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Ed Balls: The recommendations in Lord Laming’s report challenge us to do just that. The combination of the new national safeguarding unit and the strengthened inspection regime through Ofsted is important. In the end, however, the issue is about ensuring that we have proper leadership, resourcing and scrutiny, both locally, in every one of the 158 areas where safeguarding is co-ordinated, and across a range of different agencies. Our challenge is to make best practice universal, across all parts of the country. As I have said, we will revise our new guidance on safeguarding to each area to reflect not only the changes in the law, but the wider
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recommendations in Lord Laming’s report. It is vital that we have clear direction from the centre, but far more important will be the quality and commitment of leadership at local level, and that is where we must ensure that we have proper and effective scrutiny. That is why the new clause’s proposals to open up accountability at local area level, through lay members and annual reports, is as important as the setting of statutory targets and guidance, for which the Bill also makes provision.

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New clause 21 and amendments 18, 19 and 20 reflect some progress on the debates that occurred in the Public Bill Committee which, sadly, I was unable to be part of. On the basis of the debate so far today, I regret that very much indeed. I understand that there was agreement among hon. Members on both sides of the Committee on the need for local employers to work together with local colleges. That is obviously vital in the current climate, and we are expanding the number of apprenticeships and getting more skills into the adult work force as well.

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) made a strong case in Committee for greater clarity on the inclusion of employer bodies in co-operation arrangements. The Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), said in that debate that we were fully committed to employer engagement, and that we would look at that matter further. Rather than imposing the duty to co-operate as a funding condition, we have decided instead, through new clause 21 and the consequential amendments, to place a duty on colleges to follow statutory guidance from the Secretary of State on co-operation, including with employers, alongside the new duty in the Bill to promote economic and social well-being in the local area. I hope that that will provide greater clarity and flexibility, and that the provisions make it clear in a way that all hon. Members can agree on that there will be a proper, clear basis for employer—

Mr. Hayes: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; I appreciate that he is in mid-flow. We welcome that change. It reflects the discussion in Committee that he described, and reaffirms the cross-party view that the relationship between educators and employers is critical, particularly at this time. I guess that this illustrates our Committees working at their best.

Ed Balls: I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

We believe that this is a better way of ensuring that we can have more effective, clear and flexible co-operation between colleges and employers. We are hoping that we will receive a reply today from the shadow Children’s Secretary on whether he and his party will match our September guarantee on funding for sixth forms, because, without that clarity, we will not have proper cross-party co-operation on ensuring that employers and young people get the support that they need.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I echo the Secretary of State’s sentiment that every right-thinking person in this country will have been absolutely horrified at the further revelations that have
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come out of the baby P affair. That makes it even more urgent to acknowledge that the measures that we all bring in—not just the Government, but all the other agencies involved—are very necessary. We can always clamp down, but we can never eliminate altogether those people who are intent on doing evil things to children. However, the duty of all of us is to make that as difficult as possible for them by eliminating as many opportunities as possible, and to keep a strong watching eye on the people who are minded to do these horrendous things to children.

We are waiting eagerly for the rest of the measures that the Secretary of State will introduce in response to Lord Laming’s report, which he will announce tomorrow. I presume that we will have proper opportunity, through an oral statement, to scrutinise some of those measures. We also await the interim report from the social work taskforce, which forms an integral part of this whole exercise.

I want to comment on most of the amendments and new clauses in the group. I shall first comment on our amendment 54 and then on Government amendments 18 and 19 together with the accompanying new clause 21. I shall then comment briefly on new clause 29, tabled by the Liberal Democrats. Subsequently, I will come to the main motions, which I view as Government new clauses 22, 23 and 24, and I shall want to speak to them in greater detail.

Amendment 54, which was tabled by my hon. Friends, is about the duty to co-operate. It is effectively about the membership of children’s trusts and the definitions of who constitute the relevant partners that form those trusts. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) raised the issue in Committee, explaining that in our view, the list of those relevant partners is not as exhaustive as it should be. Hence the purpose of the amendment is to add further names of agencies to clause 187. They are the further relevant partners who should be consulted and form part of the children’s trusts network.

