'(1) When a LSCB deems it necessary to conduct a Serious Case Review (SCR), the LSCB will-
(a) carry out an initial management review to identify any immediate concerns within 72 hours of deciding that a SCR is necessary;
(b) commission an internal investigation if the child or his immediate family has received social care services from the local authority in the past two years;
(c) commission a SCR.
(2) The LSCB will commission the SCR from an author approved by a body established by the Secretary of State by order made by statutory instrument.
(3) The LSCB will publish the SCR in full, excluding only information that may lead to the identification of living parties.'.- (Tim Loughton.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 10- Reasonable punishment -
'(1) The Children Act 2004 is amended as follows-
(2) In section 58 (reasonable punishment), after subsection (4) there is inserted-
"(4A) Only a person with parental responsibility for a child within the meaning of section 3 of the Children Act 1989 can justify battery of the child on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment."'.
New clause 21- Publication of serious case reviews -
'(1) When Local Safeguarding Children Boards commission serious case reviews these shall be published in full within 60 days of completion, subject only to the redaction and anonymisation which is necessary to protect the welfare and reasonable expectation of privacy of those persons mentioned in the Serious Case Review.
(2) The Local Safeguarding Children Boards must also ensure that within 12 months of the publication of the serious case reviews there is in each case an independent evaluation of the extent to which the conclusions of the review have been acted upon.'.
Amendment 35, in clause 28, page 25, line 26, after 'with', insert
'for the purposes of a serious case review'.
Amendment 36, page 25, line 29, leave out 'its functions' and insert 'a serious case review'.
Amendment 37, page 25, line 33, leave out 'function' and insert 'serious case review'.
Amendment 38, page 26, line 8, leave out 'its functions' and insert 'a serious case review'.
Amendment 39, page 26, line 8, at end insert-
'(6A) The Board will disclose, on request, the names of the persons and bodies from whom it has requested information except in cases where disclosure would threaten the anonymity of a child or his family.
(6B) Section 28 will apply to LSCBs when commissioning Serious Case Reviews which, unless they can be shown to be harmful to the welfare of the subject of the Serious Case Review or his siblings, should be published in full, subject to appropriate considerations of anonymisation and redaction.
(6C) The Secretary of State shall direct a body to maintain a register of suitable, qualified authors of Serious Case Reviews and to monitor their quality which should be available to LSCBs commissioning Serious Case Reviews.'.
Amendment 40, page 26, line 11, leave out 'its functions' and insert 'a serious case review'.
Amendment 88, page 26, line 11, at end insert-
'(8) Provision must be made for appeals by those persons who consider it to be unreasonable or improper to supply the specified information to the Local Safeguarding Children Board under this section.'.
Amendment 41, in clause 29, page 26, line 21, after 'with', insert
'for the purposes of a serious case review'.
Amendment 42, page 26, line 24, leave out 'its functions' and insert 'a serious case review'.
Amendment 43, page 26, line 28, leave out 'function' and insert 'serious case review'.
Amendment 44, page 26, line 41, leave out 'its functions' and insert 'a serious case review'.
Amendment 45, page 26, line 44, leave out 'its functions' and insert 'a serious case review'.
Amendment 46, in clause 30, page 27, line 4, leave out 'may' and insert 'will'.
Amendment 47, page 27, line 6, at end insert
'and of the effectiveness of Local Safeguarding Children Boards in England and Wales.'.
Amendment 90, page 27, line 10, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.
Amendment 48, page 27, line 13, at end insert-
'(c) requiring the naming of partners listed under section 13(3) that are not cooperating appropriately with the Board.'.
This group of amendments concerns a very serious subject: serious case reviews. This is the first opportunity that we have had since the baby Peter tragedy, more than a year ago now, to put forward our proposals, which we have been making for some time, as part of the relevant legislation. It is particularly important that we can do so today because, as you might know, Mr. Speaker, we did not reach this part of the Bill in Committee, so we were not able to have any debate about the operation of local safeguarding children boards or, specifically, our amendments on serious case reviews.
I want to talk about four sets of amendments in this group. The most important is new clause 1, which is complementary to amendment 39. We have tabled a series of similar and technical amendments-amendments 35 to 38 and 40 to 45. Three further amendments-46, 47 and 48-concern the inspection of the operations of local safeguarding children boards.
Let me start by commenting on the operation of serious case reviews and the way in which they are commissioned by local safeguarding children boards. It is fitting that we have are having this debate now, because on Thursday it will be the 10th anniversary of the tragic death of Victoria Climbié, whose name resonates hugely with everyone in this country who has any remote interest in the safeguarding of vulnerable children. I am sure that everyone will agree that much more still needs to be done to safeguard our most vulnerable people.
In the past few days, we have heard about a further case involving violence towards a child known only as baby Y in Haringey, following on from the baby Peter case in Haringey and the Victoria Climbié case, which happened in Haringey 10 years ago, as I said. Just last month, we heard the incredible details of the torture of the 10 and 11-year-old boys in Edlington, Doncaster, by two boys of a similar age who were known to children's services and other agencies. Those two young boys were lucky to escape with their lives and they were the latest tragedies in that part of the United Kingdom after a catalogue of no fewer than seven deaths in Doncaster in a five-year period, five of which merited serious case reviews.
The trouble is that few people in this country are convinced that the lessons of the serious case reviews in Doncaster, in Haringey and in other high-profile areas of this country that have experienced similar tragedies have seriously been learned by those in a position to do something about the situation and to make the safeguarding environment better for vulnerable children and families. Public confidence in child protection in this country has been hugely undermined, particularly after the baby Peter case. Social workers and other professionals involved in child safeguarding feel demoralised and undermined up and down the country. The system simply is not working, which is why we feel that a more drastic overhaul and more drastic and immediate action is required than the Government are prepared to countenance. That is why we have tabled these amendments.
The truth is that the number of children who are dying at the hands of parents and carers has not materially changed since the death of Victoria Climbié, despite significant investment that the Government have made-nobody is denying that-and despite huge structural changes. However, I fear that many of those changes have meant that attention and resources have been diverted to overhauling the system rather than dealing with the problem at the sharp end. That has proved counter-productive in many cases, and that situation remains despite the large amount of legislation that has been introduced, much of which we supported. In too many cases, the outcome of that legislation has been to exacerbate the bureaucracy that now surrounds too much of our child protection system. All that has to change. The first steps needed to bring about such change must be to have greater transparency, greater accountability and genuine learning from mistakes, and the public's confidence that that learning is taking place must be restored. It is no longer good enough for the Government to say, as I predict the Minister will say in reply, that serious case reviews must remain secret. They cannot trot out the same old excuses about protecting anonymity and then cite the various children's charities that oppose change for whatever reason.
Back in December, the Government produced, "Working Together to Safeguard Children", chapter 8 of which dealt specifically with the future construction of serious case reviews. We welcomed many of the proposals in that document, but we think that it did not go far enough. It dealt with time scales-I think everyone agrees that we need to speed things up-and the extent to which we want to gather information. We want it to be as wide and as comprehensive as possible.
We now seem to talk about comprehensive executive summaries, which are just executive summaries, but there is no guarantee that executive summaries will reflect the complete story, chronology and analysis of what went wrong that led to a serious case review. We should all be able to learn from best practice when serious case reviews are carried out, but we do not know where best practice takes place because serious case reviews are not published. I was amazed by one aspect of the baby Peter tragedy that blew up last November, because I had assumed, quite wrongly, that serious case reviews were available in full to a much wider constituency of professionals than they are. I would assume that directors of children's services and other key professionals would automatically have access to full serious case reviews so that they could read those reports, even confidentially, learn from them and see whether there were potential echoes in their own authority of what went wrong in another authority and do something about that urgently. But, no-a very small constituency of people get to see serious case reviews.
There seems to be very little urgency in some of the reviews. One case review, in Doncaster, of the death in October 2004 of a child who was known very robotically as baby B05, was not produced until 2008-almost five years later. We now know about the underlying structural turmoil that was going on in that authority, despite the fact that the authority was described by Ofsted as "adequate". At the same time, locally commissioned reports and other front-line reports clearly stated that there were serious problems in that authority. It took almost five years to produce a serious case review. One would hope that someone could learn lessons from that and make improvements, but it took too long to produce.
A few weeks ago, a leaked copy of the full serious case review of the Edlington case was obtained by the BBC, and the BBC "Newsnight" programme read that report in full. Alongside that report, which ran to just over 150 pages, it also read the accompanying executive summary-or comprehensive executive summary-which ran to just 11 pages, including the title page. The BBC could clearly see serious anomalies between the full-blown serious case review and the executive summary. Indeed, they bore little resemblance to each other. The BBC made that patently clear, yet even when the executive summary of the serious case review of Edlington incident was exposed as a sham, the Government and the authorities in Doncaster refused to produce, in any form, a fuller version of the summary or a slimmed down version of the full serious case review. They were completely in denial, and the serious case review of a horrendous case remains suppressed, secret and available to only a few individuals.
It is no wonder, therefore, that confidence in the child protection system in this country is at an all-time low. To this day, I still do not understand why the Government were so steadfast in their refusal to produce anything other than a discredited executive summary of what went on in Doncaster.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, if we had seen only the executive summary, we would not have been aware that, on 31 separate occasions, nine agencies were involved that could have intervened, and so possibly have prevented the subsequent events from taking place?
That, of course, is exactly right, and it is why we need much fuller accounts of what goes wrong in tragedies like the Edlington and baby Peter cases than can be provided in brief serious case reviews, however comprehensive their title calls them.
We definitely need a radical overhaul of how serious case reviews are commissioned, compiled and published, as well as of how they are subsequently learned from and acted on. We need that to restore public confidence in child protection, and morale in the social worker profession. We also need it to ensure that all the agencies involved in safeguarding children can see clearly where mistakes have been made and can work to ensure that they will not be repeated, on their watch and in their patch, in the future.
In the past 18 months, I have travelled widely around children's services departments. I visit local authorities most weeks to speak to the people in the front line and the ones who manage those departments. Some children's organisations claim that they do not agree that serious case reviews should be published in full, and I am sure that, as usual, the Minister will give us a litany of them before long. However, despite those claims, the overwhelming view among the child protection social workers at the sharp end whom I meet is that they would be in favour of the full publication of serious case reviews.
Full publication of the reviews would be in their interests. More importantly, it would be in the interests of vulnerable children and families, so I was pleased to see the stance taken by the British Association of Social Workers, which was confirmed in The Times just last week. The association is the professional body for social workers, and it is headed-very skilfully, I might say-by a former colleague of the Minister in this House. He has committed BASW to campaigning for full publication of serious case reviews. The association represents the professionals who have to deal with these problems every day of the week at the sharp end. They now see the merits of exposing the weaknesses in serious case reviews, as opposed to suppressing them and keeping them secret, as has happened for too long.
"It's vital that these reviews are transparent and can be seen in full, subject only to the need to preserve individual anonymity. These reviews are vital learning tools and it is imperative that they are made widely available."
There speaks the head of the professional body for social workers in this country. A former social worker himself, he incidentally had experience for a short time as a Labour Member of Parliament in this House.
