HC Deb 06 July 1988 vol 136 cc1061-77 3.31 pm
The Minister for Health (Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the report by Lord Justice Butler-Sloss on the findings of her inquiry into the handling of suspected child abuse cases in Cleveland in the early part of last year. Her report, and her own short version of it, are available in the Vote Office, as is a statement that she is making in Middlesbrough this afternoon.

The whole House will be united in its condemnation of sexual or other abuse of children, and in its support for proper action to protect children from it, but it will be no less united in insisting that this must be achieved in a way that does not trample on the rights of parents and inflict unnecessary distress on the very children we wish to be helped.

It is clear from the report that this balance was not achieved in Cleveland during the period in question, even though many children received the protection they needed. The House would wish me to express the deep regret of all of us to those who have suffered as a result. It is perhaps hard to imagine the shattering effect on those parents who were innocent and on the children.

The report contains substantial criticism both of individuals, including the consultant paediatricians, Dr. Higgs and Dr. Wyatt, the police surgeon, Dr. Irvine, and the child abuse consultant, Mrs. Richardson, and of important aspects of the managerial response to the situation as it developed. It confirms that there was an overall failure to achieve essential communication and co-operation between police, health and social services.

It is for the authorities involved in the first instance to address those criticisms and take the necessary action. The Government expect that action to be thorough, speedy and effective. The help of the Government's medical advisers, of the Social Services Inspectorate and of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary will, of course, be made available to assist those authorities.

At the same time, the Government are taking immediate action to ensure that the more general lessons of the report are applied not only to prevent a recurrence of similar events but to improve the handling of child abuse throughout the country.

First, as I have already said, the report confirms the fundamental importance of the professional people and agencies concerned with child abuse working closely together within agreed guidelines. It underlines the need for a balanced assessment of different strands of evidence, and for action to be judged in the light of all the circumstances of the family as a whole. It stresses the need to listen carefully to what the children have to say and to take it seriously, and it re-emphasises the need for parents to be kept informed, consulted, and given reasonable access to their children unless that would be against the best interests of the child.

Those lessons, including the report's recommendations for the creation of special assessment teams, are reflected in comprehensive guidance that is being issued today by my Department and the Welsh Office. Guidance circulars are also being issued today to the police by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and to the education service by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Detailed professional guidance on social work practice is now being tested in the field and will be issued shortly.

On the specific point of ensuring effective co-operation between different agencies, I am also publishing today a survey by the Social Services Inspectorate of current arrangements. I am glad to say that it shows a generally satisfactory picture. In the few cases where this cannot be said, we are asking the inspectorate to monitor the position closely and see that it is improved.

Secondly, the report indicates that medical examination is only one aspect of assessment, and in particular that the test of reflex anal dilatation should not on its own be taken as conclusive evidence of sexual abuse. That view is confirmed by the report of a sub-committee of my right hon. Friend's Standing Medical Advisory Committee, which we asked to consider these matters in parallel with the inquiry. Its guidance for doctors on the diagnosis of child sexual abuse is being published today and sent to every practising doctor. We are also publishing today, and distributing to the nursing profession, guidance for senior nurses on the management of child abuse work from my right hon. Friend's Standing Nursing and Midwifery Advisory Committee. Copies of all the reports and guidance to which I have referred have been placed in the Library.

Thirdly, the report shows a clear need for better training for those who handle child abuse work. We have already included in the Health and Medicines Bill new powers to cover specific grants for social work training in this field. We intend to make available in 1989–90 a grant of 70 per cent. in support of expenditure of £ 10 million. We shall ensure that this major new programme means not merely more training but better training which takes account of all the lessons learnt from the report.

Lastly, I am glad to say that the report gives general support to the proposals for reforming the law contained in the White Paper on the law on child care and family services, published last year. The aim of the proposals is to make the law simpler and clearer and to strengthen the rights of parents and children. They include the replacement of place of safety orders by a new emergency protection order with stricter criteria and more limited duration. In addition, where an emergency protection order is obtained without the parents being involved, they will have a new opportunity to challenge the order after 72 hours. The Government are firmly committed to a Bill to implement the White Paper proposals, modified as may be agreed in the light of the report. That Bill will be brought before Parliament at the earliest practicable opportunity.

What I have announced covers the great majority of the report's recommendations. Others are being examined urgently. In particular, my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor intends to issue a consultation paper before the House rises on the report's suggestion for an Office of Child Protection, with powers which could include scrutiny of local authority applications in care proceedings and calling for additional investigation or reports.

