§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)
§ Madam Speaker
Order. Will hon. Members leaving the Chamber please do so quietly so that we may get on with an important statement?—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I am sure that the hon. Member is about to tell me that he cannot hear the Minister. I have already appealed for order. We can debate only within the framework of good order. I appeal for that.
§ Mr. Lang
I have today published as a Return to an Address of the House the report which Lord Clyde prepared of the inquiry that I asked him to undertake into the removal of nine children from South Ronaldsay to a place of safety on 27 February 1991. I have also published as a Return to an Address of the House Sheriff Brian Kearney's report on child care policies in Fife following the inquiry which my predecessor asked him to undertake. I am also placing in the Library later today letters that I am sending today to the chief executives of the two authorities concerned and also letters to the chief executives of all regional and islands councils about the action to be taken on the two reports.
These are two important reports which have major implications for child protection and for the management of child care policies.
Dealing first with the Orkney inquiry, I am grateful to Lord Clyde for completing such a full and clear report into circumstances which were both difficult and complicated. He has not only set out very clearly the facts of the handling of a difficult episode but has drawn helpful conclusions and made positive recommendations which have major implications for child care law and practice. I am also grateful to the expert assessors who supported Lord Clyde in carrying out his task, Miss Anne Black and Dr. Hugh Morton.
The report identified significant failings on the part of Orkney islands council social work department, the Northern Constabulary and the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, not only in the way in which the decision to remove the children was reached but also how it was implemented and how the interviews were carried out with the children. The House should be in no doubt that the report is justifiably critical of the way in which the affair was handled.
Lord Clyde goes beyond immediate criticisms, however, to make positive recommendations designed to prevent situations of the kind arising again in the future. At the same time, he recognises the way in which agencies —and, in particular, social workers—have to face very difficult decisions in carrying out their duty to protect children. In this case, in particular, he notes that all those involved acted in good faith.
I have examined the 194 recommendations of the report with care. Action is needed and I am anxious to see early progress. Some recommendations can be implemented 866 without undue delay, while others require primary legislation or further consideration and consultation. A number fall directly to the Scottish Office for action, but others affect other agencies: local authorities, the police and the health service. I am minded to accept the great majority of the recommendations and to take them forward in consultation with the agencies involved as a matter of priority. Some recommendations will require further consideration, and my officials will be contacting the organisations concerned to follow those up.
I have it in mind to make changes broadly along the lines that Lord Clyde has recommended on emergency protection of children and their removal to a place of safety. Those would be implemented principally by primary legislation and I will include my detailed proposals for change in a White Paper on child care policy and law which I shall publish early next year. I am also minded to accept certain changes proposed for regulations, and revised regulations will be issued for consultation in the usual way. Those changes will be designed to increase the safeguards for children and parents involved in child protection investigations and procedures.
A considerable number of the changes recommended relate to central guidance. We are committed to revise the central Scottish Office guidance on "Effective Intervention", and this will be done in the light of Lord Clyde's recommendations. At the same time, we have established with the Association of Directors of Social Work a working party which will produce new practice guidance for social workers engaged in child protection. I shall ask the working party to embody Lord Clyde's recommendations in that guidance. One recommendation that I would particularly highlight, and which I endorse, is Lord Clyde's recommendation that removal of a child should be recognised as a course to be considered only where no alternative exists and the urgency of the risk requires it, and that caution must be exercised.
I have also established, with the Lord Advocate, a working party to draw up guidance on joint working and the interviewing of children. That involves the police, the Crown Office, social work and other expert interests. I shall direct them to Lord Clyde's recommendations as the basis for their work. I intend all that work to be carried out as a matter of urgency.
Training for child protection is identified as an area of major importance. This has already been recognised by the significant commitment to various initiatives, notably support of the development of courses at Dundee university and the introduction in 1992–93 of the new specific grant to help local authorities develop social work training. I propose immediately to increase substantially the amount available for specialist training for social workers in the islands this year and to give close attention to the need to improve training in the current public expenditure round.