In addition, Community Care magazine , the bible of social workers- [ Interruption. ] That name causes some tittering from the Secretary of State, but the magazine is used very widely by the social worker work force. The magazine has also committed itself to the publication of serious case reviews, and has been waging a very forceful campaign to that end.
I quote from a recent copy of Community Care:
"Serious case reviews are usually published only in summary. This limits learning. Community Care recommends that reviews be published in full so that practitioners can use specific details to inform their practice according to their experiences and roles. There is some resistance but it is possible to publish without harming anonymity . . . Names can be removed and reviews could be collated and distributed centrally, thereby disassociating them from specific local authorities, teams and known cases. It would help if reviews focused on learning not recrimination."
I fully agree with that. The purpose is not a witch hunt or a blame game. It is to find out what went wrong, to learn from it and to make sure that it is less likely to happen in the future.
We will never abolish cruelty to children outright. There are evil individuals in society who will always seek to do evil to vulnerable people, including children-incredibly. What we can do is to make it as difficult as possible for those people to be able to perpetrate their crimes, and to make sure that everybody is working together to ensure that those opportunities are as limited as possible for the perpetrators of such crimes.
It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman should be rather less surprised by the attitude of the British Association of Social Workers. The purpose of serious case reviews is not and should not be to seek individual blame, but unless a fuller account is given than the one that is available in executive summaries prepared by organisations, it may be much harder to see the resource issues and the issues of institutional practice and culture which underpin so many of the meaningful conclusions that should be drawn from such reviews.
I agree. It is not merely a case of identifying certain individuals who did not perform the job to the required standard. It is necessary to find out why. Were there enough staff to cover the cases? Was the case overload too great? That has been the situation in many local authorities. Were resources not available when they were needed? Was all the work going on in the department reactive rather than preventive? Were social workers spending far too much time at their computers, having to fill in assessment forms, as is now the case?
According to Unison, up to 80 per cent. of a social worker's time in child protection is spent filling in assessment forms, rather than at the sharp end with those children. Surely the most likely way of preventing harm to vulnerable children and families is for a professional, well-trained, well-resourced and well-motivated social worker to knock on a door and spend quality face-to-face time with that vulnerable family and the child. The social worker would then be able to make an informed decision as to whether intervention was required and at what level, rather than trying to second-guess it from a computer screen or from papers a long distance away in an office.
Serious case reviews should consider and analyse such questions in order to draw conclusions and make recommendations. That cannot be properly communicated in the space of an 11-page executive summary, whether or not it is called comprehensive, and that is the sort of thing that we need to know.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the absence of more detail in serious case reviews makes it difficult to look for patterns? It is the analysis of patterns that is key in identifying the circumstances where intervention is necessary. He is probably aware of Birmingham's analysis, from which the council found that judgment was very poor. We need to analyse patterns, and for that we need detailed serious case reviews.
The hon. Gentleman is right. It is no good just looking at a serious case review in isolation, though we need to do that in full. If there are clear systemic weaknesses affecting many children's services departments, that is a serious job for central Government to undertake, rather than a localised issue for a local authority. One of my amendments, which I shall come to later, deals with analysing the work of local safeguarding children boards, which refers to the hon. Gentleman's point.
There have been objections to the publication of serious case reviews, along the lines that social workers would be compromised in their work if the reviews were published in full, or that the identity of the children and families involved would be revealed. Clearly, many social workers working at the sharp end do not buy that argument. I do not buy that argument; I never have. Publication is in the best interests of social workers.
Inevitably, when there is a tragedy such as the baby Peter case, the Doncaster case or others, social workers are always panned first. It is always assumed that if a baby or child who was on a local authority's radar dies in gruesome circumstances, it must be the fault of social workers. In some cases, that is true; in many cases, the system is at fault, as Jim Cousins said; and in many other cases, other agencies have not done their bit. In the case of baby Peter, the paediatrician, whom we have heard about in the news this week, potentially had some shortcomings, and the police did not come out of it very well, either. However, social workers are always at the front of the queue to be panned, and they are always at the back of the queue to be congratulated and praised when things go right. They usually do go right, but that does not make for good news on the front page of a tabloid newspaper.
The Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families heard evidence that many children's social workers are the least experienced in the work force. They are put on the most complicated and difficult cases at the beginning of their career, and they can arrive in post having had placements and training that did not include children's social work. We need the full picture to ensure that, as my hon. Friend rightly says, social workers are not hung out to dry when there is systemic failure and a lack of support for often young and inexperienced people who are doing their best. We need to ensure that the true picture is seen so that people are not made scapegoats when they are not personally at fault.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We know that part of the problem is the huge case load placed on social workers, particularly those in child protection, and the worryingly high vacancy rates, which on average exceed 15 per cent. across various authorities, but in others, particularly those in London, are as high as 40 per cent. Newly qualified social workers, with hardly any on-the-job training in often complex and sensitive child protection work, are thrown in at the deep end with really challenging cases. However, social work is not a science or a clear case of black and white; it involves experience, intuition and sensitivity-qualities that one cannot learn just from a book, but must learn on the job, preferably alongside a mentor who has years of experience to pass on.
The morale of social workers has been so undermined, partly because of those high-profile tragic cases, that there is a serious problem with people going into social work. We have expressed serious reservations about the standard of training that many social workers receive; about the entry qualifications, which need to be higher, for a social work degree; about the low pass mark required to obtain that degree; and about the lack of on-the-job training for social work graduates.
That is why back in 2007, in the report that the Conservative party commissioned on the role of children's social workers, we made specific recommendations about newly qualified social workers and raising the standard of training. I am pleased to say that at long last Moira Gibb's social worker task force has taken on board many of those recommendations, but they should have been taken on a long time before we reached this desperate impasse.
There is a further question. Why would social workers not want to co-operate with a serious case review that was going to be published in full? Why would they not want to co-operate with an investigation, when their profession may or may not be at fault in the tragic death of a vulnerable child? However anonymous and unpublicised serious case reviews are at the moment, that did not stop the names of key players in the baby Peter case and other tragic cases being splashed all over the front pages of certain newspapers. It did not stop the identity of culprits and, indeed, of children and siblings being exposed and made available in a matter of seconds on the internet.
Clearly, it should be possible to publish a full serious case review without compromising the identity of the key players involved. That is why our amendments are heavily subjected to key caveats: first, that serious case reviews should be published in full only where such publication did not compromise the welfare of surviving children or siblings, and it would have to be shown that that was the case; secondly, that those serious case reviews would be duly anonymised; and thirdly, that they would be appropriately redacted where that was necessary, say, to protect the identity and sensitivities of surviving children and families.
We have researched widely how we think that the new system should be structured. After deliberations with social workers, directors of children's services, departments of social work, academics and others, we think that a practical and suitable way ahead is to base the model of publication of serious case reviews on the practice that has existed for many years in mental health homicide reviews. Mental health homicide reviews are published in full, with various names of individuals anonymised-they may refer to "Dr. A" or "Nurse B"-and they are made widely available. It is generally agreed that they are good, thorough learning tools from which a much wider constituency of professionals can learn from the mistakes that have been made and determine what changes to the system, locally or nationally, need to be made to try to avoid their happening in future.
The mental health homicide review into the tragic killing of Jonathan Zito ran to 177 pages. It was a tragic, but thorough and worthwhile report. One could contrast that with the 16-page executive summary on the death of baby Peter, which was found not to be worth the paper it was written on and had to be rewritten after the whole case came to light back in November. Why cannot we use a model, if not based on, then certainly much closer to, that which already exists and has worked perfectly well for many years for mental health homicides? The practice in those cases is that following a murder involving a patient who has recently been treated by the local mental health service, there must be an immediate investigation to identify what urgent action needs to be taken within 72 hours-a succinct internal investigation that is urgently done and urgently acted on. That is followed up by a much longer-in the Zito case, 177 pages-in-depth review, which is then published, subject to the various caveats about protecting anonymity, and so on.
In new clause 1, we suggest that following the death of a child in connection with local children's services, there should be an initial review within 72 hours, and then a full-blown serious case review commissioned by an author approved by a body established by the Secretary of State under an order made by statutory instrument. It would then be incumbent on the local safeguarding children board to publish the serious case review in full, excluding any information that might lead to the identification of living parties.
Subsection (2) refers to the authorship of such serious case reviews, because another issue comes up when we look at how they are commissioned. At the moment, it is up to the local safeguarding children board to find an author for a serious case review and commission him or her to produce the report, which is then written and submitted to the board.
We need to ensure that the professionalism, probity and independence of serious case reviews are protected if they are to be meaningful, credible and effective documents. The trouble is that after the baby Peter case, Ofsted produced a report revealing that, at that stage, no fewer than 41 per cent. of the serious case reviews that were being produced on behalf of local safeguarding children boards were unsatisfactory. The quality of the reviews was seriously called into question.
I have spoken to a number of authors of serious case reviews-professionals and academics who are regularly called on to write them. There is at least anecdotal evidence that in some cases vested interests can operate in the preparation of reviews. The LSCB appoints a familiar author to produce a serious case review, in the hope that they will not condemn too heavily the local authority in the care of which a child has been killed. The author of the review wants repeat business from the local authority, and so may go light on their criticism of it. I am not saying that that practice is widespread-I certainly hope not-but there is clear potential for a conflict of interest. Given the depths to which confidence in the whole system has sunk, we need to do more to safeguard the credibility and probity of serious case reviews.
That is why we suggest in our new clauses and amendments that when a serious case review is required, the LSCB should request an author from a centrally held register of professional SCR authors. The Secretary of State should appoint a body to hold that register of authors-a similar but rather beefed-up version of a system of expert witnesses who can be called upon to appear in court. That body would be responsible for ensuring that the authors on its register came up to scratch, that they had the necessary qualifications, and that they were monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that the quality of their work was up to scratch.
I do not really mind what that body is. It might be a children's charity such as Barnardo's, or it might be the Local Government Association, for example. Indeed, the various local authorities across London have already been using a pool system of serious case review authors to call upon. If we had such a system, the reports that were produced would be much more likely to be above reproach. We desperately need such a change to restore confidence in the whole system. If the reports were then put in the public domain, so that all interested parties could see the full chronology of events, the full cast of characters involved, duly anonymised, and where the lines of weakness lay and action was specifically required, we could be confident that they were objective, thorough and professional.
I have some sympathy with proposals that an action plan should be included with a serious case review, requiring a subsequent audit of measures taken that were recommended in the review. That is proposed in new clause 21, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, with which I have a good deal of sympathy. It is no good just producing a serious case review, published or not, if it does not result in action. There is no formal checking mechanism at the moment, and there will not be one even if the changes that were discussed in the Government's December document about having some sort of subsequent audit are put in place.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the point made in new clause 21 that the assessment of compliance should be independent?
Absolutely. That is entirely in harmony with the approach in our proposals. We need a very clear wall between the commissioners and the authors of reports. For the same reason, we need to ensure that whoever comes in subsequently to conduct an audit has no agenda of their own or conflict of interest. However, that could still mean someone whose name is held on the register that we are proposing. Someone with the professionalism, background and training to carry out initial SCRs could also carry out the audit to find out whether a review had been acted upon. The answer to the hon. Lady is yes-her proposal is very much along the same lines as ours.