We are extremely grateful to Lord Justice Butler-Sloss for the thorough and comprehensive work that she has done, and to her three assessors—Professor Hull, Mr. Chant and Mr. Soper—who have supported her in her conclusions and recommendations. The issues with which they have had to deal are immensely complex, and the report reflects the inescapable fact that there is no single simple answer. In acknowledging that, it is right also to balance the picture that has emerged from Cleveland with recognition of how much valuable and successful work is done in this difficult field by doctors, nurses, social workers and police throughout the country. But the plain fact is that what happened in Cleveland should not have happened, and must not he allowed to happen again. The measures announced today are designed to see that it does not.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

I begin by joining the Minister in expressing the gratitude of the whole House to Lord Justice Butler-Sloss for her exhaustive and authoritative report. Her objectivity and skill in conducting the inquiry are confirmed by the fact that, in a situation marked by strong hostilities, she managed to command the respect of all parties to the dispute.

The full report commands more thorough debate than it can receive in the next half hour, and perhaps more careful study than it will receive in tomorrow's instant headlines. Those who study the report will find it a balanced report, which presents on the one hand a vivid and candid account of the nature of child sexual abuse, and on the other an account of the harrowing experience of those families when no abuse has been confirmed but who were set apart for months by the allegation of abuse.

Given the severe trauma caused by sexual abuse and by the false accusation of abuse, all parties in the House must regret the evidence in the report of the collapse of communication between those agencies with statutory responsibility for detecting abuse, and the inadequate communication within those agencies between middle and senior management.

The most effective way in which we can show appreciation of Lord Justice Butler-Sloss's work is to act on her recommendations. I draw the Minister's attention to five heads of recommendation. I appreciate that some of these issues go beyond his departmental responsibility, and in view of the gravity of the matter I shall be happy if he wishes to reflect on his response and write to me afterwards.

First, may I pick up the Minister's point about the White Paper on child care, which is strongly endorsed in the recommendations? As the Minister will be aware, Lord Justice Butler-Sloss stresses that, in her opinion, it is urgent that the White Paper is turned into legislation. The Minister said that legislation would be brought forward at the earliest practicable opportunity. He will recall that the White Paper, in its foreword, contains the commitment of the then Secretary of State that it would be implemented as soon as the Parliamentary timetable allows". That was in January 1987.

I understand that it was not possible to legislate this Session while the inquiry was in train, but we now have the report of the inquiry. It stresses the urgency of legislation, and, while I understand that convention prevents the Minister committing himself to legislation this year, I note that he has on one side of him the Leader of the House and on the other the Prime Minister. I am sure that he will recognise that the public would not understand it if another Session were to pass without the House legislating on that White Paper.

Secondly, in preparing that legislation, will the Minister note the judge's support for family courts? Is it not clear that one factor in the Cleveland crisis was the rapid way in which it generated a bottleneck in court procedures? Therefore, will the Minister reconsider the Government's decision to amend the law first, and only then tackle the structure by which it is enforced? Would it not be more sensible to act on both fronts together?

Thirdly, will the Minister reflect on the stress placed in the recommendations on avoiding the necessity of removing the child from the home? Will he therefore consider whether it might be more in the interests of the child, and less disruptive to the family, to bar the suspected perpetrator of abuse from the family home, rather than always removing the suspected victim of abuse—a power that is now frequently available to states in America?

Fourthly, I was disappointed to learn that only £7 million is to be made available for additional training. That is doubly disappointing, as it is only two months since the Minister failed to find £40 million to extend the social work training period from two to three years. As a result, in 1992 Britain will be the only European country with a two-year period of training for social services. Lord Justice Butler-Sloss places particular stress on the importance, in basic training, of training to deal with child sexual abuse. It is difficult to see how yet another topic can be covered adequately in basic training when the Government have already resolved not to extend the period of that training. It would be regrettable if child sexual abuse were to become another example of local authorities being given extra responsibility, with no extra resources and no additional training to deal with it.

Finally, may I put it to the Minister that, with the passage of time, the real significance of Lord Justice Butler-Sloss's report, the real point for which it will be remembered, is the way in which it has documented the reality of child sexual abuse within our society? Her most important recommendation may remain her very first recommendation, which is the need to recognise arid measure the extent of that abuse. We must not let our revulsion at the practices that she describes find refuge in the belief that they do not exist; nor must we let the fact that grievous mistakes were made in Cleveland discourage us from finding and protecting the victims of real abuse.

I draw the Minister's attention to the conclusion of Lord Justice Butler-Sloss, that one of the dangers of the Cleveland experience is that it may demoralise the very people whose duty it is to detect abuse. I invite the Minister to associate himself with her observation, which is of particular significance to those who write about our proceedings this afternoon: Social workers need the support of the public to continue in the job the public needs them to do. It is time that the public and the press gave it to them.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) for the way in which he introduced his questions and for the spirit in which he has approached the subject, and I associate myself with his concluding remarks. That is one reason why I recognised at the end of my statement that a great deal of valuable and successful work is being done around the country by all the people who are involved.

