Mr. Arthur Duckworth:
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he proposes to take upon the conclusions and recommendations contained in Sir Walter Monckton's Report upon the circumstances leading to the death of Dennis O'Neill; and whether he has any statement to make.
The circumstances leading up to this tragic affair are clearly described in the Report which is now in the hands of hon. Members, and it is unnecessary for me to summarise the conclusions at which Sir Walter Monckton arrived. It is evident that the arrangements made by the two local authorities for the care of the boys concerned were seriously defective, but it is only fair to add that Sir Walter Monckton says:
I have felt bound to offer frank criticism of the two local authorities principally concerned. But it would be unjust not to recall that they asked for the public inquiry which you directed me to conduct and that in the course of it they put before me all relevant material with complete candour, whether it tended to excuse or implicate them, and thereby lightened a difficult task.
The Newport education authority has sent me a communication showing that after considering the report of the inquiry they have resolved on measures for strengthening their administrative arrangements, and I have no doubt that both the local authorities concerned with this distressing case will take all steps that are humanly possible to prevent any similar occurrence in the future and also that other local authorities will examine their procedure with the same object in view.
As the Home Office and the Ministry of Health are both concerned with the boarding out of children by local authorities, I have been in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health on the question of what can be done to improve the existing procedure, to bring home to all local authorities the importance of complying strictly with all the requirements for the protection of children and to ensure that the work of selecting foster parents and supervising the welfare of children who have been boarded out shall be in the hands of experienced and competent workers. Our Departments are reviewing jointly the existing regulations and instructions, and we propose, before issuing fresh instructions or advice, to call into consultation some representatives of local authorities so that a careful examination may be made of the whole subject with a view to securing that the machinery both of the central Government Departments and of the local authorities shall be as effective as possible for safeguarding children who are boarded out, and for preventing abuse of this valuable method of dealing with homeless children.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend also bear in mind that the Ministry of Education have certain responsibilities in this matter, and will he also include them in the general review?
Of course, the education authorities are very much concerned. I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Am I to understand that my right hon. and learned Friend informed us that this matter is under immediate consideration by the local authorities at his request, and that not only his Department but the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education are looking into the matter?
May we have an assurance that only one Department is to be in charge, since all these troubles arise because a lot of Departments are in charge and none is really responsible?