The four additional agencies that we would like to see added to the Bill largely reflect the results of the Government’s own consultation. These four agencies are, first,

effectively the pupil referral units, which are now being renamed. The second is

The third is

very much a movable feast in respect of who exactly it will be, as extended schools are rolled out and encompass more and more partners. That is why it is so important for this provision to be built directly into the Bill. Fourthly and particularly—this is another issue that came out of the Government’s consultation—there are

It was found that engaging GPs with children’s centres and some other partners had proved particularly challenging, which is why we think there is a case for naming them directly in the Bill. Amendment 54 is thus straightforward in making more explicit the relevant partners that should be named within the legislation.

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Let me turn briefly to deal with Government new clause 21 and the corresponding amendments 18 and 19. I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who now seems to have dismissed himself, on the pressure he brought to bear in Committee, where it was felt that the burdens placed on colleges were slightly onerous and that the duty to co-operate—not now on a funding condition—was a welcome remodelling of the thrust of this part of Bill, without undermining its credibility. Further education colleges already do a lot to support and promote well-being throughout communities. If anything, we should be giving them more freedom to pursue those aims even more and to promote good practice.

Anne Main: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that our further education colleges do a really good job, but they are often let down. In my constituency, for example, the Learning and Skills Council has not only wasted £12.5 million on running itself into a lease that it now has to get out of, but has withdrawn £40 million from a huge further education project—at Oaklands college, which will now probably fail. The Government might talk wise words, but they do not always deliver—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Lady that we are discussing the content of the new clause rather than the withdrawal of funding.

Tim Loughton: My hon. Friend has done well to make that point, getting in almost under the radar. There is an opportunity to take it further during tomorrow morning’s Westminster Hall debate, when the complete shambles that has been the LSC and the Government’s handling of further education funding can be explored in more detail, and in order.

We welcome what the Government have done in respect of the new clause and the amendments, and will support those measures.

The Liberal Democrats have tabled a number of proposals, which I will allow them to speak to for themselves, but I want to touch on new clause 29— [Interruption.] The reason why I am letting them speak to those proposals for themselves is that some do not add up, in particular new clause 29.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): You are thinking about yours.

Tim Loughton: I would be delighted to defer to the hon. Gentleman to allow him to comment on our single amendment.

New clause 29, tabled by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, requests that a

an independent chairman. Actually, those boards already can, and in many cases do, so I am slightly at a loss as to why primary legislation is required to bring that about.

Indeed, when the issue of baby P and serious case review handling by local safeguarding children boards came up back in the autumn, Conservative-run authorities were advised to ensure that they had chairmen or chairwomen of those boards who were independent,
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and that the boards were no longer chaired by the director of children’s services, as had been the case in many authorities.

All Conservative-run authorities had either made moves to bring that about or were in the process of making such moves. They have led the way and pre-empted a recommendation that it became inevitable Lord Laming would make. It will be interesting to hear from the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) how many Liberal Democrat-run local authorities have followed that advice—not that there are many, but we can at least have a good stab at finding out how much they have done already to put their principles into practice.

The Government’s main proposals are new clauses 22, 23 and 24, which are important. I think that the Secretary of State would acknowledge that we have been proactive and positive in supporting child protection legislation post-Victoria Climbié, and have been constructively critical in many examples, but we have always supported those measures that we think will lead to greater protection of children. Alas, too many of those measures have not had the desired effect—for a host of reasons that it is not appropriate to go into now. We had a debate on child protection a month or two ago.

I am keen to learn from the Secretary of State in greater detail why he thinks that these particular measures will improve the quality of the outcomes, by which I mean that more children will be better protected and fewer will end up meeting the horrific end of baby Peter and other children who have died at the hands of parents or carers in recent years.

I am not interested in the quantity of legislation. I think we have concentrated too much on quantity in the nine years since the death of Victoria Climbié. We must focus much more on the quality of the legislation, particularly the quality of the outcomes that it achieves.

I have enormous respect for Herbert Laming, who was one of the patrons of the Conservative commission on social worker practices, but part of the criticism has been that the 108 recommendations made in relation to Victoria Climbié have added to the bureaucracy, which can be said to have made the job of social workers rather more difficult. My problem, therefore, is how many of the 58 further recommendations being made in Laming 2 will add yet further to the bureaucracy, with Herbert Laming having himself acknowledged how too much bureaucracy has grown up in child protection and is becoming, in some cases, self-defeating.

