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Ed Balls: The answer is that the UN figures show that over the past 15 years there has been a 40 per cent. fall in child deaths for under-fives. There has also been a small fall in the number of deaths of children aged 0 to 17. But that is not good enough. We need to do
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better. Every death that is non-accidental is not good enough. That is why we need to make further progress.

John Hemming: What are those figures, which we could then audit?

Ed Balls: I am happy to quote the figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show that in 2003 the overall number of deaths of children aged 0 to 17 was 4,990. In 2007 it was lower—4,854. The UN figures show that over the period 1995 to 2006 there has been a 30 per cent. fall in child deaths among under-fives. So I have set out the figures clearly.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I meet and listen to many children in care and people who have been in care, and they would remind the House that there are some great performances by social workers and local authorities around the country, but some very poor performances too, some of which we have heard about. They would want us to be intolerant of those poor performers. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that there is the political will and the law to enable tougher earlier intervention on local authorities that are not doing well enough?

Ed Balls: There is the political will, as I believe we showed in the case of Haringey. That was an exceptional case in terms of the gravity of the failure, as was made clear by the Ofsted and wider inspectors, but there have been problems in Doncaster, Surrey, West Sussex, Birmingham and Wokingham. In all those cases we are currently taking action to intervene. There is the political will, and we will act because our priority is to keep children safe. Although the figures have come down, it is still not good enough and we need to do more.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): The Secretary of State for Justice produced a report on care, which the right hon. Gentleman’s officials may or may not have read. One of the key issues raised by his right hon. Friend is that in 10 successive Acts the same reassurance, by and large, has been given. This is not a direct criticism of the Government. Here we legislate and say what should happen, but perhaps the guiltiest parties in all this are the many local authorities throughout the country which, the report found, do not implement what has gone through the House and leave social workers trapped between a system that does not want to put children into care because of the financial cost, and blame from us when they do not do so. Is it not time that the Secretary of State sorted the problem out? Councils that fail must be brought to account, and quickly.

Ed Balls: The right hon. Gentleman is right. It is important that councils are called to account. This is not a party political matter. As he knows, those are Conservative and Labour councils around the country. More than 100 of the 150 areas that were inspected by Ofsted in the past year were judged good or very good, but not all were, and where there is inadequacy, we will intervene because that is the right thing to do.

Tim Loughton: Before the Secretary of State moves away from the UN table that he quoted, will he make it clear to the House that what he quoted is a table of all
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child deaths, which includes traffic accidents, child cancer deaths and meningitis deaths, of which only a small proportion relate to children being killed at the hands of their parents or carers, for which figure he cannot show progress and for which he should be citing his own Ofsted report last year, which said that there had been up to four deaths a week? Is that not the case? If so, he is using figures to create a very false image to the House.

Ed Balls: I think I made it clear that UN figures are for child deaths, and they have fallen by 30 per cent. We need to make sure that we protect children from all kinds of death where there is a non-accidental injury. That matters whether we are dealing with safety in the home, transport deaths or child deaths. I also said that any child death that happens because of abuse or injury by a parent or carer is wrong. That is why we are debating these matters.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the central issue of local authority performance? I first fell out with my local, Conservative councillors over their failure on child protection. Now an Ofsted report has found that Essex county council child protection is inadequate. It has been served with a formal improvement notice and given 12 months to get its act together. Does he think that Tory Front Benchers would have more credibility tonight if they had come to the House, apologised for that and said what they were doing to clean up their own councils’ acts—particularly the one in Essex?

Ed Balls: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point, but as I said this is not a party political matter. The councils in Haringey and Doncaster were Labour, but those in Essex, Sussex, Surrey and Wokingham were Conservative. In the case of Surrey, I think that I am right in saying that last summer the Minister for Children, Young People and Families wrote to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham offering a briefing on the serious matter involved. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take that up at any point, he is welcome to. However, this is not a party political matter, but one that should concern all Members and councils of all political colours. That is why I said that I did not want to play party politics with it, despite provocation. I want to get to a consensus on the way forward, and that is what I am determined to do.

