To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to protect children from abuse and neglect.
We are deeply concerned about all incidents of child abuse and attach a high priority to tackling it. Legislation that clarifies and simplifies the existing child care law is on the statute book. It will be implemented in October 1991.
Does my hon. Friend accept that child abuse is a problem which causes appalling conflicts between local authorities and families—conflicts which are often insoluble? Does she accept the need for up-to-date practice guidance to help with those problems?
My hon. Friend hits exactly the point about child abuse. The new Children Act 1989 ensures that there is proper, paramount consideration of the needs of the child and also recognition of the responsibilities of parents and the role of local authorities. Our guidance document, "Working Together", which was produced after the Cleveland report, clarifies and provides advice for the various agencies in their co-operation together. We shall be updating it in the new year and, in particular, drawing attention to the need to recognise the role, responsibilities and rights of parents.
Will the Minister please look again at the possibility of the establishment of a national centre for research into the abuse of children and sexual abuse, in particular—[Interruption]—so that perpetrators and victims can be examined in great depth?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot hear because of the noise.
Will the Minister look at that question, which I first raised with the Prime Minister two years ago, so that, for a small amount of money, we can ensure that real progress is made on that important issue?
I shall certainly give high priority to the development of services for those who have been abused and, indeed, for abusers. A major training programme is under way. We work in collaboration with a great number of voluntary organisations, for example, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the National Children's Bureau, the National Children's Home and many others. Only recently we identified an additional sum, particularly for the development of services for those who have been the victims of sexual abuse and for the perpetrators of abuse.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a lot of heartache has been caused to parents, because some of the guidelines contained in "Working Together" are still not being observed either by local authorities or by the professional organisations representing some of the professionals involved in case conferences? When she reviews "Working Together", will she ensure that the new guidance is strictly observed by local authorities and professional organisations?
Yes, that is correct. Those involved in child abuse cases should give paramount consideration to the welfare of the child. Many children's lives were lost some years ago because the workers were so busy working with the parents that they almost forgot to focus on the child. The pendulum has now swung the other way and there is concern that parents' interests are not being properly regarded. I can most certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that the new issue of "Working Together" will properly identify the on-going responsibility of parents.