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Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman is focusing on the additional bureaucracy arising from Laming 1, and possibly Laming 2 as well, but is not the real problem a massive case overload? We need more resources for social work, and more and better social workers, to ensure that the events that we are discussing are not repeated.

Tim Loughton: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need fewer case loads heaped on to individual social workers, we need more permanent social workers—as opposed to agency or short-term social workers—and we need to free up more of social workers’ time, so that
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they can get on with their job of protecting children and vulnerable families and meeting them face to face rather than being shackled to their computers and assessment forms. That is what Laming, Unison and all other dispassionate observers say is now happening. Some surveys estimate that social workers and child protection workers spend up to 80 per cent. of their time in front of computers and doing paperwork for assessments.

We must judge the Bill according to the extent to which it helps, or hinders, our ability to counter the problems that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. That is why I want to concentrate on bureaucracy. So far we have heard no details of the targets mentioned in new clause 22 from the Secretary of State, but I fear that that new clause, in particular, will heap more targets, and potentially more bureaucracy, on top of performance indicators, rather than replacing them.

The performance indicators currently in use for the safeguarding of children are inadequate to the task for which they were designed, which came across clearly in Laming 2, which said:

That is what Laming said in the opening of his report. Let us look at what others have said about the bureaucracy that has crept into the child protection system, and which I fear may be behind some of these new proposals. Mick Brookes, head of the National Association of Head Teachers, has said:

Christine Blower, head of the National Union of Teachers, has said:

That view has been reflected in the observations of a number of commentators who are closely involved in child protection.

The 58 recommendations in the second Laming report underlie these new clauses, and will underlie further proposals which the Secretary of State will no doubt unveil tomorrow. Those proposals may or may not require primary legislation, but they will certainly be contained in various regulations. An awful lot of what is being proposed amounts to further bureaucracy rather than the achievement of qualitative outcomes. One example is the establishment of a national safeguarding delivery unit.

The national safeguarding delivery unit will report to the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Families, Children and Young People. Earlier, the Secretary of State exalted the merits of greater transparency and public involvement. The problem is that the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Families, Children and Young People is shrouded in secrecy. In response to a question that I tabled to the
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Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), asking what reasons were given

the Under-Secretary of State replied:

So we do not know what that Sub-Committee actually does, nor how it will respond to the proceedings of the national safeguarding delivery unit. It therefore seems to be an extra bit of bureaucracy, whose merits in achieving qualitative outcomes are questionable—but in any case we cannot question it, because it meets in secret and its minutes are not published. That is a good example of the lack of transparency that some of these proposals will create.

Other recommendations underlying the new clauses include the following: that there should be statutory targets for safeguarding and protection, alongside the existing statutory attainment and early-years targets, to be produced as quickly as possible; that the Department of Health must clarify and strengthen the responsibilities of strategic health authorities; that directors of children’s services and primary care trusts must regularly review all points of referral; and that all directors of children’s services must appoint a senior manager within their team with the necessary skills and experience, and organise regular training and needs assessments. Therefore, a lot of extra bureaucracy will be added to the child protection procedures as a result of following the recommendations of Laming 2, if that is what the Secretary of State is going to do—and given that he has already committed himself to accepting all those recommendations in practice and that we have the first few of them here, it appears that that is the route down which he will go.

Ed Balls: The hon. Gentleman asks for transparency. As I want to respond clearly to his remarks, I must say to him that so far his comments have been obfuscatory and very unclear. He began by praising Lord Laming, but his subsequent remarks have left me very confused, and I need to know the following so that I can respond clearly. Lord Laming has made a series of recommendations, and I said in a statement to the House a few weeks ago that I accepted those recommendations and would implement them. Lord Laming recommended the following: that there should be an annual report to the children’s trust and the local safeguarding board; that there should be a national delivery unit reporting to the Sub-Committee; and that there should be new statutory targets. I am implementing Lord Laming’s recommendations—some of them through this Bill—because I support them. Do the hon. Gentleman and his party support Lord Laming’s recommendations—yes or no? I ask that because what the hon. Gentleman has so far said has been very confusing indeed.

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