Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 2nd and 3rd Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 62: Child cruelty offence
40BZA: Clause 62, page 46, line 34, after “(1)” insert—
“( ) for “that age” substitute “the age of 18”;( ) after “wilfully” insert “recklessly”;( ) omit “unnecessary”;”
My Lords, I wish to speak also to Clause 62 stand part.
Amendment 40BZA would introduce to this very good clause three additional small changes to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. These are issues that have been raised with us by various children’s organisations, including Action for Children. The first part of the amendment seeks to probe the age to which a person may have responsibility for a young person. The Act currently applies to someone over the age of 16 who also has responsibility for someone “under that age”. The first part of this amendment therefore questions whether the responsibility should be for anyone under the age of 18, rather than 16, given that we have had numerous changes in the definition of children of late, and it varies from one bit of law to another.
The second element of the amendment would add the word “recklessly” after “wilfully”. This was contained in the Private Member’s Bill of my honourable friend Mark Williams MP in another place. Action for Children has suggested that we need to insert “recklessly” alongside “wilfully”. The introduction of “recklessly” would be in line with the interpretation of the 1981 Sheppard ruling, and with the interpretation of recklessness recently defined by the House of Lords in R v G. The term “recklessly” was identified in the Sheppard ruling as preferable to “wilfully”, which is considered difficult to interpret because it is unclear whether it applies to someone’s action or failure to act, or to their failure to foresee future consequences of their action or inaction. We suggest that “recklessly” is added to clarify this.
There can be a particular problem in cases of child neglect, which typically involve the failure to provide care, food, supervision, a safe environment and so on, so we need to cover foreseeing the future consequences of actions as well as the actions themselves. Adding “recklessly” also serves to protect parents and carers where there is any doubt that their action or inaction was due to mental incapacity or excusable ignorance of parenting skills. This is because, under the recklessness test, if there is any doubt that the behaviour of parents or carers was attributable to inherent incapacity to understand or change their behaviour, they will not be prosecuted. This would therefore protect them. “Recklessly” would also confirm the exclusion from liability of, for example, carers agreeing to high-risk medical treatment where there is no better medical option for a gravely ill child.
The final element of this amendment removes “unnecessary” from the requirement that the offence causes unnecessary suffering. The view of children’s organisations is that there is no unnecessary suffering that a person may cause, and that the term is antiquated and should be updated to a modern understanding. However, as my noble friend Lady Brinton has pointed out, certain suffering may be unavoidable; for example, where a child has suffered bereavement.
Perhaps the Minister will say whether the under-16 definition meets the modern understanding of what we mean by children. Would it not be better to cover all children to the age of 18? Why do the Government feel that “wilfully” alone is a better term to use than adding “recklessly”? Will they commit to looking again at this issue in the light of the enormous support that Mark Williams’s Private Member’s Bill had in another place? Will the Minister also say whether the term “unnecessary suffering” is clear enough in a modern context? Is there not a risk that this could prevent certain abuses from being prosecuted under the offence?
I shall also say a few words about the Question that the clause stand part of the Bill. We strongly support this clause, so tabling this Question is not about whether or not it should remain in the Bill, because it is a good clause. However, we have some questions about whether the new and welcome explicit reference to psychological harm will mean that other offences involving harm will now be read as referring only to physical harm. Specifically, offences related to domestic violence could potentially be undermined.
The intention of opposing the Question that the clause stand part of the Bill is therefore to ask the Minister to make a statement from the Dispatch Box that other offences will not be undermined by this welcome change; and to ask the Government to look again at whether it would be a positive step to amend other legislation to reflect psychological harm, in the same way as we are now affecting offences against children. Will the Minister confirm that this welcome change in Clause 62 will not have an adverse impact on including psychological harm within other offences, where it is not explicitly referred to—for example, domestic violence? I beg to move.
My Lords, to a considerable extent I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, but want to go rather further. I thank the Government for, and indeed welcome, Clause 62 as far as it goes. I should like to give particular thanks to the previous Minister of Justice in the other place, Damian Green MP, who has always been open to listening to Action for Children, for which I am largely speaking; I am also speaking for the NSPCC. He has been extremely helpful in giving us an opportunity to put our points of view to him. It is largely due to his diligence that the clause is in the Bill, so I thank him very much.
Clause 62, as far as it goes, is good but does not go far enough. The purpose of my Amendment 40BZB—supported particularly by Action for Children, and warmly supported by the NSPCC—is to update and bring into the 21st century Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. I have to tell noble Lords that 1933 was the year in which I was born, and it really is about time that we had 21st-century legislation. I am a relic of that period but the law should not be. I am supported in this amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, whom I thank very much.
The purpose is to identify in criminal terms serious neglect and emotional abuse. “Neglect” is in the 1933 Act but does not include the effect of neglect on children and all sorts of emotional abuse that children suffer. Neglect is the most widespread and potentially most serious of all forms of abuse because it is, in itself, largely neglected. It is not seen. There are appalling stories where the police have identified a problem and discovered that they could not take any action by, for instance, threatening the family with some sort of criminal proceedings because the abuse and neglect that they see does not include the emotional abuse of things such as frozen awareness. Some noble Lords may know what I mean by that—for example, a child aged two sitting in a corner, not moving because of the way in which they have been treated. The police, who may come into a family, see and understand this but have to go away and tell the social workers, who may or may not take family proceedings in the magistrates’ court but are not obliged to do so. The police cannot warn the family that if they do not mend their ways they may become the subject of criminal proceedings.
The purpose of this updated legislation is not to put families in the criminal court but to try to push them, by a combination of threat and cajoling, into behaviour that will save the children who are in their care. My amendment, therefore, puts in modern wording such as,
“physically or emotionally ill-treats, physically or emotionally neglects”,
and removes altogether the words “unnecessary suffering”. I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that “unnecessary” should not be there, but “suffering” is not the word we use nowadays. In the Children Acts and other adoption and child-related legislation we talk about “serious harm”, “substantial harm” or some such phrase. One should get rid of “unnecessary suffering” and get this legislation to join the rest of legislation on children by using “serious harm”. As regards the criminal side of this matter, we then need to explain what “serious harm” means. Proposed new subsection (6) in my amendment sets that out.
It is with some hesitation that I do not entirely agree with the noble Baroness on proposed new subsection (6)(b). I have to say that having battled with the Minister in the other place over inserting “recklessly” instead of “wilfully”, and being told that there was a firm view against doing that, Action for Children, the NSPCC and I, together with some MPs from the Commons, believed that we should explain what “wilfully” means. That is why we have put in,
“that a person with responsibility for a child foresaw that an act or omission regarding that child would be likely to result in harm, but nonetheless unreasonably took that risk”.
That allows the word “wilful” to remain, since the Government seem to want it, but also explains it so that everyone—particularly the police, and indeed people who ill treat their children—understand exactly what it is about.
I very much hope that the Government will now listen to what is being said in this House, although they failed to do so in the other place. I very much urge that this should be looked at again.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 40BZC, which is in my name. I, too, welcome this clause. My amendment, which is promoted by the Children’s Society, finds a different way to address the same issues we have already debated in this group. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said in her introduction, there are currently a number of inconsistencies in the law. My amendment finds a particular way to try to address them.
The amendment changes the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to increase the age of a child victim of cruelty and/or neglect from under 16 to under 18. I argue that it is a simpler approach than some of the other amendments in the group. It would bring the criminal law into line with the rest of child protection legislation and would send a signal that 16 to 18 year- olds should be protected in the same way as children who are younger than 16.
The latest statistics, with which I was supplied by the Children’s Society, show that, in 2013, 14,290 children aged over 16 were children in need because of either abuse or neglect. A further 1,110 children aged over 16 were recognised as children at risk of significant harm and placed on a child protection plan. Of those, some 290 children had emotional abuse listed as the main category of their abuse.
As some members of the Committee will know, I sit in family court, youth court and adult court as a magistrate. I can clearly say that the most disturbing of those three jurisdictions is family court. You deal with some extremely vulnerable people—and some extremely vulnerable young people. It would be no surprise to anyone who works in either the youth or family jurisdiction that 16 and 17 year-olds are among the most vulnerable groups we deal with. I believe that they should be given the same protections as those aged under 16.
I rise to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on behalf of myself and my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, who chairs the Children’s Society. The Serious Crime Bill rightly seeks to update the law on neglect of children. We welcome the Bill and the Government’s commitment to seeking to improve the response to victims of emotional neglect. The current law is outdated and inadequate. We also support the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
The UK is one of the only countries in the world that fails to recognise emotional neglect as the crime it is. It is to the Government’s credit that they seek to address that through the Bill. However, I believe that the Bill should go further and increase the age a child can be defined as a victim of cruelty and neglect from under 16 to under 18, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, seeks to do through his amendment. By changing the law in this way we can, for the first time, offer protection to all children from cruelty and neglect.
I, too, am grateful to the Children’s Society for its briefing, and I shall offer a story that it gives of Jessica. Jessica was known to social services because of the neglect and abuse she experienced in her family. When she was 16 the relationship between her and her family deteriorated and she was forced to move out of her family home. In the next year and a half she experienced unsuccessful placements in a hostel and bed and breakfast accommodation. Experiences of neglect at home made it difficult for her to form meaningful relationships. During that time, starting with her first unsuccessful placement in a hostel, Jessica became a victim of sexual exploitation, started using drugs and developed mental health problems. Stories such as Jessica’s mean that we need to ensure that this measure applies to all children under 18.
This definition is the one enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is in the Children Act 1989, which governs what safeguarding responses children should receive if there are concerns about their well-being. The PACE codes of conduct for the police were amended last year so that all under-18s are treated as children. From a safeguarding point of view, children should be viewed as being under 18. Sixteen and 17 year-olds can be very vulnerable. The statistics mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, showed that. Yet they do not always get access to the services that younger children can receive. Professionals often see 16 and 17 year-old children as more resilient than younger children. They are often seen as more able to avoid abuse, or more grown-up and therefore more able to cope. It does not help that the criminal law aiming to deal with the perpetrators of child neglect does not cover 16 and 17 year-olds. This sends all the wrong signals that they are not as vulnerable as younger children.
The Government’s other reforms increasingly recognise that 16 and 17 year-olds are children. For example, they are not normally treated as adults under the benefits system. The position has recently been reinforced through the rules of the new universal credit system—a basic condition of entitlement for which is that the claimant is at least 18. That was debated in this House when the Welfare Reform Act 2012 went through Parliament. I would like to hear from the Minister why children aged 16 or over cannot be considered at risk of neglect and why the new law on emotional neglect should not apply to them.
My Lords, I shall speak very briefly as I hope that the Minister will take these amendments away and come back with a combination. I support the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and her companions in their amendment, but I am absolutely with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in relation to the age of these children.
Some years ago the Social Research Unit at Dartington produced a compendium of all the research about emotional abuse in children. It showed that the development of children who had been emotionally abused was more severely impeded in the long term than the development of those who had been physically abused. This is different from sexual abuse, which is another thing. Children who had experienced physical abuse were more likely to be able to survive and grow through it than those who had been emotionally abused. Those children whose parents had never made a proper emotional contact with them were unlikely to make relationships later. So, in terms of mental health and the economics of the situation, looking after these children, and doing so until they are 18, makes really good sense.
My Lords, I rise to make two small points on Amendment 40BZB, so ably introduced by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss. First, I congratulate the Government on clarifying in Clause 62 that psychological effects on children have equal importance to physical effects. As my noble friend has just said, it is also my professional and personal experience that psychological damage to children is often more serious than physical injury—although, of course, it depends on the severity of both. This is an important step forward, albeit not an entirely new one. I know that the legislation has always alluded to psychological or psychological-type abuse. I strongly support Amendment 40BZB and hope very much that the Government will be able to support it, or something very like it. It seems to me that the clarification is altogether helpful.
I welcome proposed subsection (6)(b), which defines the term “wilfully”, and have no worries about it. Further elaboration will no doubt come in regulations. I should be grateful if the Minister would assure the Committee that in those regulations the Government will clarify that a parent with a drug addiction will be regarded as not having the competence to foresee that an act or omission regarding a child would be likely to result in harm, but nonetheless as unreasonably taking that risk. Clearly, if a drug-dependent parent is causing physical or psychological harm to a child, the matter must be dealt with. Again, I hope that regulations will be put in place to ensure that resources for the treatment of the addiction will be put in place and that the parent will be expected to make good use of them in order to avoid continuing damage to a child.
I think that the Minister knows that I do not believe in being soft on drugs, if a drug-dependent person is causing harm to others and above all to children. However, for the child, the best possible option is for the parent’s addiction to be brought under control through good-quality treatment and for the child to remain with their parent and for the parent or parents to avoid prosecution.
That brings me to my second point. As I have already said, full recognition of the importance of psychological injury to children through emotional abuse is most welcome. I want to underline that point; I do not question it for a moment. However, whatever the abuse, prosecution and lengthy court proceedings can be extremely damaging for entire families, including the children. Prosecution or care proceedings often take an enormous length of time and really must be seen as the last resort. I hope that clarity in the law about the existence of emotional abuse as a crime will ensure that resources are devoted to psychological treatments that will prevent such abuse or bring it to an end in order to minimise the use of the courts in this area as far as possible. I should be grateful if the Minister would give us some assurances on these points.
My Lords, I support Amendment 40BZB in the name of my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss. I am sure that many of your Lordships are aware that very often there is a cycle of family dysfunction from one generation to the next. For instance, we know that many of the young women who come through the care system are more likely to have their children removed from them in due course.
One of the results of early neglect in childhood can be the development of a character which is very resistant to advice or intervention from others. Being rejected by one’s parents at an early age can give rise to a personality that is very wilful and resistant to others, understandably, because such people may distrust others around them. I can see this amendment being particularly helpful when one thinks of a parent who may be very wilful, who may believe absolutely, “I am not going to be told by anybody else what to do. I know how to bring up my own children”. That wilfulness may be influenced by their early experience. Dealing recently with a middle-aged man whose mother was an alcoholic and talking to the health professionals dealing with him, it was striking that no one could tell him what to do. He resisted all attempts to provide him with treatment and any advice from those around him, even the professionals.
