers, police and health professionals—and in Haringey, too, the same borough where Victoria Climbié died eight years ago. We need to know what actions are urgently needed in Haringey to ensure the safety of other vulnerable children in that borough and proper accountability for what went wrong, and what further steps are needed to ensure that all children are safe across the country.

It is our collective duty to do what we can to prevent such a tragedy happening again, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and to other Opposition Members for the support that they have given me over the past eight days for the actions that we have so far taken.

Let me start by setting out the background. Following the death of baby P on 3 August 2007, and consistent with the statutory requirements set out in “Working Together to Safeguard Children”, a serious case review started immediately to discover what happened and why. Serious case reviews are carried out whenever a child dies and abuse or neglect is known or suspected to have been a factor. They are instigated by the local safeguarding children board, which is independent of Government.

The report should be independently authored. Local agencies should implement any interim lessons immediately, while the serious case review is still in progress, and working drafts of serious case reviews may be shared with Government officials. Since April last year, Ofsted has evaluated each serious case review to help to strengthen the system. However, in all cases, Ministers are not involved in any part of the process of undertaking and completing the serious case review and do not see draft reports. In this case, the executive summary of the serious case review was published on the afternoon of 11 November, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families and I received the full confidential report on the morning of 12 November.

Having studied it, we concluded that there was clear evidence that agencies had failed, singly and collectively, to adhere to the statutory procedures for the proper management of child protection cases. This raised serious concerns about the wider systems and management of services for safeguarding children in the borough.

Our immediate priority was to ensure the safety of children in Haringey, so, that afternoon, we arranged for the director of children's services in Hampshire,
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John Coughlan, to be immediately seconded to Haringey to help to ensure that proper procedures for safeguarding children were in place and being applied. He began that work the following morning.

At the same time, I decided that Ofsted, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection and the chief inspector of constabulary should carry out an urgent inspection in Haringey under section 20(1)(b) of the Children Act 2004. In particular, I asked the inspectors to look closely at the quality of practice and management of all services that contribute to the effective safeguarding of children in Haringey.

The work of the national inspectors is under way, and I will receive a first report by 1 December. As soon as I have studied their findings, I will publish their report and the actions that we will then take.

This tragic case also raises wider issues about child safety. It is now just over five years since we published Every Child Matters in response to the Victoria Climbié inquiry, chaired by Lord Laming. Both the joint chief inspectors earlier this year and Lord Laming himself have said that these reforms have significantly strengthened the framework for safeguarding children, and in local areas across the country there is much good work being done that is keeping children safe.

However, as the joint chief inspectors also said in their July report, there is still much work to do to ensure that the reforms are being implemented systematically by all local agencies, so that children in every part of the country receive the protection that they need—a view that was repeated and reinforced yesterday in Ofsted’s annual report. That was why we began a stocktake of local safeguarding children boards last month, including their governance and accountability arrangements, the independence of local safeguarding children board chairs and whether the statutory guidance needs to be revised. At the same time, we also started work to establish what more can be done to improve the quality, consistency and impact of serious case reviews.

As I explained to the House on Monday, and immediately following the legal verdict on 11 November, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families and I asked Lord Laming to provide us with an urgent report of progress made across the country in implementing effective arrangements for keeping children safe. In parallel, we have also set out legislative proposals to improve children’s trusts that will provide stronger area-wide accountability for the well-being and safety of children across all children’s services.

I met Lord Laming on Monday to agree the scope of his report, which will be ready early in the new year. He will report on the key features of good safeguarding practice and whether they are being universally applied across the country, including the development of the professional work force, inter-agency working and effective systems of public accountability. He will also look at the key barriers, including in the legal process, that may be impeding children’s professionals in their work and stopping good practice becoming common practice—including whether the right balance is being struck between the correct application of processes when taking a child into care and the needs of the child. Lord
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Laming will also look at what specific actions should be taken by national Government and local agencies to overcome those barriers and accelerate improvement across the country.

I have also decided to bring the work on local safeguarding children boards and the work on serious case reviews that we announced last month under Lord Laming’s remit. I am pleased that he has today begun his work and that he has already written to experts and interested parties setting out how they can inform his findings. I have placed a copy of that letter in the Libraries of both Houses.

Professionals working with children in this country do a tough job, often in very difficult circumstances. They have a great responsibility and they make very difficult judgments every day, but where serious mistakes are made, there must be proper accountability. We must never forget that our first duty is to make sure that all children are safe and protected from harm. We will not rest until we have the very best possible child protection arrangements to safeguard our most vulnerable children.

The case of baby P is tragic and appalling. We have a responsibility now to take whatever action is needed to ensure that such a tragedy cannot happen again and that all children are able to grow up safe—in Haringey, and across the country.

I commend this statement to the House.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for prior notice of the statement, and for the co-operative approach that his office has taken in helping to resolve the delicate questions to which this tragic case has given rise.

The horrific circumstances of baby P’s short, agonised life and terrible, pain-racked death are imprinted indelibly on all our minds. The ultimate moral responsibility for the child’s suffering rests with the three adults found guilty of allowing his death. I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree with me that we must never shift our focus from preventing such evil from being inflicted on another innocent. That is why it is important that we ask serious questions now, to ensure that we give children the greatest possible level of protection.

I appreciate that the Secretary of State has been working hard to get answers, and the questions that I ask today imply no criticism of him personally. Indeed, I thank him for so speedily ordering an independent inquiry into Haringey council. But would he now acknowledge that the inspection regime that was supposed to monitor child protection in Haringey was flawed?

We know that when a former social worker rang the alarm bell six months before baby P died, her concerns were passed on, in accordance with the procedures in place, to the Commission for Social Care Inspection. The commission met representatives from Haringey in March 2007 and asked for improvements to be made. Two weeks later, responsibility for inspecting Haringey’s children’s services passed from the commission to Ofsted, and there is no evidence yet that Ofsted or anyone else pursued the demand that Haringey improve its child protection. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that that was wrong, and does he share my concern that other child protection cases may have slipped through the cracks in that handover?

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