Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to respond to the multiple allegations of child sexual abuse within football clubs.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Addington, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper. I think the Minister and I would agree that we have both drawn the short straw today, for different reasons, but I hope we can have an interesting debate on the subject, which is not the most pleasant one.
Football—the beautiful game, which we gave to the world—is in crisis at the moment over allegations of sex abuse. All I wanted to do when I was young was to play football. There was only one thing wrong with that, which was that I was not any good at it. Somebody who was very good at it was a chap called David White. He rang me when he heard I was speaking today, and I met him on Sunday. He started playing football at five years of age. His father took him everywhere, and he clearly had the ability and the skill. At 16, he signed professional papers for Manchester City; at 18 he made his debut. In his career he played almost 400 games, scored 100 goals and won an England cap. He was a good footballer. He scored the first Premier League goal for Manchester City when the league was formed in 1991. You would think his life was complete.
I went to meet David for three hours. The story he told me was a difficult one, but one he wants to be heard, for a number of reasons, which will become evident. When he was 10, a coach at a local football team said he was taking the team to Spain for a week to bond, to learn to work together and to learn about different cultures and lifestyles. He said it would be good for the boy, whose parents happily sent him on his way to Spain with all the other lads. On the second day in Spain, the abuse from the coach started. The boy is 10 years of age, in Spain; he does not speak Spanish, there are no mobile telephones and he is at the mercy of this coach for a week. It is absolutely appalling. He comes back and has the dilemma of whether to tell his father—he knows what the consequences of that will be, including probably prison for his father—or to keep quiet. He kept quiet and told nobody. For 20 years, he told nobody.
The police called in about 1999, asking about abuse and whether he had any evidence of it and whether he knew about anybody else or had been involved himself. He said, “No, I knew nothing about any of this”, because he still had his father. His father was alive and he knew what it would do to him, so he denied it. Then it was in the newspapers. His mother asked him about it and he denied it, but in the end he could not deny it, and explained it all to her one night. He told me that that was cathartic and lifted the weight off his shoulders, as it had been in the back of his mind all his career. His mother was made to promise not to tell his father—they had separated by now—and his father, who died a few years later, never knew, for which he is really grateful. He and his mother now knew, but no one else knew for another 15 years, until Andy Woodward admitted that he was abused. David and other footballers then came forward to say that they were as well.
You think that is the story, but then at 6 pm on Sunday, I get a phone call from his mother, who wants me to go and see her to discuss the matter. So on Monday, I left this Chamber on the 6 pm train back to Manchester, and then got in my car and drove to Eccles to meet his mother, an absolutely wonderful woman. In her mid-seventies, she lives in Eccles and is still active in the community. As you go in, there is a photograph on the wall of Harold Wilson in the Rose Garden with a number of people, some of whom Members to my right may remember. Her father was Jack McCann, the Labour MP for Rochdale from the late 1950s to about 1972, when he unfortunately died. So she is a socialist in background. She is at the heart of the community now, attending Christmas parties and so on. We sat for a couple of hours, and what came from her was a sense of guilt. There is a disconnect between your head and your heart; your head tells you that it is not your fault and these things happen, but your heart tells you that you should have looked after your son and somehow you are responsible. The more you tell the story, though, the more people understand it and the less that guilt is there. I hope that telling David’s story today will help other people to come forward and explain the problems that they have had.
David White has no problem with the FA or with the football club. He is not seeking compensation or publicity. All he wants is for this not to happen to anyone else. There have been big changes now. I have met people from the FA; I met James MacDougall yesterday and we had a good discussion. There are checks and balances now in the football league and the FA. I would say it is one of the safest industries for young boys and girls to go into because those checks and balances are second to none and the child protection unit works really well.
However, the approach needs to be more holistic. As David said, these people operate down paths. If they go down the path of football and we cut that path off, that is great, but what is to stop them opening a little judo club in Urmston, a badminton club in London or a dance school in Newcastle? It is the holistic problem that David wants challenging. It is all very well for these organisations to begin to run to cover, call for reports and say it is all very terrible, but there needs to be an outcome from this. That outcome has to be the message that, “If it doesn’t feel right, tell someone”, together with a phone number.
What David wants is for the football league and the Premier League, the people with the big money, to be a conduit for all other sports to pull together and get this to happen. I cannot make it happen and neither can noble Lords, not even the Minister, because children do not listen to us—they listen to Wayne Rooney, Andy Murray or Lewis Hamilton. People like that should be persuaded to pass that message down to children. Now, unlike 1979, children have mobile phones and are all on Snapchat and talking to each other. There is much less chance of these people manipulating and frightening them and making them their “special people” because they have no one to talk to.