The particular advantage of this amendment is that it may help individuals who are very resistant to taking advice from professionals. It may just be the extra incentive that will give them the chance to try something different with their children or to seek help for themselves when they are very distrustful of other people and professionals. I hope that is helpful.
My Lords, I very much support my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, because her amendment absolutely stresses this emotional side that we are talking about and which has been in the background for far too long.
However, I am on my feet only because I think that the point made by my noble friend Lady Howarth is absolutely right. All these measures, and particularly the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, need to be brought in to the Bill, which should be amended. For that reason, I very much hope that the Minister will do just that.
My Lords, at Second Reading a month ago, I committed the cardinal sin of making some very specific and detailed comments of a nature belonging more to a Committee stage than otherwise. I am not going to make up for it by making a Second Reading speech today, but I very much welcome the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
I have little doubt that the draftsmen of Clause 1 of the 1933 Act intended that “cruelty” should relate to both physical and non-physical cruelty. However, in 1981 in the case of Sheppard, this House caused some confusion in relation to that matter by placing what might be described as a somewhat heavy gloss upon the words of statute. The combined effect of the amendment and Clause 62 is that the situation will be made abundantly clear. I very greatly welcome that.
I also take the point that in so far as defining cruelty in terms of serious harm, a very great bringing together of two concepts has been achieved; that is, the definition of “significant harm” in Section 31 of the Children Act 1989, which of course is the section that sets up the machinery for the obtaining of a care order, is now almost exactly the same—or so near as to make no difference whatever—as the definition of the criminal offence that this clause brings about.
I take wholeheartedly the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that the last thing one wants to do is to bring these civil situations into a criminal court. Sometimes that is inevitable. I also take the point that it is right that social workers and those involved in the protection of children in the civil field should, as it were, have the same hymn sheet as those who deal with those situations in the criminal field. They are two different fields, which should be mutually exclusive if humanly possible, but nevertheless it is right that the same standard should apply to both.
Profound apologies. I was discerning perhaps a twinkle of support this side and one welcomes every little support one can get in this place. I apologise profusely to the noble Baroness.
In so far as “wilfully” is concerned, this is an extremely important development. Lawyers well appreciate that “wilful” can mean an act of deliberate commission or omission. On the other hand, intelligent lay men, be they magistrates, jurors or in any other capacity, might find it very difficult to consider that something which is pure omission can be wilful.
Then there arises the almost theological question of whether “recklessly” should be included. I think—but I might be corrected, and for this reason I shall turn to the authorities on the other side—that in so far as the statutory definition of wilful is set out here, it is in fact the classic definition adopted by this House in a case of recklessness called Caldwell in the 1980s. It was the case of a tramp, if I remember rightly, going into unoccupied premises and striking matches, who was found guilty of arson on the basis of recklessness. If am right about that, there is no dispute about the difference between recklessness and wilfulness in this connection.
I will make a general comment on Clause 62, which will not have to be repeated on clause stand part. Section 1 of the 1933 Act is 80 years old. I am one year older than the noble and learned Baroness, and therefore I was about a year old when this became law. The verbiage is much older than that. The verbiage comes from the Poor Law Amendment Act 1868, virtually all of it from Section 37.
That Act was passed in order to deal with the problem of the Peculiar People. The Peculiar People were very devout people who believed that, whenever there was illness in the family, you should not go anywhere near a doctor. You should pray to Almighty God, and accept the will of Almighty God. The consequence was that, when death occurred, and many of these people were prosecuted for manslaughter, a humane jury found them not guilty because of their utter devoutness, although, of course, it represented utter unreasonableness. It was to deal with that particular issue that Section 37 was passed.
This means that we have today still the remnant cobwebs of that Victorian verbiage. Victorian verbiage in a statute sometimes can serve us well. The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is a classic example which will be with us for many generations, I have no doubt. However, there are cases in which one can look afresh at the whole situation and possibly create an instrument that is more consistent with the needs of the 21st century.
My Lords, I shall be brief. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has rightly set out in some detail a strong case for Amendment 40BZB, with which we are associated. I will not attempt to repeat the points that have already been so effectively and powerfully made. The need to recognise in the Bill that harm can be caused by emotional ill treatment and emotional neglect as well as physical ill treatment and neglect is important, as is the substitution of “serious harm”, which is consistent with other areas of criminal law, for “unnecessary suffering”, including the inference that there can be necessary suffering.
The amendment also defines “harm” and “wilfully”, with the latter definition stating that the person has to have the capacity to foresee that an act or omission would be likely to result in harm but none the less unnecessarily took that risk.
We also support the amendment moved in the name of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede that it should be specific that the age of children to whom a child cruelty offence applies is “under 18”.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Walmsley for moving her amendment, to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss—we are delighted to see her in her place, taking part in our debate—and to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for outlining their respective amendments. They have all brought extensive knowledge to this debate. We have missed my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who cannot be in her place this afternoon. I am sure the whole House wishes her well.
The amendments all relate to the scope of the offence of child cruelty in Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Before I address the amendments, it may assist the Committee if I explain our approach in Clause 62. I am grateful for the general welcome which the clause has received. I am grateful, too, for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. Many of those welcoming the Bill spoke in support of the amendments. That I understand, and I will try to address their concerns.
The offence in Section 1 of the 1933 Act is committed when a person over the age of 16 who has responsibility for a child under that age wilfully assaults, ill treats, neglects, abandons or exposes that child in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health, including any mental derangement. That is the law as it stands. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has been among those who have argued for some time—as she has pointed out, in her discussions with my right honourable friend Damian Green in his ministerial capacity and with me— that the offence of child cruelty in the 1933 Act lacks the necessary clarity when it comes to tackling psychological suffering or injury to children.
The Government’s view has been that the current offence already covers relevant behaviour which is likely to cause psychological suffering or injury. However, to ascertain whether there were any gaps in the law, officials at the Ministry of Justice engaged with the relevant experts in England and Wales at the end of last year. A ministerial round table on the issue was also held in October 2013.
Some of those who responded to the Ministry of Justice expressed concern that the offence of child cruelty might currently be restricted to physical harm. Others felt that some of the language in Section 1 was out of date—the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, explained why some of it indeed dated back to Victorian times.
The Government’s conclusion in light of the responses received was that while the current law in Section 1 of the 1933 Act is still effective in that it covers cruelty likely to cause non-physical, as well as physical, harm and the courts are able to interpret it appropriately, it could benefit from further clarity.
Clause 62 will provide this clarity by making it explicit that the child cruelty in Section 1 of the 1933 Act deals with both physical and psychological suffering or injury and update some of the rather archaic language by replacing outdated references to “mental derangement” and the concept of “misdemeanour”.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee in tabling her amendments, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in speaking to them, sought an assurance that introducing into Section 1 an explicit reference to psychological harm will not mean that references to suffering or injury in other legislation will be read as not extending to psychological harm—in other words, that there is no extension of the concept that we are seeking to put right here to other legislation. I can assure my noble friend that Clause 62 is intended only to clarify the meaning of suffering or injury in the context of Section 1 of the 1933 Act. It reflects the Government’s view that the term already includes, by implication, suffering or injury of a psychological nature. It is not intended to change any other statute by implication.
We have before us a number of further proposed amendments to Section 1 of the 1933 Act. The question for the Committee is whether the amendments made to that section by Clause 62 go far enough in delivering the necessary clarity in the criminal law on child cruelty. The amendments in this group are designed to test that issue. I know that Action for Children, which has campaigned assiduously for the reform of Section 1, has argued for further changes. I am grateful to that organisation and to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for recently meeting the then Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, my right honourable friend Damian Green, to discuss this matter further.
There is some overlap between Amendments 40BZA, 40BZB and 40BZC, particularly as regards the requirement that one of the prohibited acts in Section 1 of the 1933 Act is committed “wilfully”. I shall deal with that aspect of the amendments first, because it is important to understand the full implications of “wilfully”. I understand the intention behind amendment 40BZA to replace the reference to “wilfully” with the word “recklessly”. Amendment 40BZB retains the reference to “wilfully”, but seeks to define it as meaning,
“that a person with responsibility for a child foresaw that an act or omission regarding that child would be likely to result in harm, but nonetheless unreasonably took that risk”.
There is a well established body of case law that sets out the meaning of the term “wilful” in this context. Indeed, only last night an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, included the word “wilful”. It is a widely understood legal term. It clearly provides, among other things, that the term “wilful” already implies an intentional or reckless state of mind. We are concerned that inserting a definition of “wilfully” into Section 1 of the 1933 Act would risk creating uncertainty in respect of the significant number of other existing offences subject to the “wilful” mental state; for example, the offence of wilfully neglecting a person lacking mental capacity under Section 44 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, accepts that the meaning of “wilful” may well be established in case law, but argues that police officers, social workers and others do not really understand what the term means in the context of child cruelty. As I said, the term is accurately referred to in the Crown Prosecution Service and relevant police guidance. However, the Ministry of Justice is liaising with the Department for Education, the CPS and the police as to whether any updates or amendments to the relevant guidance would be necessary to ensure that the effect of Section 1 of the 1933 Act, as amended by this clause, is clearly understood and appropriately applied by front-line professionals. We feel that the concerns behind this aspect of these amendments would be best dealt with through guidance rather than in the Bill.
Amendment 40BZA, together with Amendment 40BZC, also seeks to amend the offence so that it applies to cruelty against a person under 18 rather than, as now, under 16. Young people aged 16 and 17 are lawfully able to be married and are generally deemed capable of living independently of their parents. Those under the age of 16 are generally more vulnerable and dependent upon those who care for them. For this reason, we believe that it is right that Section 1 of the 1933 Act is focused on protecting persons under the age of 16.
I now turn to other aspects of Amendment 40BZB. The effect of proposed new subsection (4) would be to stipulate that two of the five “behaviours”, ill treatment and neglect, can be either physical or emotional in nature. I have made it clear that, in our view, non-physical ill treatment is already covered by the existing law. Should non-physical neglect also be so covered? The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has explained her view that this would allow police and social services to intervene earlier in cases where they suspect emotional neglect of the child is occurring. However, in this context, the term “emotional” has no clear or settled meaning in law and is difficult to define. Some have already criticised the intention behind Clause 62—incorrectly, in our view—as being to criminalise relatively trivial emotional neglect, such as not buying a child the latest toy for which he or she is clamouring. I use that as an example of some of the criticism that the Government have come under in tabling Clause 62. Although “emotional neglect” would, if the amendment were accepted, have to lead to “serious harm” to constitute an offence—and the courts have long held that such suffering or injury must be more than trivial—accepting this part of the amendment might fuel such concerns. I would not want that to happen. That said, we will consider the proposal further before Report.
New subsection (5) would require the likely impact on the child constituting the offence to amount to “serious harm” or “injury to health” rather than “unnecessary suffering”. Harm is further defined by new subsection (6). Amendment 40BZA also addresses the issue, but it simply omits the word “unnecessary”. I am aware that some consider the reference to the term “unnecessary” as archaic and not relevant to modern times, although Amendment 40BZB defines harm broadly to include the impairment of,
“physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development”.
It seems to us that the overall impact of the amendment would be to raise the threshold of unnecessary suffering to serious harm. Although the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has argued that it would be beneficial to raise the threshold in that way, because fewer parents would face trivial prosecutions, it seems to us that if serious harm were to be so interpreted by the courts, prosecutions could be harder to secure—and not just in trivial cases. There is a risk that the effectiveness of the offence would, in turn, be undermined. However, that the main purpose of the law is to protect children and we are not convinced of the need to amend that aspect of Section 1 does not mean that we will not consider those suggestions further.
I think that I have addressed the question of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. As for the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about drugs and culpability, whether someone under the influence of drugs is capable of behaving recklessly is a difficult issue, which would depend on the circumstances of the case. It may not be appropriate to stipulate that in guidance, but I agree that where child cruelty arises as a result of drug dependency, support services need to be able to address that. I accept that; I think that that runs through the debates that the noble Baroness and I have on drug issues. It might be worth me writing yet again to her on that issue, because it is an interesting area of policy, and I will copy everyone else in on that.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned the difficulty of providing help to people who are vulnerable in that regard. He is right to do so. The Government very much understand that that is one difficulty that one has in the whole area of child neglect: the parents themselves have often suffered neglect in their childhoods. His point was well made. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, to whom I have already referred, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham all spoke generally in support of what the Government seek to do but also felt that we ought to consider the contents of the amendments.
I would like to talk about a particular aspect that perhaps goes back to the portrait of the past painted by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan; going way beyond that auspicious year of 1933, back to the Victorian 1860s, with the proposal to remove subsection (2)(b) of section (1) of the 1933 Act. That subsection paints a tragic picture. It might be a scene from Hogarth’s famous print “Gin Lane”; someone going to bed drunk and unknowingly suffocating a child who shared that bed. The subsection makes it clear that if a child under the age of three dies in those tragic circumstances the offence of child cruelty has been committed. The subsection may seem anachronistic and redundant, but sadly children can still die in those sorts of circumstances today. This clarification might be useful to police and prosecutors. Indeed, to remove it might cast doubt on whether the child cruelty offence is still applicable in that situation. However, the Government will think again about whether the subsection needs to remain on the statute book.
I hope I have shown by the tone in which I have addressed the amendments that the Government take seriously the points raised by noble Lords. I have indicated that we will be considering some matters further. I cannot commit to bringing forward any government amendments to Clause 62 on Report, but equally I am not ruling out that possibility. In the knowledge that over the summer—we have the advantage of long gap in which we can consider these matters before Report—we will reflect very carefully on all the points have been made in this debate, I hope that my noble friend will be content to withdraw her Amendment 40BZA and will support, as indeed I am sure she will, Clause 62 standing part of the Bill.
