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I completely agree with the hon. Lady that we need a change of thought process. The NSPCC laid down a challenge to us in its 2 February letter to begin that change. I believe that the NSPCC would agree that we did so with Lord Laming's report a year ago, when we started to change "Working Together". All I would
say is that the NSPCC is clear that even in redacted form, publishing the full SCR would put children at risk and stop them, young people and their families from co-operating with the full SCR process. That is why it is against publishing the full SCR.
Tim Loughton: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for being true to form by trooping out the usual suspects, including the NSPCC. I have some questions for him. First, why was the letter that he sent to the NSPCC, which contains information that is very germane to today's debate, released to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) at only 3.12 pm this afternoon, just before we started the debate, and why was it not made available to other Members of the House? Secondly, on the NSPCC, how many times has the NSPCC been mentioned in executive summaries of SCRs? Would the NSPCC have been mentioned in the executive summary of an SCR into the Victoria Climbié case, because it was certainly implicated in the full Laming report? It is most likely that that would not have come out in an executive summary.
Ed Balls: I hear the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not agree with it. I do not agree that the NSPCC is a "usual suspect", and I do not believe that it makes its arguments for self-interested motives as a way of trying to cover up its role in any cases. The NSPCC is an upstanding, highly respected, very professional organisation. To talk down its contribution to the debate by suggesting that it is trying to cover up its complicity in past failures is actually wrong and completely unfair. I do not know how many times the NSPCC has been in executive summaries-I have not checked.
If the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) had been in the Chamber before now-he has only just arrived-he might have made the point about the letter himself. I wrote to the NSPCC today, because I wanted to be able to refer to its letter in the debate. In my letter to the NSPCC, I stated that it has raised serious issues regarding the monitoring of SCRs and the implementation of its recommendations one year on. We will ensure that when we publish our progress report one year on from the Laming review in the next few weeks, we will incorporate the NSPCC's views following our discussions and meetings.
It is important to ensure that the SCR and the executive summary is a strong and good document. Independent assurance and compliance are very important, and we will ensure that we respond on those matters in the next few weeks. However, publishing SCRs and ignoring the NSPCC would be quite the wrong thing to do. That is why I urge hon. Members to reject new clause 1.
Mr. Timpson: Will the Secretary of State address the proposal in new clause 1 on the appointment of the author of SCRs? Is he satisfied with the current process for doing that in the light of the extremely enlightening examples given to us by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Jim Cousins)?
I was coming to that issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central made important points. He has raised questions in the past as to whether the authors of SCRs are properly independent.
As he knows, one reason why the first SCR into baby Peter was rejected and redone was precisely that it was not seen to be drawn up independently. Following Lord Laming's report this spring, we have now changed our statutory guidance to reflect the view that the SCR must now be independently chaired. That is a requirement in law. We also now have a training package for SCR chairs and overview authors to ensure that they are properly prepared for that work. Lord Laming's work addressed exactly the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. It is true that some SCRs were not independently drawn up-
Ed Balls: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker-I was addressing my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central. His points are important, and they have been addressed by Lord Laming's recommendations.
Amendments 35 to 40 are on whether we should list agencies that contribute to SCRs. We are clear that the executive summary needs to have a much clearer time line of what has happened in cases. I do not think that that happened fully in the Doncaster-Edlington SCR, but it will under the new guidelines.
Practitioners must be confident that they can disclose relevant information in co-operating fully with SCRs. I do not believe that any steps should be taken that would reduce the willingness of individuals to contribute to SCRs. That is not the right way to go. However, it is important-Lord Laming highlighted this in his report-to ensure that all information can be given in the SCR process. The measure clarifies that position.
The amendments would mean that such information is provided only to SCRs. However, there will be occasions on which LSCBs have an obligation to collect information for reports that are not SCRs. For example, following the death of a child, the LSCB must ask professionals to provide information, so that it can produce the child death review, which it must now provide after the death of every child. That can go widely to involve, for example, deaths from road traffic accidents or sudden infant death syndrome, when it is important to get information from general or hospital practitioners.