The report provides an invaluable basis for moving ahead to improve child care. It not only analyses events within Orkney but draws conclusions and makes recommendations that should improve the way in which we afford protection to children in future. I also support what Lord Clyde says at the conclusion of his report that, at the end of the day, the welfare of the nine children involved should not be overlooked and every opportunity should be taken to overcome any effects of the inquiry and the incidents which prompted it. I am sure that the House would want to endorse those sentiments. I also endorse his 867 plea for action to re-establish relationships between the Orkney islands council social work department and the local community. There will be an inspection next year in Orkney by the social work services inspectorate which I established earlier this year.
On the report of Sheriff Kearney's inquiry on child care policies in Fife, the inquiry was established because of issues which were brought to the attention of my predecessor about the child care policies pursued by Fife regional council. As a result of his inquiry, Sheriff Kearney has reached the conclusion thatvery serious cause for concern exists as to the implementation of the Regional Council's Social Work Department's child care policy".I accept that view. Sheriff Kearney makes a number of recommendations directed to Fife regional council to rectify those matters.
I also accept his view that the implementation of the recommendations of the report will not remove the deficiencies described by Sheriff Kearney until and unless the region and the director of social work are prepared to accept that those deficiencies exist. I have today written to the council asking it to let me have a report within eight weeks on how it proposes to implement the recommendations specifically addressed to it and what action it proposes to take on the issues of concern highlighted in the conclusions of the report. In particular, I have asked what action they are taking to improve working relationships within the child care system in Fife. My officials will meet regional council officials to discuss implementation and there will also be an inspection next year in Fife by the social work services inspectorate.
With regard to the general recommendations, I am minded to accept the great majority of the recommendations, subject in some cases to consultation, and I am writing today to a wide range of interests to draw some recommendations to their attention for immediate action. Other recommendations will be incorporated in guidance to be issued by me or in primary legislation in due course.
I am grateful to Sheriff Kearney and his social work assessor, Professor Mapstone, for the care that they have given to this complex remit.
I am very conscious of the difficult nature of the important task which confronts social workers, the police and other agencies in the whole area of child care—the dilemma that they face in deciding whether, when and how to intervene is often acute—but I am also conscious of the importance of public confidence in this work, which has such a major impact on the lives and wellbeing of children and their families. Above all there is the overriding obligation to ensure that in every action by the many bodies with responsibilities in this field, decisions are taken with care and the best interests and welfare of the children remain paramount at all times.
These detailed and substantial reports address very serious issues to which all concerned must respond. The action that I have announced today will be carried forward urgently by the Scottish Office in consultation with all the relevant agencies. It is my firm intention that it will result in improvements in procedures and in the quality of practice for the future.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
I join the Secretary of State in expressing the gratitude of the House to Lord Clyde, whose professionalism, as well as that of his team, is enormously respected. We also express our gratitude to Sheriff Brian Kearney, who has produced a 868 report that we shall consider carefully. Whatever view we may take of the recommendations, the reports clearly convey the anguish of the many people—children, parents, social workers, the police, and others—who have lived through these traumatic times.
All this inevitably invites the question: why did the inquiries take so long, and were they the best way to approach matters of such extreme sensitivity? The Fife inquiry was launched by the Scottish Office in March 1989 and was expected to take three months, but it was not delivered until June this year, by which time Fife regional council took the view that it had done everything possible to review its procedures in the interests of all concerned. Given the Secretary of State's comments, it is only fair that the House should hear the response of Fife regional council before we embark on an informed debate.
The Orkney inquiry was the second longest in Scotland's history. It was expensive, it was adversarial, it took 135 days, and it is said to have cost about £6 million. For reasons which are given by Lord Clyde, its remit was restricted to such an extent that even today we have no means of knowing the full facts. We know, however, that there was enormous heartache for children, parents, social workers, reporters, members of the children's panel, and others. Does the Secretary of State therefore agree that the reports invite more thorough debate than will be possible in the next half hour, and more detailed thought than is possible in newspaper headlines?
The right hon. Gentleman will agree that the two reports sometimes veer in different directions. For the sake of the children's safety and welfare, which must be the paramount consideration for us all, we need to examine carefully the circumstances in which children should be removed from their homes, when they should not be, and what are the best ways to cause the least possible stress to children who need our protection.