I have a few words of praise for the Government. I thank the Minister for his response and for recognising the importance of what my noble friend Lady Meacher said about the need to intervene early to support families to get off alcohol and drugs. When it comes to the family courts, the Government have substantially supported the family drug and alcohol courts, which originated from district judge Nicholas Crichton in the Inner London Family Proceedings Court and ensure that such families have judicial continuity over a 12 year period and that there are good interventions to get the parents off drugs and alcohol so that they can keep their children and not have their children taken into care. It is very much to the Government’s credit that they funded and evaluated this work and now the president of the family court is looking to roll it out across the country. Many families will benefit because of the good work of the Government and this will avoid unnecessary cruelty to their children.
My Lords, we have had a very good debate. Quite clearly there is a great deal of consensus across the House. I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said. I hope that we can have further discussions about this between now and Report and that we come to some consensus as to what may or may not need clarifying. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for agreeing with me that we need to level up the age at which we consider children to be vulnerable. They may be able to get married legally, but that does not mean that they are not vulnerable. There is also considerable consensus that the word “wilfully” needs clarifying and there have been various suggestions about how that should be done. The Government believe that we need Clause 62 even though the law already allows child abuse to be interpreted as psychological. In the same sort of way, although there may already be agreed definitions of “wilfully”, there may still be a need to clarify that in one way or another, based on the various amendments that we have had. I am sure we can come to some agreement about how that might be done. There has also been consensus about the need to remove the word “unnecessary” or perhaps the whole term “unnecessary suffering” and to change it in some other way.
I hope that the Minister will be able to accept that we need further discussions about this between now and Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 40BZA withdrawn.
Amendments 40BZB and 40BZC not moved.
Clause 62 agreed.
40BZD: After Clause 62, insert the following new Clause—
“Child cruelty: duty on police officers to liaise
(1) Where an officer is investigating a potential offence under section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (cruelty to persons under 16), as amended by section 62 of this Act, he or she must notify the Safeguarding Children and Adults Board of the relevant local authority.
(2) A notification must include details of the child or children who are considered to be the victims of the offence.
(3) The Secretary of State may produce further guidance on the form a notification under this section may take.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 40BZE, which follows on from it. These amendments support much of the debate we had on the previous group but move us into the practical arena rather than the one of legislative definitions. In the past year, the NSPCC helpline dealt with 8,000 contacts about emotional neglect and abuse, and 5,500 cases were so serious that they were referred to local authorities for further action. This was a substantial increase on previous years. I am glad that the Minister recognised that clarity is required on this difficult issue of defining emotional, social, psychological or behavioural neglect.
Alongside these statistics, new evidence shows that child protection professionals do not have a clear sense of the law in relation to neglect and that the law is sometimes not being applied consistently. My concern in these amendments is to ensure that there are mechanisms in place for the moment a potential offence of child cruelty has been reported, whether to police or local authorities. In essence, there must be a case conference with all the relevant stakeholders from all the different departments and, crucially, the child concerned should have access to child and adolescent mental health services. The reason for this is that two years ago the NSPCC carried out an online survey which showed that only 7% of social work professionals believed that timely action was taken in response to neglect and only 4% thought that it was likely or very likely that timely action would be taken to respond to emotional abuse. That 4% is a shocking statistic and exactly why we are having this debate about being more specific in the legislation on this. That contrasts with 75% of respondents to the survey who said that they were very confident that timely action would be taken in response to physical and sexual abuse.
That is the point of these amendments, which may or may not be appropriate in this legislation, as I mentioned in my Second Reading speech. I would be very grateful to hear from the Minister that there is some cross-departmental discussion about how we ensure that this is framed in guidance to social workers, health professionals—whether doctors, school nurses or district nurses—and anybody else involved in a child’s life, such as at sports clubs and certainly including teachers in schools. We need to make sure that the victims of this are as well covered as the offence and the offender.
That brings me to my final point. This will be effective only if professionals in this area have adequate training to recognise and understand the very particular problems of emotional and psychological abuse. I am reminded of a debate we had during the passage of the Children and Families Bill when my noble friend Lady Walmsley and I tabled some amendments about exorcism and the emotional trauma that some children face, particularly when exorcism is carried out with them present. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said at the time that we did not need a specific law on this, and she was absolutely right because there is some legislation within the current framework—the problem was that it was not being carried out by the professionals. That is why these amendments have been proposed. I will not repeat the points that were made in the previous group, but this supports all those made by noble friends and other colleagues. I beg to move.
My Lords, I briefly want to support—and not support—the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I support her obvious wish that proper liaison between authorities should take place in terms of safeguarding. All of the codes and practices are already there, but what is not there is the available time. It is not that social workers are not trained, although they could do with more training—certainly around the issues of satanic and witchcraft abuse, although that concerns a tiny proportion of the cases. However, on the matter of broader emotional abuse, social workers are pretty keyed in to what is needed. The problem is that they know that they do not have the time to go in and do the work that is necessary to help families, and they have no wish in these circumstances to end up removing families through the courts.
The real answer—and I speak as a vice-president of the Local Government Association—is to look at how local authorities are using their resources and whether enough of those resources are going towards safeguarding children and their general protection and prevention from abuse. We need to look at whether we are asking the professions—social workers in particular, but also the police—to carry out a totally impossible task. If you are working day to day intervening in cases, you have very little time left to liaise with your colleagues. As a professional who has undertaken this work over many years, I know just how much time it takes to ring round, organise conferences, ensure that the appropriate information is available to everyone and pull all of that together.
So the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is absolutely right. We need to make sure that the safeguarding co-ordination works well. We need to make sure that the local authority designated officers, to whom these situations have to be reported, have enough time to think through what the action should be, and are able to take it.
My Lords, I welcome this amendment. I would just like to highlight to your Lordships concerns about the availability of child and adolescent mental health services. In recent information, the mental health charity for young people Young Minds has drawn attention to the fact that,
“34 out of 51 … local authorities in England have reduced their CAMHS budget since 2010. Derby City Council reported a cut in its spending by 41% since 2010. … Overall, local authorities in London have cut their CAMHS budgets by 5% since 2010. 8 out of 12 councils … have reduced their CAMHS budgets”.
So there is a real concern that, although the principle is absolutely right here, the CAMHS services, which are so vital, have unfortunately often been cut. I was very pleased to meet, with members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, the honourable Mr Lamb MP, who is the Minister responsible for this area. It was very encouraging that he was aware that a lot of work needed to be done in this particular area. In addition, the Select Committee on Education in the other place is producing a report on child and adolescent mental health services, which I am sure many of us will look forward to—I believe it will be produced in October.
My Lords, I am sorry that other commitments prevented me from speaking at Second Reading on this important Bill, but I have followed its passage closely and I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the briefings that he has given, which I have attended. I want to make one point on the new duty proposed by my noble friend Lady Brinton, and the same point applies—so I shall not repeat the point a second time—to the detailed proposal for mandatory reporting, which may be made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I am reassured that my noble friend Lady Brinton was suggesting that, to some extent, her amendment had an exploratory nature.
The point that I wanted to make is an appeal for balance and care on the new regulatory requirements that we put in this Bill. Obviously, I share the horror at recent cases of abuse and concern about inadequate enforcement in the past, which has led to many of the problems that have come to haunt us. However, I fear the imposition of bureaucratic new duties and associated offences on liaison or reporting—that outcome can often be achieved by a good service and by common sense. This Bill brings in a number of new measures, which are good, but we should not be labouring it with extra measures, which could have the perverse effect of preventing a focus on the vital areas needed. We need to ensure that the offences in the Bill are properly enforced in a focused way by those concerned. I would have a concern if we sought to write these amendments into the Bill. We should ask ourselves, as the Minister hinted that he would during his summer of reflection, exactly what is needed and what would be best, given the inevitably limited resources that you have in these very important areas.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Brinton for bringing this important matter before the Committee. We all recognise that every child should be protected from sexual and other forms of abuse and neglect, and this Government are absolutely committed to doing everything that we can to ensure that they have the full protection they deserve. In recent years—I scarcely need to say this to noble Lords—we have seen appalling cases of organised and persistent child sex abuse. This includes abuse by celebrities as well as the systematic abuse of vulnerable girls in Rochdale, Oxford and other towns and cities. Some of these cases have exposed failures by public bodies to take their duty of care seriously, and some have shown that the organisations responsible for protecting children from abuse, including the police, social services and schools, have failed to work together properly.
That is why, in April 2013, the coalition Government established the national group on sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, which is led by the Minister for Crime Prevention, my right honourable friend Norman Baker. This cross-government group was established to learn the lessons from some of the cases that I have mentioned and the resulting reviews and inquiries. As a result of its work, we now have better guidance for the police and prosecutors and better identification of children at risk of exploitation through the use of local multiagency safeguarding hubs.
I assure my noble friend Lady Brinton and other Members of the Committee that we are aware that there is more to be done. Significantly, as I informed the House on Monday last week, the Government are establishing an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. It will begin its work as soon as possible after the appointment of all the members of the panel. I hope to be able to report back to the House with details of those members and the terms of reference for the inquiry panel very soon.
Meanwhile, the work of the national group continues apace. As part of this work, the group has considered the issue of mandatory reporting and whether there is a need for some form of more targeted statutory reporting regime to deliver better protection for children and vulnerable adults. However, the picture here is, by definition, a very complex one. Some evidence suggests that, in the USA, Australia and Canada, mandatory reporting legislation has been accompanied by significant increases in the number of referrals of suspected child abuse and neglect made to the authorities, a large percentage of which in the end were not substantiated. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, pointed out, there is a risk that child protection services can be diverted from the task of increasing the safety of our most vulnerable children to evidence gathering and investigation of cases that are eventually unsubstantiated and which often lead to significant disruption of family life. Those words from the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, are important to bear in mind.
Having said that, there is an emerging consensus that action must be taken to address the clear failures in public protection in the past. Indeed, noble Lords may have seen remarks just last week by Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC—an organisation which has the protection of children at its heart—which supported the introduction of a criminal offence making covering up and hiding child abuse within institutions illegal. Those and other views are an important contribution to the debate, and I would like to assure the Committee that this issue is being actively and carefully considered. The primary concern from all involved is the uncertainty about the number of reports that would result and, if there were large numbers, how those reports would be triaged to ensure that the most serious cases were identified. It is hugely important that, if we are to propose changes of this kind, we make absolutely sure that we get it right.
It is against this background that I now turn to the detail of Amendments 40BZD and 40BZE. Those would place a requirement on police, when investigating a child cruelty offence under Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, to inform the local safeguarding children and adults board of the investigation. Subsequently, the local authority would be placed under a duty to liaise with relevant officials, such as those at the child’s school, social services or the police. My noble friend seems to be addressing concerns that relevant children’s services are not sufficiently joined up in their response to child safeguarding. That concern has of course been borne out by several recent serious case reviews. I concur absolutely with the intention behind these amendments. As I have indicated, the Government are already committed to considering these issues. However, as I have also said, there is no easy solution. While we accept that this is a pressing issue, such consideration will necessarily take some time. In advocating a change in the law, Peter Wanless has acknowledged the need for further discussions as to the form of any new reporting duty and to whom it should apply.
It is right that the Government take the time to consider this important issue fully, in the light of all the evidence and having considered the views of the many experts and stakeholders, who rightly hold strong views. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, pointed out that there are other factors that have to be borne in mind. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, pointed out that the issue is far from simple and there are also funding questions to be considered. I say to noble Lords that their views will be very welcome in this context. I know that a number of Members of this House have already been involved in this important debate. I encourage others to be involved in providing us with views and information on which we can base a decision that achieves the objective of safeguarding children.
The Government recognise concerns about our current safeguarding system and understand the public’s anxiety about the reporting of child abuse. They are taking this issue very seriously and want to make sure that any action they take achieves the desired outcome of improving safeguarding for all our children and vulnerable adults. Given the complexities involved, it is right that we look carefully at this matter. The new independent inquiry panel is also relevant here. For these reasons, I cannot offer my noble friend an assurance that the Government will legislate in line with her specific proposals. I can, however, give an assurance that the Government take this issue very seriously and, should there be a need for further legislative change and action, we will bring forward measures to deliver this as soon as possible.
My noble friend highlighted the need for all involved in child protection to work together more effectively. I cannot agree more. All the evidence suggests that the best protection and results happen when agencies work together and when not just a single agency considers the protective needs of the child. That is why the Government have undertaken significant work to improve our understanding of the different multiagency models in place to support information sharing around safeguarding responses for vulnerable people.
I hope that my noble friend will be reassured by this. There is already guidance requiring social workers to convene a strategy discussion—the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, will know all about this—with all relevant professionals who are known to the child and the family if they suspect a child may be suffering significant harm. Our guidance is also clear that support should be given to a child as soon as need is identified. Early help services can be delivered by teachers, youth workers and health workers to support children. It is important to bear in mind that that work can be invaluable in dealing with these matters promptly. In the light of what I have said about what the Government are doing and the invitation to noble Lords to be involved in that process, I ask my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, that time pressure, particularly on social workers, is a key and fundamental problem. It is one of those adages that Governments always produce legislation for statutory work but often, certainly in the current climate, do not fund the support required to deliver that effectively. I am sure that training is vital. However, I am mindful of the NSPCC survey of social work professionals. If only 7% believe that timely action is being taken in cases of emotional abuse, partly because of training and partly because of identification, there is an issue. Guidance may well be available, but there are still concerns.
I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for raising the issue of child and adolescent mental health services. I hope that it may be possible for the Minister and those of us who are interested in this issue to meet Norman Lamb to talk about the pressure on child and adolescent mental health services, particularly for this group of children who may not automatically be referred to those services. We are told that in some areas there is an 18-month waiting list for a child to be referred. For a child who is being emotionally abused, that is far too long.
I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for saying that.
