Previous Section Index Home Page

Tim Loughton: The simple answer is no. If the Secretary of State had listened, he would know that I absolutely respect the job Lord Laming has done and the objectives he is trying to achieve, but I absolutely question whether these 58 recommendations in full will make the system
5 May 2009 : Column 58
less bureaucratic and achieve what Lord Laming and I—and, I am sure, the Secretary of State—want to achieve. Many of these recommendations are good, and we will certainly support them. Taken as a whole however, I wonder whether they will add to bureaucracy, which would be counter-productive. I think I have made it absolutely clear that we support most, but not all, of them, and that we question the extra bureaucracy that might be created. I think I have made that clear.

Ed Balls indicated dissent.

Tim Loughton: The Secretary of State does not seem to think that that is clear, however. The fact that I do not support every single recommendation does not make me unsupportive of Herbert Laming. We certainly do not support the setting up of a national safeguarding delivery unit, for all the reasons that I have given.

Ed Balls: Lord Laming makes it absolutely clear in his report that he sees the national delivery unit as central to ensuring that children are safe. He sees its reporting to the Sub-Committee as central to keeping children safe, too. He also sees the serious case review full report being kept confidential, and the establishment of ContactPoint and new statutory targets, as central to keeping children safe. On each of these recommendations, we have heard from the hon. Gentleman that he and his party do not support what Lord Laming says are necessary actions to keep children safe. On this basis, it is clear that the Conservative party does not support the body of recommendations to keep children safe that are in Lord Laming’s report. There is no point in coming along with warm words. Lord Laming has produced a report. We are implementing his recommendations. The Conservative party does not support all the key central recommendations of the Laming report, and it is essential for public scrutiny that that point is laid clearly before us.

Tim Loughton: I think that I have made it absolutely clear that we do not support one of Lord Laming’s central recommendations: that there should be a national safeguarding delivery unit. We have said that right from the beginning, so our position should not cause any shock or horror. We just think that that is the wrong way to go about things. Lord Laming does not say that ContactPoint is essential for child protection—he has never said that. If the Secretary of State were to reread the Climbié report, he would find that Lord Laming does not say that ContactPoint is an essential component of child protection; Lord Laming is a supporter of ContactPoint for reasons other than the idea that it is an essential part of child protection.

Ed Balls indicated dissent.

Tim Loughton: I am seriously worried that the Secretary of State is shaking his head, because he now needs to have a very close and up-front conversation with Lord Laming as he has misunderstood the reasoning behind the approach taken by the author of the report that he commissioned. That is seriously worrying —[Interruption.] I do not support some of the recommendations in Lord Laming’s report, and I have detailed those. I could detail all the recommendations that the Conservatives do support, if the Secretary of State would like me to
5 May 2009 : Column 59
do so. The relevant point that I am trying to make on the three new clauses that we are discussing is that we risk adding to the bureaucracy that has been the biggest enemy of effective social work practice for too many years. We have to get that system right.

We already have numerous performance indicators, to which these new clauses, in particular new clause 22, will add targets. One such indicator is that initial assessments for children’s social care are to be carried out within seven working days of referral. That is a good proposal, but the trouble is that in practice what has happened in certain authorities is that in order to meet that performance indicator, certain departments have written an assessment that includes the name and address of the child only—the rest of the assessment is blank, yet that counts as an assessment to meet the performance indicator. The Secretary of State seems to be shaking his head, but that is happening and it is not what he and I want to achieve. He and I do not want to achieve that target if in our doing so the target becomes meaningless.

Ed Balls: That is exactly why Lord Laming proposes that all these targets be reviewed and we come forward with new statutory targets—that is a central recommendation of the Laming review, which the Conservative party does not support. There is no point in the Conservatives coming along with warm words about their support for Lord Laming when it turns out that they do not support any of the key central recommendations, including those in respect of the provisions in this Bill. People will see the difference between the parties on the priority that they put on making the essential reforms to back social workers and make children safe. That stark difference is clear to see in this debate.

Tim Loughton: The Secretary of State does not make his point any clearer by simply repeating himself. What does not help us is his coming along today with new clauses in primary legislation that contain no detail. We are expected to pass a new clause that will impose new targets, on top of flawed performance indicators, without knowing the details. I am even more worried now, because he clearly has not been reading the report by the author whom he commissioned. If he were to do so, he would find out that this is additional bureaucracy, not replacement bureaucracy, in too many cases. I could go through a list of performance indicators, most of which he appears to be blissfully aware of; the important thing is that we should not have bland and vacuous targets, which could have unforeseen consequences, one of which I have mentioned.

Let me give the Secretary of State a series of questions, so that he can tell me whether these are going to be the targets when we are eventually provided with some of the detail. Are the targets going to be bare targets about reducing the number of children taken into care for child protection purposes?