To answer the hon. Gentleman's questions in reverse order, I accept that it is desirable to have a clearer understanding of the scale of he problem. He will perhaps recall that when I announced the establishment of the inquiry I also announced our intention to make use of the experience of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in running child abuse registers, covering about 9 per cent. of the country's children, to generalise the system for collecting statistics and to build up a national picture. That work is proceeding. We are now receiving the returns for 31 March 1988, and we shall be putting them together with a view to having a clear national statistical return in place as soon as possible, which I hope will be helpful.

When I responded to the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work's proposals only a month ago, I made it clear that one of the reasons why we were unable to accept them in that form was that we believed that the first priority was to bring about a number of improvements—I think I used the phrase "a balanced package of improvements"—covering some of the most obvious and immediate problems. Training was one of the problems that I had in mind. The expenditure that I have announced today will bring about immediate improvements in social work training, including that for existing social workers as well as future ones. I also made it clear that we wished to make improvements in social work training generally, including the crucial gap of inadequate practice placements. We shall provide additional resources for that purpose.

The guidance that we have published today makes it clear that the removal of the child is not the first and only resort in every case. That, I hope, will be clear to all from this experience. I shall also reflect on the other suggestion that the hon. Gentleman made.

My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is hoping to make an announcement about the Government's approach to family courts later in the year. The Cleveland report considers that family courts could help in some respects, but it did not cover all the issues relating to family courts. However, the report recommended that there should be an Office of Child Protection, to which I referred in my statement. There is no doubt that such an office, together with the reform of child law, would be an important step towards the establishment of such a court. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor intends to issue a consultation document before the summer recess.

The hon. Member for Livingston kindly recognised the constitutional conventions surrounding the translation of the White Paper into legislation. I have to tell him, especially with my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister sitting on either side of me, that I could hardly go further without falling over the edge of the constitutional conventions, but I am sure that they heard what he said.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

I associate myself with the remarks of both the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), and congratulate Lord Justice Butler-Sloss on her work and on her report. She spent five months in my constituency of Cleveland and thereabouts, and a further five months preparing her report. We all welcome its recommendations, and the unanimity of the House indicates that Lord Justice Butler-Sloss has an opportunity, linked with last year's child care law reform White Paper, to mould our child care legislation into the next century.

I welcome the Minister's remarks and his expression of deep regret on behalf of the Government to those innocent Cleveland families who, through no fault of their own, were caught up in a horrible vortex, which swept them all down and almost destroyed their lives. For months those families have said, "No one has listened and no one has said sorry." Today, the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston, with the Prime Minister in attendance, have indicated that the House associates itself with the agony and plight of those families and expresses to them its deep regret.

My final statement to the House is that all the people of Cleveland wish to put this sad tale behind them. The steady, effective and thorough action to which the Minister referred will, I hope, be welcomed by the agencies concerned, so that we may all learn the lessons of Cleveland and learn to live with the future.

Mr. Newton

I welcome very much the hon. Gentleman's remarks and the welcome that he expressed both for my comments today and for the action that we have put in hand. In return, perhaps I may say that the hon. Gentleman has earned the respect, and will receive the thanks, of those of his constituents who feel that they suffered so much injustice.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

I, too, thank my right hon. Friend and associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). Those of us in Cleveland who have lived through the situation there for the past year know how much sorrow it has brought. We are grateful to the Government for their statement today. We also ought to place on record our thanks to the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette reporter who first brought this issue to light, and to acknowledge that the press has played a powerful and meaningful part in the whole saga.

We now look forward to the implementation of the Government's proposals. However, over the years we have seen the publication of the Jasmine Beckford and other reports, all of which caught the emotion of the day, but then died away. Now that Lord Justice Butler-Sloss's report has been published, and once the Government's legislation has been enacted, my right hon. Friend ought seriously to consider some form of continuous monitoring at a Butler-Sloss level so that never again will we find ourselves in the situation that Cleveland has over the past year.

Mr. Newton

I associate myself with my hon. Friend's remarks about the responsible way in which certain newspapers and other sections of the media helped to expose the injustice, and I thank my hon. Friend for the responsible approach that he has adopted throughout in seeking to resolve the problem.

I hope that my hon. Friend does not feel that the results of the Jasmine Beckford and Tyra Henry cases have been in any way ignored. On the contrary, they have helped to shape and inform the actions and proposals that I put before the House today and the guidance that we have issued, and in other ways.