I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for her contribution, with which I agreed. I was a county councillor for some years and I have concerns about the Minister’s comment regarding the priorities of triage when big issues are involved. In Cambridgeshire, we had a case where a family had two adopted children and anyone would have thought they were absolutely the apple of their parents’ eye. They were doted on completely. If they had been triaged, people would have said there was no reason at all to look any further. Yet these children were being quite severely emotionally abused. They had to be removed from their family and placed with foster parents. The foster parents’ reports about their next year with the children, as they unscrambled what had gone on, shows we have to understand that sometimes triage, which can be obvious in an accident and emergency sense, may be much more complex when looking at issues of emotional needs.
Regardless of that, I am grateful to the Minister and look forward to hearing more about the report back on the members of the inquiry panel and its remit. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 40BZD withdrawn.
Amendment 40BZE not moved.
Amendment 40BZEA (in substitution for Amendment 40C)
40BZEA: After Clause 62, insert the following new Clause—
“Mandatory reporting of abuse in relation to regulated activities
(1) Subject to subsection (4), providers of regulated activities involving children or vulnerable adults, and persons whose services are used by such providers being persons who stand in a position of personal trust towards such children or vulnerable adults, who have reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting the commission of the abuse of children or vulnerable adults in their care whether such commission of abuse shall have taken place or be alleged to have or be suspected of having taken place in the setting of the regulated activity or elsewhere, have a duty to inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) or children’s services or such other single point of contact with the local authority as such authority may designate for the purpose of reporting it or any such matter, allegation or suspicion as soon as is practicable after it comes to their knowledge or attention.
(2) Failure to fulfil the duty set out in subsection (1) before the expiry of the period of 10 days of the matter or allegation or suspicion first coming to the knowledge or attention of the provider or of any person whose services are used by the provider as defined in subsection (1) is an offence.
(3) It shall be a defence to show that the LADO or children’s services or that such other single point of contact with the local authority as such authority may designate for the purpose of reporting was or were informed by any other party during the 10 days referred to in subsection (2) or had been so informed before then.
(4) A Secretary of State having responsibility for the welfare, safety and protection of children and of vulnerable adults may in exceptional cases by a letter or other instrument under his hand rescind or temporarily suspend the duty referred to in subsection (1) in the case of any specified child or children or of any specified vulnerable adult or adults concerning whom it appears to him that the welfare, safety or the protection of such child or children or of such vulnerable adult or adults would be prejudiced or compromised by the fulfilment of the duty referred to in subsection (1) and may where it appears to him that the welfare, safety and protection of children is furthered thereby exempt any specified entity or organisation and the members thereof that works with children generally in furtherance of their welfare and safety and protection or any specified medical officer from compliance with the duty referred to in subsection (1) provided always that no allegation is made against such entity or organisation or member thereof or against such medical officer.
(5) It shall be a defence for any person to show that a Secretary of State having responsibility for the welfare, safety and protection of children and of vulnerable adults has issued a letter or other instrument under his hand rescinding or temporarily suspending the duty referred to in subsection (1) in the case of any specified child or children or of any specified vulnerable adult or adults and it shall be a defence for any person employed by or operating as an entity or organisation that works with children or for any medical officer to show that a Secretary of State having responsibility for the welfare, safety and protection of children and of vulnerable adults has by such letter or instrument under his hand whether temporarily or permanently exempted it and its members or any medical officer from compliance with the duty referred to in subsection (1).
(6) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine, or both;(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to a fine, or both.(7) In this section “regulated activity” has the same meaning as in Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.”
My Lords, this amendment is exactly the same as Amendment 40C; it has just been put in a different position. I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for adding his name to it. Abuse of the most vulnerable people in our society is wicked and a great deal more widespread than most of us think. There are those who use power, strength and blackmail to subject those who cannot fight back to the most horrible abuse. It is done behind closed doors and certainly that is where a lot of it stays. However, there is hope because there are signs, if only we would look for them. We need not only to see them but to act upon them as well. We need to give the abused people opportunities to confide in a trusted adult, in the secure knowledge that that person will do something to make it stop. That is why we need a new duty to report abuse.
Of course, I know that legislation is not a silver bullet, but it can help and it has done so in other countries. In addition, I agree with those who say that we need more training, awareness raising and the protection of the law for those who expose the horror. Amendment 40BZEA covers not just children but vulnerable adults as well, although for simplicity my remarks will mainly refer to children. However, the vast majority of what I say also applies to elderly and disabled people, and those with serious mental disabilities too—all groups that have suffered far too much abuse in recent years by unscrupulous people.
We heard on the BBC only this morning about cases of abuse of people with mental disabilities where nobody said a word. My intention is not to criminalise people—though there must be penalties if this measure is to be effective—but to empower those who know that something is wrong and to protect them as well as the children. The current system is not working. The recent report about Jimmy Savile’s activities made that very clear. There needs to be an increase in the detection rate of child abuse in the UK, which is estimated to be only 5% of the actual amount, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report in 2010, How Fair is Britain?
I shall explain what my amendment does. Proposed new subsection (1) puts a duty on individuals standing in a position of personal trust towards children or vulnerable adults and who work in “regulated activity”, as defined in Schedule 4 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. The duty is to report abuse that is known about and where they have reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting abuse. If the abuse is adult on child, or on a vulnerable adult, it should be reported to the local authority designated officer. If it is child on child—and there is a great deal of that—they should report it to the local children’s services. If the local authority has chosen to have a single point of contact, the report should be to there.
Proposed new subsections (2) and (3) say that the report must be made within 10 days of the knowledge or suspicion, unless the abuse has already been reported by someone else.
Proposed new subsection (4) allows the Secretary of State to exempt certain groups from this duty, in the interests of ensuring that children and vulnerable adults can feel comfortable disclosing the abuse—for example, to their doctor or a confidential helpline such as ChildLine. There will be a term of imprisonment or a fine for failure in this duty.
Proposed new subsection (7) refers to Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 for the list of institutions that are covered by the amendment. It includes all forms of teaching or training of children, care or supervision, treatment and therapy et cetera—and a similar group in relation to vulnerable adults. In other words, it relates mainly to the people who would normally need a CRB check in order to do their job; it does not include family members.
This is a measure whose time has come and I encourage the Government to grasp the moment. In a recent independent survey, 96% of the public thought that we already had such a law. Although the public would strongly support it, we do not have one at the moment. We have a whole range of regulations, professional duties et cetera—none of which have been effective in situations in which adults were worried about being the whistleblower, about reputational damage to their institution, or that they may have got the wrong end of the stick. This measure would protect and empower those people, and protect children.
It is not for teachers, nurses and care workers to decide whether there is a case to go to the police. It is not their job. It is the job of the experienced officer within the local authority—as opposed to triage, which the Minister has just mentioned—to investigate and then report to the police when they believe that there may be a case to answer, or to take some other action.
There are other parts of the world where there is a duty in law to report, such as Australia, every state of which has some version of this duty and some sort of penalty. It has been very effective in exposing that which was previously hidden. It has been shown that there is a high rate of substantiation of the allegations, contrary to what the Minister has just said. In the case of reports by teachers, 70% led to police action prior to the new law; and the percentage after the new law came in was 69%, which was very close. The percentage would have been higher if it had included situations in which the children needed help but the police were not involved. Only 2% of reports were found to be malicious. These figures came from Professor Ben Matthews, a highly regarded researcher on these issues; and I am happy to supply them to the Minister. I heard Ben Matthews say on the BBC a few months ago, around the time of the famous “Panorama” programme:
“Mandated reporting in some form is an essential part of an effective child protection system”.
Someone I know used to work as a child safeguarding officer in Australia and was familiar with the effective working of the measure. She also told me that that Australia has a programme in schools called, “No, Go, Tell”. It is pretty obvious what that means. When she came to work in this country, she was amazed that we do not have something similar here. That makes the case for good-quality PSHE in all schools in which children are taught what not to tolerate in terms of invasion of their personal space, and what to do to keep themselves safe.
What have others said about my proposal? Last week, as we heard, the NSPCC made a major and welcome shift in its policy on this matter, but it does not go far enough. It has proposed what I have called “safeguarding lite”. The idea is to have a duty on closed institutions such as boarding schools and children’s homes not to cover up known child abuse. By the way, it is not clear who within those institutions would have that duty. There are several things wrong with that. First, it ignores the majority of children. There are 8 million children in education in this country, and less than 1 million of them are in boarding schools and children’s homes.
Secondly, by covering only “known” child abuse, the onus is put on the head teacher or care home manager to decide whether abuse is known or not. That is not their job; it is the job of local authority designated officer, who has the training and experience to know whether to report to the police or take some other action. That is what those officers have been trained to do. Thirdly, the policy is confused. Think about this: a head teacher in a boarding school has a duty to report a case, but the following term, if he takes over a maintained primary school, his duty is only under some regulation, with no legal penalty for ignoring it.
Think about a girl who would have this protection in a boarding school, but if she goes to a church youth club in the holidays she has no protection. Think of a boy who has protection in a care home, but has none when he goes to the local sports club. This matter is the responsibility of all of us, but in particular it should be the duty of all those who work with children in a position of trust. It should go with the job, along with the duty to get a CRB check.
The Local Government Association has briefed us all and asked us to look at how the duty would operate in reality. I know there are those who are concerned that the system would be swamped with cases if my amendment became law. I say two things in answer to that. First, if that is the case it means that there is an enormous amount of child abuse out there going undetected and untreated. That causes mental health and relationship problems throughout the lives of those abused, and allows perpetrators to get away with it and abuse other children. It also costs the public purse a lot of money in the long term.
Secondly, the experience in Australia was that, yes, the number of concerns reported increased, but they were investigated and considered by the right people. There was a very high level of substantiation and only a tiny amount of malicious reporting, which I believe is a fair price to pay. Anyway, such cases are looked into by experienced people who recognise malice when they see it.
I expect that noble Lords will recall the case of baby Peter and the fact that there was an increase in the number of children taken into care after it became public. That has settled down to some extent now, but it means not that too many children are taken into care now, but that too few were before, possibly because of resources. We must ensure that the system has sufficient resources and is robust enough to weed out cases that do not warrant action. In any case, the vast majority of child abuse would not entail the child being taken into care if she was not already.
The Local Government Association talks about us all having a moral responsibility to report abuse. Of course we do, but we have had that for years and it has not worked. What we need is not the confused and complicated system proposed by the NSPCC, but a very simple amendment to the law. The people on whom the duty in my amendment would fall are already defined in law: there is already a definition of,
“reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting”.
We need training in recognising the early signs of abuse and neglect for all those who work with children and vulnerable adults, and we need guidance on how to report it. We need everyone to make it their business to protect children and vulnerable adults as a public duty, but we need to strengthen the law to help those who know something to have the courage to do something. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment. I begin by pointing out that, had I been in this House two years ago, I would not have supported it. It is my experience of listening to and hearing stories, not just from within the church sector but from many sectors, that has led me to be convinced that this is a move we need to make.
Currently, under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, a form of mandatory reporting already exists; that is to say, a duty to refer arises in certain situations connected with regulated activity. Admittedly, that is just for vetting purposes, but what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, effectively proposes is an extension to this. It will mean that those who work with children or vulnerable adults in regulated activity and have reasonable grounds for suspecting or knowing that abuse of these vulnerable groups has taken place are under a duty to report this to the local authority. I wholeheartedly support this principle, and I welcome the suggested amendment. Indeed, every person who works with children or vulnerable adults, which includes teachers, doctors, nurses, youth workers and volunteers, has a responsibility for keeping them safe. No one individual could possibly have a complete picture of a vulnerable person’s situation. All professionals who come into contact with those vulnerable groups have,
“a role to play in identifying concerns, sharing information and taking prompt action together”.
That is from Working Together to Safeguard Children.
At present, those professionals who fail to report may face disciplinary procedures or be held to account in a serious case review. Yet, far too often in the past, abusers have been allowed to get away with their crimes because those in authority have failed to report. As the recent NHS inquiry in relation to Jimmy Savile at Leeds General Infirmary stated, a number of organisational failures had allowed someone,
“as manipulative as Savile to thrive and continue his abusive behaviour unchecked for years”.
The serious case review in relation to Vanessa George at Little Ted’s Nursery in Plymouth noted that, while the offender exhibited high levels of sexual behaviour and often engaged staff in inappropriate discussions of sexual activity, no concerns were raised with the manager and no action was taken. This failure contributed to providing,
“an ideal environment within which George could abuse”.
Similarly, there is the case of the teacher Nigel Leat. Leat was jailed indefinitely in 2011 after admitting 36 sexual offences. He had been allowed to get away with his crimes because, despite numerous reports to the head teacher from staff and parents raising concerns over a 14-year period, the head teacher had not kept accurate safeguarding records, had failed to report concerns and ultimately did not meet his responsibilities to safeguard children in his care.
More recently, the serious case review into the tragic death of Daniel Pelka at the hands of his mother and her partner stated:
“Unlike the UK, some countries have a process for mandatory reporting of child care concerns to government departments, which raises the question that if it existed here, whether injuries seen upon Daniel would have been independently reported by individuals to the authorities”,
and thereby resulting in further more effective interventions to protect Daniel. That was published last September.
There are too many other cases. Too often, confusion over the threshold for reporting and concerns about confidentiality have prevented those who have suspicions or concerns that an individual is being abused reporting those concerns to the appropriate authorities.
Many countries already have some form of mandatory reporting. Indeed, in Northern Ireland it is an offence not to report to the police, an arrestable crime which, of course, includes crimes against children or vulnerable adults. There has already been mention of Australia, the United States and the vast majority of jurisdictions in Canada. Of course, in introducing this we would need to look at which of those systems works most effectively, because they operate differently. Mandatory reporting acknowledges the seriousness and often the hidden nature of abuse, and can enable the early detection of cases which may not otherwise come to the attention of the authorities. It reinforces the moral responsibility of individuals to report suspected and known abuse, concerns and/or allegations. Such laws help to create a culture which puts the most vulnerable first, where their welfare is paramount and serves to illustrate that abuse will not be tolerated in any circumstances.
