HC Deb 16 October 1990 vol 177 cc1041-3
3. Mr. Bell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress has been made on the implementation of the Children Act 1989.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

We are consulting on the regulations guidance and rules of court necessary to implement the Act on 14 October 1991–363 days away. A comprehensive training and dissemination programme is under way.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. As the Children Act 1989 came about partly as a result of events in Cleveland, does the Minister agree there are now proper multidisciplinary procedures in Cleveland for the handling of alleged child sexual abuse cases? Is not it a fact that the Cleveland child abuse crisis is at an end? Given the situation in Cleveland, is not it a pity that other authorities are acting as if we had never passed a Children Act through this Parliament? Would not it be helpful if we could advance the date of implementation from October 1991?

Mrs. Bottomley

I fear that it is not possible to advance the date from October 1991. The training programme, involving social workers, court staff and many others, will clearly be taxing for them to implement by that timetable. However, I can confirm that the social services inspectorate's report on Cleveland, which was published on 7 June this year, made it clear that good progress has been made, especially in the area of inter-agency working. It is essential that the lessons are learnt time and again that effective child protection means effective and trusting communication between local authorities, police departments, education departments and health departments. Cleveland has made great strides forward and I hope that many other local authorities will learn those lessons and ensure that they have the same working practices.

Mr. Holt

Will my hon. Friend take it from me that, far from having gone away, the spectre of Cleveland has raised its head again this week? One of the two doctors at the heart of the whole affair, Dr. Wyatt, is now being systematically helped by his cohorts of two or three years ago in his efforts to get his job back in its previous form—which involved diagnosing children as sexually abused and thereby causing much distress to children, parents and grandparents in my constituency and throughout Cleveland. Will my hon. Friend make every effort now, today, to see that this attempt is knocked on the head straight away?

Mrs. Bottomley

I well understand the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed. I can assure him that steps have already been taken by the health authority to resolve the matter. None of us can underestimate the seriousness of the situation that arose in Cleveland, but I believe that the lessons have been learnt. The important point is that the information should be disseminated to ensure that other local authorities across the country learn those lessons—to protect children and, above all, to respect the role of parents.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Does the Minister accept that there will be profound disappointment at the fact that, following Royal Assent, an Act which arose from a great deal of consensus on both sides of the House is to take two years to implement? As the Government have declined to accept the views of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, precisely what proposals do they have for essential training and what progress have they made in their commitment to family courts?

Mrs. Bottomley

I believe that it is rather naive to think that the Children Act could be implemented in its full complexity any faster than is proposed. For example, 80 sets of regulations have to be produced. We are just producing the 20th issue of draft guidance, out of a collection of 30. It is a major task, involving local authorities, voluntary organisations, the police, health authorities and many others. We have a full training programme under way and £10 million worth of resources, in a ring-fenced sum, have been committed to ensure that that training takes place.

We are talking not only about the detailed implementation of the Act but about the updating of "Working Together", the seminal document which advises all those involved of the vital importance of proper and effective communication. So often in child abuse cases, it is communication that goes wrong.

The hon. Gentleman will know that great progress is being made in the integration of the law concerning various aspects of the family—not only children. I recently announced a review of adoption law and we are also discussing divorce law. We believe that such developments will lead progressively to the creation of the conditions necessary for the establishment of a full family court.

Mr. Sims

My hon. Friend is correct that the Children Act is an extremely complex piece of legislation, and it is probably one of the most important to emerge from Parliament this decade. I am sure that she is aware that practitioners in the field are enthusiastic about the provisions as they learn about them, but is she also aware that there is genuine concern that there may be insufficient resources to implement the proposals correctly? Can she give an assurance that resources will be available?

Mrs. Bottomley

We are committed to ensuring that the Children Act is fully and effectively implemented. None of us can tolerate the existence of child neglect and abuse in our modern society. We have fewer children in care, but there are many children on the at-risk register. It is incumbent on us all—whether as politicians in local or central government or as members of the community—to protect those children. We have a major training programme, and the other resource aspects are the subject of regular discussions between the Department and the local authority organisations. I cannot give any further information about the personal social services allocation until after the autumn statement next month.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We are making rather slow progress this afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is the Minister's fault."] I am anxious to get on.

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