What David wants is for people to understand the darkness and despair. He tells me he could have played more for England and for his football clubs. He would have a fantastic two or three weeks where he would score goals but then something would trigger him, the mist would come over him and he would be useless for two or three weeks. Managers would say, “He’s a great footballer but he doesn’t put his heart into it”, or, “He’s a great footballer but he’s a Champagne Charlie”. They did not know what David was going through. I would like to ask some of the managers who have managed David White to pick the phone up and chat to him now, because he was not not trying—it was just that he was in a place where it was almost impossible for him to function. Then that would go, and he would carry on. This is a difficult subject for me, and indeed the House, to talk about, but I emphasise that if we can get the message right this will not happen for anyone else. That is the most important thing that we want to happen.
I ask the Minister for her view on the following. David White, an ambassador for Manchester City who does corporate hospitality, also does the commentary for Radio Manchester on match nights. Last night City played Watford, but he had a phone call from the BBC saying that it no longer wanted his football-commentating services until, in its words, “this matter is dealt with”. That is incredible and unforgivable of the BBC. He is a victim; he has not been charged, he is not giving evidence and he is not sub judice—he is just a person—yet the BBC has arbitrarily decided that he cannot speak about football any more. Does the Minister think that was a sensible thing to do? Does it send out the right message to people to come forward, to help to change the situation? I do not think the situation is as bad now as it was. That was then; in the 1960s and 1970s there was a different culture. It still needs addressing, though, and there are far more people in far more sports in the same situation. I hope the Minister will address those points.
My Lords, a good friend of mine stood in the witness box nearly 20 years ago and helped to successfully prosecute a sports teacher who had abused many boys over a long period. I still vividly remember his fear of people finding out. He knew he wanted to stand up and testify but he never wanted to speak about it ever again, and who can blame him? I do not think we can ever overestimate how hard and painful it is to open up about abuse. So for Andy Woodward and others to publicly speak out is incredibly brave—even more so against the sometimes macho backdrop of football.
I praise the swift response of the NSPCC. For many victims, an anonymous helpline is the only way that they can bear to talk about it, and is often the first step on the road to reporting it officially. The NSPCC’s work offering support and guidelines to clubs over the past decade will have helped to prevent further abuse, one hopes, but there can be no room for complacency. Predatory abusers will always be on the lookout for new ways to fool the system. That is why it is so important for clubs, volunteers and parents to work together to ensure that sensible vigilance is maintained, and to equip children with an understanding of what is appropriate and give them the confidence to speak out if behaviour is not suitable.
It is clear the Government are taking this issue extremely seriously, but can the Minister give any more detail about how they are supporting non-statutory organisations in their work to help victims of abuse? According to figures obtained by the NSPCC, a shocking 90% of those who experience abuse at an early age develop mental health issues by the time they reach 18. Can she reassure the House that victims will be able to draw on the support of properly trained specialist professionals across the police, social work and the NHS? Intervening early and offering focused help and support is crucial in rebuilding lives. It must not be left until a crisis point has been reached.
The Football Association has rightly understood how grave this situation is. However, is the Minister confident that its inquiry will be independently run and published in full when the time comes?
Many parents may be surprised to learn that not all sports clubs are regulated. Clubs that receive public funding have to meet the highest safeguarding standards, but privately-funded clubs are not required to have stringent systems, while some newer sports with no national governing body may not be required to DBS check at all. Does the Minister think that greater transparency for parents may be helpful in this regard?
Despite all this, it is important to remember that the majority of coaches and volunteers have children’s best interests at heart, and that children up and down the country are able to flourish and play sport thanks to their dedication.
My Lords, I very much welcome this debate. It is sad that we are in this position, although perhaps not surprising considering the number of cases that we have heard about outside sport. I admire the bravery of those who have come forward; it is a huge burden to carry. Right now the focus is on the abuse of children and that is quite right, but we should not forget adults and the potential for longer-term grooming, and those who can be vulnerable by being involved in sport. It is true that sport has a dark side; it is a place where you can get close to children and build a relationship with them and their families.
I declare an interest in that I was asked to do the review of duty of care by the right honourable Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport in another place, after the Government’s sport strategy Sporting Future was published in late 2015. I am due to report to the Minister shortly. I thank her for starting this work, and I am indebted to her officials at DCMS for the time that they have given me. It would be unfair to cover the details of my review or its conclusions before the Minister has had the chance to formally review it, but recent events bring into stark focus what duty of care means in sport, and what it means to participants. In the simplest terms, it means that at all levels, we treat people how we would like to be treated ourselves.