The Opposition welcome Lord Clyde's recommendations on emergency provision for children which would clarify an important aspect of the law as it stands. We also welcome his views in relation to removal of the child only when no alternative exists. The Secretary of State can expect our support for his recommendations on the need for primary and secondary legislation, if only because current legislation as summarised in the Scottish Office document "Effective Intervention" is clearly less than adequate. A study of Lord Clyde's report will reveal a genuine attempt to strike a balance between the need to ensure that the right of every child is paramount and the problem of having to take decisions on matters of such extreme delicacy.
The best way to show recognition of both reports is to consider the recommendations seriously. I therefore ask the Secretary of State whether he agrees that there is a need for improved training and that this is of the utmost importance. It is clear that these matters cannot be dealt with in the absence of proper resources and that the Secretary of State's response today on the specific issue of training falls short even of the recommendations contained in the report of Lord Justice Butler-Sloss. Perhaps that is a reflection of the discussions already taking place on public expenditure in Scotland.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is equally clear that we need a system which properly protects children, properly guards parents' rights and properly provides guidelines which are clearly understood by professionals in this work in Orkney and elsewhere in the rest of Scotland?
869 When precisely may we expect the Secretary of State's review of child care legislation? When does he expect to re-examine the important role of children's hearings, and what thought has he given to the problems of voluntary organisations, and even individuals, who have exhausted their resources to give evidence to this type of inquiry?
There have been criticisms of some in the report, even though it is said that they acted in good faith. However, there can be little point in looking for scapegoats when clearly so much is at stake. Criticisms surely lie with us all, if only because we failed to recognise the deficiencies of the system in coping with these horrendous events. We failed to listen to children at their own pace. We failed to accept sufficiently that social workers and others are damned if they do and damned if they don't. We failed in the past; in the interests of our children, that is all the more reason for getting things right in future.
§ Mr. Lang
I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) for what he said about the work of Lord Clyde and of Sheriff Kearney. These are two good reports which inform in an authoritative and detailed way our future consideration of this extremely important issue.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's feeling about the time taken, especially in producing the Fife report. I think that he will acknowledge that an immensely detailed report of almost 800 pages is one which needed careful consideration. It comes from a sheriff with a distinguished and authoritative record and it will repay the closest scrutiny.
The 135 comments and criticisms and 194 recommendations set out in the Orkney report summarise a report of 360 pages, which was compiled and delivered within one year. I think that Lord Clyde is to be congratulated on the efficient way in which he brought together all the strands of the immensely complex subject that he had to consider.
I agree that it is important to hear Fife regional council's response to criticisms of its social work department, and that it would be wrong to rush to judgment. I address those words to the press and other media in particular. Complex matters are involved, and it would be wrong to go on any kind of witch hunt or to over-simplify complicated, interrelated issues.
The hon. Gentleman gave a figure of £6 million as the cost of the Orkney inquiry. The cost to the Scottish Office so far is £2.25 million, though further expenses may yet have to be met. The taxpayer's contribution was confined to reasonable costs incurred by participants in the inquiry.
The removal of children from home is an aspect of great importance, and I urge the House to reflect carefully on Lord Clyde's comments and recommendations:The timing of the removals was beyond serious criticism … Removal of a child must be recognised as a course to be considered when no alternative exists and the urgency of the risk requires it … The time for the removal of a child must depend on the whole circumstances of each particular case but the prime consideration must be the welfare of the child.That aspect must be further carefully considered.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for legislation, new guidance and the initiatives that we are preparing. He rightly emphasised the importance of training. There is a considerable commitment to training in terms of both effort and resources. In 1992, we introduced a specific grant for social work training to support £4 million of 870 training expenditure by local authorities. That is additional to the £5 million that I spend directly, at my own hand, on social work training. Scottish Office grant was provided to enable the establishment of post-qualifying studies in child protection at Dundee university and it continues to provide financial support. In 1991 and 1992–93, an additional grant was made to Dundee to provide child protection training to islands authorities, and a further £40,000 is to be provided for islands child protection training this year. That important aspect deserves our continuing attention.
