priority to looking after the children in care that, on examination, it was discovered that the social services department--that includes the Labour politicians who were running the services--had the lowest funds of any in any county in England or Wales. Does not my hon. Friend agree that that is an absolute disgrace, and that it is not just the social services department's top management but the elected politicians and Labour county councillors, who constantly prattle on about resources, who were responsible for a deliberate policy of keeping resources so low that the children were put at such abominable risk?
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend puts his case powerfully. I refer him to that part of the report in which the hon. Member for Stoke on Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) makes it clear that
"historically, we have been negligent both in expenditure and in policy, not just in social services."
The children concerned were subjected to appalling neglect, and I confirm the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). The responsibility of the elected members of the council is a matter for the council and for the voters of Staffordshire. However, I endorse the remarks of the new director of social services, and congratulate her on making them. Staffordshire has wisely appointed a director of national eminence, Christine Walby. She has responded instantly to the report, and has put in hand the steps that need to be taken.
Of the report's 39 recommendations, almost all of them are directed at improvements that Staffordshire needs to undertake to protect children more effectively. I hope that all social services departments in the country will act speedily and effectively, to ensure that their own houses are in order.
Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Does not the Minister agree that the issue is far too important to provide an excuse for making cheap party political points? I deplore the attempt to do so by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash).
A fresh start is necessary in Staffordshire, and that requires, first, the resignation of the chairman of its social services committee, Mike Poulter ; the architect of pindown, Tony Latham, should be dismissed ; and Staffordshire county council should immediately offer compensation to the children who were the victims of that policy, without having to be dragged through the courts. Finally, the Minister should stop pretending to be lily white in this whole business, accept a heavy responsibility, and provide adequate funds for the proper protection of children in care.
Mrs. Bottomley : The right hon. Gentleman made several fair and valid points on matters that should be addressed by Staffordshire county council. However, I cannot accept his remarks about resources. This year, spending on social services departments has risen by 23.5 per cent.--the highest figure in 15 years. This year, there has been a 25 per cent. increase in the amount available through the training support programme, and a 40 per cent. increase in the amount available for social work training generally.
The key point about residential care is that, at a time when numbers have plummeted, local authorities have not properly taken stock of the new needs of the children in question. What will unite the House--it has come as a stark revelation to many in the country--is that children in
residential care are in a particularly vulnerable and needy group. Of course local authorities are doing excellent work in increasing fostering, and in avoiding taking children into care. The figure for children in care used to be 90,000 ; it is now down to 60,000. However, children requiring residential care are a difficult, disturbing, and troubled bunch of people. It is entirely unrealistic to expect youngsters in their very first jobs--perhaps with very big hearts but without the necessary skills--to take on such adolescents. Those working in local authority homes need to feel that they have the respect, support, recognition, and supervision of social services management. Too often, they have been left to their own devices, and there has been a singular failure by social services departments to live up to their responsibilities.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : While nothing can ever condone or excuse the kind of cruelty that the report reveals, and although resignations are certainly called for--the social services committee chairman ought properly to resign--we must recognise that some of the children involved were incredibly difficult. Social workers face a difficult task and a terrible challenge. Also, we are talking about a very small number of homes. Staffordshire has taken firm action--albeit belatedly. Its county council commissioned the report from Mr. Levy and published it immediately, and
appointed--albeit also belatedly--a new and highly distinguished director of social services. We should put the matter in perspective and move forward on that basis.
Mrs. Bottomley : I appreciate my hon. Friend's remarks. Having got over the shock of the case in question, which arose from the sustained nature of the situation that faced those young children, there is no doubt that Staffordshire is learning the lessons. It has made the important appointment of a new director and has announced a number of measures to put its own house in order. I endorse my hon. Friend's point about the need for maturity and skill on the part of those undertaking such enormously difficult work. Also, it should be remembered that the report dealt with only four homes out of the 19 in Staffordshire ; many social services staff in that county discharge their responsibilities effectively, and are equally appalled by the events that have come to light.
The Children Act 1989 provides a volume of binding regulations and guidance which will ensure that all residential children's homes abide by the proper procedures for recording, proper disciplinary measures, management, supervision, review, and the provision of an effective complaints procedure. With the implementation of that Act we will tackle the underlying problems. The report provides, in a sense, an opportunity for every local authority to review and consider its own practices.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : Will the Minister join me in congratulating Allan Levy and Barbara Kahan on their brilliant and exhaustive report into this horrific episode, in which children were subject to a wholly unacceptable regime? Does she agree that the decisions that led to the establishment of pindown owed everything to appalling ethical misjudgments by individuals and the lack of monitoring and supervision that she identified, but nothing to a lack of training?
