HL Deb 27 January 1988 vol 492 cc629-31

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what new measures have been taken to tackle child abuse.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government place a high priority on child abuse matters and have taken the following measures: the publication of a White Paper entitled The Law on Child Care and Family Services; the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill on children's evidence and sentencing of offenders; new arrangements for disclosure of criminal backgrounds of those seeking to work with children—a circular to the NHS will be issued next month and we are consulting the voluntary sector; the introduction of annual statistics on children on child protection registers; the establishment of a DHSS centrally-funded training initiative; the setting up of three working groups to provide practice advice to doctors, nurses and social workers; and the redrafting of Working Together which will be issued to social services departments, the NHS, the education service and the police. This will be issued following receipt of the Cleveland report.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that admirable reply, but I should like to ask one supplementary question. As one who was instrumental in starting social work training in the 1930s, perhaps I may draw the attention of my noble friend to the report by Mr. Blom-Cooper on the death of the small girl, Kimberley Carlile, in which it was stated that most of the social workers in that case were trained. Is he satisfied that today social work training is adequate to deal with these very serious child abuse cases?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government are mindful of the need to effect improvements in the quality of child abuse social work training. I have already mentioned the DHSS-funded training initiative in child abuse. We are discussing with the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work proposals for reforming social work training generally and ways of improving knowledge and competence in the particular area of child abuse.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, in view of all the measures that the Minister has listed to take care of child abuse, does he think that eventually it may become necessary to find parliamentary time for the passage of a child care Bill?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we made clear in the White Paper entitled The Law on Child Care and Family Services that we shall overhaul child care law as soon as parliamentary time is available. Our proposals will provide a clearer and fairer framework for the provision of services and for the protection of children at risk. As my right honourable friend the Minister for Health announced on 12th January, we shall need quickly to review our proposals for the protection of children at risk when the Cleveland report is published.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, has my noble friend in his possession any information as to when the Cleveland report is likely to be in the hands of the public?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the answer to my noble and learned friend is that we very much hope that we shall have the Cleveland report in the first half of this year.

Baroness Faithful!

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say whether one of the committees to which he has referred will set out to define what is child abuse in all its aspects—physical, emotional and social? Also, does he agree that in different parts of the country child abuse is thought of in different ways and that there needs to be clarification from the legal point of view, the social point of view and the medical point of view as to exactly what is child abuse?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we have no plans to set up such a working group. Child abuse is already defined in the draft DHSS guide Working Together. Further guidance will be issued when the Cleveland inquiry report, and when the reports of the Standing Medical Advisory Committee sub-committee on clinical diagnosis of sexual abuse and the two groups producing practice guidance for social workers, nurses and midwives have been received and considered.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, I welcome the various steps which the noble Earl has announced to the House. Can he say whether efforts will be made, and urgently made, to ensure that local authorities' social services departments work much more closely with general practitioners?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, of course that is in hand. We recognise that working closely with other government departments is important and a number of steps have been taken to facilitate this. One example is the setting up earlier this year of an interdepartmental group on child abuse which meets as required.

Lord Diamond

My Lord, as this is the last Question in Question Time, can the noble Earl inform me, or can the Leader of the House inform me, what would be a convenient opportunity to express the pleasure which I feel, and which I dare say is shared by all your Lordships, at the return of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, to your Lordships' Chamber?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, what a splendid and wonderful final supplementary question!

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