As to future inquiries, I am not sure that I would wish to ask Lord Justice Butler-Sloss to sit in permanent session, and I am not certain that she would wish to do so. We have included in the guidance issued today arrangements relating to proper inquiry procedures within and among the agencies concerned in the first instance. I am considering what further guidance we can issue about independent and external inquiries where those are needed.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

I should like to be associated with the congratulations to Lord Justice Butler-Sloss. I say to the Minister and to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that today's approach can do nothing but good for those of us who face a similar problem in Leeds. One police station in my area and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) has received reports of 400 children, involving 150 alleged abuses. The stories are horrific, and we are only glad that we have not hit the headlines as Cleveland has. All the authorities there, led by the social services department—a much maligned department in other parts of the country—have done extremely well, and the balanced approach shown there ought to be taken into account in other parts of the country.

Let us consider the legislation that the Government will require, and the White Paper, which is a year old. In my time in the House I have known both sides to get together to get constitutional legislation through quickly. There is an urgent need for this legislation, and I hope that something can be done through the normal channels. Occasionally, a Special Standing Committee has also been set up to look at special issues such as these circulars because knowledge is spread throughout the House on the problems that arise. Could that also be considered?

My last point concerns both my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central and myself. I find it difficult to advise parents who come to see me, because I am not trained to help. It is my job to stand up for the parents and write to people, but parents need much better advice. Many are terrified. They are frightened of authority. Perhaps some voluntary organisations could be funded to help and we could guide parents to them. It is very sad for us that when people leave our advice surgeries we wonder, "Have I said or done the right thing on this traumatic occasion?".

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken. He will know that a study of events in Leeds is being undertaken locally at the appropriate level. I have asked to see a copy of the report and will consider whether there is anything that I can do to assist.

The right hon. Gentleman's offer about the way in which the legislation might be dealt with will have been heard by those with responsibilities for the management of the business of the House, and I note it in the spirit in which it was offered.

I agree that advice to parents is important. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that, among the training initiatives that we have already set in hand—quite apart from what I have announced this afternoon—one is with a voluntary organisation called the Family Rights Group, which I think will be familiar to a number of hon. Members. We are helping the group to prepare a guide to child protection procedures. It is now at draft stage, and we hope that it will be possible to press ahead with it. We are anxious to help responsible voluntary organisations, among others, to help parents with problems of this kind.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the NSPCC welcomes the report, in that it shows, alas, that the extent of child abuse is considerable and that it affects children of all ages? Is he also aware that the society will warmly welcome the emphasis that the report places on the recognition of the needs and views of the children themselves—those who are most affected? Does he accept that, while the society will support the provision of enhanced services in child care and will be pleased to play its part, it is essential that adequate resources are made available for such services?

I welcome my right hon. Friend's reference to the provision of guidelines for the various professional services to be issued on a national basis. Does he agree that the fact that those guidelines have been issued—coupled with what is said in the report—emphasises the need for a national child abuse register and the desirability of co-ordinating child care services on a national as well as a local basis?

Mr. Newton

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work with the NSPCC and, indeed, to the work of the NSPCC in this respect, which is reflected in the fact that we have used its expertise and experience in trying to build up such a register. I also welcome what he said about the NSPCC's response to some of what I have said this afternoon. We in our turn will try to respond by ensuring that we continue to use the invaluable experience and work of the NSPCC in every possible way.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I record my sincere gratitude to the Minister for the great courtesy that he displayed to my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) and me when we visited him to make representations on behalf of our hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) and ourselves. I thank him for his prompt response to our request for the establishment of an inquiry of this kind. That response was so comprehensive, and was executed so capably, sensitively and responsibly by Lord Justice Butler-Sloss that we all commend her and her team.

I remind the Minister of the point that I made when we saw him. No matter what we do about these issues in Cleveland, we are lifting only one veil from the stages of childhood. These practices are being established in society and are lasting into further stages of life. What legislation will the Minister introduce to deal with the Grieveson brothers? They are three adult males, all articulate and intelligent, all willing to submit to cross-examination, who discovered in adulthood that in childhood they had been systematically buggered by their father, or so they allege. The social services, the police, the medical profession and the churches, and everyone else in Cleveland, know of the allegations, but there is no mechanism to deal with that sort of case.

Richard Johnson of Incest Crisis Line tells of cases such as that of the 58-year-old woman who is visited three times a week by her 82-year-old father. That may be funny in music hall, but it is not funny in real life.

These things are important—the recommendations are crucial and we welcome them wholeheartedly—but we must go further. We cannot stop here. I ask the Minister to give us the assurance that the House needs and to heed the pleas of the others out there in society who are waiting for some sort of lifeline.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, both for the way in which he sought to help at the outset, when the inquiry was being set up, and for what he said today.