Amendments 35 to 38 and 40 to 45 have the support of a number of outside organisations, notably the General Medical Council, the British Medical Association and the Children's Rights Alliance for England. Clauses 28 and 29, to which the amendments would apply, are very widely drawn in that they establish a statutory obligation to provide information to LSCBs for any or all of their functions. That could include the release of confidential information about children, parents, siblings or, in a clinical context, patients. I have a deal of sympathy with the GMC and the BMA, which are concerned that if people are statutorily obliged to provide information to an LSCB, when the purpose for which that information is required is not made clear, there is a serious risk to patient confidentiality. In addition, the CRAE has expressed fears about the breaching of child confidentiality, particularly regarding information given by one child about another. The requirement included in clauses 28 and 29 is very wide ranging, and we therefore think it should be modified. Our amendments would specify that such information could be required only in so far as it can be shown to be necessary for the compilation of an SCR, and on an anonymised basis.
I have some questions for the Minister. I would be grateful if he could say why the clauses are so widely drafted. Is that a further response to the Laming review, because the measures seem to go well beyond the scope envisaged in his second review of last year? Will the Minister define more closely the circumstances in which such information will be required? There is also a question regarding the Data Protection Act 1998, which specifically requires that information is collected for a specified purpose, because under the clauses, nothing will be specified. May we have more detail about specified purposes? On what grounds, for example, could an agency withhold information? Could it withhold information if it believed that there was a risk of breaking the confidentiality of a child, a pupil or a patient? The CRAE has further said that any sharing of information by public bodies must be necessary, proportionate and in the pursuit of a legitimate aim in order to comply with human rights law. The question of whether the clauses as they are structured comply with that is a serious one.
The final tranche of proposals in this group is made up of amendments 46, 47 and 48. Amendment 46 would require the Secretary of State, by regulations, to make provisions for Ofsted to conduct reviews of LSCBs' performance of their specified functions. Clause 30 provides that the Secretary of State
"may by regulations make provision".
This is an old favourite in Committees-although we did not have the opportunity to make the argument there this time-because we think that "may" should become "will". Questions have been raised about the way in which local safeguarding children boards operate. For example, there is confusion about the boards' exact role and purpose vis-à-vis children's trusts. After the baby Peter affair, the Secretary of State made changes to the composition of LSCBs which amounted to adding two lay members, but I am not sure how that improved their quality other than by increasing the size of the tables around which the boards sit. I worry that any decisions that LSCBs make will always be subject to the lowest common denominator.
I have serious qualms about Ofsted's ability to inspect children's social care departments, because there is a severe shortage of children's social care experts working for, or on the board of, Ofsted, but the operation of LSCBs needs to be examined on a better defined and more regimented basis. If it is to be the inspecting body, Ofsted should also review the effectiveness of LSCBs as a whole. Are they working properly and how do they interact with other agencies? That is the purpose of amendment 48. We suggest that LSCBs should be able to name and shame those agencies that, for example, have not co-operated with them in the compilation of serious case reviews. That is the flipside to the earlier amendments that we tabled about the supply of information for serious case reviews.
The amendment also has another purpose. As matters stand, Ofsted does not inspect the way in which agencies work with each other in child protection. Clearly, a common feature of the failings that lead to serious case reviews is the weaknesses in inter-agency working. We think that Ofsted needs to look at that area of child protection and the operation of LSCBs much more carefully. Joined-up working is always an important part of the process and too often it is one of the failings that contribute to the tragedies that we see.
Those are the four sets of amendments within this group. I have some sympathy with the new clause tabled by the Liberal Democrats about serious case reviews, but they have also tabled new clause 10 on the definition of reasonable punishment. Children's Bills, in my experience in the last nine years in which I have been dealing with them, would not be complete without somebody trying to hijack them by imposing anti-smacking provisions, and this Bill is no different. True to form, that is what new clause 10 seeks to do. I make no comment on the suitability of the new clause, other than to say that I am aware of the technical problem about the operation of certain religious organisations that have genuine concerns about whether corporal punishment may be used. However, I am also aware that the Secretary of State requested, in his letter on
I think that the hon. Gentleman is saying-although he might be hiding behind the Secretary of State-that the Conservative party supports looking at the anomaly of Sunday schools and madrassahs. Is that what he is saying?
I said it quite clearly: I said that the Government have already asked Sir Roger Singleton to look into the matter, because there are genuine concerns that need to be looked at. However, I do not know whether those genuine concerns will turn out to be real or whether they will require action and the sort of new clause that has been put forward. I would like to wait for the evidence, which I think is the Government's position. When we have the report, which is due by the end of March-I think that is the time scale-we can make an informed decision about whether any action is required. My response to the Liberal Democrat new clause, therefore, is that it is premature-to put it kindly-because none of us really knows at this stage whether it is required. I would prefer to wait for the evidence before making a judgment.
I realise that I have spoken for some time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I very much commend the new clauses in the name of my hon. Friends and myself. In particular, I commend the key new clause-new clause 1-which would offer a fundamentally different approach to how we produce, publish and learn from serious case reviews in the future. Quite frankly, after the high-profile tragedies that we have had, nothing less will do if we are remotely serious about restoring confidence in the child protection system in this country.
I, too, shall commence my remarks by talking about serious case reviews. Tim Loughton reminds us that we are approaching the 10th anniversary of Victoria Climbié's death. It is a time to reflect on how much has been learned. If we look at the history of serious case reviews, we will see that Ofsted has judged that the quality of a very large proportion has been unsatisfactory. In many cases, the summaries have been criticised for not reflecting the issues behind the cases, and their timeliness has been incredibly suspect, with many occasions on which one has waited for years after a shocking event. There are also doubts about Ofsted and its inspections within the children's services framework.
Some time ago, we had a briefing from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which remains concerned about the full publication of serious case reviews. However, it made several proposals that it thought would improve the process, including working on the summaries, improving the quality of the serious case reviews and putting in a compliance or audit check so that an arm's length body can pick up on recommendations and check up on subsequent action 12 months after publication.
Just before we came into the Chamber today, my hon. Friend Mr. Laws picked up a letter that we had been sent. The letter is from the Secretary of State to the NSPCC. No doubt, in due course we will hear on the Floor of the House exactly how the Government propose to improve serious case reviews. The letter says that the Government will try to improve confidence in the quality of serious case reviews. Ofsted seems to have been put in charge of that, even though we are not yet that confident of its operation in the realm of children's services.
Compliance reports should be made publicly available, setting out the actions to be taken in response to serious case reviews, but there is no indication that anyone will take an independent look at compliance. The reason why I want to emphasise that point is that subsection (2) of new clause 21, standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil, highlights the need for independence in checking the responses to a serious case review. The letter to the NSPCC also refers to the NSPCC's desire that executive summaries should be improved. It is therefore interesting that even now the Government are not going the whole way and are not even responding to the NSPCC's concerns about putting that independence into the equation.
I thank the Secretary of State for allowing me to read the serious case review on the Edlington boys. I read it on behalf of my hon. Friend, and I have to say that I was genuinely surprised at how I felt after reading it. Members who are present are well aware that I work closely with the NSPCC and that I am really concerned about child protection. However, I can put my hand on my heart and say that I came out of the room-my locked room-after reading the review and I thought that pages and pages of it should become compulsory reading for anybody working in the children's work force, including teachers and children's social workers. I was surprised at my reaction.
The review was leaked, of course, to the BBC and the press. I will quote from them, rather than from my recollection, so that I do not reveal anything. There were 31 occasions on which nine different agencies failed to act on the two brothers, aged 10 and 11, who were convicted of torturing and leaving two boys for dead. That is 31 occasions on which there were communication problems, and there are other examples-Pearl Harbour is a classic example-of where all the signals were there but nobody put them together. In order to learn something we have to go through the communication failures. Trainee workers need to read all the points that were missed.
Of course it is easy to be clever in hindsight-I am not making judgments about the people involved-but the lessons were there for training the work force. I say that with some passion, because I am surprised that I now feel even more strongly that we should start from the premise that we publish as much of the serious case review as we can without harming members of the family or other individuals who might be involved. I, too, picked up the points about the fuller publication of serious case reviews, which the British Association of Social Workers is supporting.
I ask the Government today to reconsider the issue. I am not here to make political points: when I read that serious case review, I was staggered by the things in it that should be revealed to people already in the work force and those entering it. We cannot move on unless we learn those lessons. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches will therefore support the Conservatives' new clause 1. We would have liked to combine it with our proposals, but the point will be made that if we are to learn the lessons, there is a strong case for making more information public.
I understand from reading the serious case review from Edlington that it was the eighth such review that Doncaster had carried out in recent years. This leads me to ask what lessons have been learned from the previous cases, given that they have not been published. Not very many, it seems. Of course I take on board the enormous pressures on social workers, the lack of training and the high case loads, but if we picked up all those elements with total transparency, it would lead to a bigger commitment from society to addressing the deficiencies in the system rather than the people. We are therefore absolutely convinced that we need to move in completely the opposite direction. We cannot improve matters by a drip, drip, drip method of doing a bit more here and there. We need to start from the other end. Let us publish as much as we can without risking injury to anyone and without damaging reputations, perhaps of members of the wider family.
I should like to touch on the Conservatives' amendments 35 to 45. I, too, looked at the representations from the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council; what sensible representations they were. In clause 28, proposed new section 14B(2) states:
"The first condition is that the request is made for the purpose of enabling or assisting the Board to perform its functions."
That seems a very wide request. I looked at the Bill's explanatory notes on the clause, but they left me none the wiser- [ Interruption. ] I am relieved that I am not the only one who thought that they confused the issue, rather than clarifying it.
Although I quite understand the point that members of the medical profession are making-and I agree that the Government need to look again at this part of the Bill as it makes its progress through the other place-I am concerned that the Conservative amendments would narrow the options down too much. I believe that local safeguarding children boards will need to share information on issues other than just the serious case reviews. Those reviews might well be the most important aspect of the work, but they take place after something has gone wrong, and LSCBs should also be involved in prevention. Information should be shared, for example, in cases of child abuse and the sexual exploitation of children. A serious case review might have been undertaken on one member of a family, but information about another member of that family-baby P's sister, for example-might also need to be shared.
I acknowledge what the Conservative amendments are trying to do, but they have been drafted too narrowly to achieve the necessary improvements in information sharing. Also, they do not take on board the fact that, if other functions are to be carried out properly, they will require the information to be shared fully.
In what cases does the hon. Lady think it would be legitimate to place a statutory responsibility on various agencies to provide information to an LSCB? How would she address a situation in which a doctor chose not to co-operate with an LSCB-under their Hippocratic oath, or whatever-because they felt that there would otherwise be a breach of patient confidentiality? What penalty would she apply in such a situation, and how on earth would she impose it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because it takes me on to amendment 88, which was tabled by the Liberal Democrats. In it, we try to tackle that issue in a slightly different way. It proposes:
"Provision must be made for appeals by those persons who consider it to be unreasonable or improper to supply the specified information to the Local Safeguarding Children Board under this section."