Meg Munn: May I return to the point made by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith)? We have to be careful when talking about whether there is a choice between leaving a child at home and not bringing them into care because of issues of cost. Such judgments are extremely complex. Taking a child away from their family, even when the family is not perfect, has emotional implications. Social workers weigh up trying to improve a child’s situation at home with their natural family and the implications for children who live with other families. Even for very small children, those implications can have lifelong effects—even if they end up with a family that meets a lot of their needs better.

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend makes an important point in response to the right hon. Gentleman. Such decisions are not for social workers, but for the courts. The duty
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of the courts is to make sure that when children are at risk, action is taken. It is for the courts to decide whether the children concerned go into care. If any social worker or council decided that they would not make referrals because of court costs or any other costs, that would be entirely and completely wrong, and I would condemn it out of hand. I do not believe that that is happening around the country, but Lord Laming will explicitly consider the issue in his progress report.

Mr. Graham Stuart rose—

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab) rose—

Ed Balls: I am going to make a little progress. I shall refer to the issue of the publication of serious case reviews in a second.

Mrs. Moon: May I make an intervention on the specific issue of the courts?

Ed Balls: Okay, I will take it.

Mrs. Moon: I thank my right hon. Friend. In reference to court action, there have been criticisms that social workers spend too much time on record keeping. I have a background in child protection, and I advise my right hon. Friend that records are absolutely essential in court cases. Often they can go back a long time and demonstrate that over a number of years of intervention of the social worker has not been successful in getting the family to the point where the child can be kept safely at home. We should never forget the importance of social work records.

Ed Balls: Of course that is the case. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham did not make the point, because it did not fit into the rhetoric. However, the reality is that good social workers record their interventions with a family and their discussions with other professionals because that is vital not only for the accountability of the service, but to make sure that children are safe. Furthermore, those records are key and critical in court. The idea that a good social worker does not complete records is not of the real world.

Mr. Stuart rose—

Ed Balls: I shall make some progress and then take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.

I said that I would turn to the Opposition motion, and I will do so. I want to take seriously the points that they make in the motion and in this debate and show where we disagree and where, with a little more thought and intellectual engagement, we could achieve a consensus. They start the motion by pointing to the failings in Haringey, and say that they mean that the lessons from the Victoria Climbié inquiry have not been learned. Indeed, in the Queen’s Speech debate a few weeks ago, the shadow Secretary of State went further and said:

Other Conservative Members have called into question the very Every Child Matters reforms, although the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham has not; I absolve him from that. Those Conservative Members
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have even called for a new inquiry to investigate the child protection system from first principles. I agree with Lord Laming, who says that that would not be the right approach. In his letter to me, dated 1 December, he said:

In its response to Lord Laming, the NSPCC says:

Indeed, it goes on to say that

In the tragic case of baby P, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham cited at length, the inspectors did identify clear failings in management, oversight and practice. That is why we took the exceptional action that we took. However, as the chief inspector told me, the failings that she identified were exceptional. So we profoundly disagree that we have not learned the lessons or that we are not properly implementing the recommendations of the Victoria Climbié inquiry. As I said, much good work is being done in many areas by social workers, police officers, GPs and health professionals, who do incredibly tough jobs, often in challenging circumstances, with difficult judgments to make every day to keep children safe. They get no publicity when they make the right call, and we should give them our praise and support.

At the same time, we are not complacent. In the summer last year, the joint chief inspectors’ report concluded that more work was needed; the same happened in respect of the end of year Ofsted evaluation. That is why we have ordered all local authorities to look again at all serious case reviews where there was an inadequate judgment and why we have asked Lord Laming to provide us with a progress report. However, to ignore, as the Opposition motion does, the progress made in many areas would not only undermine the achievements of social workers around the country, but put that progress at risk. That would be the wrong thing to do.

Mr. Graham Stuart: I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. May I take him back to the figures on child deaths? It is uncharacteristic of him to have used figures that are essentially misleading. The number of child deaths overall is not relevant to this debate; what is relevant is the number of children who die as the result of abuse. The Ofsted evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Committee was clear: the number of children who had died from abuse over 16 months was 210—that is, three children a week. For the record, and to make the numbers relevant to this debate, will the Secretary of State confirm that that is his understanding?