Of course, I acknowledge that the introduction of mandatory reporting will not provide a complete solution but it will serve to increase professionals’ and the community’s awareness of abuse and, as stated, put the needs of the vulnerable first. This can, of course, mean that there is a substantial increase in the number of reports being made to the authorities—probably particularly in the first instance. That is why it is essential that such authorities are resourced properly and that adequate funding is provided so that support services can respond and intervene where needed, and to such an extent that preventive work is not restricted. In addition, it is essential that professionals, who are subject to such a duty, are properly trained so that they are aware of which cases should and should not be reported.
Last week, the Prime Minister asked in the other place,
“should we change the law so that there is a requirement to report and make it a criminal offence not to report? … I think it may well be time to take that sort of first step forward”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/7/14; cols. 282-83.]
We have already had reference to the NSPCC and I agree with the critique of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, though welcoming Peter Wanless and the NSPCC’s move.
I therefore support the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in tabling this amendment and urge the Government to do likewise. We cannot continue to fail the most vulnerable in our society. If our country is to grow and thrive, we must act now and ensure that we establish a culture that will not tolerate abuse. Mandatory reporting of such crimes will assist us in that task. Hearing far too many stories of unreported behaviour has led me seriously to change my mind in the past two years and is why I support this amendment.
My Lords, I feel some trepidation in challenging some of the issues about mandatory reporting, although I think that we need to find different language. I do not think there is any difference between me and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the right reverend Prelate in what we want to find at the end of the day. However, I want to caution them and the Government to ensure that they look at this in great depth—I know that they are doing so in other places—and that there are no unintended consequences from the action that is taken.
I do not have a prepared speech, but I would like to make three points. Of course, it is wrong for anyone in a position of authority or in a church or neighbourhood community to turn a blind eye to known abuse. If abuse is clearly there, then that must be reported. If we have to have a law that says that there are circumstances in which people abused their position and did not come forward, the Government should look at that.
In the work that I am doing, the helpline for the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, in the Stop it Now! programme, has hundreds of people telephoning who are not sure about what they are seeing. I have talked to social workers who have great professional expertise about their not being certain what they are seeing. It is quite clear that we need to continue the professional development of staff in local authorities who work with the police, and also the community programmes which I have mentioned earlier, where children’s services, parents and schools have all been involved in the local community in developing understanding of these issues and therefore are clearer about what action they may or may not take.
I do not have a speech because I spent the morning chairing a conference that included people from Australia and the chair of an international protection of children organisation, looking at eradicating child sexual abuse. There were a lot of experts there. The message that they asked me to bring was that we should not simply bring in this sort of reporting without looking carefully at it. The statistics across the world vary according to whom you listen to. I ask the Minister to talk to some of the people I know as well as to those whom the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, knows, because they have different views. Presumably, the Government have it within their powers to get the information pretty clearly from Governments in other parts of the world. I am not making any judgment about the outcome, except to say that people tell me that it has really interfered with good preventive work, because resources have been diverted into investigating hundreds of cases that turned out not to be prosecutable.
I understand why there is a wish, particularly in the church, to get this sort of prosecution. I say to the right reverend Prelate that I have probably talked to more victims than most in my 50 years, many of them children; I know the victims’ groups and I know the pain that they have experienced. But it is crucial that we base whatever we do in the future on what is happening now, and that we prevent children being abused in the present, and learn from those people in the future. They have a lot to offer but sometimes it can be clouded by pain, which I understand.
What we want to do, particularly in churches and similar organisations, is to develop a culture of openness. We know of a recent investigation into a particular area in the Church of England where misogyny was rife and women’s views—never mind children’s—were not tolerated. I am a member of the Church of England, so I say this in all good heart but that is one institution that really has to look at it itself—as I know it is doing because the right reverend Prelate is the chair of the committee looking at the issues within the church. There are other organisations that need to look at their culture because we are not going to change these issues by the law, although I think in some areas it will help. We need to get a cultural change in organisations and our nation.
The NSPCC has got itself in a bit of a twist, I think. Talking to some of the staff today, there is a very mixed view because they had always been against mandatory reporting—I think that is a very funny term. They run two helplines. They know the implications of blanket mandatory reporting. I have to say that I did not understand proposed new subsections (4) and (5) of the amendment. It just shows how complex this issue is because we are talking about people going for exemptions. I tend to think that you need an opt-in rather than opt-out situation here, and we need to be precise about those people who might come to be prosecuted if reporting is mandatory rather than having to exempt those people who are trying to be helpful.
I am usually briefer than this but your Lordships can see that I feel as passionately as most—
Perhaps I might provide some clarification. When giving the Secretary of State the opportunity to exempt certain groups, I very specifically had in mind exactly those groups that the noble Baroness is worried about. Childline and Stop it Now! need to be exempted because they will have disclosures made to them and we cannot expect them to go to every local authority-designated officer throughout the country. Children need to be able to disclose to them but when they encourage the child to disclose also to a trusted adult, as they often do, the child needs to know that that trusted adult will do something about it and report it to the right people. I hope that clarification helps.
I thank the noble Baroness but I think she knows that I know that pretty well. My point is that we need to be more precise the other way round and be clearer about those people who will be prosecuted rather than those who will be exempted. That is the way that I would rather see it because otherwise you are going to catch all sorts of groups. There are groups in the Catholic Church that listen. Without doubt, the helpline should be seeing a child through a referral. If they are going to have a referral, that helpline really should ensure—I know that the NSPCC does this with Childline—that at the end of the day someone takes action at that point.
The Lucy Faithfull helpline for Stop it Now! is more difficult because that is where men are coming forward about thoughts that they have had that they do not understand. I am very fearful that many of those men will not come forward if they think there is a likelihood that they are going to be reported even before they have committed an offence. Some people who have committed offences will come forward to us and we will help them to go to the next stage.
There could be a range of unintended consequences. However, I say what I said at the beginning, which is I think that we are all on the same page. What is important is that time is spent—not a lot of time; I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is impatient—ensuring that we have it right in detail and that we listen to all the parties who have got evidence, because there is a lot of evidence. There is also new evidence about what works and it is not always the old patterns of intervention that work. The Government might do well to listen to some of the people I listened to this morning.
My Lords, the proposal to have mandatory reporting has many attractions. I think, however, that even with the exceptions that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has suggested, it may be too simplistic. There are already many organisations involved with children that have the obligation to report. For instance, the safeguarding of the Church of England requires people to report. The safeguarding of the Roman Catholic Church certainly does. I was vice-chairman of the Cumberlege Commission, in which we advised the then Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster how the clergy and members of the diocese of the Roman Catholic Church of England should be reporting, among other things. Our report was approved by the Vatican.
Obviously, there are the police, social services, the health services and so on. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said—and I endorse her words of wisdom—we need to look at this with a great deal of care because it is the issue of culture as much as the issue of prosecuting for failure to report which lies behind the problems we have. I hope the Minister will go away taking with him not only the understandable suggestions of the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, but also the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, as to what really needs to be looked at. I hope he will take all that away before coming to a decision on whether there should be mandatory reporting. I strongly support the caution that the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, has put forward.
I will raise one question, to which I hope the Minister will be able to respond. The right reverend Prelate has referred to the indication given in the Commons last week by the Prime Minister that the Government were looking at whether we should change the law so that there will be a requirement to report abuse and it will be a criminal offence not to report it. Can the Minister be more specific than he appeared to be on the last group of amendments about the timescale within which the Government expect these deliberations to be concluded?
My Lords, this has been a very high-value debate whose contributions inform the Government. I will try to make sure that all colleagues in government with an interest in this matter are sent a copy of our debate.
I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, any details of the timescale. If, in the course of time, I have more information, I will try to tell him in good time, but at the moment I cannot. In a way, this debate needs to be taken in conjunction with the one we had on my noble friend Lady Brinton’s debate; it covers very similar territory but it goes just that little bit further. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Walmsley for tabling this amendment to enable us to look at this particular aspect.
There is a significant difference between the amendments. Amendment 40BZEA would place a duty on those working in regulated sectors who are in a position of trust in relation to children or vulnerable people to report suspicions of abuse to the appropriate local authority within 10 days. Breach of that duty would be a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison. This would mean essentially that anyone who works with children or vulnerable adults would commit a criminal offence if they did not report suspected abuse of any kind.
I hope that I can provide some reassurance to my noble friend Lady Walmsley and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham about the current process of referrals to social services. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, referred to this. It is important to recognise that existing statutory guidance is already crystal clear that professionals should refer immediately to social care when they are concerned about a child or vulnerable adult. Many thousands of referrals are made to children’s social care each year. In the year ending March 2013, there were 593,500 referrals—that is nearly 600,000. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Walmsley for offering to provide me with figures that she has available, but I think that we need to bear that figure in mind and appreciate the scale of the situation that we are seeking to engage in.
The most important thing is that people understand how to spot abuse and neglect and the impact that it has on children and vulnerable adults. While we are continuing to review the evidence for the specific case of reporting in regulated settings, we are also continuing to take action to improve the knowledge and skills of professionals working with children and other vulnerable people.
As I indicated in my response to the previous group of amendments, the Government fully understand the public’s anxiety about the potential underreporting of abuse, particularly sexual abuse. I can wholeheartedly support my noble friend’s objective with this amendment; we all want to see improved safeguarding for all children and vulnerable adults. As I have said, we are actively considering the case for a mandatory reporting duty, but the issues are complex, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, pointed out. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, we need to consider what form such a duty might take, to whom it would apply and in what circumstances, and what the sanction for failure to comply should be. This amendment offers one approach, but we have just debated an alternative, more focused proposal, and the NSPCC has suggested a third model. Other organisations working to safeguard children and vulnerable adults will have ideas of their own as to how a mandatory reporting regime should be structured, as will other noble Lords. I have sought to encourage noble Lords to make sure that those conducting such investigations are aware of their views.
I can only again seek to reassure my noble friend and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham that we are actively examining the options and treating the matter with the urgency that it deserves. While I cannot undertake to bring forward government amendments on this issue on Report, I certainly expect that, by then, I will have more to say on where we have reached in our consideration of this important matter. Having put the issue firmly on the table as my noble friend has done, I hope that she will now be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this debate. I thank the Minister for his reply and the right reverend Prelate for his support.
There has been some discussion about terminology. Noble Lords might have detected that I did not use the phrase “mandatory reporting” in my introduction because I know that it causes some people some difficulty. I have also avoided using the word “professionals” in my amendment. We may not want to call a school secretary or a dinner lady a professional, yet they would need to have a CRB check to work in a school and they are specified in Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which is in my amendment. When my noble friend asks to whom the duty should apply, my reply is that it is those people. So it is already in law.
I agree that the issues are complex and that we should approach the whole thing with a great deal of caution. I agree that there are different systems across the world and we need to find out which system suits this country best. I also agree that we need a culture change; I am pretty sure that I said so. We need training not just for the professionals but for the children so that they understand how to protect themselves. We probably need more resources as well because, as I said, there is an awful lot of undetected child abuse out there which has never been treated, and it never goes away. There is no such thing as historic child abuse; it is always current in the lives of the victims, who never lose it.
With that, I have done my very best to persuade all noble Lords. I will have to leave it at that for the moment, but I suspect that I may come back to it at the next stage of the Bill. We shall see. I shall watch with great interest what happens with the terms of reference of the new inquiry committee, the personnel and how they go about their job. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 40BZEA withdrawn.
Clause 63: Possession of paedophile manual
40BZF: Clause 63, page 46, line 41, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) to prove that D’s reason for being in possession of the item was necessary for a purpose related to the prevention or detection of crime”
My Lords, Amendment 40BZF is grouped with Amendments 40BB and 40BC. The amendments are in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee who unfortunately is not well and cannot be here. I step into her shoes in order to put forward the views she would want to express if she were here. Amendment 40BZF relates to possession of paedophile manuals and seeks to explore the defences that may be available. At the moment the Bill allows a defence where the person has a legitimate reason for possessing a paedophile manual. The amendment changes this to allow possession only where it is necessary for the prevention or detection of crime. We question whether there are ever any other circumstances in which possession would be legitimate. For example, is research included? Is the defence currently included in the Bill too wide? Could it give rise to a defence where the intent of the person was to use a paedophile manual to aid them in committing or facilitating further offences?
Amendment 40BB relates to a domestic service provider. Again, the issue here is straightforward. The amendment probes paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 relating to paedophile manuals. This paragraph applies the rules on paedophile manuals to service providers elsewhere in the European Economic Area,
“as well as to a person, of any description”.
The amendment probes what is meant by,
“a person, of any description”.
Is this too wide to offer sufficient clarity to those who may be caught by this offence?
Amendment 40BC relates simply to a drafting point. Again, the forensic ability of my noble friend Lady Hamwee has picked up this point. The current drafting of paragraph 5(3)(c) of Schedule 3 requires that a service provider promptly removes information on a paedophile manual. Sub-paragraph (4) then states that this applies only in certain circumstances. Why not simply have sub-paragraph (4) state what will happen in the event it applies rather than referring back to sub-paragraph (3)(c)? I am sorry about all this confusion. Legal people may have a better ability to interpret this. I am sure my noble friend the Minister will forgive me for raising this very important point. I beg to move.
I begin by wishing my noble friend Lady Hamwee a speedy recovery. It seems a little odd not to have her here when she has been omnipresent in our debates on the Bill.
Before I speak to the amendments, it may assist the Committee if I provide some background to Clause 63. The clause creates a new offence of the possession of paedophile manuals—that is, any item that contains advice or guidance about abusing children sexually. The Government have been made aware of a potential gap in the law which allows the possession of written material that contains practical advice on how to commit a sexual offence against a child. Such material is commonly referred to by investigators as “paedophile manuals”.
The material that we are targeting is deeply disturbing and has clearly been designed to facilitate sexual offending against children. Possession of some of that material, where illustrated with indecent images, is likely already to be a criminal offence under the law that deals with such images. However, the possession of purely written material would not fall under the current criminal law.
