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Child Protection

Volume 522: debated on Monday 24 January 2011

9. What factors she took into account in reaching her decision to merge the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the national crime agency. (35098)

Protecting vulnerable children is an absolute priority for the Government, and we believe that the work of CEOP is central to ensuring that children are protected at a national level. Whatever final decision we make on the future status of CEOP, we will carefully take full account of the particular characteristics needed to ensure that CEOP continues to thrive in the future.

CEOP is well respected for the excellent work it does, including in improving protection on social media—for example, the panic button on Facebook. The resignation of Jim Gamble will cause great concern to many parents, so what reassurance can the Government give that child safety online will be prioritised and enhanced under the new structure, and certainly in no way compromised?

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments because they allow me to underline the Government’s gratitude for the continuing work of CEOP and the importance that we place on it. That has certainly been highlighted by the thematic assessment that it is undertaking of the appalling incidents uncovered as a consequence of Operation Retriever. We are looking closely at the specific characteristics that need to be retained to ensure that CEOP continues to thrive, including a clearly delegated authority for its budget, operational independence and the ability for external partners to continue to work alongside it. We regard CEOP as very significant, and will continue to support it.

On that last point, I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that one of CEOP’s great strengths is the partnerships it has created with the private sector and children’s organisations. What evidence can he give to the House, therefore, that under his proposals CEOP will continue to be able to raise about one third of its running costs from sources outside Government?

An important point to make is that some people have suggested that were we to decide that CEOP should form part of the new national crime agency, it would in some way change its characteristics. The right hon. Gentleman will know probably better than most that CEOP is already part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, where it has been able to attract partners from the voluntary and community sector as well as the private sector. We are clear that that relationship needs to be maintained into the future, whatever the format or wherever CEOP sits when we finally reach our conclusions in the current review.

Cuts in police officer numbers will mean reductions in the numbers of specialist officers and specialist units. CEOP has been a great success, working with others to protect children. Children’s charities such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and people such as Sara Payne oppose its merger with the new national crime agency. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee has also expressed concern, and CEOP’S chief executive has resigned. Why are they all wrong and the Minister right?

We are still considering this issue, but the Home Secretary has said that her preferred option would be for CEOP to be part of the national crime agency, because of the strong links and the need for enforcement capability. However, we recognise the other functions that CEOP performs, which is why we are considering the matter carefully. It is also why I set out clearly the relevant factors and characteristics that we recognise in CEOP, and why we will ensure that it is protected.