Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hodge Is Stripped of the Leading Role in New Child Care Policy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hodge Is Stripped of the Leading Role in New Child Care Policy

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE MURPHY

MARGARET HODGE'S position as Minister for Children looked increasingly vulnerable today as the furore grew over her behaviour in the Islington abuse scandal.

In a dramatic intervention, Downing Street cancelled tomorrow's launch of a hugely important policy paper on child protection - the response to the Victoria Climbie tragedy.

It was announced that the Prime Minister will now take the lead when the Green Paper is unveiled after the summer recess, probably in September - demoting Mrs Hodge to a walk-on part.

The delay was greeted with dismay by children's charities. The paper includes reforms to help prevent another case like that of Victoria, the eight-year-old murdered by her great-aunt in 2000.

Downing Street cited "diary pressures" for the delay, even though it had previously stressed the importance of the proposals. Children's organisations were led only days ago to expect the paper to appear tomorrow.

It prompted speculation that it was to make time for Mrs Hodge By Joe Murphy Whitehall Editor to be moved and for a new Children's Minister to read into the portfolio.

Mr Blair's spokesman denied the decision was prompted by the Evening Standard's revelations about her role in the Islington child care crisis. It was clear, however, that ministers hoped to buy time for criticism to blow over.

Shadow children's minister Eleanor Laing said: "This unforgivable delay means the Prime Minister is more keen to protect Margaret Hodge than to protect children from abuse. He must choose which is more important, the vital ministerial post he created or the crony he gave it to."

The NSPCC also said it was " disappointed" at the delay.

Only weeks ago Lord Laming, who led the inquiry into Victoria Climbie's death, expressed irritation about previous delays. He even warned ministers not to "think about going off for their summer holidays" until the response to his report was out.

Asked if he backed Mrs Hodge's appointment as Minister for Children, he added: "I have no comment to make about that."

Criticism of Mrs Hodge has increased since the Standard revealed she was warned about abuse of children in care more than two years before the scandal was exposed. …

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