We are therefore creating a new offence to target possession of that potentially dangerous material. The offence will carry a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment. We have also included defences to the possession of that material that mirror those already available to individuals charged with similar possession offences; for example, the possession of indecent photographs of children under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 or extreme pornographic material under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. The defences include a legitimate reason for being in possession of material. That will cover those who can demonstrate that their legitimate business means that they have a reason for possessing this material. Such groups may include law enforcement agencies, the Internet Watch Foundation and others. It will also cover those people working for software companies who may come into contact with such material during the course of developing filter systems, for example.
Amendment 40BZF would replace the legitimate reason defence with a narrower one which will offer protection only to those who are preventing or detecting crime. We believe that there is no need to narrow the defence in that way. As I explained, the legitimate reason defence already covers those in detection and law enforcement, but it also provides protection to others with a genuine reason for possession of this material. Our legitimate reason defence mirrors a long-established defence in this sensitive area of the law: one that is well known to the police, prosecutors and the courts and that has worked well. We can therefore find no reason to narrow the protection that that defence will provide. Any defences need to be tailored to the circumstances of a particular offence. The offences in Clauses 41 and 63 are clearly very different. We are satisfied that the narrower defence in Clause 41 is appropriate given the nature of the participation offence.
My noble friend has indicated that Amendments 40BB and 40BC are probing amendments to test aspects of the drafting of Schedule 3. That schedule ensures that the provisions which make illegal the possession of paedophile manuals are consistent with the UK’s obligations under the e-commerce directive, adopted in 2000. The provisions in Schedule 3 are nothing new and mirror those already in place for other similar offences—for example, the possession of prohibited images of children offence in Section 62 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and the related provisions in Schedule 13 to that Act.
Amendment 40BB would amend paragraph 2 of the schedule. The first half of paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 3 states that the possession offence applies to a domestic service provider who is in possession of a prohibited item in an EEA state other than the United Kingdom. The words in brackets in the second half of that sub-paragraph reiterate that the offence also applies to,
“a person, of any description”,
who possesses such material in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. The qualifying words “of any description” are designed to make clear that, in those circumstances, the offence applies to all persons: that is, not just domestic service providers. The words are not intended to imply, as was, I think, my noble friend’s concern, that the person can be a legal or corporate person, as well as a natural person. As my noble friend will be aware, by virtue of the Interpretation Act 1978, the word “person” is taken to have that meaning in legislation anyway.
Amendment 40BC is intended to clarify the application of paragraph 5(4) of the schedule. Paragraph 5 provides an exception from liability for a service provider who possesses the prohibited material while storing the information in certain circumstances. Sub-paragraphs (2) and (3) set out the two conditions that must be satisfied for the exclusion to apply. Sub-paragraph (3)(c) provides that where the service provider has actual knowledge of certain facts, it will be excluded from criminal liability only if, in addition, it promptly removes the prohibited material or disables access to it. Sub-paragraph (4) sets out the facts that give rise to that additional obligation.
The effect of the amendment would be to remove the availability of the exception in paragraph 5 altogether, where the service provider obtains actual knowledge of the facts set out in sub-paragraph (4). The Government’s intention, as required by the e-commerce directive, is that a service provider should not be criminally liable in those circumstances as long as the information is promptly removed or access to it is disabled.
I recognise that these issues are not straightforward and that my noble friend Lord Dholakia will wish to study my response in Hansard. If, having done so, he or my noble friend Lady Hamwee requires further explanation, I will be happy to provide it. However, for now, I trust that he will be content to withdraw the amendment that he moved on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hamwee.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the explanation that she has offered. I will certainly make sure that my noble friend Lady Hamwee receives a copy of Hansard. Whether she is cheered by it, we will soon find out at the Report stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 40BZF withdrawn.
Clause 63 agreed.
40BA: After Clause 63, insert the following new Clause—
“Offence of encouraging or assisting the promotion of the practice of female genital mutilation
(1) The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 2 (offence of assisting a girl to mutilate her own genitalia), insert—
“2A Offence of encouraging or assisting the promotion of the practice of female genital mutilation
A person is guilty of an offence if he encourages or assists in the promotion of the practice of female genital mutilation.”(3) In section 5 (penalties for offences)—
(a) after “under” insert “sections 2 and 3 of”,(b) at the end insert— “(2) A person guilty of an offence under section 2A is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or a fine (or both),(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both).””
The amendment is intended to ensure that anyone encouraging or assisting in the promotion of the practice of female genital mutilation will face an investigation and, if found guilty, a conviction. We propose that the penalty for those offences should be severe: a maximum prison sentence of up to seven years for a conviction on indictment.
Local councils have a role in tackling the issue as a result of their duties to safeguard children and they are well placed to work with the relevant communities in their area where FGM is practised in order to reduce the number of women and girls at risk of that mutilation. It is appalling to contemplate that 20,000 girls and women in this country are currently at risk of being subjected to FGM. Professionals and third-sector experts believe that the practice will be eradicated only through a change in custom and culture in the communities where it happens. We will not do it through individual charges.
We can be encouraged that there are many members of communities with a history of practising FGM who are now willing to make the case against it. However, we also know that there are community and faith leaders who promote and encourage the practice of FGM. This amendment would make it absolutely clear that authorities can, and indeed must, step in to prevent the community and faith leaders perpetuating this practice. The approach of these faith leaders is likely to be through generating pressure on families who might otherwise turn away from FGM for their daughters.
Currently, anyone inciting the carrying out of FGM can be prosecuted for incitement, regardless of whether the underlying substantive offence is committed or attempted, under Sections 44 to 46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007. I understand that the CPS believes that there is no need to create a new offence on the basis that legislation already exists to criminalise incitement. However, the purpose of this amendment is to clarify the law to make it clear that even indirect promotion of FGM by community and religious leaders could be dealt with under the law. It is not difficult to imagine how religious leaders might stop short of incitement but nevertheless through general persuasion and comments as leaders of these communities might indeed lead families to be fearful if they do not comply with the religious standards of their history.
It is relevant to note that the Local Government Association strongly believes that there is a case for this amendment and for bringing the offence of promoting or encouraging FGM into the 2003 Act so that it sits alongside the offence of practising FGM itself. This would help law enforcement officers and legal practitioners with no prior experience of FGM to locate the offence. It is no good if some offence is there if the key people are not aware of it. We know that the Modern Slavery Bill has the similar aim of consolidating and clarifying the relevant legislation. I think it is a very good example to follow.
I hope very much that the Government will agree that this is such an important and yet difficult area of law that our amendment is justified. I beg to move.
My Lords, I had intended to put my name to this amendment, but I am afraid I was rather busy last week and did not in fact remember to do so. I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
Perhaps noble Lords will permit me to tell a short story. Yesterday evening I was one of eight judges for the “Speak Out” competition for 15 year-olds across the whole of London and Essex. We had 15 brilliant 15 year-olds, and each had to speak between one and three minutes on the subject of their choice. One girl of 15 stood up and talked about female genital mutilation. It was an absolutely brilliant speech. Unfortunately, she did not win, but it was absolutely breathtaking that a 15 year-old could be telling us what we should be doing about it. She was utterly shocked that we were not effective in stopping this happening—this absolutely abhorrent crime, which is hitting so many young girls nowadays in this country because they are being taken to other countries, or even it is being done here.
Anything—absolutely anything—that can encourage the public who are part of this system, or who know about this system, to be reminded that it is a crime should be taken forward. Anyone who might be involved in this in any way, perhaps as a member of a family where one member may be considering taking the girl to Sudan or to South Sudan or wherever else it may be, should now say, “Just be very careful, as this is something that is not acceptable in this country, either for those living here or those coming in or out”.
I do hope that the Minister will see that this has all sorts of values. That is to say that it has the value of actually dealing with the offence of encouraging or assisting the promotion of this abhorrent practice and, secondly, it would send out a powerful message that those who are around those who do it are possibly in danger of criminal offences themselves. I really hope the Government will pick this one up.
My Lords, the Minister will know that I have spoken on this subject several times in the House and asked Questions on it.
Female genital mutilation is one of the most shocking things that is happening in our society. I would very much like to endorse the words of my noble friends and anything that brings home to the general public the seriousness of this offence. At this very moment, in our country young girls are having their genitals mutilated. It is the most appalling thought. Anything that can be done to strengthen the law; anything that can make people realise how very seriously the Government take this issue, which I know they do; anything that can be done should be done.
My Lords, I would like to add my support for this amendment and perhaps add a story of my own. This is not a new issue. As long ago as the 1990s, I made a television programme exposing the practice of female genital mutilation, which went out in prime time on BBC television’s first channel, BBC1. It was quite explicit and voiced the alarm of Somali women themselves, who explained to me that the perpetuation of this practice resided with the grandmothers in their community who felt that what was good enough for them should be imposed on their children. It was the mothers who remembered their own experience who were eager to have that change for their children. It has not yet happened. Getting this accepted is a disgraceful slow process.
The explanation lies in the fact that, in the 1990s, we were very aware of multiculturalism and the need to respect other cultures. It beggars belief now, but at the time we felt that, if that was their culture and their tradition, then so be it; we felt that we were not in a position to feel superior. We have come a long way, but we have not come far enough. It is time to press forward with this and not to go on talking about it.
I briefly add my voice to this. Again, if I had not had quite such a troubled week, I might have added my name to this amendment.
A couple of years ago I went, on behalf of the Lord Speaker, to a conference about this. In my lifetime, I have seen a great deal in terms of abuse, but seeing a film of this actually happening shook me to my core. We did not just hear the screams, but we actually saw the action that was happening to this young woman. When we talk about female genital mutilation, it gets a little sanitised at times. It is utterly appalling pain. Some young women in foreign countries die because of the follow-up, and certainly we know young women in this country are traumatised. I, too, hope that the Government will take this away.
My Lords, the purpose of our Amendment 40CA in this group is to provide anonymity for victims of female genital mutilation by providing for any offences under Sections 1 to 4 of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 to come within the terms of Section 2 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, which for example provides anonymity for rape victims and victims of various other sexual offences to encourage more to come forward.
We recognise that protecting young girls and women from FGM requires action beyond legislation to tackle the social norms in which it operates, and implement a preventative approach. However, if progress is to be made in addressing and preventing what has already been described in this debate as the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation, then cases will have to be successfully prosecuted through the courts. That means people who are victims of this practice being willing to come forward and give evidence. As we know, this is not some small, minority offence. It has been estimated that more than 20,000 girls under 15 are at high risk of female genital mutilation in England and Wales each year, with the risk being highest for primary school girls.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, who will surely know better than anyone the difficulties in persuading victims to come forward and give evidence in court, has called for victims to be given the right to anonymity to make it easier to bring charges against alleged perpetrators. She was quoted as saying recently:
“It is a very difficult injury to talk about. It is an abuse of their body and it is not a part of the body that people want to talk about in public”.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has also identified that a key difficulty in securing prosecutions is the ability to gather sufficient evidence and has said that,
“if victims had the protection of press and broadcast anonymity, this might encourage more to come forward. … we recommend the Government bring forward proposals to extend the right to anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 to include victims of FGM”.
Our view is similar. Anonymity is granted to victims of rape, among other offences, because of the sensitivity and stigma attached to such an offence, and the sensitivity and stigma that surround female genital mutilation must be at least as intense. Victims should be protected in the way called for in our amendment. If anonymity would encourage more victims to come forward, it must surely be overwhelmingly in the public interest to go down this road, particularly taking into account the lack of prosecutions to date. Where cases of female genital mutilation go to court, victims should also be entitled to the same support and special measures to which other vulnerable victims are entitled. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response.
My Lords, I am grateful for the expert way in which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, introduced his amendment. I have no greater arguments than the ones he adduced. I strongly support him and urge the Minister to consider his suggestion very carefully. I have one final thought: what would the view of noble Lords be if we were talking not about FGM but MGM?
My Lords, it would not be in order for me to say anything about the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, as I was not in my place when it was moved. I support the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in his attempt to get anonymity for the victims of FGM, and I hope the Government will consider it. Indeed, I think there may be a case for going a little further than that, because it could be that there are women within communities who know what is happening who might be more encouraged to come forward and say so if it were guaranteed that they would have anonymity. It is something that needs looking at.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, introduced his amendment extremely effectively and has said all that needs to be said, but I would hate the Minister to think that there was no support for it. Therefore, I simply say that we need these charges to be investigated and pursued, and if victims are not given anonymity, it seems an impossible task. I hope that the Minister will be able to support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, as well as my amendment.
My Lords, I commend noble Lords who spoke to the amendments in this group, which show how seriously this House takes the practice of female genital mutilation. These amendments seek, in their different ways, to further our common objective of ending the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation.
In moving Amendment 40BA, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is, as she explained, seeking to give effect to a recommendation made by the Local Government Association. The association recommended that a specific offence of “inciting and condoning” the practice of female genital mutilation would make it easier to bring cases against those who advocate it, whether they reside in or are visiting the UK. As I hope Clause 64 demonstrates, the Government are open to identifying ways in which the law might be strengthened to help put an end to female genital mutilation and better to protect victims. We are already considering recommendations made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, one of which we will debate shortly, and we are looking carefully at the recent recommendations made by the Home Affairs Select Committee, to which the noble Lord referred. In this instance, however, I hope to persuade the noble Baroness that her proposed amendment is unnecessary as the behaviour that it seeks to criminalise is already covered and can more effectively be punished by existing provisions of the law.
The common-law offence of inciting the commission of another offence was abolished by Section 59 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 with effect from 1 October 2008, and replaced by the provisions in Part 2 of that Act, which I will refer to as the 2007 Act. They are as follows: intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence; encouraging or assisting an offence believing it will be committed; and encouraging or assisting offences believing one or more will be committed. To be convicted of encouraging or assisting an offence, it is not necessary for the anticipated principle offence to take place. In addition to these legislative provisions, if an FGM offence is actually carried out then anyone who aided, abetted, counselled or procured the offence would be liable as an accessory.