5.30 pm

Ed Balls: Lord Laming says that we should review the current targets and put in place new statutory targets. I said clearly in my speech that we would have a consultation process with local authorities and the social work taskforce over the coming months into the autumn. Alongside
5 May 2009 : Column 60
that, we will come forward with secondary legislation to enact the clauses that we are debating today. I am not going to tell the hon. Gentleman what the outcome of that consultation will be; that is for the consultation in the coming months. It will cover the range of targets, including the performance indicators, so that we can come up with new statutory targets.

The hon. Gentleman fundamentally misunderstands the Laming recommendations. To ask me that question when I have already said that the consultation will take place shows a lack of understanding combined with a complete opposition to the central recommendations of the Laming report.

On the issue of ContactPoint—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I understand the Secretary of State’s wish to provide an explanation, but interventions must be brief.

Tim Loughton: In other words, the Secretary of State does not know whether there will be a target for the number of children taken into care. Presumably, he also does not know whether there will be a target for the number of children who have avoided being taken into care because of the preventive work done with the families. Will there be a target for how quickly a child deemed to be at risk is assigned a dedicated social worker? He does not know that either.

We are being expected to impose a series of new targets, the number and nature of which we do not know. It appears to me that such new targets can only add to the bureaucracy of the child protection system. We do not know whether those new targets will produce a qualitative improvement or just another quantitative addition to the legislation, paperwork and bureaucracy that already tie up too many social workers and keep them from their real job.

Ed Balls: All that we are doing is taking primary powers to implement Lord Laming’s recommendation of new statutory targets, the content of which we will consult on in the coming months and which will be designed to ensure that we put child protection first, not process or bureaucracy. That is what Lord Laming’s report says and that is what we are implementing—without the support of the Opposition, as is very clear from this debate.

Tim Loughton: The Government will have—as they always have had—the full support of the Opposition when they can make the case that their proposals will make children safer and add to child protection effectiveness. Those are the simple questions that I am asking the Secretary of State. If we are to be asked to give him wide-ranging additional powers to set targets—which social workers at the sharp end tell us prevent them from doing their job, distort their job priorities and make them spend more time with their computers and paperwork than with the vulnerable families and children that they went into the profession to help—it is reasonable for us to ask those questions at this stage. The Secretary of State has been unable to give us any details of a single target that is likely to be introduced under the new clause that he is asking the House to accept today, and that is very worrying. He has completely misunderstood some of the advice that has been given by Lord Laming and he is unable to give us any indication of the targets
5 May 2009 : Column 61
he would like to see, notwithstanding the consultation that he says we will have. He says that we have already had consultation, but in terms of the Opposition that has amounted to a two-page letter to my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State.

It would appear that we will get no further with the Secretary of State on new clause 22. Either he does not want to tell us or he just does not know. Let us turn then to new clause 23, which deals with adding laypersons to the membership of local safeguarding children boards. As I have said, we are in favour of strengthening them and making them more independent.

The Secretary of State needs further to define the role of local safeguarding children boards. There is certainly a degree of confusion among practitioners about the relationship between the LSCBs and children’s trusts, too. We see the LSCBs as punchy, powerful scrutineers of the child protection process within local authorities, and it is right that that should involve bringing together various local agencies.

Let us remind ourselves who is already on the LSCBs as a result of the Children Act 2004. We supported the Act and we supported the setting up of the LSCBs that took over from the area child protection committees, which were deemed not to be effective enough. The LSCBs should include representatives of district councils in local government areas that have them, chief police officers, probation boards, youth offending teams, strategic health authorities and primary care trusts, NHS trusts, the Connexions service, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, the governor or director of any secure training centre and the governor or director of any prison in the local authority area. They should also involve the coroner service, dental health services, domestic violence forums, drug and alcohol misuse services, drug action teams, housing, culture and leisure services, housing providers, local authority legal services, local MAPPA—or multi-agency public protection arrangements—services, local sports bodies and services, the local family justice council, the local criminal justice board, other health providers such as pharmacists, representatives of service users, sexual health services, the Crown Prosecution Service, witness support services and so on. The members of the LSCB are already sitting around quite a large table.

My simple question to the Secretary of State concerns the fact that the appointment of two lay members to those boards would, in principle, appear to be a good idea. However, they will be two lay members among a cast of thousands. I want to ask the Secretary of State—when he listens—what effect those lay members will have. Will they have different powers from the other agency members around that very large table? Will they have the powers to question serious case reviews? Will they have the powers to publish serious case reviews, if they take issue with them? Will they have the powers— [ Interruption. ] I am asking a series of questions of which the Secretary of State appears to be taking no notice. Will they have the powers to issue separate serious case reviews if they take issue with the serious case review that has been commissioned by that LSCB?

Those questions are important. What we do not want as a response to Laming is tokenism. If placing two lay members on to the LSCBs is tokenism, there are serious questions to be asked about the role of the LSCBs.