As to reviewing child care legislation—in that context, the hon. Gentleman mentioned children's hearings and the work of voluntary organisations—the White Paper that we plan to publish next spring will bring together a whole range of issues affecting child care, and will provide the basis on which there can be consultation, leading to subsequent legislation at an early opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of where criticism should be directed and where failure lay. Lord Clyde identified a large number of specific areas in which he discerned failure. It behoves the individuals and bodies in question to study his comments carefully and to give their considered reaction—I emphasise the word "considered" —so that the House and the country can go forward on an informed basis.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I seek the co-operation of the House. Right hon. and hon. Members will have noticed that the exchanges between Members on the Front Benches took longer than 20 minutes. I want to call as many Back Benchers as possible, but I ask for direct questions, and for the Secretary of State's co-operation in giving short answers.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the considerable concern felt in Scotland when these matters came into the public domain. It was right for the Government to commission a thorough investigation, although there may be some criticism of the vehicles used. However, there can be no dispute that we now have the facts and that the Government are introducing the necessary measures to right the wrongs. That should have the support of the whole House.
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. Friend is right. We must never lose sight of the importance which attaches to the circumstances of the child. There is always a danger of getting so caught up in procedures, regulations and guidance that we forget the overriding importance of protecting the interests of any affected child or children.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
I hope that the House will allow me some indulgence, as the events concerned happened in my constituency. I shall restrict my comments to the Orkney inquiry; I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) will catch your eye later, Madam Speaker, so that he can say something about Sheriff Kearney's report.
I join the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) in congratulating Lord Clyde on his report. At first sight it strikes me as thorough, and it certainly pulls no punches. I also congratulate him on the relative speed with which the report was produced, following the conclusion of the inquiry. For some time, a 871 cloud of uncertainty and suspicion has hung over my constituency, and implementation of Lord Clyde's final recommendation—that we now start to improve the quality of relationships—cannot begin a moment too soon. We are very grateful to him.
I also thank the Secretary of State for the balanced terms of his statement. He has reminded us of the importance of remembering the social workers do a job on behalf of us all, and all of us—not least parliamentarians —have a duty to them to provide clear guidelines to enable them to continue that task. We should also remember that, ultimately, the interests of the children are paramount, not least those of the nine children involved in the Orkney case.
Can the Secretary of State give us some idea of which recommendations he intends to accept and which he is still considering? Although his announcement about the training of social workers in the islands is welcome, Lord Clyde's recommendations extend well beyond the position in Orkney. Training throughout Scotland is essential.
Is the Secretary of State in a position to tell us what he said in his letter to the chief executive of Orkney islands council? Does he recognise that the report does not clear anyone's name? Indeed, that was never part of its initial remit. I do not blame Lord Clyde, but Lord Clyde himself expressed concern about that point in the report. Will the Secretary of State consider, with the Law Officers, whether steps can now be taken to remove suspicion for good, and to clear the air?
It seems that, if Lord Clyde's recommendations had been followed, nine of my young constituents would not have suffered the trauma that they experienced in the spring of last year. In calling on the statutory and voluntary agencies to pay proper heed to the criticisms levelled against them, will the Secretary of State endorse my view that such criticisms should be viewed in the context of Lord Clyde's comments in paragraph 14.110 of the report? Lord Clyde states:The purpose of this Inquiry has not been to find guilt or innocence or to distribute praise or blame but rather in recognising that things may have gone wrong, to endeavour to learn from past mistakes and to make suggestions as to how such mistakes may not be repeated in the future.Perhaps, at the end of the day, some positive developments will emerge from what has been a very sorry episode.
§ Mr. Lang
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks, and I agree with all the sentiments that he has expressed.
