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Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.

Question accordingly agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).


Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you give us some guidance as to what remedies are available to the House to establish an accurate version of events now that it is clear that the Select Committee on Home Affairs was misled earlier today over the extent of the collusion between the Mayor of London—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Would the hon. Member care to rephrase his words?

Martin Salter: I would, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you give us guidance as to how the House can establish an accurate version of events now that it is clear that there was some discussion between the Mayor of London and the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green)?

Madam Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for the Chair, but the matter is now on the record and I hope, therefore, that the people responsible will respond to the hon. Member.

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Child Protection

7.17 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I beg to move,

I am pleased to move the motion— [Interruption.] Despite the evacuation of the Chamber, this subject is important to all hon. Members and it is also topical— [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. We are just commencing this debate, so would hon. Members who do not wish to stay please leave as quickly and as quietly as possible and would those who remain be aware of the level of their conversations, so that hon. Members who wish to contribute to this debate may hear what is being said?

Tim Loughton: I am grateful for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, this topical subject requires urgent attention, but yet again, it is not Government time being given over to debating children’s issues, but Opposition time—that has been the case ever since the Government created the post of a children’s Minister.

Despite a constant stream of well-intentioned legislation on child protection and child-related issues, and despite the best endeavours of many hard-working and dedicated professionals, the child protection system is just not working. Last November’s Ofsted report suggested that up to four children a week in England die from abuse or neglect—and two thirds of those killed or hurt were babies under a year old. That includes cases where parents or carers were not directly culpable for causing death, but the figure is still substantially more than the one to two deaths a week assumed previously by children’s charities, and it is an alarming revelation almost nine years after the tragic death of Victoria Climbié, which has become synonymous with the cancer of child cruelty. From her death came the comprehensive report by the highly respected Herbert Laming, who is undertaking a follow-up review in the light of the baby P case.

Subsequently we have had the Children Act 2004, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, the Children and Young Persons Act 2008, the integrated children’s
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system, the child assessment framework and, most recently, ContactPoint. We have local safeguarding children boards, directors of children’s services departments and so on. It is not the quantity of legislation that is at fault, but the quality, content and direction. Indeed, there is now a growing body of opinion that many of the structural changes that we have seen over the years—especially the constant upheaval and drain on resources and morale that they have brought about over the last five or more years—are actually undermining the effectiveness of the child protection system.

Following the trial of those responsible for the death of baby P in November, the spotlight again fell on Haringey children’s services department, and particularly its director. When challenged about the findings in that awful case—and when elected members had fled the scene—Sharon Shoesmith responded that as far as she was concerned, her social workers had done their jobs properly, all the procedures had been followed and she would not be resigning. By the way, a 17-month-old boy had died in horrific circumstances, despite being on the council’s at-risk register and having had contact with various professionals on at least 60 occasions.

Absurdly, therefore, we are expected to accept that as long as the right pages in the rule book were followed and the requisite number of boxes were ticked, the system was working properly. Child protection has undoubtedly become a big enterprise, and many more people now have an interest in it than, say, 10 years ago, which is quite right. But are we in danger of having created a sophisticated system that has inadvertently put the protection of that system ahead of the protection of the vulnerable children whom the system is surely there to protect and prioritise?

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is rightly drawing attention to some horrific cases in which children died in dreadful circumstances. However, he is not drawing attention to the good work that so many social workers do, and how many children they save. When I meet social workers in Blackpool—especially those who work with children—they are proud of the work that they do. They work hard to protect the children the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

Tim Loughton: I entirely agree with the hon. Lady, which is why I started my second paragraph by commending the great efforts of the social work professionals. That is also why this party set up a commission on social workers two years ago, which reported again today. And that is why I shall make some further comments commending the activities of social workers later in my speech, if the hon. Lady will be patient.

When the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) launched the Laming report on 28 January 2003, he told the House:

A key action point from that statement was the setting up of children’s trusts—a substantial structural innovation. But have they really turned out to be the universal panacea that we were promised? If so, why were they panned in a recent Audit Commission report in which
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the chief executive, Steve Bundred, said that improvements to children’s services have happened in spite of the trusts, rather than because of them? He said:

Again, apparently well-intentioned structural changes have turned out to be bureaucratic nightmares at best, and at worst seriously counter-productive to the business of protecting vulnerable children.

Over the weekend I reread the Laming report. Its findings were not exceptional. Its 108 recommendations were not insurmountable. It said:

It claimed that

It concluded:

I think that we would all endorse those comments.

Lord Laming ended by saying:

But six years on, relatively straightforward things were still not being done well in Haringey. The fundamental message from Laming was that there should be clear lines of accountability. That is why directors of children’s services departments were created, but in Haringey no one stepped up to the plate voluntarily to take responsibility.