I cannot respond in the same way to the second part of what he said, for reasons that I hope will seem reasonable. He appeared to be alleging possible offences that might be going on now, in which case there are proper ways of investigating them. He also seemed to be alleging offences that have come to light only after an enormous lapse of time. Such cases would have to be subject to proper standards of proof, which would be difficult to achieve after such a long time. I am more than happy to look further into what he said in the latter part of his remarks, but I cannot go further than that this afternoon.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

I thank my right hon. Friend for the prompt and sensible way in which he has dealt with the entire affair. He has been a model Minister in that respect.

Although my right hon. Friend has praised the majority of social workers and announced further improvements in training, and so on, would he be prepared to reflect further on the way in which social work is organised and the apparent absence of accountability and performance criteria?

Mr. Newton

Yes, I would. One of the problems that we have considered is that there is relatively little authoritatively blessed guidance for social workers of the sort that we are preparing in this area. I said that it was being tested at the moment. In that context, I shall consider the points that my hon. Friend has raised.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

I begin my associating myself with hon. Members who have thanked Lord Justice Butler-Sloss for the fair-minded and humanitarian way in which she has dealt with the problem. The conclusion that she reached is important, given what some of the media have said: In Cleveland an honest attempt was made to address these problems by the agencies. It is important to put that on record.

I associate myself with the Minister's comment that there is no single, simple answer to the problem. It follows from that that there is no case for making scapegoats of individuals or groups of individuals in response to the problem.

The Minister's concluding comment was that we must work so that this will never happen again, but the nature of the problem is such that, whatever we do about inter-agency co-operation and case conferences, mistakes will be made. Parents will be hurt again and children will again be left with abusers. Unless we face the fact that we shall make errors, however hard we try to change things, we shall find ourselves in difficulty in the future.

Finally, will the Minister think about the implications for families of what he said today? In today's Britain families feel lonely and are suffering alone. Will the Minister consider the impact of this problem on other legislation, and think particularly about unfreezing child benefit, which relates mums directly to their children?

Mr. Newton

Of course I shall think about the impact on families. One of the reasons why I made some of my remarks, to which the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) kindly referred, was to assure some of the parents who are involved that we are aware of what they have suffered and want to acknowledge that firmly on the record.

I acknowledge that this is not an area in which it is possible to guarantee that every decision and action will be 100 per cent. right. I hope the hon. Lady will acknowledge in turn that mistakes on the scale that the report shows happened in Cleveland, without being properly tackled by management for too long a period, should not, and must not, be allowed to happen again.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

I thank the learned judge on behalf of my constituents who were bound up in this problem. If the result of the inquiry is that doctors are criticised for poor record keeping, and social services are criticised for weak management and for not following agreed procedures, could not the crisis happen again? I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend on the commitment to bring in a Bill, and I say, on behalf of my constituents, that we regard it as high time the Government introduced legislation going beyond the White Paper, giving parents effective rights over their children, and social workers a range of alternatives to breaking up families, thus reversing the current unpleasant situation in which an over-zealous local authority that suspends disbelief finds it easier in law to take away a man's children than to freeze his bank account.

Mr. Newton

If errors of the kind that occurred in Cleveland, some of which my hon. Friend referred to, were not corrected, there would be a risk of comparable events elsewhere, although it would also depend on particular combinations of personalities coming together—one of the factors in this case. It was precisely to make sure that that does not happen, and that we do everything reasonably possible in that direction, that I made my announcement and issued the guidelines today.

As for my hon. Friend's proposals about legislation, if he studies the proposals in the White Paper together with my remarks today about further strengthening, for example, appeal rights in cases in which the parents have not been involved when an emergency protection order is granted, and the emphasis throughout the White Paper on reasonable rights of access, he will find that they go a long way towards achieving what he wants.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I ask the Minister to accept our appreciation of the empathy that he has shown and of the report of Lord Justice Butler-Sloss. Will he assure me that the guidelines will go to doctors in Northern Ireland, too? There does not seem to be a Minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland on the Government Front Bench. One should bear in mind that only two weeks ago a young girl was brutally murdered in Rathcoole by an uncle.

Does the Minister accept that about three years ago the Northern Ireland Assembly recommended family courts, yet we are still being told that we must wait to see what happens in Great Britain?

Mr. Newton

I understand that the guidelines for doctors on the diagnosis of child sexual abuse, for example, would not, on the basis of what I have said today, go to doctors in Northern Ireland. I undertake to look immediately into doing that.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

This is a distinguished parliamentary occasion. The whole House, in complete harmony, has been discussing child protection in a civilised way. Of course the mistakes of Cleveland should not have happened, and my right hon. Friend has said that he will do all in his power to minimise the chances of their happening again.