5 May 2009 : Column 62

Kelvin Hopkins: Surely it would depend on the nature of the people who were appointed. On a number of bodies, such as school governing bodies, lay members are sometimes intimidated by professionals—teachers, head teachers and so on—and they do not say anything. If we put on strong-minded people who are capable of speaking up, surely they could be quite effective. Might it not be an idea to have somebody from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, for example?

Tim Loughton: The NSPCC has been mooted as a partner on the LSCBs. Other children’s protection charities have an equal claim to be on the boards. I am in favour of lay members on the LSCBs, but I am trying to put into perspective the role that the Secretary of State expects them to achieve. We are trying to address the loss of authority that the LSCBs have suffered as a result of their role in Haringey and other local authorities where there have been tragedies such as that of baby Peter, which have resulted in the commissioning of serious case reviews that can then not be published— 41 per cent. of which Ofsted has deemed to be unsatisfactory. We need to open up the LSCBs much more. It will probably take more than just the appointment of two laypersons among a cast of thousands to do that.

Absolutely key to opening up those local safeguarding children boards is the publication in full of serious case reviews—a move of which the Secretary of State seems to have a pathological dislike. The body of evidence, and the amount of support, for such publication is growing. The publication of serious case reviews, duly anonymised and redacted, where it would not compromise the welfare of a surviving child or his or her siblings, would do more to give credibility to the work of those local safeguarding children boards, and to the idea that things are being looked at, investigated and rectified properly, than anything else. It would certainly do more than just the appointment of two lay members. I do not understand why the Government have an absolute, blinkered hatred for the idea.

Ed Balls: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tim Loughton: I will in a minute, but I know what the Secretary of State will say. In our last debate, he jumped up and quoted three organisations that are against the idea, but all three of them subsequently contacted me. They wrote to me to say that they did not want to be connected with the comments that the Secretary of State had made, and said that they had been wrongly cited. Those letters were in the public domain.

Ed Balls: The confidentiality of the full serious case review is not supported by the Conservative party, but it is supported by Lord Laming, and by the NSPCC and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, who both agree with Lord Laming’s recommendation that keeping the full serious case review confidential is essential to keep children safe. That was true three months ago, and six months ago, and it is true today. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his remark, because the fact is that the NSPCC, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner and Lord Laming once again all hold the opposite position to that of the Conservative party on the issue. They say that the Conservative proposals would put children at risk.

5 May 2009 : Column 63

Tim Loughton: Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, whom I saw again just this morning, was one of those who contacted me straight after the Secretary of State made his remarks in our child protection debate, as was the NSPCC; its representatives came to see me the day after he made those comments. I do not take any issue with Lord Laming; I know his position on the subject, and we have had a full and frank discussion. I will not withdraw my comment that people whom the Secretary of State had prayed in aid came to me to say that their support had been misrepresented by the Secretary of State. That was the case that they made to me. I cannot withdraw those comments, because that is what they said to me.

Ed Balls: The fact is, as we will see—I will provide the quotes during the course of the debate—that all I did was read out public, on-the-record comments from both the NSPCC and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, who both say that the full serious case review should be kept confidential. That was the position in November, and it is the position now. Again, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw those remarks. As for the idea that I misled anybody, I read out public statements that make the position very clear. It is the Conservative party that is out on a limb and isolated on this one.

Tim Loughton: As usual, the Secretary of State read out selective quotes, and that is why the people who wrote the letters were not happy. That is the point. However, I want to get on to the issue of serious case reviews. Why has the Secretary of State put up such a barrier against looking at the possibility of greater publication of serious case reviews, when such publication would do more to promote the credibility of local safeguarding children boards than anything else? Why does he not take the example of the mental health homicide reports, which are published in full, subject to anonymisation and redacting? Why does he not contrast the 178-page mental health homicide report on the Zito murder, which refers to nurse B or social worker C, and gives a full account of what went wrong, and the action that is being taken, with the 16-page executive summary of the baby P serious case review, which in any case was deemed to be inadequate and misrepresentative?

Why does the Secretary of State not think that publishing a fuller explanation of what went wrong, and putting it in the public domain, would give greater confidence to the families connected with the baby P case, to social workers and others involved in child protection, whose names have been besmirched generally because of the tragedies that have happened, and to the public at large, who have lost confidence in too much of the child protection system? Why does he not think that such a measure would achieve that? Let him tell us now.

Ed Balls: I will quote from Lord Laming’s report:

Lord Laming says that that is because SCRs

Once again, all I am doing is accepting Lord Laming’s recommendation, supported by the NSPCC and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, but opposed by the
5 May 2009 : Column 64
Conservative party. One thing that is clear in this debate is that it opposes all the actions that we are taking to keep children safe. [ Interruption. ] It is very surprising indeed.

Next Section Index Home Page