Does the hon. Lady accept the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) made, that only one member of staff at 245 Hartshill road, where this started, had any training and no residential qualifications? Apart from initiating the pindown regime, those members of staff, often perhaps with good intentions, were subjecting children to regressive psychological techniques, taking them back to their moments of initial trauma when perhaps they were first abused, which are enormously dangerous even in the hands of trained psychiatrists and dynamite in the hands of unqualified people. I accept that, nationally, in the past year she has increased the money available for training, but much more is needed, because surely we cannot accept that any staff should be untrained if they are liable to make gross errors of judgment. Will she bear that in mind when Sir William Utting's report concludes, as it must, that more money is needed for training?
Mrs. Bottomley : The hon. Gentleman, who has taken a detailed interest and has been deeply concerned in this throughout and who made a major contribution to the inquiry, is right about the origins of pindown. The report says that it
"is likely to have stemmed initially from an ill-digested understanding of behavioural psychology The regime had no theoretical framework and no safeguards."
It also mentions
"the absence of any professional advice in dealing with many children"
and that the regime was
"in all its manifestations intrinsically unethical, unprofessional and unacceptable."
It was a deplorable episode.
Training is of great importance, particularly as so many social services staff seem to believe that they should gain experience in a children's home and work in the field. I shall not be content until our most skilled workers in the field say that the real job, skills and difficulty are experienced in children's homes. When we reverse that status and balance of priorities, we will have accomplished an important task.
With the establishment of the diploma of social work, which takes over from the CSS and CQSW, we are moving from two-tier social services training to training that is more unified. The establishment of national vocational qualifications and the great development of in-service training are important tools. The new Open University training material on young people, for which we provided funds of £750,000, is effective and useful. Training is of much importance, but so is the regard with which the work is treated and, above all, supervision and management from the department.
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Will my hon. Friend confirm that no criticism has been made of staff at the admirable Riverside community home at Rocester, in my constituency ? Will she also confirm that, although we hear strong speeches about how much Labour cares, Labour-controlled Staffordshire county council steadfastly refused to increase spending to give the priority necessary for child care in Staffordshire, with the result that it had the lowest level of child care in the country ? Will she further confirm that that is evidence that social services would be better administered if control were taken from county councils and given to district councils, which, in organisational terms, are much closer to the communities that they serve ?
Mrs. Bottomley : I shall not embark on a review of local government structure and functions, but I can confirm that there is no suggestion that the Riverside home is in anything other than the condition that my hon. and learned Friend described.
The report is an indictment of the social services department, not only for the way in which children's home were managed but for the blinkered way in which children's services were regarded. For example, Staffordshire failed to increase remuneration for foster parents. Increasingly, good practice involves trying to establish children, even the more difficult and troublesome children, with foster parents. Foster parents often need not only support but better remuneration. Staffordshire singularly failed to think through that aspect.
In many ways, social service departments are making excellent progress in tackling child abuse and putting more rigorous procedures in place, but they have not considered the new role of residential care. It is almost as though they thought that it would wither on the vine as fostering became more prevalent. That is not true ; it has a significant, important and difficult role.
Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Mid-Staffordshire) : No one who has read the report of Sir Allan Levy can be other than concerned about what took place in the four children's homes in Staffordshire, but I am trying to look for something positive from the report. I welcome the initiative of the county council in setting up the inquiry and the recommendations made in the report. I hope to see them well and truly implemented, not only in Staffordshire but nationally.
It is all too easy to use social workers as scapegoats. They constantly deal with the problems that society generally does not wish to know about and certainly does not wish to get involved with. As with cases of child care, they are the Cinderellas of services and are way down the list of additional provision. The Minister implied that social services resources were increased this year, but what about the years before that?
I welcome the report's recommendations and hope to see them implemented throughout the country, because undoubtedly supervision and the complaints procedures are of much importance. What is of concern is that neither middle nor senior management, nor Government inspectors, were able to highlight the difficulties and problems in those four homes. In looking for something positive, let us welcome the recommendations of the report and ensure that they are implemented not only in Staffordshire but throughout the country.