We believe that the existing law is sufficient to cover those who encourage or assist the practice of female genital mutilation and those who take part in an offence in a secondary way, whatever their reason for doing so. The offences in Part 2 of the 2007 Act also have extraterritorial application: they can cover those who encourage or assist, wholly or partly from this country, offences of female genital mutilation that they know or believe will be committed abroad.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but I wonder whether I have understood this correctly. My understanding is that the current law talks about aiding a particular offence of FGM. What we are concerned about is the general promotion by community leaders and faith leaders of this practice. I am not sure whether this is the case, but my feeling is that perhaps the current law does not fully and effectively cover that point.
I think I will get on to that further on. As the noble Baroness said, we need to go beyond the law and think about other aspects of how we stop this happening in our communities. I hope I will answer her question, but if I do not I am sure she will stand up again.
This possibly comes on to it: a person convicted of encouraging, assisting, aiding or abetting an offence is liable to any penalty for which he would be liable on conviction of the principle offence. So a person convicted of encouraging, assisting, aiding or abetting an offence of female genital mutilation would be liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for up to 14 years. Amendment 40BA, which provides a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment for encouraging or assisting the promotion of the practice of female genital mutilation, would therefore have the effect of reducing by half the maximum penalty currently available for such behaviour.
The noble Baroness is, of course, right that the long-term and systematic eradication of FGM in the UK will require practising communities to abandon the practice themselves. While the criminal law can play a part in this, the recent Home Affairs Select Committee report quite properly also pointed to the need for more effective engagement with communities to persuade them to abandon the practice. To this end, the Government are spending £100,000 on the FGM community engagement initiative. Charities were invited to bid for up to £10,000 to carry out community work to raise awareness of FGM among women who have already been affected by FGM and young girls at risk, as well as men. We are now funding 12 organisations to deliver community engagement activity, and we will continue to work with civil society organisations to examine how we can support and facilitate their engagement with communities in the UK. It is noteworthy that in its report the Home Affairs Select Committee made no recommendation in favour of a new offence of promoting or encouraging FGM.
I now turn to Amendment 40CA. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has explained, this amendment would extend to the victims of FGM the same anonymity that already applies to the alleged victims of many sexual offences.
Well, the Minister did say that I could stand up again if she did not answer my point. I was listening very carefully to her words, and they still related to a specific offence of FGM, whereas this amendment is about its general promotion—for example, in a faith leader’s sermon—which is a different thing. I only ask the Minister if she could take this back and consider it. I have said enough, and I do not want to interfere with her answer to noble Lords.
I shall certainly go back and think about what the noble Baroness has said. There is no provision in law for condoning something, and that is what she is suggesting. Perhaps I could clarify it with her further. I apologise if I have not quite answered her question.
Can we now move on to Amendment 40CA from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser? He talked about the same anonymity being applied to victims of FGM that already applies to victims of other sexual offences. This follows a recommendation by the Director of Public Prosecutions. FGM is an offence of a particularly personal and sensitive nature, and the DPP believes that it is important that its victims should know that their identity will be protected if a prosecution takes place. The DPP has argued: that this protection needs to be guaranteed, rather than discretionary; that it should apply from the outset, when an allegation is first made, rather than from the point of charge; and that it should last indefinitely. The director believes that such anonymity would go far to encourage the further reporting of this offence.
These are powerful arguments, and we are considering them carefully. In doing so, we will also take account of the fact that, in its recent report on FGM, the Home Affairs Select Committee endorsed the DPP’s proposal. There are some questions that we need to resolve, but I assure your Lordships that the Government see the force of the argument, and I am confident that they shall shortly be in a position to announce their conclusions.
Going back to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I have just been given an additional note. I will read it out: “Where the general encouragement of FGM related to a specific act, constituting an offence would depend on the circumstances of the case, but we believe such conduct could be covered”. If that still does not answer her question I am happy to write to her. But on the basis of everything I have said, and in the knowledge that we can and should return to this issue on Report, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will be content at this stage not to press their amendments.
I thank the Minister for her careful response. I hope that the Minister will agree with me that she has not really answered the point. I am grateful, therefore, that she will take this back, and hope that we can perhaps have discussions with Ministers and officials to sort it out. On that basis I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 40BA withdrawn.
Schedule 3: Paedophile manuals: providers of information society services
Amendments 40BB and 40BC not moved.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clause 64 agreed.
Amendments 40C and 40CA not moved.
40CB: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
“Offence of abduction of child by other person
In the Child Abduction Act 1984, in section 2(1) (offence of abduction of child by other person), for “sixteen” substitute “eighteen”.”
My Lords, we move to a different subject, that of child abduction. There are two separate amendments. The first one, Amendment 40CB, deals with an anomaly—that there are two separate Acts, which deal differently with children or young people. If the child is in care, and the care order goes beyond the age of 16, under Section 49 of the Children Act 1989 the offence of abduction runs to the age of 18. But under the Child Abduction Act 1984, which incorporates the Hague convention of 1980, the age goes to 16. There is therefore an anomaly. The point of the amendment is simply to have parity, and the parity should go up rather than go down.
The second amendment, Amendment 40CC, will take a little longer to explain. It deals with what is called a “child abduction warning order”. This was once called a “harbouring order”. It has been a very useful, but inadequate, tool of the police. In particular, where they have seen a teenager being groomed, they have gone to the man concerned, and they have explained to him that he must obey an order not to have anything to do with the girl. However, if he breaks that order, they have absolutely no powers at all. Consequently the police are very anxious that their useful order to try and interrupt a grooming process for young girls, in particular, should in fact have a statutory backing. The next stage is an arrest under either Section 49 of the Children Act 1989 or Section 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984.
However, there is a gap between the police telling someone, “Lay off this girl, you’re grooming her and you mustn’t do it”, and the point at which the girl has either been detained or taken, when it is quite simply too late. What is therefore needed is the police power—which they use—but put on to a basis that they can then enforce. If the man concerned does not desist from his grooming of the girl, he can then be dealt with under a statutory order. One of the problems about the words in the two Acts of “detained” or “taken” is that quite often it is a psychological or emotional relationship between the girl, who is often much younger, and the man, which is not capable of being treated as coming within either of the two relevant sections. Therefore the warning order could do a lot of good, and it would be useful. I hope the Government will take this away and look at it. It is definitely what the police want, it would give a real bit of power to them and it would fill a serious gap in the possibility of young people being abducted, particularly by older men. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support both these amendments. I recently sat as a member of a Back-Bench inquiry into the legislation used to tackle sexual exploitation, which was supported very ably by Barnardo’s. We took oral evidence from a number of police forces. There was unanimous support for putting these child abduction notices on a statutory footing, which formed part of our recommendations. At present they form no more than an administrative procedure for the police—useful, I am told, for collecting evidence for the future, scaring perpetrators and letting them know that the police are watching them but, in and of themselves, pretty toothless.
Of course, there is existing legislation for child abduction offences. Sometimes, perpetrators who breach warning notices are prosecuted under this other legislation. But the current legislation is often not useful for cases of grooming, because it requires that the adult has taken or detained the child, implying physical control or restraint. We know that psychological and emotional manipulation are the main tools used by perpetrators to control and groom vulnerable children. The Crown Prosecution Service is therefore not always able to take prosecutions forward, due to the child seeming willingly to remain with the offender, when the offender makes no act physically to detain the child. Creating an offence of breaching a notice would address this issue and allow the police to intervene earlier, rather than having to wait for a more serious offence to occur when, of course, what we want is for them to be able to intervene early.
While the police find child abduction warning notices a valuable tool, their lack of a statutory basis leads to an unfortunate consequence. Police told the inquiry about occasions when they issued notices as a deterrent but were then unable to act once they were breached. If they are to have any power in these situations, all concerned need to know that the police will and can act when their instructions are clearly ignored. Instead, the current situation erodes victims’ confidence in the ability of the police to protect them— and they have told us that. Of course, perpetrators’ fear of consequences will diminish when they see police unable to act. So we need to put this on a statutory basis.
In relation to bringing the age into parity between children in and out of care, the point was made by the children who spoke to us that children’s vulnerability is not determined by their membership of a particular group or their legal status. There are many profoundly vulnerable children who are not in the care system and who need the protection of the law. We heard from some of those girls and boys. Indeed, there are many more victims of sexual exploitation who are not in care and have not been in care than there are within it. During the course of the inquiry, we met some children who have been through some appalling things who had never been in care. While it is too late for them, we need to make sure that other profoundly vulnerable young people who happen to be living with their parents have the same protection as those under the state’s care.
The Government have shown real engagement with the inquiry’s findings so far, and I am delighted that they have adopted one of the inquiry’s recommendations by tabling an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill on the topic of grooming. It is clear that these amendments on abduction would be another strong step towards giving the police the tools that they need to prevent some truly vile behaviour.
My Lords, I was recently approached by a very senior ex-policeman with whom I had worked in the past, who was trying to help a number of children’s homes and hostels in the north of England. He found that there were men who came to the hostel and took older girls out, and the hostel was totally unable to do anything about it. They could simply go and fetch the girls back, but the girls were so emotionally engaged, as the noble and learned Baroness and the noble Baroness said, that they went out again. What the hostel desperately needed was the capacity to take stronger action against the men, and I believe that that is what would happen were we to accept the essence of these amendments.
My Lords, we are associated with these amendments and support them. I do not intend to go through the points already so eloquently made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, except simply to repeat that the current system of non-statutory notices does not encourage confidence in the system from victims and their families in the ability of the police to protect them when the provisions are breached. The notice leads to no action being taken unless the thresholds of an abduction threat have been met, which is not always the case. As has been said, the threshold means that the adult must have taken or detained the child.
Creating an offence of breach of a proposed child abduction warning order is likely to strengthen victims’ confidence in seeking help and protection, since it will lead to action being taken against the perpetrator if they breach the order. Once again, I hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response.
Again, this has been an interesting debate, and I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in it. Child exploitation is an abhorrent crime and we are determined to tackle it in whatever form it takes. The findings of a recent parliamentary inquiry, of which noble Lords will be aware, chaired by Sarah Champion MP and supported by Barnardo’s, have been very helpful in contributing to the ongoing work being done by the Government to tackle child sexual exploitation. The recommendations of that inquiry will be crucial in helping to inform our policy and improve our understanding of this form of offending and, indeed, what more we should be doing about it. Specifically, the inquiry received significant evidence relating to child abduction warning notices and, as a result, this issue featured prominently in their report and is now the subject of these two amendments.
It might help if I updated noble Lords on government thinking in this area as at present. This Government have already taken clear action to tackle child sexual exploitation. As the Committee will recall, as part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, we are introducing a number of new police powers. First, we are providing for more effective civil prevention orders, namely the new sexual harm prevention order and the sexual risk order. Secondly, new powers will allow the police to require hotels and similar establishments to provide information about guests whom they believe may be involved in sexual exploitation. Thirdly, we are bringing in strengthened powers for police to close premises associated with child sexual exploitation, a provision championed by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, who cannot be in her place today but for whose support on this matter I am very grateful.
With regard to child abduction warning notices, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for articulating the case for putting these notices on a statutory footing. The Government note that proposals to strengthen the impact of these orders have the support of the police, legal experts, representatives of local agencies, young people who have been affected by sexual exploitation, children’s charities and others. As part of the work of the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People, my ministerial colleagues have given assurances that the Home Office would look at the effectiveness of the existing child abduction warning notices and, in liaison with police colleagues, examine how best this tool can be used in future. In doing so, we will consider carefully the operational benefits of putting these notices on a statutory footing and how such a statutory scheme might operate. We are currently consulting carefully with policing colleagues to seek their views on the potential use of a statutory notice and whether, in their view, further changes are required to better protect children.
Amendment 40CC is an important contribution to this debate. The existing non-statutory child abduction warning notices are issued by the police. That is entirely appropriate where breach of a notice is not, of itself, a criminal offence. But it would be an unusual step for the police themselves to impose what amounts to a restraint order or injunction, breach of which is a criminal offence. If we made it statutory, we would have to consider that. Compare, for example, restraint orders under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which are granted by the courts. Other civil preventive orders, such as serious crime prevention orders and gang injunctions which are dealt with elsewhere in this Bill, are also subject to judicial oversight. We would need to see how that played in with the current arrangements of non-statutory warning notices.
Other issues that we need to consider are the test for the grant of an order, the prohibitions or restrictions that may be attached to an order and the penalty for breach. I note, too, that the amendment requires a child to have been found two or more times in the company of the person to be made the subject of an order. Elsewhere, the inquiry proposed amending the grooming offence in Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to remove the requirement for a second contact with the child. The Government have now tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to that end, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said. We need to consider whether the approach taken in child abduction warning notices should mirror that in the amended grooming offence.
Amendment 40CB seeks to raise the age threshold from 16 to 18 years for the child abduction offence in Section 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984, bringing it into line with the summary offence in Section 49 of the Children Act 1989 of abducting a child in care. Children in care are particularly vulnerable and that is why the Children Act 1989 makes it an offence to take any child who is in care, including a 16 or 17 year-old, away from the person responsible for them without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. However, while we recognise the arguments made for consistency, there are contrary arguments and difficult issues raised. Young people aged 16 and 17 can live independently of their parents and, in many respects, are able to make their own decisions about how they live their life, including their sexual relationships. It is in recognition of this that the Child Abduction Act 1984 applies only where the child is under 16 and the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction ceases to operate when the child reaches the age of 16 years.
However, we are committed to examining the case for placing child abduction warning notices on a statutory footing. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has made a reasoned case for doing so and it deserves serious consideration. All speakers tended to favour the idea that statutory footing for the child abduction warning notices should be considered. While Report stage is some three months off, I cannot say to noble Lords that we will have completed our review by that point. I can undertake to update the House on progress and, of course, noble Lords are free to bring back the amendment, or a variation of it, at the next stage. I hope that I will be able to update noble Lords on how the Government have progressed arguments. Clearly, the debate we have had today will be helpful.
