Mr Speaker, in November last year, I commissioned an urgent inspection of children's services in Haringey following the failure of agencies in that borough to intervene decisively to protect a little boy.
And following the Joint Inspectors' report, I took the immediate actions I judged necessary to protect vulnerable children in Haringey.
I also asked Lord Laming to provide us with an independent progress report on child protection across the country.
Lord Laming has today published his report - and I have laid a copy of it before the House together with my reply to him which sets out the government's immediate response.
I can confirm:
. that we will accept all of Lord Laming's recommendations.
. that we are taking immediate action from today to implement them.
. that we will also set out our detailed response to all 58 recommendations before the end of next month.
I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say we are hugely grateful to Lord Laming and to all the experts, practitioners and members of the public who have contributed to his very thorough investigation.
Mr Speaker, as Lord Laming says at the start of his report, being safe is "the very minimum upon which every child should be able to depend".
His report finds that the Every Child Matters reforms that were introduced after the Victoria Climbié inquiry provide "a sound framework for professionals to protect children and promote their welfare".
But he is also clear that: "There now needs to be a step change in the arrangements to protect children from harm."
Lord Laming says that: "The new ContactPoint system will have particular advantages in reducing the possibility of children for whom there are concerns going unnoticed."
But he challenges us to do more "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".
His report makes a series of detailed recommendations:
. to ensure best practice is universally applied in every area of the country.
. to improve local accountability.
. to provide more support for local leaders and for the front-line workforce.
None of Lord Laming's proposals alone could have prevented the death of Baby P.
But all of them together add up to a step change in frontline child protection. No barrier, no bureaucracy, no buck-passing should ever get in the way of keeping children safe.
Mr Speaker, as Lord Laming recommends, we will now establish a new cross-government national aafeguarding delivery unit to support and challenge every local authority and every children's trust in the country, as they carry out their responsibilities to keep children safe; and to drive continuous improvement in frontline practice across all services.
The new unit will be staffed by experts from across central government, local agencies and the voluntary sector - and it will provide an annual report to parliament, including on the implementation of Lord Laming's recommendations.
To guide its work, I am today appointing Sir Roger Singleton, former head of Barnardo's and a leading expert on child protection, to be the government's first chief adviser on the safety of children.
Sir Roger will advise us on how to update and strengthen our statutory guidance for frontline staff to make it absolutely clear to every agency and every practitioner what they need to do to keep children safe.
Lord Laming also recommends that full serious case reviews must remain confidential to protect vulnerable children and to ensure the full co-operation of all witnesses.
We will now strengthen the independence and quality of serious case reviews - and the unit will monitor their implementation to ensure that lessons are learned and that public executive summaries are full and comprehensive.
Mr Speaker, effective child protection depends critically on strong local leadership and accountability, so everyone is clear about who must do what to keep children safe.
We are already legislating to ensure that every local authority has a statutory Children's Trust board to improve all the outcomes for children and young people.
And we will strengthen the role of the local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) to make them effective local watchdogs for the protection of children and to hold the Children's Trust and local agencies to account.
We will set out in the revised statutory guidance:
. our presumption that all local safeguarding children boards will have an independent chair;
. that the director of children's services and the lead member for children's services will always be members of both the Children's Trust board and the LSCB;
. that the chief executive and leader of the council will be required to confirm annually that their local arrangements comply with the law.
And because keeping children and young people safe is everybody's responsibility, we will now open up the child protection system to greater public scrutiny by ensuring that two members of the general public are appointed to every LSCB in the country.
Mr Speaker, when children are at risk, it is the skills, confidence and judgment of frontline professionals which make the biggest difference.
As Lord Laming says: "Every day, thousands of children are helped, supported and in some cases have their lives saved by these staff."
But he is also right to say that "rather than feeling valued for their commitment and expertise, professionals across these services often feel undervalued, unsupported and at risk".
This has to change.
That is why the health aecretary and I have set up the social work task force, which will now take forward Lord Laming's recommendations on the training and professional development of social workers.
I have already asked the task force to review the effectiveness, procurement and IT used in integrated children's systems and it will now report on this next month, so that social workers can both keep detailed records of their cases and spend more time with vulnerable children.
And, in addition to the longer-term reforms that the task force will propose, we will act now to:
. ensure that all newly qualified social workers starting this year will receive a year of intensive induction training, supervision and support.
. introduce from this year a new advanced social work professional status to ensure the most highly skilled social work practitioners can stay close to the frontline with better career progression.
. expand the graduate recruitment scheme and attract qualified social workers back to the profession.
. ensure, over time, that all practitioners can study on the job for a master's level qualification.
And because we must do more to support leaders across children's services, I am also today accepting proposals from the chief executive of our leadership college to expand its remit, introduce a new leadership programme for directors of children's services from September, and create a new accelerated programme for those with the greatest potential to become future leaders.
Mr Speaker, Lord Laming also identifies further specific recommendations for the health service, police, the family courts and the inspectorates.
So I can tell the House that:
. the health secretary is today announcing a new programme that will provide additional support and development for health visitors.
. the home secretary will now take forward Lord Laming's recommendations to improve skills and capacity in child protection in the police.
. the justice secretary is announcing that, in line with Lord Laming's recommendation, Francis Plowden will carry out a review of court fees in care proceedings - and if there is evidence that they are a barrier for local authorities when deciding whether to proceed with a care order for a vulnerable child, we will abolish them.
. With Ofsted already strengthening its inspection process and introducing unannounced inspections every year for frontline social care practice in every area of the country, the inspectorates will also respond to Lord Laming's recommendations by the end of April.
Mr Speaker, in its annual performance assessment, Ofsted rated safeguarding services in 101 out of 150 local authorities as good or outstanding. But where children are not being kept safe, we will act.
In December, eight local authorities were judged inadequate in their safeguarding of children, and we immediately sent in our intervention experts to assess the situation in each of them.
Haringey has now submitted an action plan to Ofsted for evaluation. Improvement notices and additional support are now in place in Surrey, Birmingham, West Sussex and Essex, and independent performance reviews are underway in Reading and Wokingham.
The Children's Minister and I are particularly concerned with the serious weaknesses identified in Doncaster.
In recent weeks, we have commissioned an independent performance review.
And, despite significant investment over the past year and some progress, the review has concluded that urgent improvement is still required.
On Tuesday, the children's minister met the leaders of Doncaster council. And using powers in the Education Act 1996, the children's minister has today written to the council giving them a formal direction:
. to immediately appoint Tony Elsonto to chair an independent improvement boardthat will report directly to ministers.
. to submit an improvement plan to be approved by the new board.
. to require the council to co-operate with my department to bring in a new senior management team to take over the leadership and management of Doncasterchildren's services as soon as practicable.
Mr Speaker, it is our first duty in government and as a society to do all we can to keep our children safe.
And it is our responsibility to act decisively - as we have done in recent months; as we are doing today in Doncaster; and as we will do as we implement all of Lord Laming's recommendations.
I hope all sides of the House will support our actions to keep children safe in every part of our country. That is our duty - something which, as Lord Laming says, every child should be able to depend upon.
And I commend this statement to the House.