That seems to cover the point that was just raised. My request is for the Government to take this back and have another long look at it. The Bill is drafted too widely at the moment, and it is going to need quite a lot of work-and, I suggest, consultation-to get this right. We offer one solution through an appeals process.
Briefly, amendment 90 is designed to strengthen the inspectorate process by changing the "may" to "shall". I want to move on to new clause 10, which hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that I want to discuss.
Before the hon. Lady does so, I wish to point out that we seem to have a huge difference in our amendments, as we have changed "may" to "will", while she has changed "may" to "shall"-but I suspect that we are on the same side. Will the hon. Lady elaborate a little more an amendment 88, as I asked her about what would happen if someone refused to co-operate, and I am not quite sure how her appeals system will work or who will police it?
I thought that I had answered the hon. Gentleman by suggesting that there could be an appeal mechanism. [Interruption.] I am quite comfortable with the need to amend the Bill, and I hope the Government will take the lead on it, but we will need consultation on the details of how it will work. It cannot be right to share information only in respect of serious case reviews, as the Conservatives suggest, because there are many other instances where it will be necessary, as I am sure that the Secretary of State will tell us. Equally, I cannot believe that every single function of the safeguarding children board will require such sharing of information.
I share the concerns already expressed by the Children's Rights Alliance about how children themselves will feel about the sharing of information. It is always one of my great concerns whether children and young people will seek help from organisations if they feel that information about them is going to be shared. Doctors sometimes work confidentially in the best interests of the child, but the child might not seek help if they felt that the information was going to be shared.
I am listening carefully to the concerns raised by the hon. Lady-and, indeed, Tim Loughton-that some practitioners, such as GPs, might not be willing to share information, because of the potential breach of parent confidentiality. Does she not think, however, that GPs might be more reluctant to share information in the compilation of a serious case review if they thought that it was going to be made public? Would that not make it less likely that GPs would co-operate with the process for the very reasons put forward by both Opposition Front-Bench teams, which seem wholly to contradict the argument that they made about the publication of serious case reviews?
It is extremely important to change the culture when it comes to co-operation on serious case reviews. I find astounding the suggestion that professionals will hold back, as it is part of their job or their oath to their profession not to do so. As to the confidential aspects, we are talking about redacting and anonymising where appropriate. We are talking about two different cases here, and I question whether we really need to share information about all the functions. It is for the Secretary of State to respond to that point in due course.
Let me move on to new clause 10. If it had not been tabled in the first place, we would not be where we are now. Tabling it was therefore an extremely important step. It had already been tabled when, on Second Reading, the Secretary of State said:
"The use of physical punishment against any child is wrong; it is outside the law and is not fair to children. I do not think that we should tolerate any use of physical punishment in any school or learning setting in which trusted adults are supposed to be looking after children".-[ Hansard, 11 January 2010; Vol. 503, c. 434.]
That resulted in the contact with Sir Roger Singleton, who said in a letter dated
"I have given this matter some urgent thought and I do think there are issues that warrant further exploration."
If the new clause had not been tabled, we would not have reached our present position.
I am very pleased that the Government have asked Sir Roger Singleton to review the use of physical punishment in part-time education and learning settings, but I am worried about the time frame. I accept that it will take some time to view the issue thoroughly, but, not surprisingly, those of us who are concerned about the issue fear that if Sir Roger's response arrives at the end of March, it will not be possible to make much progress. Can the Secretary of State outline a projected timetable?
We should bear in mind that teachers are an example of adults in loco parentis. Most teachers are prohibited by law from using corporal punishment, but there appears to be a gap, in that the prohibition does not apply to teachers providing less than 12.5 hours of education a week. Sports coaches, Sunday school teachers, madrassah teachers, youth workers, private foster carers, babysitters, nannies and unmarried partners are also in loco parentis when they have care and control of children.
We should bear in mind that physical punishment has already been banned in other voluntary provision, such as early years centres, child-minding, private education and part-time education of 12.5 hours or more a week. Surely there is no justification for failing to protect children in the remaining voluntary settings. Professionals and concerned Muslims, for example, have found it difficult to persuade parents or children to make complaints about the use of physical punishment. As long ago as 2006, the leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain said the Muslim community was in a state of denial over child mistreatment in madrassahs, and that it was an unacceptable dereliction of duty not to protect those children for fear of being accused of cultural insensitivity. The issue has arisen because the concern was expressed by the Muslim Parliament. Madrassahs are estimated to run nearly 1,600 part-time, weekend or evening Islamic schools, teaching as many as 200,000 children overall.
New clause 10 states:
"Only a person with parental responsibility for a child within the meaning of section 3 of the Children Act 1989 can justify battery of the child on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment."
I may have missed something that the hon. Lady has just said, but I understood her to say that all the people whom she listed should be totally prohibited from carrying out any kind of physical punishment. Surely
"Only a person with parental responsibility" means that those with parental responsibility would indeed be able to carry out such actions. I think that the hon. Lady is faced with a slight dilemma, or contradiction. Perhaps she could explain her position.
It is true that many people think smacking should be banned across the board, but that view has been tested in this House. More recently, however, a gap in the current legislation has been identified. This new clause is not an attempt to rehearse the old arguments; rather, it is intended to be a positive contribution to achieving the ambition of ensuring that our children are protected. Many people would like it to go further, of course, but the framework here is fairly narrow, and I think there will be evidence that this is necessary-certainly, such evidence has already been provided to us.
The hon. Lady's new clause states that persons
"with parental responsibility for a child within the meaning of...the Children Act 1989 can justify battery of the child on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment."
Is she saying nobody should be able to give any reasonable physical punishment to a child? What I want to understand is whether this is absolute or qualified.
I thought that I had made it clear that this new clause tackles a particular area that we think has been overlooked and has not been addressed by previous amendments. This new clause builds, however, on a Government amendment from the last time we debated this, which spoke about a justification in terms of reasonable punishment, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recall that there was a great deal of discussion about that.
We have moved the agenda forward, but there is still a general issue about whether physical punishment should be allowed. More specifically, we currently have a situation in which one group of teachers is banned from using physical punishment while another group of teachers is not, and that should be addressed.
I should also point out that there may be physical punishment in some Christian Sunday schools. Also, of course, beliefs that children can be witches or be possessed by evil spirits and need to be physically punished are prevalent in certain African Christian churches in the UK-the Victoria Climbié case falls into that category. In respect of part-time teachers, concerns have been raised about children being abused by sports trainers. I am sure such cases are rare exceptions, but we should have consistency.
I think that I have given way enough.
We believe the most practical reform in this context is to amend section 58 of the Children Act 2004. The Government introduced that measure the last time we discussed this, and it was a compromise. We want the defence of reasonable punishment to be available only to those with parental responsibility.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Where a child is in the care of a local authority and it shares parental responsibility with the parents, who within the local authority would be categorised as the person with parental responsibility for the child who can therefore justify battery? Also, a child might be in the care of a local authority, and there might be court proceedings that will inevitably result in the parental responsibility of the parents being taken away, yet there might still be some contact between child and parents. How would that anomaly be addressed?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and see the point that he is getting at. I can clarify part of it by saying that foster carers who are employed by the state are not allowed to administer physical punishment-there is an anomaly there in respect of private foster carers. I think that that partially answers his point. Obviously there is a concern, which he has justifiably raised, about situations involving a degree of parental responsibility, and I accept that I would need to seek further clarification on that specific point.
I tabled this new clause to keep the matter in front of the Government's eyes. There is an anomaly, the Government have not been able to introduce a better form of words and the organisation that suggested the new clause took pretty senior legal advice on the phrasing-the new clause received serious consideration at that level. The point of proposing the new clause is to ensure that this important issue stays in the public eye, as we do not want it to disappear during an election campaign. The reason why I am speaking at length today is because I want this Government to promise to address this serious issue.
I do not intend to detain the House for long, and I wish to address my remarks entirely to new clause 1 and related issues. As a result of my experience of serious case reviews in my city, I am extremely sympathetic to the case made by Tim Loughton and the contents of new clause 1. However, I acknowledge that the recent changes made to the workings of serious case reviews and local safeguarding children boards by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are also important and ought to be mentioned. I am talking about the fact that the boards should have an independent chair-that is one deficiency that I can see in the matters to which I wish to refer-and that two lay people should be members of these boards. I have met people from my local board to discuss the matters to which I wish to refer, so I am able to say that those lay people might find themselves in a difficult position. If they are to be effective, they will require a great deal of support, back-up and extra bureaucratic and research capacity in order to have the confidence to raise issues as the only lay members in a body that is otherwise dominated by professionals. My Front-Bench colleagues may wish to refer to that later.
I have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with two serious case reviews into the deaths of children. One related to a constituency case where a baby burned to death in a property. The baby's mother had a history of mental illness and other difficulties. At first she said that people from the neighbourhood had come into the house and burned it down-hon. Members will appreciate how damaging that was to the local community-but subsequently it became clear that she was responsible for the death of the child, which triggered the serious case review.
The executive summary of the serious case review, which is all that we now know about the case, rehearses the connections that this young woman had with a number of agencies. It also makes it clear that at the birth of her baby, her attitude changed and she was a devoted and careful mother. Research carried out later, which came to my attention and was brought about by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, leads me to think that this is a classic case of what is known in the research field as "start again syndrome". I am grateful to the research commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for that discovery.
The executive summary of the case review concludes:
"Despite the indications of risk to" the baby
"which are evident with the benefit of hindsight, it should be acknowledged that he had been a wanted and well cared for baby. His mother was selective in deciding which information she divulged to each agency and in deciding which help she would accept...The events which led to" the baby's
"death were unpredictable and, as such, could not have been prevented."
When I came to read that some months later, I was deeply troubled by the idea that events that are unpredictable cannot be prevented. That is a leap of logic no one concerned with risk assessment procedures could very easily accept.
When I looked further into the matter, I discovered that at the very moment that the executive summary was released, the local authority issued a press release, embargoed to the time of the release of the executive summary, which began in this fashion:
"A review following the unlawful killing of baby"
"by his mother has found that his death could not have been prevented."
That is, in itself, an extraordinary interpretation of the remarks in the executive summary. The press release, in turn, was accompanied by a statement issued by the author of the serious case review, the first sentence of which read:
"The events which led to" the baby's
"death were unpredictable and, as such, could not have been prevented."
I find the fact that the three documents were issued within the same time frame quite disturbing as an account of that set of circumstances. I was even more concerned when I discovered the same phrases-expressing the idea that things that could not be predicted could not be prevented-being mentioned in other serious case reviews in other parts of the country, almost as though there was a culture of offering up such phraseology as a justification for the events that had taken place. I am extremely concerned by that.
I looked further into the case and discovered that both serious case reviews carried out within a year concerning the death of children were carried out by the same person, who was the regional chair of a charity that received grant aid from the local authority that was running the local safeguarding children board. I am troubled by that. Let me make it clear that the lady who authored the two serious case reviews did not receive any benefit as a result of the grant aid. I make no suggestion of anything like that, but none the less I am troubled by the idea that two serious case reviews in the same time frame can be carried out by the same person who is also acting in a lay and voluntary capacity and receiving a grant from the local authority that supports the local safeguarding children board. I do not think that that survives any valid test of proper independence.