Over the years, the Prime Minister has made quite an input. The Criminal Justice Bill, which had its Third Reading last week, includes provisions to listen more to children. Corroboration rules are being relaxed so that children can he heard in the same way as adults, and video links are proposed so that they do not have to face the accused in courtrooms. We need to consider family courts so that parents can be represented. We need to consider changes in child care and services law, and these things will be done.

This is a big occasion for Parliament and I am grateful to everyone concerned, not least Lord Justice Butler-Sloss for her marvellous report, whose lessons I hope we will learn. I am grateful for having seen the day when the whole House has considered child protection, together and in harmony.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, in view of his interest in these matters over a long period. Perhaps I might join with him in acknowledging the close interest that our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has consistently taken in these matters, and not least in this case.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

I am sure that all of us recognise that, at the heart of the matter, lies the fact that the majority of those children in Cleveland were abused and that——

Mr. Holt

They were not.

Ms. Armstrong

I am interpreting what I understand from the report.

Our main concern must be to ensure that fewer and fewer children are abused and that we are able to deal with the situation. I used to be a social worker, and I know what it means to make a place of safety order. Everyone concerned is making a judgment. It is our responsibility, and that of the Government, to ensure that in making those judgments the people concerned have the best possible back-up and support. That includes the best possible training, and I urge the Minister to think again about initial training, not just about in-service training. That is important, but unless the bedrock, the basic initial training, is of the right calibre, the social workers going into that work, and, indeed, the public, will not have the confidence that they will be able to perform and make those judgments in the way that, tragically, they frequently have to do.

Mr. Newton

I am not quite sure on what the hon. Lady based the first part of her remarks. The short version of the report states: We understand that out of the 121 children,"— diagnosed by Dr. Higgs and Dr. Wyatt—— 98 are now at home. Some of those children remain wards of court. It is simply not possible to make absolutely clear-cut judgments, but, just as I am not seeking to do, I hope that the hon. Lady will not make judgments as clear-cut as the one that she implied in her remarks.

In general—my statement sought to reflect this—I accept our responsibility to ensure that social workers have proper support. If I differ from the hon. Lady on the issue of training, it is because I think that there are better ways of spending additional sums of money on social work than on the specific proposals put forward by the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work.

The lack of practice placements is a weakness and we wish to put more resources into that and to improve basic training in other ways. To say that we were not prepared to accept the specific CCETSW proposals for three-year training is not the same as saying that we are not interested in improving it.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend, as other hon. Members have done, on responding so swiftly to what seems to be a new and growing problem, but I remind him that there is nothing new about the need for child protection. Over the past two decades there have been more than 30 inquiries into cases of children who have lost their lives, ironically, in situations where the authorities acted too slowly, rather than being over-zealous, as in this case.

The lessons to be learnt are always the same better co-ordination, better training, particularly in child care law, and greater co-operation with the different professions. It is welcome that my right hon. Friend is moving forward on all those fronts, but does he agree that the child must always come first? When he comes to the proposals for legislation, will he consider the specific requirement that there should be a medical examination order, which would not give the authority the power to remove the child at that stage, but would simply ensure that the child was seen?

Mr. Newton

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's well-known, long-standing and extremely well-informed interest in these matters and express my gratitude for what she has said. When she has had an opportunity to study what is admittedly a voluminous report, she will find that Lord Justice Butler-Sloss has made some comments on her proposal and that it does not find favour with her in exactly that form. Nevertheless, I will, of course, consider whether there is some way of combining what we have in mind with the useful thought reflected in my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I wish to associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the entirety of both the Minister's welcome and the House's welcome for the report, and particularly for the tone and substance of the Government's excellent response to it. I also wish to echo the plea for legislation at the earliest opportunity and, in that context, I stress to the Minister the broad cross-party support for the family court set-up. I hope that, given the Lord Chancellor's Scottish legal background, he will be able to exert the appropriate influence with the Government.

Finally, will the Minister say what implications, if any, today's statement and subsequent legislation will have within the Scottish legislative context?

Mr. Newton

Once again I am grateful for, in this case, the extension of all-party unanimity on this subject and for the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

The legal position in Scotland is of course different from that in England and Wales. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has recently issued guidance for authorities there on the handling of child abuse cases and is considering whether the report calls for any further action in Scotland.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend allow me to add my praise to my constituent, Mrs. Butler-Sloss, for having given up a year of her private life and career to preparing her report, which is so excellent because of its comprehension and balance?

