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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 July, 2003, 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK
Children's minister under fresh pressure
Margaret Hodge
Margaret Hodge is still under pressure over her Islington record
The education secretary has hit back at controversy over new children's minister Margaret Hodge by calling her an "inspired choice" for the job.

Ms Hodge has been pressed to resign in attacks over the way she handled abuse scandals in Islington when she was its council leader.

On Wednesday, the Conservatives used an opposition day debate to argue Ms Hodge had been sidetracked into defending her past record rather than helping vulnerable children.

Tory shadow ministers suggested the row had contributed to the government's failure to produce the urgent changes needed after the death of Victoria Climbie.

'Sidelined'

Ms Hodge was appointed to the newly-created post of children's minister in last month's reshuffle.

The government has still to publish its promised consultation paper on the reforms recommended by Lord Laming's public inquiry into the tragedy.

Shadow health minister Tim Loughton said: "We fear that the Green Paper will be further delayed by the new minister being sidelined and side-tracked by having to defend herself now the truth is coming out about her failure to protect vulnerable children in Islington."

The needs of vulnerable children are taking second place to the prime minister's needs for a good news story
Paul Burstow
Lib Dem spokesman
The shadow minister welcomed the creation of the minister for children post but regretted that Ms Hodge had been chosen for the role.

He said: "If we add to this her track record for putting considerations of political correctness before common sense welfare of children... then we have to ask if this important appointment is not fatally flawed already, one of the biggest let-downs of the botched reshuffle?"

Mr Clarke mounted a robust defence of Ms Hodge.

"In the light of your highly personalised remarks I want just to place on record, I hadn't been going to address this in my speech but I will, my view that the prime minister made an inspired and strong choice in appointing Mrs Hodge to the job," he said.

"She has a long and distinguished record in this area and she will put together precisely the kind of cross-governmental approaches which are so important to make a reality of this."

Mr Clarke also denied claims that nothing had been done about Lord Laming's recommendations.

And he pointed also to rising recruitment of key social workers.

Political tool?

During the debate, Ms Hodge came under attack from her Tory shadow, Eleanor Laing, who said: "The duty of this House is not the protection of a discredited minister, it is the protection of vulnerable children."

That prompted Ms Hodge to accuse the Tories of exploiting children as a "convenient political tool".

"I want to work with everybody on these issues - they should be above party politics," she said.

"Where was the party opposite in the 1980s and the 1990s when local authorities were pleading for proper resources? Where were they?"

But Liberal Democrat spokesman Paul Burstow joined the attack on the delay of the consultation paper's publication.

That was done because Tony Blair's diary was full, he said.

"The needs of vulnerable children are taking second place to the prime minister's needs for a good news story," Mr Burstow went on.

The Victoria Climbie case was not an isolated incident, he added.

"Not every child unfortunately registers on the child protection radar. Most abuse in this country goes unreported. Every week one to two children die due to abuse or neglect."




SEE ALSO:
Blair backs children's minister
02 Jul 03  |  Politics
Hodge defends child minister role
30 Jun 03  |  Politics
Hodge is minister for children
13 Jun 03  |  Education
Climbie tragedy 'not the last'
27 Mar 03  |  England
Margaret Hodge
21 Oct 02  |  Politics



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