I am troubled by these matters, as well as by the phrases that express the idea that things that were not predictable could not have been prevented-if we applied them to other matters with which this House deals, we would all be very troubled by them. I am concerned about these matters, which lead me to the conclusion that new clause 1 points us in the right direction, and so I am inclined to support it. I hope that what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says in his speech will lead me to a different conclusion, but that is where matters stand.
I want to confine my remarks to new clause 10, and the issue of reasonable punishment. With respect to Annette Brooke, I have to say that I found her explanation somewhat confusing. She started out by invoking the Secretary of State and his statements in the context of a letter from Sir Roger Singleton, which will be followed up by a review, saying that the Secretary of State-he is sitting on the Front Bench now, so he can correct me, and the hon. Lady, if he was misrepresented-said that the use of physical punishment was wrong, and that there should be none in schools at all. I do not know whether he wants to take the opportunity to confirm whether that is the correct analysis of what he has in mind. He is sitting there, but he is not listening-
That, if I may say so, is something that we need to discuss. The Liberal Democrat proposal in new clause 10 would amend the Children Act 2004, and presumably the Government have a view on that- [ Interruption. ] The Liberal Democrats' chief spokesman, Mr. Laws, indicates that he is not at all sure that the Government have a view on this, but we shall see in due course whether they do. The Government introduced the Children Act 2004, and the Liberal Democrats propose to amend section 58 of it, which deals with the question of reasonable punishment and represents the Government's position in law at the moment.
It might help the hon. Gentleman to know, as he might not have been aware of the context earlier, that when my hon. Friend Annette Brooke was referring to the Secretary of State, it was in the context of his response to Mrs. Cryer, and a question about whether the specific loophole concerning educational settings should be closed.
I understand that but, as I may be able to explain as I move into the argument, the law on this subject is perhaps a little more complex than the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole suggested.
Let me go back to what I was saying. The Liberal Democrats propose to insert a new provision in section 58 of the Children Act 2004. For the purposes of the amendment, it may be described as subsection (4A). After subsection (4), the following words would appear:
"Only a person with parental responsibility for a child"-
I emphasise the phrase "parental responsibility"-
"within the meaning of section 3 of the Children Act 1989 can justify battery of the child on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment."
The Secretary of State nods his head-that is the statement contained in the new clause proposed by the Liberal Democrats. It clearly infers-I want to get this out of the way-that those with parental responsibility for a child, within that meaning, could justify the battery of a child on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment. The question that we must address is whether those in the list that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole read out-sports coaches, madrassahs, nannies and certain people in loco parentis-would fall within that category.
The Secretary of State indicates that they would not fall within that category. For the purposes of what I understand to have been an exchange of letters followed by a review by Sir Roger Singleton, the question would turn on whether teachers would be prohibited from taking certain actions.
This is a rather frustrating exchange, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When the hon. Gentleman has finished speaking I will explain the position. I cannot do that at sufficient length in an intervention, but I shall be happy to clarify the position for him as soon as he allows me to.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his comments, and I shall listen to what he has to say in due course. The argument of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole struck me as being somewhat confusing, but no doubt we will find out from the Secretary of State what he intends to lay down, although the amendment is not his. This is where the confusion arises: unfortunately, the Government have not made a proposal, and things seem to be being done vicariously through the Liberal Democrats' amendment. [ Interruption. ] I can see the Secretary of State's frustration, so I shall give him another opportunity to speak. [ Interruption. ] He says that he does not need it-fine.
The legal effect of section 58 of the 2004 Act-it might be helpful for the Secretary of State to listen to this-is to remove the defence of reasonable punishment in any charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, or of wounding and causing grievous bodily harm, under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, or in any charge of cruelty to a child under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. I think that we all want to avoid any disproportionate treatment, chastisement or punishment of a child that falls within the category of a charge of cruelty, wounding or grievous bodily harm. The problem arises in the context of case law and the interaction between that case law, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights, which I shall discuss in a moment.
The defence of reasonable punishment dates back to 1860, when the characteristics were spelt out by the judiciary because there were no relevant statutes at that time. In one case, Chief Justice Cockburn said:
"By the law of England, a parent...may for the purpose of correcting what is evil in the child, inflict moderate and reasonable corporal punishment, always, however, with this condition, that it is moderate and reasonable."
The legal position was that it was then left to the courts, or to juries, to decide what was moderate and reasonable in the view of an ordinary person in any particular case. Of course, people's views on such matters alter and evolve over time.
I suspect that the Secretary of State well knows that between 1860 and 2004, a parent who was charged with a crime relating to an assault on their child was able to raise the defence of reasonable punishment. However, since the enactment of section 58 of the 2004 Act, that defence cannot be used unless the defendant is charged only with common assault, the victim is a child, and the defendant is the parent of that child or is a person acting in loco parentis.
The issue is whether a teacher in a Sunday school or a madrassah should be able to claim the reasonable punishment defence for the use of physical punishment on the grounds that they are acting in loco parentis. That is our concern, and that is what the amendment seeks to address. I was nodding only because I think that we agree on the problem. Obviously, we are anxious to get on to discussing solutions.
That is where I am about to move to, but we needed to identify the parameters before moving to questions of substance and merit. It is arguable that there are circumstances in which people in loco parentis-that includes not just parents, but people with parental responsibility, so it is a reasonably wide category-should be able to take certain actions. The question is whether teachers and those in similar positions of responsibility should have the right in certain circumstances to take such action as would be available to a person in loco parentis, and whether they could therefore be justified in taking action that would amount to what one might call, in round language, reasonable chastisement.
I am sure that the Secretary of State knows that there are problems in schools. Evidence has recently been presented to me of teachers being subjected to extremely difficult circumstances, including violent behaviour. We must ask whether there should be a blanket prohibition on certain actions, without regard to the circumstances of the parent or other person in loco parentis. The definition of children includes not only five, six and seven-year-olds, but older children who might be described as youths. That applies not only to boys; I regret to say that these days it might also apply to girls. In some cases a school, or another establishment of the kind to which the Secretary of State and I agree that the rule might apply, might be in such a state that the person who is charged with maintaining discipline might not be able to run things. I have heard from supply teachers, fairly recently, that they have found it absolutely impossible to conduct any teaching in certain classrooms because of the degree of bad behaviour and violence exhibited.
I do not put it in quite such precise terms as the hon. Lady would like to draw me into doing. I am deeply concerned about the shift, since 1998, when the new standards were introduced. I suspect, but I am not absolutely certain, that it was connected with the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998, which I shall discuss later.
I am very sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but it was the Education Act 1996 that banned the use of corporal punishment in full-time maintained schools and full-time independent schools, not any 1998 Act. It was not to do with human rights; it was to do with the Conservative Government of 1996 doing the right thing-perhaps with, or perhaps without, his support.
The short answer to that question is that, as I said earlier, all such matters are subject to review in the light of the circumstances of the time. On the whole, one would rather not have corporal punishment in schools, but teachers and those who observe these matters have wondered whether the prohibition against such punishment is justified. That is an important question, as circumstances evolve.
I hesitate to ask, but does the hon. Gentleman recall whether he voted for or against the 1996 Act? Will he take this opportunity to withdraw the charge that the current provision was driven by a human rights agenda-or does he believe that that agenda had already gripped the Conservative Government back in 1996?
The fact that the Human Rights Act was not passed until 1998 would not have prevented somebody from making a judgment based on the European convention on human rights in a case of the sort that I shall describe, because such a case could have gone to the Strasbourg Court. The fact that the Education Act was passed in 1996 not in 1998 does not matter that much, as the ECHR is the essence of the 1998 Act and the rule of incompatibility means that our legislation can be overridden.
This debate goes back to a very important case in the Isle of Man that involved the use of the birch. I am not in favour of that by any means, as I regard the birch as completely unacceptable. What I seek is to determine is whether there is any kind of reasonable physical punishment that falls short of what we would all regard as unacceptable, or whether there is an absolute and total bar on any form of punishment that is physical, as opposed to one that revolves around the writing of lines, exclusion and so on.
I am asking these questions more to invite discussion than to seek a decision. The Singleton review has been referred to, and I hope that it will throw more light on the matter. However, we are in Committee and we have a responsibility to consider-
I understand that entirely, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, the right hon. Gentleman is the Secretary of State with responsibility for education, and it is essential that we have proper discipline in schools. From the remarks that he has made from the Front Bench, and from the vicarious comments, it is clear that he would rule out any kind of physical punishment, under any circumstances whatsoever.
My own Front-Bench spokesmen might disagree with me on this matter-if so, it would not be for the first time-but I am inviting the Secretary of State to consider, in his reply, whether there is an absolute ban on physical punishment in schools. For example, if a school was under siege by very violent pupils, is there absolutely no question about the fact that no form of physical punishment could be used by teachers? My question has to do not with the ECHR, but with what is needed in the interests of school discipline.
It has become extremely unfashionable to suggest that there should be some form of physical retribution, and no one discusses whether that might be necessary. By the sound of it, the matter is an absolute for the Secretary of State, as it is for those who subscribe to the ECHR. In my view, however, it is important to have a proper and rational discussion of the question.
The legal analysis to which I referred earlier also says that
"any injury sustained by a child which is serious enough to warrant a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm cannot be considered to be as the result of reasonable punishment. Section 58 and the amended Charging Standard mean that for any injury to a child caused by a parent or person acting in loco parentis which amounts to more than a temporary reddening of the skin, and where the injury is more that transient and trifling, the defence of reasonable punishment is not available."
In other words, reasonable punishment is permitted under the law and the prohibition against it is not absolute. That is strange, as I had rather gathered from the Secretary of State's remarks that there was an absolute prohibition, yet the analysis that I have just referred to makes it clear that there are circumstances in which the law allows those in loco parentis to use reasonable punishment.
The question then arises: should that legal principle be applied in schools? That is the issue. I should be very interested to know whether the Secretary of State is prepared to go down that route, and whether he has any idea of what the Singleton report will propose.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that school teachers are sometimes in loco parentis? For example, when a pupil is violent towards a teacher, that teacher must defend himself or herself, and restrain the pupil, without using any physical admonishment at all. That is a very difficult line to tread.
That is exactly my point. I entirely agree that teachers are in a difficult position, and that it is easy to have a knee-jerk reaction either way. On the one hand, we can say that there must be absolutely no physical punishment of any description; on the other hand, however, we have to accept that there can be circumstances when it is impossible for a specific child in a specific classroom to be treated in that way.
It has been used in a great number of cases. As I said earlier, many of them turned on the application of the European convention on human rights through the European Court of Human Rights. One interesting case involved a person accused of engaging in unreasonable behaviour vis-à-vis a child. The jury acquitted the person in question, but the case was then overridden by the European Court on the grounds of human rights.
I find this a very difficult issue. A jury in a criminal case might conclude, on the basis of the evidence given, that the accused should be acquitted. However, when the case is referred to the European Court, that Court can say that it does not care about a decision made under English or UK law. The European Court can say, "We have our principles and we're going to apply them, irrespective of other law." In effect, it can override our criminal law, and I find that very difficult to accept.