The hon. Gentleman asked me which of Lord Clyde's 194 recommendations we were minded to accept. I will try to help him, as I recognise his close constituency interest. We are minded to accept some 148 of the recommendations without qualification, and to accept a further 26 or so subject to consultation. We are willing to consider a further 20, but we make no commitment at this stage. It would be difficult to group the recommendations in a way that would make any clear sense to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall be happy to pursue the matter with him if he wishes. I should also be happy to send the hon. Gentleman a copy of the letter to Orkney islands council. I think that he would find that helpful. It is, however, difficult to characterise such a long and detailed letter.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of clearing the air, but he also recognised that that was no part of the remit of Lord Clyde's inquiry. Any question of guilt or innocence should be decided in a court of law. Lord Clyde uses the phrase 872 "presumption of innocence", and I feel that we should found our approach on that phrase. The Crown investigations are not currently continuing.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
I, too, congratulate Lord Clyde on producing such a short synopsis of an eight-month inquiry into matters ranging from the relevant but fatuous to the relevant and important.
The Secretary of State should examine the implications of the inquiry very carefully. It took eight months and cost 6 million quid; innumerable lawyers attended it, for the most spurious reasons, and evidence was called which was entirely irrelevant. The one thing that the inquiry was not entitled to decide was whether any, some or none of the children concerned were rightly or wrongly removed from the care of their parents. To have an inquiry at that cost, at that length, and with that number of lawyers, when the one question that the inquiry was about was not allowed to be discussed is absurd.
§ Mr. Lang
I am interested in what my hon. and learned Friend says. Since it comes from him, as a distinguished advocate, I have no doubt that his fellow members of the legal profession will note with interest what he has said. The form of the inquiry was a matter for Lord Clyde to decide in the case of Orkney, and for Sheriff Kearney in the case of Fife. It was important that they should have that discretion so as not to inhibit their search for the truth. I feel, however, that there must be a better way of conducting these affairs. It is a matter to which I am giving close attention, with a view to considering whether there may be a better, shorter and more effective way of proceeding with such matters, should the need arise in the future.
§ Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central)
I warmly welcome the fact that a working party is to be established as the forerunner of a White Paper. If I may refer to the Fife inquiry, the Secretary of State knows that his predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), said that the inquiry would take three months, but it has taken three years and seven months. There is huge disquiet among social workers, Fife regional council and others about the time taken to undertake the review.
May I also ask the Secretary of State about the costs involved in the inquiry and whether Fife regional council will have to pay part of the sum, which is estimated to be possibly £4 million? Finally, why was there no summary of the 800-page report, which was published today and which local Members were given the opportunity to see it only an hour before the statement was made? As the inquiry lasted for three years and seven months, one is also entitled to ask why there was no interim report and why no discussions were held between Fife regional council and the Scottish Office—if the Secretary of State is so concerned about the outcome of Sheriff Kearney's report.
§ Mr. Lang
I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the length of time taken. The inquiry took longer than I would have wished, and I suspect that it took longer than everyone on both sides of the House, and in Fife, would have wished. As I explained in answer to the last question, the conduct of an inquiry, once it is established, is a matter for the individual conducting the inquiry. A number of undertakings were given as to the final delivery 873 date, but they were not entirely met. The Fife report runs to nearly 800 pages. It is a detailed report which requires close study and I feel sure that it will inform the very important subject of child care considerations for some considerable time.
The hon. Gentleman referred to costs and who would be liable for them. I am still considering the position regarding costs. I estimate that the cost to the Scottish Office may be in excess of £800,000.
As for the publication of the report, it was published under the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, which requires some constraint. That is normal in the case of all Government statements, since to make available advance copies would be regarded as a discourtesy to the House. That underlines the importance of considering the report carefully before rushing to judgment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage those with whom he has discussions on these matters to take that attitude.
§ Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside)
I am sure that the whole House welcomes my right hon. Friend's announcement that he is to issue a White Paper in the new year. Will it involve a wide-ranging examination into child care law in its entirety, and will he therefore take full account of both the reports published today?