Mrs. Bottomley : I endorse the hon. Lady's point about using the report as an opportunity to ensure that, throughout the country, effective practices are properly introduced. There is the opportunity of the Children Act and the binding regulations that we are introducing this month. They mainly address the recommendations of the Levy report and the establishment of the complaints procedure. I endorse the points made by the hon. Lady on reducing all incidents of this kind to a form of social work abuse, but the fact is that bad practice must be condemned, and this was the most deplorable example of bad practice and of lack of supervision and management. Staffordshire failed to re-evaluate the ethos of the home and its purpose, to scrutinise again the disciplinary procedures that are
necessary and to review children. These children should have been having regular six-monthly reviews, there should have been proper recording of the disciplinary procedures and, perhaps most outrageous of all, under the secure accommodation guidelines, which we introduced in the early 1980s, this should not have been permitted without the authorisation of the Secretary of State.
Staffordshire failed to take advice, to manage and to follow the regulations. All those aspects are being addressed by Staffordshire and by the detailed regulations that we are introducing. The chief inspector's report will advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether any further steps can be taken to ensure good practice in children's homes and, above all, monitoring and inspection.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood) : The report is clearly an indictment of the way in which the Labour party has run social services in Staffordshire, and that action cannot be excused. Nevertheless, I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) about the importance of putting this matter in context.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the children with whom the report deals were taken into care in the first place because they were uncontrollable? Is she aware that constituents have come to me because the family centre in Cannock has been running amok? Children have been out late at night, running around the town, and social workers have had to get them. That is not a satisfactory state of affairs for social workers. Do not we need a disciplined regime of care for such children whereby they can be properly looked after and social workers are given the power to look after them properly and in a disciplined manner so that the rest of society may be protected from them?
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend is right. He has spoken to me about his worries about the situation in Staffordshire. Increasingly, these young people are older than children in residential homes were in the past, and they are pretty uncontrolled ; they are difficult to control. The children's homes need a programme of care, control and activity. The deplorable position in Staffordshire meant that the young people were oppressively controlled and scarcely cared for, unlike the young people in Southwark, who were scarcely cared for and certainly not controlled. A balance of care, control and activity must underlie the principles of residential care.
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme) : I take the report seriously and am deeply distressed that my county council, Staffordshire, should be the council so rightly blamed in that report. The Birches home is in my constituency and it causes me great sorrow.
I should like to put it on record, however, that it is not true that nothing was done by local politicians to bring the county council to book. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and I visited Staffordshire county council as soon as we found out that something was going on in the homes, and we had a meeting at the highest level in the same week in which the solicitor, Kevin Williams, announced what was happening with pindown. I have had correspondence with Staffordshire county council--which I have in my hand--on what was to happen, and the council has been open and forthcoming. We did not go public, because we felt
that enough damage had already been done to too many children in Staffordshire, and that going to the press would be detrimental to them.
Will the Minister consider doing something for which we asked during the passage of the Children Bill--extending the training of social workers by a year? There should be an additional year's training for all social workers who have to deal with children, who are the most vulnerable members of society.
What does the hon. Lady intend to do about separating abused children from the criminal child element in children's homes? I wrote to her asking for additional money for Staffordshire county council to enable it to do that, but the reply was no. What will happen as a result of the report?
Mrs. Bottomley : I endorse the hon. Lady's point about the role played by Kevin Williams in drawing attention to this matter. It was as though there was a conspiracy of silence for many years among all involved before he took decisive and determined action to bring it to people's attention.
There has been a 40 per cent. increase over the past year in the amount of money that we have spent to extend the number of social workers brought into qualification and to promote post-qualification training and in- service training. I believe that there is a more effective approach--there should be in-service training for all social workers and post-qualification training for those with a special interest in a particular speciality. In staffing children's homes, special attention must be given to the ability, skill and experience of those undertaking the work, which is precisely what will be made clear in the guidance.
Staffordshire social services, as with other local authority social services, has had an increase of about 23 per cent. this year in the amount available to spend on social services. It is for Staffordshire to use its judgment as a local authority to give priority where it is due. Giving it to this needy group of children is certainly the priority that it would be advised to follow.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that I have called all the Staffordshire Members who are directly concerned with this matter. I shall allow questions on this important subject to continue for a further five minutes, but then we must move on to the Local Government Finance and Valuation Bill.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : Does my hon. Friend agree that people want to know that regimes such as pindown will not recur? Will the welcome announcement about a statutory guidance circular lead to the Government publishing details wherever there are problems? Will the Government spare no effort in rooting out places where neglect occurs, whether those looking after young children or those looking after the elderly? Will my hon. Friend comment on rumours about neglect in some homes for the elderly in south London?
Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that the last question is wide of the statement.
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend asks about the steps being taken to avoid such problems ever occurring again.
The statutory guidance spells out local authorities' duties to inspect their homes. This is the key element of local social service provision : local authorities have a duty, and they are entrusted, to act as good parents to the child. The additional safeguard of having a complaints procedure available to every child in care is the belt and braces of the policy. None of us must be anything other than vigilant to ensure that children do not suffer and are not neglected, particularly those children who are taken into care because of the abuse or distress that they have already suffered.
Mr. David Bellotti (Eastbourne) : We all want to do our best for children in care. Will the Minister join me in expressing thanks to one Staffordshire councillor, Councillor Christina Jebb, who for several years has called for and fought hard for an inquiry into pindown? In the knowledge that Councillor Michael Poulter kept information from other Staffordshire county councillors on the social services committee for more than six months with regard to the High Court action--an admission that he has already made--and in the light of the fact that, as recently as April 1990, the leader of the council publicly regretted the forced closure of pindown, will the Minister review the inquiry which she announced and instigate a full public inquiry? The people of that area and of other areas do not wish to know that there is any possibility of a cover-up in Staffordshire. We want to get to the bottom of what has happened there so that we can learn and can improve facilities across the whole country for young people in our care. We need a full independent inquiry.
Mrs. Bottomley : I note that the tribute in the report is paid above all to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) for his powerful and brave remarks to the inquiry. The report is an authoritative and clear document. Only the Liberal Democrats think that the answer to every problem is to have yet another public inquiry. We know the principles ; we have the legislation ; we have the regulations and the statutory controls. The purpose of the chief inspector's report is urgently to ensure that safeguards are in place so that children's homes are properly monitored and inspected.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : I deplore what happened in Staffordshire. Will my hon. Friend assure my constituents that unruly youths in care will be kept properly secure? In Bolton, a 14-year-old, supposedly in the council's care, has been allowed to commit more than 40 offences, not to mention fathering a child himself.
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend identifies the other equally vexatious matter of these difficult children tearing around the streets making their neighbours' lives a misery. It is fair to see these difficulties in that context. There are regulations covering secure accommodation, and young people should not be locked up for more than 72 hours without a court order. The real indictment is that Staffordshire failed to realise that it had effectively established secure accommodation. Once the units are established as secure accommodation, they must be inspected regularly by the social services inspectorate and special safeguards must be put in place. Nobody would disagree with my hon. Friend that such provision is definitely needed--it cannot be done by niceness alone.
Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich) : As the Minister will be aware, for many months I have been calling for a full national, independent inquiry into the circumstances of
children in residential care. I am concerned that, within social work circles, attitudes and behavioural patterns which are abhorrent to the rest of us have been established, are beginning to be accepted and are perhaps seen as inevitable, justifiably in some instances because of the very difficult children involved.
Will the Minister reconsider the decision to place the review in the hands of the social services inspectorate? Although the individuals involved might be very worthy--I do not doubt that for one moment--the attitudes prevalent in social work circles must be challenged and those people might not be sufficiently detached from what needs to be done on a national basis.
Mrs. Bottomley : It would be difficult to find any knowledgeable individual or source who did not have the highest regard for the professional integrity of Sir William Utting, the Secretary of State's chief professional adviser. I have no doubt that there is no one better placed to undertake the review, as he will before he retires. He steered through the Children Act 1989, he has advised successive Secretaries of State and has met with the absolute, unequivocal confidence of all Ministers with whom he has worked. It is important to appreciate that the role of the social services inspectorate is not to inspect each and every social services provision--that is the clear, unequivocal responsibility of local authorities. If local authorities say that they are not up to the task and are unable to fulfil their social services obligations, that is another matter. That would be a most regrettable step, but they must be held to that inspection role. One aspect that the chief inspector may carefully consider is the role of the arm's-length inspection unit--to ensure that there is an arm's-length distance between the management of the homes and those involved in inspecting them. To decide whether there is anything more that the inspectorate can do nationally to strengthen that function my be one of the most productive aspects of his report.