What has happened since-this is obviously part and parcel of the proposed amendments to the Children Act 2004 as well-is that the Government have made an assessment of the extent to which, as an absolute rule, there must be no infliction of any physical punishment at all, whether reasonable or not. It appears that that prohibition applies even when the punishment causes a mere reddening of the skin and is permissible according to the legal analysis to which I referred earlier.
Against that background, therefore, I am interested in whether there is an absolute prohibition simply because it is prescribed under the arrangements for the European convention on human rights, which has effectively created a complete prohibition, overriding jury decisions in criminal trials, for example; whether it is-to use an expression that comes up in this context-a matter of philosophical attitude, which is another thing and is discussed at some length in the research materials that have been provided; or whether it is just a knee-jerk reaction, without reference to the impact on the class, the other pupils in the school or the teachers, and without reference to whether there is violence against the teacher or against other children in the class.
In other words, what is the principle that determines whether a perfectly reasonable form of punishment, which is allowed in loco parentis, should be denied in the classroom? That is the question that needs to be properly discussed. I have a feeling, although I might be wrong, that the Secretary of State has taken an absolutist position based on the research materials, which refer to philosophical attitudes and so on. That may be unrealistic.
So we-I and those who think along similar lines-are not anxious to permit any unreasonable punishment, but where it is a legitimate course of action in loco parentis, I am searching for an answer to the question why it is allowed in those circumstances, but not allowed in circumstances where there is violence in the classroom, even against the teacher himself or herself. Why should teachers be denied the opportunity to carry out reasonable punishment of the same kind as a person in loco parentis? That is what I think is important.
New clause 10 proposes as a criterion:
"Only a person with parental responsibility for a child within the meaning of section 3 of the Children Act 1989 can justify battery of the child on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment."
Ironically, although the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole seemed to be arguing the contrary, the fact is that her own new clause, within the framework of section 58 of the Children Act 2004, admits that a person with parental responsibility for a child can justify battery on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment. I invite the Secretary of State to respond. He has his own version of events, but the Singleton review will be definitive.
I refer to the exchange between my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State on the 1996 Act. That was predated by the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which was signed, I believe, by Lynda Chalker on behalf of a Conservative Government. The convention imposes severe constraints on the punishment of children, and from that flowed the consequences that the Secretary of State mentioned in the Act that followed. The concept of reasonable chastisement has been in our common law and understood in our legislation for a long time, and the European Court of Human Rights can and does apply United Nations treaties on these matters when developing its own case law. That is where the confusion, if there were any confusion between the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend, might have arisen.
The Secretary of State is adopting the role of Confused.com and trying to arbitrate in the matter. The question boils down to this: the European convention on human rights and the United Nations convention on the rights of the child both contain, in effect, an evolving prohibition on any kind of physical punishment at all. That is the bottom line. I think I am right in saying that Mrs. Cryer would agree with that. That is what she would want.
There are those who believe that in a school it is necessary sometimes, in certain circumstances, for some degree of physical punishment to be available but not necessarily used, and perhaps then only as a last resort-I would say definitely as a last resort-to enable the balance of discipline within that school to be maintained. Certain children are so unruly and so violent in their behaviour towards the teachers and others in the classroom that some form of physical punishment may be necessary.
I appreciate that this is a very difficult subject. It will be carefully observed that I am not making a categorical statement, because I have great sympathy with those who would want to keep punishment under severe control, but I pose the question. I hope that when the Bill gets to the House of Lords, if it ever does, it will be considered against the background of the Singleton letter plus the review, and in the light of the sort of considerations that I have raised.
The situation is nothing like as black and white as the Secretary of State or, if I may say so, the hon. Members for Keighley and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole may have thought. There are important questions of balance to be resolved in the interests of the child. Some children need boundaries. That is part of the problem. If they have boundaries, they know where they are.
It is interesting to note that one of the most distinguished judges who has adjudicated on these questions-I think it was Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice-explained with great candour, from his own experience in a court case, why he believed that it was important to strike the balance properly: that there is not an absolute, that children are different, and that some children need different boundaries. Those of us who abhor the idea of inhumane or degrading treatment in the common-sense understanding of that expression might also take the view that there is a balance to be struck.
The problem that the hon. Lady poses is that there are circumstances in the real world where there is a difference in the meaning of the words "in loco parentis" in the home environment or in an environment outside school. For the purposes of society in general, and also for the conduct of the school and the discipline within it, it is not a distinction that can easily be made. If the object of the exercise is to ensure that there is a proper balance of behaviour in the interests of society as a whole, including in schools, one cannot simply say that because it is a school, there can be no reasonable physical punishment whatever, but there can be in loco parentis. I could spend some time, although I shall not, on the very wide definition of "in loco parentis". There are many people who would fall into categories not very different from schools. That may be the loophole to which the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole was referring.
Further to the comments of Mrs. Cryer, is it not a sad fact that the children who are most likely to exhibit extreme antisocial and unco-operative behaviour in school are those who have not had the benefit of good parenting at home and not been set good examples or taught how to behave in a socially acceptable way? It is extremely challenging for teachers to contain such children so that they do not interrupt the education of others.
I agree. I concede that this is a difficult area, but it is important that we do not lock ourselves into a situation whereby we apply an absolute principle based on the so-called philosophical attitude. There are moral questions that depend on the manner in which, for example, a school can and should be run in the interests of all the people in that school, including all the children in a class and the teachers themselves. There is a balance to be struck. That is what I am arguing for, and part of the purpose of our debates in the House is to try to draw attention to the fact that balances need to be struck.
I have sympathy with and great respect for the hon. Member for Keighley, but I rather get the impression that she takes an absolute position. I do not, and I am searching for, and believe that there should be, a reasonable parameter. We should bear in mind that from 1860 to 2004 the situation was, subject to evolving circumstances, much less difficult than it is now. New clause 10 would make the situation more confusing, and I hope that the Secretary of State's response will be a revelation. However, I do not think that it will avoid the existing problem with getting the balance right between violent children on the one hand and the need for discipline in schools on the other.
Violent children use very harsh physical punishment on teachers and on other children in school, and the question remains to be resolved of whether in the interests of discipline it is necessary to apply, in the last resort, a degree of physical punishment in certain circumstances to such violent children in school. In the interests of discipline in schools and good order in society, I am interested in, and shall listen carefully to, what the Secretary of State has to say. There is nothing absolute about our position; I wait to see whether there is anything absolute about his.
You will be pleased to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I shall not detain the House for long with the few comments that I wish to make. This far-reaching debate has come a long way from its starting point, when Tim Loughton seemed to tell us that we should substitute our discussion about the functions of the local safeguarding children boards with the concern that they should concentrate only on serious case reviews.
I want to flag up to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the importance that I attach to the many functions of the local safeguarding children boards, to the need to have proper resources to train the people who are affected by those boards and, particularly, to the need to have resources in schools to ensure that all teaching staff are properly inducted. I include temporary agency staff in that, because there is a lot of reliance in schools on such teachers, and I urge my right hon. Friend to comment on the national talks that he is conducting with the NASUWT.
There are also employment and disclosure of information issues. The Independent Safeguarding Authority, with its new remit, must make its decisions in close consultation with the teaching unions, and we must ensure that temporary supply teachers are properly and thoroughly inducted into the way in which schools go about their responsibilities to implement the functions that we are discussing under this group of proposed changes.
This has been a full and substantive debate, covering a wide range of issues. On the spirit of the debate, may I say that the contributions of all speakers have been thorough, measured and important? Over the past year there have been times when I have regretted the partisan and political tone that has crept into the issue of safeguarding, but it has not done so today, so I shall respond fully to all the points that have been made. If this is what the Public Bill Committee was like, it must have been most enjoyable to be a member. The Schools Minister has told me many times that he would have liked to have spent more days in Committee, but, sadly, that opportunity has passed him by.
I shall try to respond as quickly as I can, because we want to discuss family courts and transparency and, in the time that is available, we hope to address important issues, such as home education, too. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, let me briefly address the issue of smacking and new clause 10 before moving on to the safeguarding issues that have been raised today.
Tim Loughton said that debates about a children's Bill are almost always hijacked. Until about 40 minutes ago, we thought that we had avoided that fate, but no: there has been a hijacking by Mr. Cash, although it felt like he was hijacking his Front Benchers, rather than ours. I am happy to give the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham the opportunity to clarify that Conservative Front Benchers do not propose to repeal the Education Act 1996 and re-introduce corporal punishment in schools. To be honest, I do not need to ask, because no one takes that position. However, in response to the hon. Member for Stone, I shall clarify the situation and then respond to Annette Brooke and my hon. Friend Mrs. Cryer.
The position in law is that a teacher in a maintained school can use reasonable force to protect their own safety or that of a child or young person in order to separate a fight. There is no prohibition on the use of force in those particular and prescribed circumstances, but the 1996 Act is clear that the use of force for punishment in full-time maintained schools and full-time independent schools is prohibited in law. Soon, part-time independent schools will be covered, too. It is illegal to use force for punishment, as opposed to protection.
Under the 2004 Act and section 58, in particular, it is allowable, as the hon. Member for Stone said it has been for many decades, for a parent or someone in loco parentis to use the reasonable punishment defence for the use of force, but not for causing harm such as actual or grievous bodily harm. The provision in section 58 applies only to common assault. As I said to my hon. Friend, it became clear when the issue was raised some weeks ago that there is a grey area within the definition of in loco parentis. Some individuals can be described as acting in loco parentis, and they could therefore use reasonable punishment outside of a full-time maintained school-where they cannot use that defence. To us, such individuals might look more like teachers than parents. An example would be the madrassah teacher, the Sunday school teacher or the sports club coach, and the question arises: can they use the reasonable punishment defence as a reason to strike a child legally?
I have been really indulgent. If I could just set out the current position, I shall absolutely take an intervention.
As I understand it, there are two different forces at work here. The hon. Member for Stone wondered whether we should extend the in loco parentis option for using force into full-time maintained schools, and argued that there may be-he did not say this absolutely-circumstances when a teacher should have the right to use the reasonable punishment defence to strike a child. That means that he wants to move from the grey area by making it possible to use that defence in schools. As I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, new clause 10 tries to go in precisely the opposite direction by defining someone acting in loco parentis only as someone who is genuinely the parent with parental responsibilities.
In replying to earlier debates, I said that as far as I was concerned, a teacher should not be striking a child whatever setting they are working in, but there is clearly a grey area in law. I then wrote to our adviser, Sir Roger Singleton, to set out my concerns about that grey area following discussions with the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, and I asked Sir Roger to look into the issue and report back to me. He wrote to me on
"There is another group-those carers without parental responsibility to whom parents may entrust their children, such as step-parents and grandparents, or...friends and babysitters-who may also" be in the "in loco parentis" category. They would not be the parent under the definition referred to in the Bill, but might be seen by us as somebody who was acting in a parental way. If I, as a parent, sent my child to a Sunday school, I would not expect the Sunday school teacher to strike my child, but if I had entrusted them to a grandparent or a step-parent, the question would be whether I thought that that situation was more like that of the Sunday school teacher or someone acting with parental responsibility.