Obviously, any parents who have a court or safety order served on them are greatly concerned when they believe that it is unjustified. Therefore, my right hon. Friend's statement that that can be challenged in a court within 72 hours is of great importance and I am sure will be welcomed by all hon. Members. How quickly can my right hon. Friend bring that about? Does it really need legislation? Is it not possible for the practice to be introduced and accepted by magistrates before we have to go through the whole procedure of passing legislation through the House?

Mr. Newton

The nature of the present legislation, including the fact that it is currently place of safety orders that run for 28 days, rather than the emergency protection orders that we have in mind, which would normally run for a maximum of eight days, is such that it would require legislation to do what my hon. Friend has asked. Clearly, we hope that, among other things, the practice of local authorities and others concerned with place of safety orders under the legislation will be affected in the interim period by the report's recommendations and the experiences of Cleveland.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

Does the Minister accept that the strength of the report is that it tries to strike a balance between the rights of parents and of children, but does he recognise that, in striking that balance, a child has an inalienable right not to be sexually abused and that our concern should always be in that primary direction?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it is crucial to maintain the high morale of the staff dealing with these extremely difficult issues? Does he also accept from those who have been working in the field, and who have told me, that the constant hysterical, malevolent and often ill-founded reporting by certain newspapers undermines staff morale and makes it much more difficult for them to deal with these difficult issues?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in Leeds there is the sort of co-ordination between the police, the health authorities and social services that is recommended in the Cleveland report? Does he also accept that there is widespread support from the public for the work of the paediatricians Dr. Hobbs and Dr. Wynne? They have my support and they have made a tremendous contribution in bringing the important question of child sex abuse to the public's attention.

Mr. Newton

I do not think that it would be right for me to add anything to what I said earlier about Leeds to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), but I recognise the force of what the hon. Gentleman has said. As to morale and the media, I hope that those to whom what he has said applies will study carefully the words of the report about the role of the media in some respects. We all agree about the inalienable right of the child not to be abused, but against that children have an inalienable right not to be snatched from their parents without proper evidence and due process. We are simply revealing the difficulty of the balance that has to be struck.

Several Hon. Members

rose ——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I realise the importance of this statement to the House, but, today we have two important Supply debates for the minority parties. I shall allow questions to go on for a further 10 minutes, and I hope that most hon. Members will be called. However, I ask them not to repeat questions that have already been answered.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

Both my children were born in Cleveland and I know how I would have felt if, 25 years go, they had been removed from us. Is it right that children should, so suddenly and so completely, be taken from their parents? Will there be any measures in the steps that my right hon. Friend has announced today to ensure that children are not taken away without co-ordinated deliberation by a variety of interested parties? Bearing in mind that many of the children were not abused, and that the parents were therefore innocent, is it not appropriate that there should be some form of speedy appeal whereby parents can apply to have their children back? Will he take steps in that direction?

Finally, will my right hon. Friend undertake to ensure that Doctors Higgs and Wyatt are never again allowed to have independent responsibility and authority so that this cannot happen again?

Mr. Newton

The first two points are interrelated. Our proposals for an emergency protection order are designed at one and the same time to make it considerably less likely that children can suddenly be taken away from their parents without proper cause, in the way that my hon. Friend implied, and that where that happens—it will sometimes be necessary in a genuine emergency and the need is to confine it to that—parents will have early rights of appeal. I referred to the 72-hour point earlier.

I should not want to go beyond what I said in my statement about the doctors and others. I am not the employer of the doctors—the Northern regional health authority is—and in certain circumstance they would have the right of appeal to my right hon. Friend on any decisions that the health authority might take. In those circumstances, my hon. Friend will understand that it would not be right for me to comment.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

I am somewhat lonely today, as I find the Minister's statement complacent and disappointing. Perhaps the reason for that is that I spent 20 years in social work at local authority level before I came to the House. It surprises me that the Minister has failed to recognise why social services departments have been pushed on to the defensive on this issue. The difficulties that they face because of increased demands are the direct result of Government policy, while at the same time resources, through the rate support grant, have been slashed.

I am surprised that the focus of the statement was on the management of the cases. The right hon. Gentleman did not give his views on the causes of sexual abuse—sexual roles, sexual attitudes in society, the treatment of women and girls and the role of men. Those are the issues about which we should be talking. It surprises me, although perhaps it says something about the Government's priorities, that parliamentary time was found to legislate for all-day drinking and for the import of South African coal, but not for the urgently needed reform of child care law.