§ Mr. Lang
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The White Paper will cover a broad range of child care issues. It will take account of both reports and also of the Finlayson report into the function of reporters, as well as a number of other working studies and reports that have been carried out in recent months, together with those which may be triggered by the announcement that I have made today.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Does the Secretary of State agree that the report has immense impact and is applicable throughout Scotland? Paragraph 14.3 says that the timing of the removals was beyond serious criticism. Paragraph 14.10 says that medical examinations should have been undertaken before the removals. Paragraphs 15.40 and 15.41 recommend that parents should be told immediately of suspicions and that proper examinations should be made before removals.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of a case in my constituency. in which people were arrested in a dawn raid and children removed after a so-called six-month investigation when neither the parents nor the children had been interviewed and no medical examinations had been made? Will the right hon. Gentleman state clearly that such dawn raids, which are clearly fishing expeditions, are to be deprecated and should cease? Does he appreciate that we have all felt revulsion at the allegations, we all believe that the interests of children are paramount, and we all understand the tremendous pressure on social workers, but in considering the paramountcy of children we should also consider the enormous damage that can be done to children by action being taken precipitately where allegations are found to be unproven? If investigations and action are taken too quickly, it could lead social workers later to draw back when they should go forward.
§ Mr. Lang
I understand the hon. Gentleman's points and recognise his close interest and experience in investigating such matters. I understand what he said 874 about dawn raids and the anxiety that exists; indeed, I share it. He will recognise that Lord Clyde suggests that a child should be removed only when no alternative exists. It is most important to try to find alternatives, but implicit in the outcome of the report is the fact that there could be occasions of high risk or great emergency when it might be necessary for immediate action to be taken. For that reason, it would be dangerous to curtail or in any way to increase the constraints on the actions that are possible.
The then Minister of the State, Scottish Office, looked fully into the inquiry into Grampian children, and the present chief inspector of social work examined the facts and reported to my hon. Friend on the lessons that might be learned. Certain points were drawn to the attention of Grampian regional council, and in the light of that it was not considered necessary to hold any form of public inquiry. I know that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was informed of that at the time, but he is right to draw the link between the two because many of the recommendations and findings of the two reports that I have published today will have application for social work departments all over Scotland and beyond.
§ Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South)
Will my right hon. Friend take this further opportunity to re-emphasise that, with almost 200 recommendations, the last thing that we require in the House—or, much more importantly, outside—is hasty judgments and quick decisions? What is essential is time for measured and thoughtful reflection on this most emotive and sensitive subject.
§ Mr. Lang
I thank my hon. Friend. He will have noticed that I emphasised the urgency of proceeding in some areas. I regard eight weeks as an appropriate time within which to ask Fife regional council social work department to respond to the specific directions which apply to it. Where there is an opportunity to make immediate progress which can improve the operation, guidance and handling of these matters, we must take it. My hon. Friend is right, however —we must look at the broader issues at length and in depth before proceeding.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I am tempted to suggest to the Secretary of State that these formidable documents deal with matters so serious that we should have an early debate on them in the Scottish Grand Committee. If the primary concern is the welfare of children caught up in these dreadful events, why is it always the child and not the alleged perpetrator who is removed from the home? I am no lawyer, and Members will wince at the suggestion, but I hope that the working party will examine the alternative of removing the alleged perpetrator rather than the child from the home.
§ Mr. Lang
I am not sure about the practicality of that suggestion and I should like to reflect further on it. Importance attaches not only to the question of removal, but to taking the child to a place of safety. There are a number of considerations which must be thoroughly investigated, and Lord Clyde makes a number of recommendations in that regard.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be appropriate to have a debate on these matters at some stage. Whether that should be before or after the 875 publication of the White Paper is a matter for consideration. I certainly agree that these matters should be debated.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
I welcome the report, which is very useful for child care. Does my right hon. Friend accept that ritual abuse takes place throughout the United Kingdom and that paedophiles have found a way to get total control of a child's mind and body by devil worship and satanism? They put the fear of the devil into children so that they have total command over them. I hope the Secretary of State agrees that the only way—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in these matters, but we are putting questions on a specific report. I should be obliged if the hon. Gentleman would do that.
§ Mr. Dickens
Does the Secretary of State feel that, to save us from such reports in the future, if a child is interviewed on video the first interview after the allegations are made should be in comfortable surroundings, as the Piggott committee recommended? That might save all the heart searching and anguish for parents and children.