Sport has a special place in the nation’s heart—and quite rightly. There is much celebration of success, whether it is a medal at the highest level or a grass-roots game. Sport is amazing. It means a lot to us as a nation. As an individual, it is about developing your physical and mental health and well-being. For me, it changed my life. But driving a positive culture that has duty of care at its heart is a fundamental responsibility of leaders, managers and coaches at every level in every organisation in sport.
If someone knows that something inappropriate it is happening, they need to feel able to step forward and bring about change without fear of recrimination. We must have an opportunity for whistleblowers to raise concerns. We have seen that a lack of duty of care has resulted in behaviours and actions which are unacceptable and furthermore should not be tolerated in sport. We have seen what that has led to.
Participants should not feel that they are just a number on a spreadsheet. The drive for success and the desire to win should not be at the cost of the individuals involved. What we have seen has been dominated by fear. There is fear of not being believed. There is fear that a young participant’s word will not be taken against a trusted, respected and successful coach—and the words “successful coach” hide many things. There is fear of letting their family down. There is the expectation, if they play sport; there is the amount that families put into a child who has a dream. The biggest fear is that your dream may be taken away from you. It is amazing what people will tolerate to hold their dream true to themselves. There is no place for fear within our sports system.
I have never experienced sexual harassment in sport, but I have many friends who have. Some of the culture that exists in sport is tough: there is training and commitment. If we think outside sport, there is dance, there are the arts. That is what it takes to achieve, but a tough and challenging system should not equate to abusive relationships. The bottom line is that those in sport should be safe and free from bullying, abuse and harm. Sport cannot think of itself as something different or special.
I believe that things have changed in recent years and that measures are in place that safeguard those who currently participate, but then and now participants have the right to be free from harm. Then and now, they have a right to be free from bullying. Then and now, they have a right to be free from sexual harassment and sexual abuse. We cannot assume that it has just gone away; nor can we assume that it is just in football.
I know how seriously the Government are taking this issue—I have been party to many meetings and discussions in recent weeks—but I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government are doing everything they can to close the loopholes that exist in sport around criminal record checks and reporting, and that they are looking at wider funded and non-funded sports which want to have safeguarding policies in place. Sport is too special to allow these individuals to have a place in it.
My Lords, and so it goes on. Another day, another part of our society has to face up to the enemy within, whether it is now or many, many years ago. So far, we have had Churches, charities, hospitals, schools and others—all sectors that should have the highest level of care and safeguarding for young people—but they have been and sometimes are being found wanting.
The Question asked today is what the Government should be doing about it. It is without doubt that victims of these crimes have suffered enormously and have shown great courage in standing up to talk about what happened to them. I am sure that all of us in your Lordships’ House would commend them on their bravery and hope that, if others have suffered, they, too, decide that now is the time to speak up, because time is of the essence: for the accuser, but also for the accused.
The grown-up sons of a friend of mine had an experience recently. She was woken by a knock on the door very early one morning, allowed to make one phone call and then had to sit in her sitting room all day, guarded by the police, as her house was searched. All devices were removed, including hers, and her sons were taken away for questioning.
To cut a long story short, it was a hugely traumatic experience for all concerned, and it went on and on. The sons were asked to report back to the police station again and again. On one occasion, they turned up and were told: “Didn’t you get the letter? We don’t need you today”. The letter actually arrived the next day.
After well over a year, it was all finally over. One son was completely exonerated of any wrongdoing; the other was given a bit of a slap on the wrist for something he did many years previously which was not malicious, possibly not even illegal, but quite stupid. I am sure that all of us with teenage children know that they do stupid things.
I am not saying that the police are wrong in most of their actions—of course they are not; they must investigate fully—but the impact on that family was enormous, although there was no wrongdoing. The impact on the boys, in particular, was massive. One lost his job; the other was at university and his studies were severely disrupted. Whatever must be done—and I agree that we must do things—in this case and in all others it must be done quickly, effectively and with minimal distress to all those involved, both accuser and accused, because sometimes they have not done something wrong.
What does this mean for the recent revelations surrounding football? First, I sincerely hope that all affected individuals come forward and speak up so that the full scale of the issue can be understood. Then I hope that all those charged with investigating the actions of the few are empowered and resourced such that they complete their investigations as quickly as possible; and then that action against those who have abused is swiftly taken. It would be a terrible shame to blight the hard work of the vast majority of those in football, who love the game and are as appalled as we are to hear about these events. We must investigate, take action and allow everyone, in football and beyond, to try to move on.