Mr. Newton

If the hon. Gentleman studies the report he will find that I have not emphasised a number of the points that he has raised because it is clear that in Cleveland the principal problem was one not of resources but of management and the way in which cases were handled. The crisis caused some pressure on resources, but that is not the same as saying that a lack of resources created the crisis.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Speaking as the chairman of the parliamentary panel for health and social services, I can say how much social workers will welcome the support that my right hon. Friend has given them and his recognition that a great deal of the work that they do is very good, particularly given the enormous dilemma that they face of the need to be partly an authority figure and partly a friend. It is manifest that thousands of young people are entering adult life with no model for, or understanding of, how to be parents. Will my right hon. Friend consult Ministers in the Department of Education and Science to find ways in which we can break that vicious circle by preparing people to be parents?

Mr. Newton

The latter issue is one to which Ministers collectively have been giving some consideration, and it is a subject that is likely to be further discussed in a group chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. I acknowledge its importance. We have also sought to finance, with the National Children's Bureau, some important and useful projects in this sector.

As to social workers and their morale, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said in his role as chairman of the panel. I hope that what I have said this afternoon will go some way to redress the disappointment that I know some social workers felt over my statement on social work training a few weeks ago. I hope that what I have in mind for the way forward is now clearer.

Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich)

Where it is considered necessary to remove children from their home to assess whether physical or sexual abuse has taken place, would it not be better to provide facilities so that mothers can accompany their children into temporary care while they are being assessed? This would avoid the trauma of suddenly removing children from their families. Would it not be better for treatment to be given to whole families, to overcome difficulties that can be better tackled within the family, rather than removing the child permanently from its natural parents?

Mr. Newton

Essentially the answer to those questions is yes, but with the obvious proviso that it entails a judgment about what is the right way to deal with the matter in each and every case.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

As one who worked in the education service for many years and has experience of facing the dilemma of dealing with such accusations and getting the right balance, I congratulate my right hon. Friend. His statement has got it right. In view of the accusations that were made in Cleveland last year, could not proper monitoring be carried out to ensure that we notice these blips in the graph and take action straight away, because something is going on? Secondly, can we ensure that an independent second medical opinion is available to parents and that they have some help in makeing appeals if they are not able to make them themselves?

Mr. Newton

Monitoring of the kind that my hon. Friend suggests should be part and parcel of the day-to-day work of any properly run social services department, and if that is not taking place I am sure that it will be instituted as a result of the experience in Cleveland. As to second opinions, my hon. Friend will know of the arrangements made in the specific circumstances of Cleveland. I do not know whether they would be right in all cases, but I note his suggestion.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

On behalf of the Nationalist parties, I associate myself with the welcome that has been given to this report and to the Government's response, but I wish to make a point about funding.

Is the additional money for 1988–89 new money rather than recycled money that is being taken from other social care sectors that are also under severe pressures? Will that funding continue beyond 1989, because we want, not a piecemeal approach, but continual funding to ensure that our services can respond to needs in society? The Minister said that there is to be legislation, but does not legislation impose pressure on those who work within agencies, and does this not re-emphasise the need to review the training policies that the Government are looking at?

Mr. Newton

With some hesitation, I think that the answer to the last question is yes. The answer to the second question is also yes. It is intended that this should be a continuing programme, although, with our concern to improve social work training generally, I would not propose no further change in the programme as a whole over a long period.

I should make it clear that the money that I have announced is related to 1989–90, not to the current year. At the moment we do not have the legal power to make a specific grant in this sector. That is why the grants have been included in the Health and Medicines Bill, which is in the other place. It is our intention that this should bring about an increase in social work training, although clearly the form of the grant that I have announced means that the judgment that the hon. Lady wishes to make will have to await the Government's announcement of the rate support grant at a later stage.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the heart of the Cleveland problem is the breaking up of innocent families without any obvious means of recourse? Will he assure the House that families in other parts of the country with similar complaints will not have to wait for his new legislation, but will be able to achieve speedy redress or review of their cases if they feel that they face the same problems as the innocent parents in Cleveland?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise to bring about legal changes that would change the law without an Act of Parliament. I can say, or repeat—I think that I said it earlier—that I hope very much that authorities throughout the country will learn the lessons that are set out in the Cleveland report about the way in which they should handle these matters and deal with the rights of parents.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

Those of us who have experience of another legal system feel strongly that what happened in Cleveland could have happened in Scotland, mainly because of the existence of the children's hearing system and the independence of the report of the children's panel. Before the Minister commits himself to legislation along the lines that are set out in the White Paper, will he examine again the Scottish system and consider its virtues in the light of the Butler-Sloss report?

Mr. Newton

When the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to examine this thick report he will find that the judge has discussed those matters to some extent. The Office of Child Protection, on which my noble and learned Friend is to issue a consultation paper, has some strands in it that are relevant to the thought that the hon. Gentleman has put forward.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry that it has not been possible to call all those who wished to ask a question.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

No. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order at the proper time.

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