§ Mr. Lang
I am interested in what my hon. Friend says. I venture to suggest that matters are not quite so straightforward as he suggests. I urge him to consider carefully the number of detailed recommendations on interviewing made by Lord Clyde. My hon. Friend is right to identify that as an important area in which shortcomings were clearly found, and I agree that it is an area in which change is necessary.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is a matter for considerable regret that application of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, which has been internationally regarded as a milestone in the treatment of children and their care, should be the subject of such controversy in its application within Fife region? The degree of divergence between the views of the head of the social work department and chose of Sheriff Kearney is significant and considerable. In the light of that, will the Secretary of State assure us that careful consideration will be given to the question of what lessons are to be drawn from the report?
Having regard to the fact that the public interest must be served and that public confidence in the system must be seen to be established, will the Secretary of State tell us whether he intends to make public the recommendations in Sheriff Kearney's report with which he agrees and those with which he does not agree? His statement is a little oblique on that point, at least at present.
§ Mr. Lang
I am minded to accept all Sheriff Kearney's recommendations, subject to some further consultation on some of them, with the exception of one—I believe that it is No. 22—which applies to aggressive children and which I believe is too sweeping in its application.
I agree that it is unfortunate that it is thought appropriate to recommend amendments to the 1986 Act. Nevertheless, if amendment of the Act is considered appropriate, we must consider it so as to ensure that the Act as amended continues to fulfil its purpose.
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman on Sheriff Kearney's comments on Fife and on the need to restore 876 confidence, and I hope that that was implicit in my statement. Two important points from Sheriff Kearney's report focus on those points. First, he says:We believe we have demonstrated … that very serious cause for concern exists as to the implementation of the Regional Council's Social Work Department's child care policy.In paragraph 27 of chapter XVI of part J, he says:We do not, however, believe that the implementation of these recommendations will remove the deficiencies which we have detected in the implementation of the Region's Social Work policy by its Social Work Department until and unless the Region and the Director of Social Work are prepared to accept that the deficiencies which we have described exist.That is the key to the restoration of confidence.
§ Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be an affront to the parents and children involved if our subsequent discussion of the report confined itself merely to general systems, training and resources, because gross errors of judgment were made which perpetrated a nightmare for those affected? Does the report help us to solve a mystery which was raised by investigative journalists at the time? They pointed out that, in the United States, there was a sudden interest among social workers in the link between satanic rituals and the abuse of children. Among some social work circles here, that interest seems to have crossed the Atlantic, yet there has subsequently been no proof whatever of any link between so-called satanic worship and child abuse. How do these things happen? [Interruption.] This is relevant to what happened to the children in Scotland—
§ Mr. Lang
I emphasise that it was not the purpose of the inquiries—in particular, the Orkney inquiry—to establish guilt or innocence. Lord Clyde referred to the presumption of innocence, and that is the basis on which we must proceed.
My hon. Friend referred to a nightmare. Certainly, it would be a nightmare for any of those children if they were subject to abuse of whatever type. There is also a nightmare that can be identified—the way in which their cases were handled during and after their removal from their homes. Those are matters which we can address and which Lord Clyde does, indeed, address. He makes a number of detailed and important recommendations, and there we can and must act as swiftly as is sensible to ensure that that avoidable nightmare does not recur.
§ Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)
Does the Secretary of State agree that, every hour of the day, social workers throughout Scotland provide great care and show great concern for children in need, and that they are highly professional? It is against that background that the tragic events in Orkney must be seen. Does the Secretary of State further agree that there is a need to improve training to ensure that social workers enjoy the same professional status as other professional staff within local government? Finally, will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure that, when social work responsibilities are transferred to the new local authorities, those local authorities have the capacity to ensure that the responsibilities that we have placed on social workers in Scotland can be discharged?