Sir Roger said that we needed to think harder about this before we reached a conclusion. New clause 10 would mean that only a parent or guardian would be able to use a reasonable punishment defence, so it would exclude not only the Sunday school teacher or madrassah teacher but the step-parent, grandparent, friend or babysitter. Many of us would think that that went too far, and that is why we are worried that the definitions in the new clause are too restrictive. That was certainly Sir Roger's concern when he wrote to me in January. He also wanted to know how this would operate in practice and how we would ensure that it was properly monitored.
Sir Roger told me that he needed more time to produce his report. To be honest, he asked, as independent experts always do, for more time than I wanted to give. I asked him whether he could come back to us by the end of March, and he said that he would. I guarantee to the House that I will respond to his report on the day that he makes it. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole spoke of wanting things done before we go into purdah. I do not know what timetables we are going to have- Lord Mandelson has not yet told me of his plans, nor of the Prime Minister's-but when the report comes out at the end of March, I will respond immediately. My expectation, and my personal view, is that the right thing for us is to do is to tighten up the law. I would rather move more in the direction of a tighter definition than of a wider definition. I am sympathetic to the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley and the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, but at the moment we do not know quite how to define this, and that is why Sir Roger needs to finish his work. We will have that report, with a response from us, in the public domain at the end of March.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his clear exposition of where he stands. However, this question still remains: would he prefer simply to use the term "parent/step-parent", for example, or perhaps include "grandparent", and leave it at that? It may be that he and I would not agree even on that, but at least it would remove a lot of the problems relating to the expressions "in loco parentis" or "parental responsibility", which the courts have extended in a whole variety of ways. From my point of view, I would want this to be less restrictive, but would the Secretary of State-
The answer is set out in Sir Roger Singleton's letter to me of
"We need to consider very carefully the appropriateness of Government regulating arrangements that parents or carers make with others for the care and instruction of their children voluntarily and for relatively short periods, outside of mainstream education or other settings already covered by a ban on corporal punishment. Any regulation must be proportionate and involve the minimum possible interference in family life."
He then talks about different considerations in different kinds of settings and for different groups of parents, and says:
"In arriving at a way forward, whether...legislative or not, I do think it will be important to give careful consideration to the...evidence and to consult...stakeholders" to ensure that we get this right. My view is that there is a grey area-a loophole. I personally would favour a tightening-up of the position. I do not want to pre-empt Sir Roger's work, but I think that his direction of thinking will be towards a tighter definition of "in loco parentis", but perhaps not one that goes as far as the particularly tight definition in new clause 10. I am not ruling out the possibility that we might end up with a similar definition to that in the new clause, but I would rather wait for Sir Roger to report before reaching a view.
I thank the Secretary of State for the assurances that he has given. As I said repeatedly, I wanted to keep this issue on the agenda and to stay focused about it. His responses to us today have been very satisfactory, and we await the next responses.
The hon. Lady is right. It was because people in this House, and people with expertise and direct personal experience, including my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, raised particular issues, that the matter is on the agenda. I fear that the hon. Member for Stone may want to broaden the agenda further than I, and probably those on both Front Benches, would seek to do. I am happy to consider a further amendment at any point, but I hope that we now have enough clarity to move forward.
Let me turn to the safeguarding issues that were raised-some hours ago, as it now seems-by the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, and then by my hon. Friends Jim Cousins and for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley). The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham contextualised this by looking back over the past year. He pointed to the fact that we have just passed the anniversary of the tragedy of the death of baby Peter and that we have had, since then, other individual acts of cruelty and suffering that are very distressing. He referred to our frustration and upset that this should have happened in Haringey after the death of Victoria Climbié, which was now 10 years ago, pretty much to the day.
I think that the hon. Gentleman gave credit to some of the progress that has been made in the past year, although probably insufficiently so. We have had today the publication of Ofsted's second inspection report, following the first joint area review inspection a year ago, which gives a good report on Haringey children's services and the progress that has been made in the past year. I would like to put on record in the House my appreciation to the leader of the council, the director of children's services and the chief executive for the progress that they have made, which Ofsted has recognised today, while not for a minute suggesting that we are out of the woods. There is still more to do to ensure that children are fully and properly safe in Haringey, but there has been real progress there. There is also the work of the social work taskforce, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, under the chairmanship of Moira Gibb. This has been seen, by the taskforce itself, and by the wider social work world, as a real watershed moment-that was the language that it used to describe the extra investment, support, challenge and training that are now going into the social work profession.
The hon. Gentleman talked about a collapse in morale, but in the past few months more people have come forward in response to our advertising and said that they wanted to be considered for training as social workers than at any time for many years. That shows that out of a tragic situation and tragic circumstances, there is a fuller understanding of the role that social workers play.
I was particularly heartened when The Sun, not a supporter of the Government these days, ran an editorial in September praising the work of social workers. That was one reflection of the changing mood over the past year. It is not right to say this is a time of only bad news for social work. In fact, out of a tragedy a year ago, and, I would like to think, through cross-party effort-at times it has not felt as cross-party as one might have thought it would be on such a sensitive issue as child protection, but let us put that to one side-we are in a stronger position than we were then. That is not least because of the work of the social work taskforce following Lord Laming's excellent report published almost a year ago.
I genuinely hope that we do get more people coming forward to be social workers who are of sufficient calibre and are trained to a sufficient standard to do the job that we desperately need them to. However, will the Secretary of State not admit that back in 2002, when there was a recruiting exercise for more social workers, a lot of people came forward but very few stayed the course and went on to be the child protection social workers of the great calibre that we need? We are in danger of the same thing happening now.
As the social work taskforce has stated, initial training, training within the profession, pay and progression and the supervision of social workers at the front line by management have all been inadequate for years. They are now being addressed, because of the taskforce's work, Lord Laming's impetus and the tragedy of baby Peter a year ago, in a way that is revolutionary and quite different from anything that we have seen in recent years. That is why I am cautiously confident that we will be able to look back on last year and say that 2009 was the year when, for the first time, we properly recognised, financed, resourced and supported the role that social workers play, particularly in the difficult area of child protection.
Does the Secretary of State share my concern at the fact that the number of serious incident notifications to Ofsted in 2009 was substantially more than in 2008?
The rise in referrals, which means that harm is coming to the attention of the authorities, has been a real challenge for children's social services departments around the country. It has been the result of the heightened awareness of child protection issues among not just social workers but other individuals and professionals who work with children. The hon. Gentleman is right that there has been more awareness, which has led to more pressure on the system.
I apologise to the Secretary of State for not having been very clear. By "serious incident notifications" I meant the notifications to Ofsted that are the formal process by which most serious case reviews are kicked off following the death of a child. The increase in serious incident notifications in 2009 compared with 2008 refers to those following the death of a child.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been a downward trend over recent years, but if there was a greater rise in notifications last year, we will need to examine and understand it. I am aware of that matter, but I do not believe one can say that it is a consequence of the events that happened a year ago.
I turn to particular issues raised by the new clauses and amendments. As I have said, Lord Laming reported last spring and talked about our having
"a sound framework for professionals to protect children and promote their welfare", but stated that we needed a step change in how it was applied consistently across the country, particularly to
"ensure that leaders of local services accept their responsibility to translate policy, legislation and guidance into day-to-day practice on the frontline of every service."
He stated that that was the only way to ensure that children were safe. The measures that we have debated today will take forward Lord Laming's recommendation in two areas-further strengthening the serious case review process and improving the working of local safeguarding children boards. We also debated those matters in relation to new clauses 1 and 21.
The statutory guidance "Working together to safeguard children", which we have updated in recent months in line with Lord Laming's recommendations, is an important step forward. We have already strengthened the requirements in that document to have thorough, comprehensive serious case reviews whenever a child is seriously harmed and to ensure that immediate lessons are learned and implemented before the publication of the executive summary and the completion of the full review.
I know that there is debate in the House about the publication of full serious case reviews, and it has arisen again in recent weeks because of the executive summary of the Edlington review following the tragic events in Doncaster last year. It is important to say that the executive summary of that serious case review, which Ofsted rated as a good summary, was drawn up under the old, more restricted guidelines for the preparation of executive summaries. It would not be state-of-the-art today. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole made powerful points about her reaction having read the serious case review, and I had the same reaction. I was shocked and surprised by the extent of multiple engagement of children's services in Doncaster with the child in question. Under the new guidelines, that would be more fully set out in the executive summary than it was under the one drawn up on the old basis.
I say to the hon. Member for Stone that it was clear in that case that the children who had perpetrated the crime, for whom there can be no excuse, had themselves been subjected to either witnessing the physical harming and abuse of the parent in their household, or to physical harm and abuse themselves from the adults there, over a number of years. It is important to say that in the context of the remarks that we heard earlier about the importance or otherwise of children learning boundaries through punishment and physical harm. Those boys did not learn boundaries, and they lost any moral sense because they grew up in a family in which there was none. That was part of the problem.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole has read the serious case review, but it would have been impossible to publish it even in redacted form without putting into the public domain the details of the harm suffered not just by those boys but by other siblings in the household. Those details could then have been seen by other children, young people and adults in the same part of Doncaster. That would have been the wrong thing to do not only for the boys who perpetrated the crime but for the victims of the crime, whose suffering is there for us to see in the serious case review, and for the other siblings, who were not named in the court case but are named in the review. The harm that they suffered, which is material to the case, would have been there to see. I defy the hon. Lady to say to me that the serious case review could be published in a redacted form without putting those children in jeopardy.
I make that argument about publishing serious case reviews on the basis not of my judgment but of advice that I receive. I cite my usual sources-Lord Laming, the child protection expert; Sir Roger Singleton, our child protection adviser; the Association of Directors of Children's Services; the Association of Chief Police Officers; and the NSPCC. They all agree that publishing full serious case reviews would be wrong, because it would put children at risk and make it very difficult for professionals to co-operate in what is not an independent inquiry into who did things wrong but a process to ensure that lessons are learned.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, "This will not be good enough. What we are going to hear is the same old excuses trotted out by children's charities for whatever reasons." I have to say that he does the NSPCC a disservice when he belittles its view on the publication of full serious case reviews.
The NSPCC wrote to me at the beginning of February-in the public domain-after those issues were raised in the House, to say that it does not agree with the publication of full SCRs. In the letter, the NSPCC states that it believes
"that the proposal does not take into account two important consequences: the possibility of further harm to surviving and subsequent children of the family; and the hesitancy of children, young people and their families to cooperate with the review process."
The NSPCC is right on that point. I urge the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, who is an expert in these matters, to think hard again about the proposal to publish the full SCR in the face of all the advice of all the experts, including the NSPCC, which thinks it would be the wrong thing to do in the interests of the safety of children.