It is also important for the LSCB to know-this relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North-that adequate safeguarding procedures training is being done in our schools for full-time and temporary staff. Again, that is a matter for the LSCB. To restrict the collection of information only to SCRs would undermine child death reviews and that important staff training function. Again, I therefore urge hon. Members not to press their proposals to a Division.
On amendment 88, which is on requests for information related to an SCR, it is important to ensure that the LSCB has proper information-sharing arrangements and protocols, and that they are properly kept under review. We are speaking to the agencies on those matters, and we will clarify the situation and revise statutory guidance to ensure that that is done properly. Again, we can do that without the amendment.
Amendment 48 and consequent amendments are, in our view, unnecessarily restrictive on Ofsted's role. It is clear what the role of Ofsted is in inspecting the effectiveness of LSCBs. We will ensure that that happens through the regular area-wide reviews. We can also ensure that Ofsted looks at the compliance report that we will produce one year on after every SCR. However, in our judgment, we do not need to place the restrictions on Ofsted that are proposed in amendments 48 and 90.
In a few weeks' time, we will publish our progress report, a year on from Lord Laming's report. We now have the national safeguarding delivery unit up and running, which is a step forward. We have already revised "Working Together", and will do so further following the input of the NSPCC and other organisations, to ensure that we have full, state-of-the-art executive summaries for serious case reviews, and that actions are properly implemented and monitored. We think that the restrictions in the amendments are unnecessary, and in particular we believe that to publish the full serious case review as a matter of policy-in the face of all the expert advice from all those people working in child protection-would be a backward step for children. It would put their safety at risk and mean that they, their families and other professionals would be less likely to co-operate. That would mean that we would be less likely to learn the lessons of terrible incidents in the future. It would be a retrograde step for child protection, and I urge the House to reject new clause 1.
Tim Loughton: I concur with the Secretary of State that we have had a good debate. It was a debate that we needed to have, because we missed having it in Committee. It has been constructive and measured, and almost non-partisan. But it ended with the Secretary of State not really giving us any assurance that we have moved on. He said that clauses 28 to 30 took the strengthening of serious case reviews forward. How? Serious case reviews are not even mentioned on the face of the Bill. We are only debating serious case reviews today because of our amendments and new clauses. Everything that the Secretary of State talked about has not happened, and the public do not have confidence that it will happen to the extent necessary for people to feel again that children and vulnerable families are being properly safeguarded.
We had an interesting, if confusing, debate on new clause 10; at one stage it entered a parallel universe. I was very interested in the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and it was very useful that the Secretary of State cleared up the confusion by saying that there is no confusion, and that we are not confused about what we are not confused about-and that what we are not confused about we do not know we are not confused about. That made everything very clear. I was disappointed with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone because it took him 11 minutes before he gave the issue of reasonable chastisement a European dimension. Clearly he is slow off the mark after the half-term recess.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) spoke to the new clause, and I concur with the Secretary of State that there is a grey area that may need to be addressed in legislation. The hon. Lady was right to say that the only reason why we are debating this issue today is that amendments were tabled
in Committee that we were not able to debate. The result is that Sir Roger Singleton has been engaged to look into those grey areas and report what action, if any, is required. So the job has been done. We now await empirical evidence of whether changes need to be made. By the hon. Lady's own logic, I would have thought that she would not press the new clause to a Division. We need to hear the evidence, not to prejudge it. In any case, smacking has always been an issue for a free vote on this side of the House.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Jim Cousins) made some pertinent points from real experience of horrific deaths in his constituency involving serious case reviews that had not passed muster-contemporary serious case reviews that were not complementary, and which raised serious questions about the independence of their authorship. One phrase he used that struck me in particular was "the culture of justification" of what had taken place. That is why we need a radical change. We cannot go on producing the same old serious case reviews with assurances that we now have comprehensive executive summaries and everything has been done under the new system. We are still not entitled to see the evidence. We still cannot see the proof that what went wrong has been properly laid bare, or that what needs to go right in the future will do, because the lessons have been learned. They will continue to be kept secret, and that is not acceptable. If we are to restore any confidence in the system of safeguarding children, transparency and accountability have to underlie everything to do with serious case reviews and learning the lessons.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley) slightly confused the points that I made about our amendments and the functions of LSCBs. The clauses in the Bill refer only to the supply of information. The hon. Lady rightly said that LSCBs conduct a range of other useful functions, including training. It is right that they should do so, and our amendments would affect none of that. The amendments refer only to the supply of information, so she need have no anxieties on that score.