Ed Balls: I hesitate to do this, but I will have to refer the hon. Gentleman back to the Hansard record of the last time that he made the very same point and the reply that I gave. As he knows, the Ofsted figures were different
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from the Government’s because they used a wider base. They included, for example, children who had died as a result of suicide or anorexia nervosa—or other deaths that could relate to something that had happened in the home—as opposed to the direct death of a child due to injury from a parent or carer. The figures are not comparable. He knows that as I explained it last time.

Mr. Stuart rose—

Ed Balls: I am happy to give way again, but can he please make a better intervention than his last one? We answered it a month ago.

Mr. Stuart: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I am afraid that it is he who needs to go back and read the record. If he goes back to the record of 10 December 2008—the Chairman of the Select Committee is in the Chamber today—he will read that both Michael Hart and Christine Gilbert were quite clear: there were 72 children, of 282, who fell into the category that the Secretary of State has just described. The unequivocal evidence from Ofsted was that 210 children died from abuse in that period. The Secretary of State got it wrong last time, and he has repeated his error today. Will he please look at the record and correct himself on the Floor of the House?

Ed Balls: I did that last time, and I explained the different basis for the figures. We are not disagreeing. Too many children die non-accidental deaths, and we need to deal with that. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to refer to his intervention in which he attempted to pin on me the idea that I had asked the Information Commissioner for advice, even though he knows that that is not the case. If he has a decent intervention, he might make it; I will take it if he wants.

The second thing that the Opposition called for is for all serious case reviews to be published in full. We are determined to ensure that we do all we can to guarantee that children in every area are kept safe. That is why it is crucial that we learn from mistakes, which is why we carry out serious case reviews. Where the full report or executive summary is inadequate, that is not good enough, and we have asked for all such reports to be investigated. We have also said, following Lord Laming’s initial recommendation, that the overview panel for every serious case review should be independently chaired. Indeed, I have asked the new chair of the local safeguarding children board in Haringey, Graham Badman, to re-run the baby P serious case review, such is the seriousness of the issue.

The Opposition call for all serious case reviews to be published in full, but we fundamentally disagree for two reasons. First, we would not want to compromise the right to privacy or to protection of other siblings or vulnerable children involved who could, in all likelihood, be identified even if their names were redacted; and, secondly, serious case reviews rely on the open and honest involvement of representatives of all the agencies involved. I had to rely on my judgment, and that is what underpinned the letters to Opposition spokespeople that I sent on a series of occasions. Let us hear what the deputy Children’s Commissioner says:

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That is also the view taken by the NSPCC, which has said:

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said that I was distorting the view of the NSPCC and that it has had to correct the position. Let me read from the letter that was written to me by the acting chief executive of the NSPCC on 4 December:

serious case reviews—

It is there on the page in black and white. That is the view of the experts. It is not the view of the Opposition, but in my view they are out on a limb and outside the consensus on this very important matter, and if they prevailed that would put children at risk.

Meg Munn: Is it not also the case that my right hon. Friend’s Department initiates research into serious case reviews in order to bring together the learning gained from those reviews across the country? Having a proper assessment of the issues that have come up in many different cases is probably more useful to staff on the ground—social workers, health visitors, and so on—than having to read through lots of separate case reviews involving circumstances which they perhaps know less about?

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is right. That is why we publish those reviews. We have also said that executive summaries should have a clear view of all the lessons learned from every individual case. In fact, we have asked Lord Laming to tell us how we can make those reports better in future. In the case of baby P, it is important that there is a full and better executive summary in the public domain. The reason I am not making them public is not because of the advice to me from the Information Commissioner. As I have made clear on repeated occasions in writing and in this House, I did not seek his advice on this matter. It is my judgment—because the professionals tell me so, not only the lawyers but the NSPCC and the deputy children’s commissioner—that such disclosure would put children’s lives at risk.

This is not something to play politics with but something on which there should be a consensus. I think that it is time that we got off this subject and on to the serious business.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): On the occasion of the Secretary of State’s statement to this House, he mentioned the Information Commissioner’s ruling. First, why did he not consult the Information Commissioner when he invoked his ruling? Secondly—this is intimately related to the publication of serious case reviews—why does he put the interests of professionals, their anonymity and their shielding from scrutiny ahead of the maximum possible disclosure to ensure that we have the maximum level of information to create the maximum quality of child protection?

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