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Independent Safeguarding Authority

Volume 715: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether a man who wishes to live with a woman who has one or more children living with her who are not his children will be obliged to get clearance from the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that helpful Answer. Is he aware that in the year ending March of this year, the main complaint and problem of the 17,406 children who telephoned ChildLine was physical abuse in the home and that a significant part of this was by people who were not their parents? Is he further aware that it is extremely likely that a child living with the natural mother but with a stepfather—especially if the stepfather is not married to the mother—is liable to be exposed to sexual and physical abuse? Do we not owe these children a duty of protection when their parents are unable or unwilling to protect them?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important issue. When I asked whether we have clear statistics which show whether abuse is by a stepparent or by a natural parent, I discovered that we do not have a breakdown of those figures; perhaps we should start collecting them. He is right about the large numbers, some of which are real, some of which are not. However, the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which the Question is about, is looking specifically at those seeking to work with, or volunteering to work with, at-risk adults and children. A child sexual offender review disclosure pilot is looking into the areas raised by the noble Lord.

My Lords, does the Minister realise what pleasure it gives to hear an Answer of such brevity as his original Answer? Will he encourage his noble friends on the Front Bench to give equally short Answers instead of waffling on?

My Lords, given that the Keeping Children Safe pilots, to which the Minister referred, are to be decided on fairly shortly, can he say whether the disclosure requirements will be sensible and measured and not encourage vigilantism?

My Lords, the scheme was carried out in Hampshire, Cambridgeshire, Cleveland and the whole of Warwickshire. It lasted for 12 months, finished in September and is being independently evaluated at the moment. The final evaluation report is due in January 2010. This will be looked at in a cold, sensible way because we absolutely must not go for vigilantism. There is an awful lot of passion in this area because it is such a horrible business. One needs to look at it in a cold, calm way; otherwise one could go to extremes which cause a lot of trouble.

What training is given to the ISA employees who have to decide who should be placed on the barred list?

My Lords, I know I have this information somewhere at my fingertips but I cannot find it at the moment. By narrowing this function down to the ISA, compared with the old system we will have fewer people, it will be easier to do the training and the costs will be slightly less. However, there will be one focus and it will pull in evidence from all the various departments. Perhaps I may get back in writing on the specifics of the specialist training.

My Lords, are the Minister and his department sufficiently aware that the majority of children who suffer physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect do so within the family home? Therefore, a substantial minority of abusers will be not the actual father. As the Minister suggested, it is extremely important that this should be looked at with some care so that one can tell the proportion of natural fathers and of stepparents. I understand that the Independent Safeguarding Authority should not be doing this, but someone should be looking at the issue of stepparents going into homes. I have not time to tell your Lordships’ House how many examples I have of that situation.

My Lords, as I have said, it is important that we get a breakdown of some of these statistics, because a lot of folklore has grown up around them. We are aware of how much violence of this kind goes on in the home. It is difficult, because women as well as men are committing it, as we know from some awful cases recently. We need the statistics; we need to look at them carefully; but I believe that this pilot scheme will enable things to be done.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that stepfathers are six times more likely to abuse children than natural fathers? There is adequate research to show that the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is well founded in research evidence.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that. I was not aware of those figures. When I asked yesterday whether we had a breakdown of them, I was told no. I shall go and thrash whoever was responsible and find out why this happened, but I thank my noble friend very much.

It is with pride and pleasure that I take my eight year-old stepgrand-daughter to and from the carol service practice in our local church. Do I need to have clearance from the Independent Safeguarding Authority?

My Lords, the answer is no, but the noble Lord raises an issue. I spoke about there being too much paranoia about this. We have to remember that while there have been horrible cases—indeed, the reason for the ISA is the Bichard report on the Soham murders—the vast majority of people in this country are decent people who have children and look after children and take them around. We must not let these safeguards drive us down the route of doing ludicrous things. However, we have a statutory duty to try to look after people and there has to be a balance. In general, we have got that balance right. The briefing that I read in preparation for this Question—it is why Questions are useful—suggests that we have gone slightly too far in one area, which I shall raise. However, generally, the balance is right, but we must not overreact to these things.