I cannot say the same in connection with Amendment 40CB. That amendment would have significant wider implications and for the reasons I have given I am not persuaded of the case for that particular change. However, given what I have said, I hope that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in proposing the amendment at the beginning of this debate, will feel free to withdraw the amendments tabled in her name and that I will have the opportunity when we return to this subject of updating noble Lords accordingly.
My Lords, first, I thank everyone who has spoken in this short debate. It has been extremely helpful. Perhaps I might ask the Minister whether he thinks my contribution on warning notices was as helpful as that of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—because it was actually my amendment. Not to worry, but I could not resist saying that.
Secondly, on the warning notice, I am well aware that it would be extremely unlikely that the police would have the power to issue a criminal notice of that sort—although in other circumstances, of course, they issue cautions, which have a very significant effect without ever going through a court. However, if an offender does not accept a police notice and continues to groom, I could see the advantages of a very speedy application to the magistrates’ court. That seems to me to be the answer to that particular problem. The magistrates could then issue the appropriate order, which the offender would have to comply with. That might be the right way round—I did not go in to all that.
As for the age of 18, having spent many years on the Hague Convention, I am well aware that on international abductions the age of 16 applies right across the world. Nearly 200 countries have signed up to that, including of course ourselves. However, this is abduction of a rather different sort, within the United Kingdom. It is just as dangerous and just as worrying as international abduction. We only have to look at the press reports of the cases in Rotherham and Rochdale, without going into Luton or Oxford or other places where there was grooming of girls, to know that a considerable number of those girls were not in care. Some of the girls and some of the parents were seeking help; and some of the girls probably were over 16. Therefore the vulnerability of the young is not limited to those within the care system.
I can see very well that it would be quite wrong to change the 1984 Act to include international abduction. However, I ask the Minister to reflect on whether that would not meet some of the really shocking issues that have occurred across not only the north of England but the Midlands and, relatively, the south of England. The vulnerable children there may need help beyond the age of 16. It is not beyond the wit of parliamentary draftsmen to put in an amendment to the 1984 Act dealing with grooming in England and Wales that may lead to abduction and not going across the international child abduction arrangements, which of course we follow in exactly the same way as every other country. Having made those points, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 40CB withdrawn.
Amendment 40CC not moved.
Clause 65: Preparation or training abroad for terrorism
Debate on whether Clause 65 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 makes it an offence to engage in any conduct in preparation for giving effect to an intention to commit or assist another to commit one or more acts of terrorism. It also makes it an offence under Section 6 to provide or receive training for terrorism. The Act also provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction so that an offence may be tried in this country in respect of acts committed abroad. However, this is limited or non-existent in respect of the Section 5 and Section 6 offences to which I have referred.
Clause 65 would provide for extraterritorial jurisdiction for the Section 5 offence and extend the existing extraterritorial jurisdiction for the Section 6 offence. Such extraterritorial jurisdiction is considered appropriate for Section 5 and Section 6 offences because the places where training or preparation for terrorism are taking place are increasingly likely to be located abroad and will enable prosecutions in this country of people preparing or training more generally for terrorism who have, in the current circumstances, travelled from the UK to fight in Syria, where various groups are involved in the conflict.
We do not oppose this clause being in the Bill but have some points to raise about what the impact of the provision is expected to be—hence this debate on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. I appreciate that the Minister may not be in a position to be too specific in his response, but can he give some examples of the kind of prosecutions which it will be possible to pursue under Clause 65 which it has not been possible until now to pursue under the existing legislation, and which would have been pursued had Clause 65 been effective? If prosecutions have already taken place for the offence of preparing for terrorist activities, what does Clause 65 add in reality to the legislative armoury? Has there been consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the need for Clause 65? If a loophole in the current legislation has been identified which constitutes a potential threat to our security, does the Director of Public Prosecutions believe that the provisions of Clause 65 constitute the best way of addressing that loophole?
As I understand it, prosecutions under Clause 65 would need to be in open court and any evidence brought would have to be evidence acceptable in open court and disclosable in open court. If I am right in saying that, presumably intercept evidence and the evidence of informers, for example, will not be usable. In respect of people coming back from Syria, how is it envisaged that it will in practical terms be possible to gather evidence for a prosecution which relates to what the individual has done in Syria that can be pursued in open court? If the evidence to pursue a prosecution under Clause 65 cannot be used in open court, will a terrorism prevention and investigation measures order be sought, which would enable, for example, intercept evidence and the evidence of informers to be used, albeit it would be to obtain the appropriate order rather than to seek a conviction? Or are the Government claiming that Clause 65 will remove the need for TPIMs in a situation where no one on a TPIM has ever been prosecuted and when, in his last report, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation said that TPIMs continued to be needed?
I hope that the Minister will be able to address these points in his reply. Bearing in mind that Clause 65 relates to an extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction to enable offences to be tried in this country in respect of acts committed abroad under Sections 5 and 6 of the Terrorism Act 2006, it is not clear what the actual impact of Clause 65 will be as much of the evidence that becomes available is, if I have understood the situation correctly, unlikely to be able to be presented in open court and could be used only in seeking a TPIM order.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for affording the Committee an opportunity to debate this issue. I am sure that the noble Lord and, for that matter, the Committee as a whole will be in no doubt about the significant threat posed by foreign fighters, particularly in relation to Syria, and the importance the Government place on protecting the public from those who may seek to harm the UK or UK interests.
The nature of the threat from terrorism has evolved since the passing of the Terrorism Act 2006. Many of the threats we face today have significant overseas connections and the places where UK-linked individuals, and those seeking to harm UK interests, may now be training, or otherwise preparing for terrorism, are increasingly likely to be located abroad. Syria, in particular, has become the number one destination for jihadists in the world today, posing a threat to the region and beyond. However, the issue of individuals from the UK seeking to engage in combat and conflicts abroad is not new, nor is it specific to Syria. As my noble friend Lady Warsi, who is sitting next to me preparing to respond to the debate following this Committee stage, will be aware, the recent events in Iraq further demonstrate the fluidity of movement of foreign fighters and we are concerned that groups such as the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—or ISIL, as it is known—are now able to operate in the large areas of ungoverned space that have been created by the conflict. ISIL’s advances in Iraq in particular demonstrate the serious threat that that group poses to both countries, so it is right that we respond to this threat.
In support of wider government efforts to ensure that the full range of operational responses under the Contest strategy are being applied to counter this threat, Clause 65 amends Section 17 of the Terrorism Act 2006. This extends fully the jurisdiction of the UK courts over the offence of preparation of terrorist acts under Section 5 and the offence of training for terrorism under Section 6 of that Act so that preparation and training that take place abroad can be prosecuted. This measure will enable prosecution, on their return to the UK, of individuals who have travelled overseas to prepare or train for terrorism as though their actions had taken place in this country. Any prosecution under this measure will require the express consent of the Attorney-General, in addition to satisfying the Crown Prosecution Service that there is sufficient evidence and that prosecution is in the public interest. Our priority is to dissuade people from travelling to participate in conflicts abroad in the first place, but it is vital that our legislation is as robust as it can be against those who may seek to harm the UK in particular, and leaves no doubt in the minds of individuals engaging in preparatory acts of terrorism, or training for terrorism overseas, of the action we are prepared to take to protect the public.
The noble Lord asked whether it would enable us to prosecute cases which were not prosecutable at present. Recent cases show that these offences can be operationally useful. Mashudur Choudhury was recently convicted under Section 5 of preparing for terrorism in the UK. If, for example, he had undertaken these preparations outside the UK, he could not have been prosecuted. This measure seeks to address this anomaly.
How will this measure have an impact on foreign fighters? We assess that by extending UK territorial jurisdiction for this offence and bringing evidence of activities overseas within its scope, we will potentially strengthen the evidential case that can be made and enhance the prospects of a successful prosecution in some cases. In cases where there is only evidence of activity abroad, it will enable a prosecution to be brought where it is not currently possible.
The noble Lord asked whether we had consulted the Director of Public Prosecutions. We have worked closely with law enforcement partners, including the Crown Prosecution Service, in developing this measure. They fully support it and have suggested that this will be operationally useful. As for the question about gathering evidence and how law enforcement agencies will obtain the evidence required for a prosecution, particularly as it involves evidence gathering abroad, law enforcement agencies are accustomed to working with the relevant authorities in other countries for the purpose of gathering evidence for prosecutions. We fully expect that this established arrangement will continue to be employed for future prosecutions.
We recognise that any evidence gathering which involves other countries is inherently more challenging than if it were confined to the UK, but this does not mean that prosecution is impossible. That is the purpose of introducing these measures in Clause 65. These changes will ensure that UK linked individuals and those who seek to harm UK interests and travel overseas to prepare or train for terrorism can be prosecuted as if their actions had taken place in the UK and that they are not beyond the reach of the law. It is essential that our law enforcement partners are equipped with the right powers to counter the threat posed by foreign fighters who travel overseas to undertake terrorist activities and may go on to carry out terrorist attacks.
I hope that with those explanations the noble Lord will be prepared to accept that Clause 65 should form part of the Bill.
Clause 65 agreed.
Clause 66 agreed.
Clause 67: Minor and consequential amendments
40D: Clause 67, page 49, line 30, leave out “or revoke” and insert “, revoke or otherwise modify”
My Lords, Amendment 40D to Clause 67 responds to a recommendation by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its report on the Bill. The committee has pointed out that any regulations made under Clause 67(2) amending, repealing or revoking any provision of primary legislation would be subject to the affirmative procedure, but that the negative procedure would apply to any regulations otherwise modifying primary legislation. The Government accept the committee’s argument that a non-textual modification of primary legislation is capable of making changes which are no less significant than textual amendments and that, accordingly, the affirmative procedure should also apply in such cases. Amendment 40D therefore amends Clause 67(5) to this end. I am grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for highlighting this issue. Amendments 42A and 44 make a technical adjustment to the commencement power in Clause 70. I beg to move.
Amendment 40D agreed.
Clause 67, as amended, agreed.
Schedule 4: Minor and consequential amendments
41: Schedule 4, page 74, line 41, at end insert—
“25A In section 99 of that Act (postponement), after paragraph (c) of subsection (11) insert—
“(d) made a restitution order;(e) ordered the accused under section 253F(2) of the Procedure Act to pay a victim surcharge.”25B (1) Section 100 of that Act (effect of postponement) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (3)—
(a) at the end of paragraph (b) omit “or”;(b) after paragraph (c) insert—“(d) make a restitution order, or(e) order the accused under section 253F(2) of the Procedure Act to pay a victim surcharge.”(3) In subsection (4)—
(a) at the end of paragraph (b) omit “or”;(b) after paragraph (c) insert—“(d) making a restitution order, or(e) ordering the accused under section 253F(2) of the Procedure Act to pay a victim surcharge.”25C (1) Section 104 of that Act (no order made: reconsideration of case) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (7), after paragraph (d) insert—
“(e) any restitution order which has been made against the accused in respect of the offence (or any of the offences) concerned;“(f) any order under section 253F(2) of the Procedure Act requiring the accused to pay a victim surcharge in respect of the offence (or any of the offences) concerned.”(3) After subsection (8) insert—
“(8A) If a restitution order or an order under section 253F(2) of the Procedure Act has been made against the accused in respect of the offence or offences concerned, section 97A(2) and (4) does not apply.”
25D (1) Section 105 of that Act (no order made: reconsideration of benefit) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (10), after paragraph (d) insert—
“(e) any restitution order which has been made against the accused in respect of the offence (or any of the offences) concerned;“(f) any order under section 253F(2) of the Procedure Act requiring the accused to pay a victim surcharge in respect of the offence (or any of the offences) concerned.”(3) After subsection (11) insert—
“(11A) If a restitution order or an order under section 253F(2) of the Procedure Act has been made against the accused in respect of the offence or offences concerned, section 97A(2) and (4) does not apply.”
25E (1) Section 106 of that Act (order made: reconsideration of benefit) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (8), after paragraph (c) insert—
“(d) any restitution order which has been made against the accused in respect of the offence (or any of the offences) concerned;“(e) any order under section 253F(2) of the Procedure Act requiring the accused to pay a victim surcharge in respect of the offence (or any of the offences) concerned.” (3) In subsection (9)—
(a) for “the court must not” substitute “the court—(a) must not”;(b) at the end insert—“(b) must not have regard to an order falling within subsection (8)(d) or (e) if a court has made a direction under section 97A(2) or (4).”25F In section 118 of that Act (application of provisions about fine enforcement), in subsection (2) omit paragraph (k).
25G In section 131 of that Act (sums received by clerk of court)—
(a) in subsection (6), after “97(6)” insert “or 97A(4)”;(b) after that subsection insert—“(6A) If a direction was made under section 97A(2) or (4) for an amount payable under a restitution order or a victim surcharge under section 253F(2) of the Procedure Act to be paid out of sums recovered under the confiscation order, the clerk of court must next apply the sums in payment of that amount.”25H In section 153 of that Act (satisfaction of confiscation orders), in subsection (1) omit paragraph (b).”
Amendment 41 agreed.
Schedule 4, as amended, agreed.
Clause 68 agreed.
Clause 69: Extent
42: Clause 69, page 51, line 14, leave out “15 and 16” and insert “(Restitution order and victim surcharge) to (Conditions for exercise of search and seizure powers)”
Amendment 42 agreed.
Clause 69, as amended, agreed.
Clause 70: Commencement
Amendments 42A to 44
42A: Clause 70, page 51, line 26, at end insert “made by statutory instrument”
43: Clause 70, page 51, line 29, leave out “15 and 16” and insert “(Restitution order and victim surcharge) to (Conditions for exercise of search and seizure powers)”
44: Clause 70, page 52, leave out line 17
Amendments 42A to 44 agreed.
Clause 70, as amended, agreed.
Clause 71 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.