I absolutely agree with the Secretary of State that sections of the review would have needed to be redacted, particularly to protect the children who were attacked and their families, and the family of the attackers. However, I repeat to him we are proposing a change in the thought process, so that we start by deciding what can be published. There were pages detailing miscommunication in the review that I believe should be in the public view.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that we need a change of thought process. The NSPCC laid down a challenge to us in its
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for being true to form by trooping out the usual suspects, including the NSPCC. I have some questions for him. First, why was the letter that he sent to the NSPCC, which contains information that is very germane to today's debate, released to my hon. Friend Michael Gove at only 3.12 pm this afternoon, just before we started the debate, and why was it not made available to other Members of the House? Secondly, on the NSPCC, how many times has the NSPCC been mentioned in executive summaries of SCRs? Would the NSPCC have been mentioned in the executive summary of an SCR into the Victoria Climbié case, because it was certainly implicated in the full Laming report? It is most likely that that would not have come out in an executive summary.
I hear the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not agree with it. I do not agree that the NSPCC is a "usual suspect", and I do not believe that it makes its arguments for self-interested motives as a way of trying to cover up its role in any cases. The NSPCC is an upstanding, highly respected, very professional organisation. To talk down its contribution to the debate by suggesting that it is trying to cover up its complicity in past failures is actually wrong and completely unfair. I do not know how many times the NSPCC has been in executive summaries-I have not checked.
If Michael Gove had been in the Chamber before now-he has only just arrived-he might have made the point about the letter himself. I wrote to the NSPCC today, because I wanted to be able to refer to its letter in the debate. In my letter to the NSPCC, I stated that it has raised serious issues regarding the monitoring of SCRs and the implementation of its recommendations one year on. We will ensure that when we publish our progress report one year on from the Laming review in the next few weeks, we will incorporate the NSPCC's views following our discussions and meetings.
It is important to ensure that the SCR and the executive summary is a strong and good document. Independent assurance and compliance are very important, and we will ensure that we respond on those matters in the next few weeks. However, publishing SCRs and ignoring the NSPCC would be quite the wrong thing to do. That is why I urge hon. Members to reject new clause 1.
Will the Secretary of State address the proposal in new clause 1 on the appointment of the author of SCRs? Is he satisfied with the current process for doing that in the light of the extremely enlightening examples given to us by Jim Cousins?
I was coming to that issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central made important points. He has raised questions in the past as to whether the authors of SCRs are properly independent. As he knows, one reason why the first SCR into baby Peter was rejected and redone was precisely that it was not seen to be drawn up independently. Following Lord Laming's report this spring, we have now changed our statutory guidance to reflect the view that the SCR must now be independently chaired. That is a requirement in law. We also now have a training package for SCR chairs and overview authors to ensure that they are properly prepared for that work. Lord Laming's work addressed exactly the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. It is true that some SCRs were not independently drawn up-
Amendments 35 to 40 are on whether we should list agencies that contribute to SCRs. We are clear that the executive summary needs to have a much clearer time line of what has happened in cases. I do not think that that happened fully in the Doncaster-Edlington SCR, but it will under the new guidelines.
Practitioners must be confident that they can disclose relevant information in co-operating fully with SCRs. I do not believe that any steps should be taken that would reduce the willingness of individuals to contribute to SCRs. That is not the right way to go. However, it is important-Lord Laming highlighted this in his report-to ensure that all information can be given in the SCR process. The measure clarifies that position.
The amendments would mean that such information is provided only to SCRs. However, there will be occasions on which LSCBs have an obligation to collect information for reports that are not SCRs. For example, following the death of a child, the LSCB must ask professionals to provide information, so that it can produce the child death review, which it must now provide after the death of every child. That can go widely to involve, for example, deaths from road traffic accidents or sudden infant death syndrome, when it is important to get information from general or hospital practitioners.
It is also important for the LSCB to know-this relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North-that adequate safeguarding procedures training is being done in our schools for full-time and temporary staff. Again, that is a matter for the LSCB. To restrict the collection of information only to SCRs would undermine child death reviews and that important staff training function. Again, I therefore urge hon. Members not to press their proposals to a Division.
On amendment 88, which is on requests for information related to an SCR, it is important to ensure that the LSCB has proper information-sharing arrangements and protocols, and that they are properly kept under review. We are speaking to the agencies on those matters, and we will clarify the situation and revise statutory guidance to ensure that that is done properly. Again, we can do that without the amendment.
Amendment 48 and consequent amendments are, in our view, unnecessarily restrictive on Ofsted's role. It is clear what the role of Ofsted is in inspecting the effectiveness of LSCBs. We will ensure that that happens through the regular area-wide reviews. We can also ensure that Ofsted looks at the compliance report that we will produce one year on after every SCR. However, in our judgment, we do not need to place the restrictions on Ofsted that are proposed in amendments 48 and 90.
In a few weeks' time, we will publish our progress report, a year on from Lord Laming's report. We now have the national safeguarding delivery unit up and running, which is a step forward. We have already revised "Working Together", and will do so further following the input of the NSPCC and other organisations, to ensure that we have full, state-of-the-art executive summaries for serious case reviews, and that actions are properly implemented and monitored. We think that the restrictions in the amendments are unnecessary, and in particular we believe that to publish the full serious case review as a matter of policy-in the face of all the expert advice from all those people working in child protection-would be a backward step for children. It would put their safety at risk and mean that they, their families and other professionals would be less likely to co-operate. That would mean that we would be less likely to learn the lessons of terrible incidents in the future. It would be a retrograde step for child protection, and I urge the House to reject new clause 1.
I concur with the Secretary of State that we have had a good debate. It was a debate that we needed to have, because we missed having it in Committee. It has been constructive and measured, and almost non-partisan. But it ended with the Secretary of State not really giving us any assurance that we have moved on. He said that clauses 28 to 30 took the strengthening of serious case reviews forward. How? Serious case reviews are not even mentioned on the face of the Bill. We are only debating serious case reviews today because of our amendments and new clauses. Everything that the Secretary of State talked about has not happened, and the public do not have confidence that it will happen to the extent necessary for people to feel again that children and vulnerable families are being properly safeguarded.
We had an interesting, if confusing, debate on new clause 10; at one stage it entered a parallel universe. I was very interested in the comments by my hon. Friend Mr. Cash, and it was very useful that the Secretary of State cleared up the confusion by saying that there is no confusion, and that we are not confused about what we are not confused about-and that what we are not confused about we do not know we are not confused about. That made everything very clear. I was disappointed with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone because it took him 11 minutes before he gave the issue of reasonable chastisement a European dimension. Clearly he is slow off the mark after the half-term recess.
Annette Brooke spoke to the new clause, and I concur with the Secretary of State that there is a grey area that may need to be addressed in legislation. The hon. Lady was right to say that the only reason why we are debating this issue today is that amendments were tabled in Committee that we were not able to debate. The result is that Sir Roger Singleton has been engaged to look into those grey areas and report what action, if any, is required. So the job has been done. We now await empirical evidence of whether changes need to be made. By the hon. Lady's own logic, I would have thought that she would not press the new clause to a Division. We need to hear the evidence, not to prejudge it. In any case, smacking has always been an issue for a free vote on this side of the House.
Jim Cousins made some pertinent points from real experience of horrific deaths in his constituency involving serious case reviews that had not passed muster-contemporary serious case reviews that were not complementary, and which raised serious questions about the independence of their authorship. One phrase he used that struck me in particular was "the culture of justification" of what had taken place. That is why we need a radical change. We cannot go on producing the same old serious case reviews with assurances that we now have comprehensive executive summaries and everything has been done under the new system. We are still not entitled to see the evidence. We still cannot see the proof that what went wrong has been properly laid bare, or that what needs to go right in the future will do, because the lessons have been learned. They will continue to be kept secret, and that is not acceptable. If we are to restore any confidence in the system of safeguarding children, transparency and accountability have to underlie everything to do with serious case reviews and learning the lessons.
Joan Walley slightly confused the points that I made about our amendments and the functions of LSCBs. The clauses in the Bill refer only to the supply of information. The hon. Lady rightly said that LSCBs conduct a range of other useful functions, including training. It is right that they should do so, and our amendments would affect none of that. The amendments refer only to the supply of information, so she need have no anxieties on that score.
The executive summary of the horrific case in Edlington, and the disparity with the full 150-page serious case review, blew the whole scam sky high. It has been clearly shown that there was no resemblance between the full serious case review-which was to be kept secret, available only to a small select body of people-and the 11 pages of comprehensive executive summary. There is no excuse for officials and councillors in Doncaster, either of their own volition or under instruction from the Secretary of State, not to publish if not the full serious case review, a much bigger version of it. A system in which the public are denied the full story-or, as in the Doncaster case, are actually misled about what really happened-can have no credibility. Without that information we cannot learn the lessons, rectify the mistakes, or move on.
The Edlington serious case review may not have been suitable to publish in full; I do not know. That is why the amendments contain serious caveats about publication not being detrimental to the welfare of surviving children or their siblings, and about anonymity. The families of the people involved in the Edlington case are sure that they want to know the full story. They want to see the full serious case review published. Everybody in Edlington knows who all the characters are-if they do not, they can find all the names on the internet-and there is no excuse for not publishing that serious case review.
The Secretary of State made play of my comments about the NSPCC. It does much good work, but it has been changing its position on serious case reviews. Recently, in the letter to which he replied-although he did not give us sight of it until 20 minutes before the start of the debate this afternoon-it has come forward with further suggestions. If we have further serious case reviews that reveal further tragic events such as those in Edlington and Haringey in a year or two's time, the NSPCC might be brought round to our way of thinking-that the only solution is a full publication of serious case reviews.
The Secretary of State did not once mention the British Association of Social Workers and the practitioners at the sharp end, day in, day out, dealing with horrific cases, including cases such as those that made the headlines in Doncaster, Edlington, Haringey, Birmingham and other places. They deal with that every day of their professional existence, and that organisation, which represents the very best of many of our social workers, agrees that the only solution is a full publication of serious case reviews.
I want to remind the Secretary of State of the words of a former colleague of his-the former Member for Lancaster and Wyre, a fully qualified social worker, who is now the head of the BASW. Hilton Dawson said:
"It's vital that these reviews are transparent and can be seen in full, subject only to the need to preserve individual anonymity...These reviews are vital learning tools and it is imperative that they are made widely available."
The Secretary of State chose selectively to pray in aid certain organisations that share his view, but chose to ignore completely the 12,000 members of the professional body of social workers in this country, who now agree with a growing number of people that we desperately need full publication.
We need a fundamental change in the culture of how we approach child protection. That is what the new clause and the amendments are all about. Only if we have full transparency and accountability, subject to the caveats that I have given, will we start to bring about that fundamental change; to restore public confidence in child protection, which has suffered such enormous knocks in recent years; to restore morale within the social work profession, which has taken a huge knock, particularly since the baby Peter scandal; and to ensure that all agencies involved in safeguarding can see clearly where mistakes have been made and work together to ensure, wherever possible, that they are not repeated on their watch or in their patch. That is why, I am afraid, no amount of praying in aid by the Secretary of State of the same suspects will give the assurances that the public need and are entitled to. That is why the time has come to have that fundamental culture change-and that is what our amendments and new clause offer: that is why it is so important to put new clause 1 to the vote tonight.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House proceeded to a Division.