The executive summary of the horrific case in Edlington, and the disparity with the full 150-page serious case review, blew the whole scam sky high. It has been clearly shown that there was no resemblance between the full serious case review-which was to be kept secret, available only to a small select body of people-and the 11 pages of comprehensive executive summary. There is no excuse for officials and councillors in Doncaster, either of their own volition or under instruction from the Secretary of State, not to publish if not the full serious case review, a much bigger version of it. A system in which the public are denied the full story-or, as in the Doncaster case, are actually misled about what really happened-can have no credibility. Without that information we cannot learn the lessons, rectify the mistakes, or move on.
The Edlington serious case review may not have been suitable to publish in full; I do not know. That is why the amendments contain serious caveats about publication not being detrimental to the welfare of surviving children or their siblings, and about anonymity. The families of the people involved in the Edlington case are sure that they want to know the full story. They want to see the
full serious case review published. Everybody in Edlington knows who all the characters are-if they do not, they can find all the names on the internet-and there is no excuse for not publishing that serious case review.
The Secretary of State made play of my comments about the NSPCC. It does much good work, but it has been changing its position on serious case reviews. Recently, in the letter to which he replied-although he did not give us sight of it until 20 minutes before the start of the debate this afternoon-it has come forward with further suggestions. If we have further serious case reviews that reveal further tragic events such as those in Edlington and Haringey in a year or two's time, the NSPCC might be brought round to our way of thinking-that the only solution is a full publication of serious case reviews.
The Secretary of State did not once mention the British Association of Social Workers and the practitioners at the sharp end, day in, day out, dealing with horrific cases, including cases such as those that made the headlines in Doncaster, Edlington, Haringey, Birmingham and other places. They deal with that every day of their professional existence, and that organisation, which represents the very best of many of our social workers, agrees that the only solution is a full publication of serious case reviews.
I want to remind the Secretary of State of the words of a former colleague of his-the former Member for Lancaster and Wyre, a fully qualified social worker, who is now the head of the BASW. Hilton Dawson said:
"It's vital that these reviews are transparent and can be seen in full, subject only to the need to preserve individual anonymity...These reviews are vital learning tools and it is imperative that they are made widely available."
The Secretary of State chose selectively to pray in aid certain organisations that share his view, but chose to ignore completely the 12,000 members of the professional body of social workers in this country, who now agree with a growing number of people that we desperately need full publication.
We need a fundamental change in the culture of how we approach child protection. That is what the new clause and the amendments are all about. Only if we have full transparency and accountability, subject to the caveats that I have given, will we start to bring about that fundamental change; to restore public confidence in child protection, which has suffered such enormous knocks in recent years; to restore morale within the social work profession, which has taken a huge knock, particularly since the baby Peter scandal; and to ensure that all agencies involved in safeguarding can see clearly where mistakes have been made and work together to ensure, wherever possible, that they are not repeated on their watch or in their patch. That is why, I am afraid, no amount of praying in aid by the Secretary of State of the same suspects will give the assurances that the public need and are entitled to. That is why the time has come to have that fundamental culture change-and that is what our amendments and new clause offer: that is why it is so important to put new clause 1 to the vote tonight.
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