My Lords, for those of us who have for decades supported football at all levels, from being the mum on the touchline on the Sunday boy’s league through to being a season ticket holder at professional games at various levels, the recent revelations cast an ugly shadow on the beautiful game. That is why I start by paying tribute to all those who have had the courage to come forward and witness through their personal stories, saying what until now has been unsayable.
We know that child sexual abuse is a society-wide problem. The problem has been getting everyone in society to accept that. The one good that can come from these revelations is that it will, I hope, become easier for others who have been abused to come forward in future.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, in her 2015 report on protecting children from harm, cites the following in her assessment of the impact of child sexual abuse in the family environment, but it is just as pertinent outside the family environment:
“Many victims do not recognise that they have been sexually abused until much later in life … Victims and survivors face considerable barriers to telling anyone and accessing help … Child-sexual abuse … casts a long shadow over the life of victims and survivors”.
I particularly welcome the proposal this week that a trust should be established to assist former young footballers who have been abused. The scale of abuse is huge, and no doubt there is more to follow in football and other sports where coaches come into contact with young people.
However, it is of deep concern that victims’ charities and organisations are not currently regulated by any governing body, statutory or voluntary. In effect, that means that anybody could establish a charity without the necessary qualifications. This in itself raises safeguarding issues, especially due to the vulnerability of the victims. That is why I tabled amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill that would place statutory duties on elected policing bodies and the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses to ensure that quality standards are developed, published and adhered to.
Your Lordships’ House debated the amendments and agreed to them on Monday night and, if implemented, they would ensure that a quality standard in relation to the provision of victims’ services was prepared and published. They would also ensure that the quality standard is reviewed at least every five years; and that, in preparing the quality standards, the commissioner and the policing bodies would have a duty to consult the public. These quality standards would cover appropriate qualifications: minimum standard of experience; correct indemnity insurance; compliance with data protection and safeguarding laws; complaints procedures; regulatory bodies to take complaints and ensure that the standards are adhered to; and a strict compliance with the victims’ code. Those quality standards would ensure much-needed services for abused boys and girls, men and women in sports and elsewhere, and that they are adhered to to protect everyone. Can the Minister help us to progress these when the amendments return to the Commons?
Finally, I mention the excellent work of Mandate Now, the campaigning group, which makes the important point that we need mandatory reporting of possible child sexual abuse, which we do not have. Here I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Walmsley, who has long been advocating this in your Lordships’ House. Mandate Now makes it plain that the FA’s own safeguarding policy is confused and inconsistent. While it says that it is mandatory to report, when it is not, its procedures are only guidance, not a requirement on its bodies. Worse, it is not clear who should undergo a criminal records check. When will mandatory reporting be introduced, and when will those inconsistencies be clarified? The time for prevarication on this is now over.
My Lords, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, introducing this debate and telling the story of David White was truly moving. Like many people in this country, I have heard some of the stories and experiences of former professional footballers who have told their stories, and that is the moment when it gets through to you that there is a real problem that has to be tackled. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, very often we do not understand what child sexual abuse really is. From my own experience of playing football as a youngster, some of the things that went on we would call child sexual abuse now—but certainly, in those days, we did not.
Child sexual abuse as we understand it now is abhorrent; it is criminal. It occurs in the UK, and not just in England—inquiries are going on in Scotland, Ireland and Wales—on a scale that requires urgent government action if it is to be reduced and eliminated. It thrives because there is often a lack of moral leadership locally and nationally on issues like this; there is a prevalent culture in an environment frequented by children of fierce secrecy and shame. The sex predators know how to exploit those environments; they carry their confidence on their shoulders, believing that they can get away with whatever they do. We salute those individuals who have come forward to share their experiences of abuses which have haunted them, some for as long as 40 years. They now want understanding, support, investigations and answers.
Several local inquiries have been launched, and the FA has set up its own national independent inquiry, led by Clive Sheldon—and it is for government to oversee the content of that, to ensure that it is truly independent and provides us with the answers that are necessary, not only for those who have complained but for all of us who have an interest in ensuring that action is taken. I hope that it will be able to shed light on what happened—when, how, why, who did what and who did nothing when they should have done something, what is happening now and how effective and appropriate the current safeguarding arrangements are covering all those who work with children and young people in football at every level. Of course, the police services are pursuing their own investigations, and Operation Hydrant is co-ordinating police investigations. These are all very important actions, as part of providing us with the information that we need to know about what is happening to provide safeguarding while we wait for those answers.