The joint area review produced before Christmas contained depressing echoes of the original Climbié inquiry, as set out in the letter from the Secretary of State dated 1 December. It mentioned

Those are all familiar failings that we had heard before in the case of Victoria Climbié.

In many respects, the circumstances surrounding baby P are worse than those of the Victoria Climbié case. Whereas the abuse of Victoria Climbié went on primarily under the radar of local services much of the time, baby P was the subject of at least 60 contacts with professionals and was firmly on their radar.

Of course the tragedies of Haringey are not unique. This year started with the news that in Doncaster no fewer than seven children have been the subject of serious case reviews over the past four years. Five of them were less than 16 months old, including Amy Howson and Alfie Goddard, whose cases have been brought to court.

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Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken an interest in this issue for some time, but when we cite such figures, it is important to look at the detail. Of those seven children, three were found to have died for reasons not related to abuse. Although local authorities may have serious case reviews when children die, those deaths are not always directly attributable to failures in care by social workers or other professionals.

Tim Loughton: The hon. Lady is right; we have debated these issues on many occasions. In some of the Doncaster cases, the deaths were the result of dysfunctional families, with parents with drug and alcohol addiction who should have been the subject of much closer scrutiny by the children’s services department.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and we are all horrified by the baby P case, and any case in which a child is killed. I know that his job tonight is to blame the Government, but if he looks at Scandinavia—which my Committee has visited to look at their systems, which I admit are better than ours in many ways—he will see that the levels of child murder are about the same. He should bear that in mind, instead of making this a party political issue that divides us across the House.

Tim Loughton: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman severely underestimates the purpose of this debate. This is not a partisan issue. This is an urgent issue that affects all hon. Members, and it is about the most vulnerable members of our society. We set up our commission on social workers dealing with child protection in that vein, to try to produce solutions to deal with a failing child protection system.

We have instigated this debate—the Government did not do so—because we wanted to draw attention to the continuing problems and allow the House to debate them. So far it has been denied that opportunity. We could have a whole debate on the example of Scandinavia. As the hon. Gentleman knows, members of the shadow children’s team and I have visited Denmark and Finland in recent years to look at the child protection systems there. There is a high degree of alcoholism in Denmark, especially among parents from Greenland, and that demands the sort of interventions that should perhaps have happened in Doncaster, but did not.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that, notwithstanding a letter sent by the Secretary of State to the hon. Gentleman, to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) earlier today, the Government’s promise to provide a list, or at least a number broken down by local authority, of serious case reviews following the death of a child since 2003 has not been honoured—

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): What?

John Hemming: No, it has not. I am sorry, I mean that the Department has not provided that information and the Secretary of State will have to explain why. Does the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) share my concern that that has not happened?

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Tim Loughton: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern, and I shall talk about serious case reviews shortly. I noticed that my office got an urgent call from the Secretary of State’s office to rush out that answer, which I think the hon. Gentleman was expecting.

In Doncaster, there were again chilling echoes of what happened in Haringey and elsewhere. The published executive summaries of the serious case reviews in Doncaster spoke of missed opportunities—and in any case, in November Ofsted found that 41 per cent. of those serious case reviews were inadequate. Children met their deaths as a result not of one-off violent incidents but of systematic violence. The case of child A involved grossly inadequate responses by social services. Social work departments were in chaos, suffering from unmanageable workloads and not engaging remotely satisfactorily with vulnerable families. Health services had failed to take proper precautions and liaise with other agencies—a fundamental weakness identified in the case of Victoria Climbié and repeatedly since. Similar common themes have come out in other high-profile cases in Birmingham and Huddersfield that have hit the headlines—and, I fear, will come out in many other cases elsewhere that are still to work their way through the system.

We will never prevent all such tragedies in the future. Evil human beings will continue to commit unimaginably evil acts, even against their own kin. However, it is the job of child protection services to reduce the opportunities, to be vigilant concerning the likely candidates, and to intervene in a timely and appropriate manner whenever possible. So how on earth is this still happening, and what must take place to reduce such tragedies in the future? On one level, of course, we are being denied the vital opportunity to find out, to learn from the lessons and to implement the solutions, because we rarely get to see the full serious case reviews of such tragedies. Worse than that, Ofsted reports have thrown significant doubt on the integrity, thoroughness and value of many of the unpublished reviews. Even executive summaries are not necessarily published in full, let alone an accurate picture of the detailed underlying review.

In the case of baby P, the Secretary of State said that he had taken advice from the Information Commissioner that advised against the publication of the serious case review. That turned out to be news to the Information Commissioner. Instead, my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State and three other privileged hon. Members were allowed a furtive sight of the report behind locked doors, without pen and paper, and were sworn to secrecy. As David Hencke put it in The Guardian,

the Secretary of State’s

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