§ Mr. Lang
In answer to the hon. Gentleman's last question, it is certainly our purpose to ensure that that is the case. I recognise that social workers have a difficult job; I hope that I acknowledged that in my statement, which recognised the dilemma and the anguish that they face in reaching decisions on occasion. As the hon. Gentleman clearly recognises, it is important that they should make their decisions on the basis of the best possible training and that there should be the best possible application of the right principles in judging a case. There should be proper interaction between different agencies. Decisions should be properly reached, formulated and recorded, and all aspects of the matter should be handled in a very professional way. That means more and better training, and that is what we have been seeking to achieve through the initiatives that we have taken in recent years and through the further initiatives that I have announced today.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)
My right hon. Friend referred to the position in Scotland, but said that some of the recommendations would have a wider application. Will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues bear in mind the fact that in England and Wales there has been a sea change in emergency protection of children since the Children Act 1989 came into operation last year? It is most important that that should be recognised in considering the recommendations especially as, since the Children Act came into operation, there has been a substantial decrease in the number of children who have been removed under the emergency provisions.
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. Friend clearly recognises the importance of this subject as one which crosses frontiers. The formal recommendations in the reports apply to Scotland, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health takes a close interest in these matters, and her officials and mine are in close contact on all aspects. Just as we learned from Cleveland, and took a number of initiatives immediately after the inquiry, I am sure that my ministerial colleagues south of the border will be studying the reports closely.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
I welcome the reports, which I think will engage the minds not only of hon. Members but of many individuals and agencies outwith the House. I seek an assurance that the Secretary of State will ensure that the recommendations that are to be accepted immediately are not only sent to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) but circulated to all hon. Members and to the regional authorities responsible for social work.
As the Secretary of State knows, I am very interested in training, as I was previously involved in it and was paid by the Scottish Office to do so. I therefore emphasise that while we obviously welcome any addtional funding for the training of social workers, there must be a very careful assessment to ensure that there is practical training and not solely academic training. To ensure that the best principles of practice are engaged in reaching such criteria decisions, time should be given during the training process for as much practical field work as possible for the trainees.
§ Mr. Lang
On the hon. Lady's first point, about recommendations to be accepted, I will try to find a way of informing the House more widely on progress. The hon.
878 Lady will recognise, however, that we are consulting on some of the recommendations and awaiting a reaction from the councils and social work departments involved. It may therefore be a few weeks before we can publish a clear and coherent list.
I acknowledge the importance of what the hon. Lady has said about training. Knowledge and practice in relation to child care have advanced considerably in recent years and are still advancing. It is very much our purpose to ensure that the quality of training improves and advances to take account of new information and understanding as that becomes apparent.
§ Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)
Can the Secretary of State assure me that a central element in the deliberations arising from the reports will be the question of burden of proof'? I ask that because I believe that the public do not always understand that the burden of proof required in order to act to protect a child is, of necessity, much lower than the burden of proof required to prosecute one or more alleged abusers of children. Because that confusion exists in the public mind, it is often thought that, because the burden of proof required to protect a child is lower it somehow diminishes the necessity to protect children or belittles the social workers who act on that lower proof.
It is essential that we define that difference and ensure that it is propagated as widely as possible so that the public understand the difficulties under which social workers act, and that, when they act to protect children, there may not of necessity be a criminal prosecution against one or more individuals. Unless that is done, I am afraid that social workers will be caught once again between the devil and the deep blue sea and, in the long run, will be unable to win whether or not they take children into protection.
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Our purpose in seeking to improve the quality of training and the interaction of the different bodies in their handling of such matters in future is to minimise the risk of a wrong decision being taken and to strengthen the possibility that the decisions taken in future will be well founded and right. That would narrow the difference that the hon. Gentleman discerns.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
Does the Secretary of State agree that the very difficult decision for social workers of reconciling the rights of parents with the safety of children is made infinitely more difficult by the sensationalism of certain sections of the media, not just in Orkney but also in Ayrshire, where social workers were harassed by the media at their homes in the early hours of the morning? How does the Secretary of State intend to grasp that nettle?
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That was included in the terms of reference for Lord Clyde, and he has made a number of recommendations on that front. He also makes recommendations on the rights of parents, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Very close consideration must be given to those rights to ensure that the minimum is done to cause difficulties in families in cases in which it subsequently transpires that there was total innocence.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
In our brief discussion today, we have been dealing with the avoidance of errors which have caused great distress to children and 879 to innocent parents. Will the House send the message today to every child who is suffering abuse that the House is determined to ensure that that terrible crime will not be tolerated and that all the judiciary should understand that there is never any excuse for abusing children?