Keith Joseph Blocked Inquiry 1972

In light of recent allegations concerning the late Keith Joseph, one of Margaret Thatcher’s most important mentors, this is important reading.


It wasn’t an email that was sent recently but a comment left on The Needle (copied below). No wonder I couldn’t find it. I thought I was going mad!

Keith Joseph pictured here with Margaret Thatcher. Keith Joseph pictured here with Margaret Thatcher.

Hansard links,

Hansard Nov 7 1972

Hansard Nov 9 1972

Hansard Nov 22 1972

Hansard Apr 3 1973

Left by Card2

What should happen now is a review of DHSS Minister Sir Keith Joseph’s refusal of inquiry 1972 re deaths of disabled children in Hackney Social Services care at the Beeches Ixworth Suffolk in the period 1966 to 1972.

The Commons requests for a public inquiry were from two Labour MPs Michael O’Halloran and Clinton Davis. It is possible that O’Halloran was influenced to ask his question by shadow minister Barbara Castle who had already been refused her request for a care inquiry into death and poor care standards at the Sue Ryder Home…

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One Comment on “Keith Joseph Blocked Inquiry 1972”

  1. Ian Pace says:

    This is also relevant in this context:

    This situation quickly changed as reaction to the problem escalated in late 1973 as a direct response to the official enquiry into the death of Maria Colwell.

    This can be seen by the amount of press coverage given to the problem. Between 1968 and early 1973 The Times carried little coverage of the problem—the only two entries of note followed the publication of the two NSPCC reports in 1969 and 197250—but between 10 October and 7 December 1973 it carried over 320 paragraphs on the problem. It is
    important to stress that nearly all of this focussed directly on the enquiry into the death of Maria Colwell. In fact the only reference to the case by The Times prior to the enquiry was an entry of 11 lines when Sir Keith Joseph announced he was setting up the enquiry.31 This is not to say that the case and the trial of the stepfather, Mr. Kepple, had not received some coverage prior to this, but that the decision to set up an official enquiry was crucial in establishing this case as a scandal and the issue as a major social problem. It would thus seem that the decision to set up the enquiry pre-empted the massive reaction that was to follow—rather than vice versa. It is thus important to ask why it was set up.

    As Minister for Social Services, Sir Keith Joseph made explicit his analysis of social deprivation in Britain and suggested solutions accordingly. He put particular emphasis on his notion of the cycle of deprivation, 52 which argued that deprived parents pass on to their children the very habits and behaviour which cause their condition, so that each generation reproduces the failings of the former. The main cause of social problems and deprivation was identified as the family, particularly certain ‘problem families’. This notion seems to have had an increasingly pervasive influence
    on the DHSS during the period, both in the way problems were conceptualized and the way priorities were set.53 As noted above most of the research and publicity on the problem of child abuse, particularly that by the NSPCC unit, argued that abusing families could be characterized as suffering from some pathology which was passed from generation to generation. 54 Cases of child abuse could thus be seen to epitomize the notion of social deprivation as denned by Sir Keith Joseph at that time.

    It is also my contention that the intervention of the Tunbridge Wells Study Group on Child Abuse was crucial in attracting Sir Keith’s interest to the problem and influencing DHSS policy. The Study Group was a self-appointed ad hoc group55 which saw itself as providing a link between the medical profession, the social services, the legal profession and the police. It wanted to share and to discuss with other professions and groups the views ‘which stem from Dr. Kempe in Denver and the NSPCC in Britain’. The group consisted of leading professionals including paediatricians, psychiatrists and social workers and was chaired by Dr. A. White Franklin, an eminent paediatrician.5″7 Formed in 1972, the group organized a conference which was held at Tunbridge Wells on 15-18 May 1973, attended by Sir Keith Joseph and others from the DHSS, and to which the DHSS gave some organizational and financial assistance. This timing is vital when we realize that the announcement of the enquiry into the death of Maria Colwell was made on 24 May, only a few days after the conference. It would certainly seem that Sir Keith’s attendance at Tunbridge Wells was a crucial factor in explaining why such an enquiry was set up when it was and in the manner in which it was. The DHSS had also, under Sir Keith’s guidance, set up an internal committee to look at the problem, and later published and circulated the report and resolutions of the Tunbridge Wells conference5* to coincide with the opening of the Maria Colwell enquiry. ‘While the timing of Maria Colwell and Tunbridge Wells was coincidental the combination was explosive’.59

    It also seems that the media, apart from simply giving more coverage to the problem, took a far more active, campaigning, crusading role at this time, and in doing so helped to consolidate it. This role was encouraged by other concerns. Firstly there was a growing disquiet about the work and efficiency of the recently reorganized social services departments. It was increasingly being suggested that the quality of social work had deteriorated as a consequence of reorganization, and that child care was receiving far too low a priority.60 Secondly it was apparent that the media had been concerned about the rights of foster parents, changing attitudes to the blood tie and the law relating to adoption for some time. In the late 1960s a number of cases had received publicity as ‘tug of love cases’ when the media took the side of the foster or prospective adoptive parent.61 The report of the Houghton Committee62 had been published in 1972, but no action had been forthcoming from the government. The enquiry into the death of Maria Colwell provided an excellent opportunity to campaign on both issues.

    51. The Times (1973) ‘In Brief, 25 May.
    52. See, for example, Sir Keith Joseph (1972) Speech to Pre-Schoo! Playgroups Association, 29 June.
    53. See Hall, P., Land, H., Parker, R. and Webb, A. (1975) Change. Choice and Conflict in Social Policy, Heinemann, pp. 68-69.
    54. This was perhaps made most clear by Wasserman, S. (1967) in The abused parent or the abused child’, Children, 14, pp. 175-79.
    55. White Franklin, A. (ed.) (1975) ‘Introduction’, Concerning Child Abuse, Churchill.
    56. Dr. A. White Franklin has had a long and distinguished career in paediatrics. Born in 1906, he is at present honorary consulting physician at the Department of Child Health, St Bartholomew’s Hospital; honorary consulting paediatrician, Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital; was formerly chairman of the Invalid Children’s Aid Association; cofounder and treasurer of the Osier Club; past president of the British Paediatric Association; president of the British Society for Medical History (1974-77).
    57. See ‘Personal View1 (1971) Br. Afed. J., 16 October. Dr. White Franklin wrote that he felt two things were needed: (i) free discussion between doctors and lawyers about ‘the nature of the problem’; (ii) a change in public opinion about the nature of the condition so that child abuse is regarded as ‘the result of mental Qlness in parents who were themselves emotionally deprived if not abused in their own childhood’. This teems consistent with Sir Keith’s ‘cycle of deprivation’.
    58. Tunbridge Wells Study Group on Non-Accidental Injury to Children (1973) Report and Resolutions (compiled by A. White Franklin), Medical Education and Information Unit of the Spastic* Society, DHSS.
    59. Personal communication with Dr. White Franklin.
    60. New Society Leading Article (1973) ‘Caring for Children’, 7 June.
    61. See Adamson, G. (1972) The Care-Takers, Bookstall Publications.
    62. Report of the Departmental Committee on the Adoption of Children (1972) Houghton,

    From Nigel Parton, ‘The Natural History of Child Abuse: A Study in Social Problem Definition’, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 9, No. 4 (1979), pp. 440-441.

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