Football is a massive national industry, involving families, their children, paid staff and volunteers, some within the control and the ambit of safeguarding and some not. There is currently a network of 8,500 designated safeguarding officers, carrying out 55,000 criminal record checks, with 35,000 people going through the safeguarding children training each session. But we should recognise that this latest scandal of child sexual abuse must be seen within a wider context of how abuse against children is taking place—the culture of shame, fear and secrecy that enables it to thrive. There is so much domestic violence, rape and child sexual abuse being committed, on a scale against children and women—and, occasionally, men—which requires strong action and leadership. We look to government to seek the action that it takes within the context of the inquiries about football to deal with it and give leadership on that bigger scale.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for securing this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, for introducing it. In those thanks, I express incredible sadness at the reason why we have to have this debate. We have only one national sport in Great Britain and, for better or worse, at the moment that is football. The headlines in recent weeks have not been made by the top goal-scorer, promotion, or the relegation positions of particular clubs; it has been a far darker side of not just football or sport generally but society. Those statistics run like this: more than 1,700 calls so far have been made to the NSPCC helpline; 21 police forces are investigating, to date, 83 suspects, involving 98 clubs, at every level of football in every region of the United Kingdom. We have to ensure that every allegation is thoroughly and fully investigated. Everything must be out in the open, with no cover-ups and no smoothing away, no hush-ups this time around. Does the Minister believe that the Football Association and other football bodies have the competency to conduct an independent and thorough inquiry and fulfil their responsibilities in this respect?
That was then—what about now? I have serious concerns as to whether football is in shape, not just to investigate these horrific historic events but to deal with the potential abuse taking place today. Is the governance in place? What about values and culture? When you consider the rather pick-and-mix approach that football has taken to inclusion, equality and stadia, never mind this most fundamental issue of safety, does it have the right structures, attitude, approach and culture that we need from a modern organisation in sport today?
As other noble Lords have said, this obviously goes wider than the sport of football. Does my noble friend the Minister believe that all sports have the right governance, culture, systems and approaches in place to ensure not just that all historical events are fully and thoroughly investigated but that nobody today should have to suffer or experience the events that have come out over recent weeks—events that have shown the darker side not just of sport but of our society, which none of us can allow to continue for want of good governance and for want of the right culture?
Sport, the media, the health service—we are talking about society. The only way that we can ensure that people have a positive experience in sport—the fun, the enjoyment, the excitement, the reason why we all love sport—is if that is built on the bedrock of safety for all concerned. This has to be the first principle and the starting point. We can only reform this issue across society if every element plays its part, starting with sport. Does my noble friend believe that football is competent to investigate the historical cases and competent to go forward and ensure an exciting, fun experience for all who seek to enjoy it?
My Lords, I know that my time is very limited and I am grateful to be able to speak in this important debate, although it is quite a short time to talk about this abuse. As Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, I have found it very saddening to hear about this abuse. It is very courageous of everybody to come forward about what has happened to them. We must recognise their courage and not use it just to tell a story. I will keep my speech short and just ask when the Government are considering looking into investigating this child sexual abuse within football. I want to make sure that everybody co-operates and that health, schools, colleges and housing, to name a few areas, are involved. This has to be a seamless package, to ensure that all victims and survivors get the right support as we go forward.
We must also ensure that we have enough practitioners qualified to assist survivors. Good intentions are laudable but, on their own, they are simply not enough. I know from working with NAPAC—the National Association for People Abused in Childhood—that there has been a tenfold increase in abuse survivors coming forward. We need to ensure that we have quality training for support workers so that they can give the right support to abused survivors. This is only the beginning of the journey that they have spoken about—we have to ensure that their future is supported. This means that there will have to be money put into the pot, which must be from central funding. We cannot have a postcode lottery. All police and crime commissioners have a purse for victims’ services but we cannot hide behind that—we must ensure that funding comes from central government to make sure that everybody has the same level of support as they go through their journey. Anything short of that is not good enough. Can the Minister ensure that there will be enough funding? We need to understand how to progress, but first and foremost we must make sure that survivors have access to that support.
What saddens me today is that child sexual abuse is being talked about in a lot of areas. Everybody has different terms of reference but, as Victims’ Commissioner and a victim of crime myself, I do not want to see this issue placed in silos. We have a sexual abuse inquiry that is looking at establishments and we are also now looking at football associations—but what about the victims in all of this? We cannot work in silos. These victims have been very courageous in coming forward. This is not window dressing; it is these victims’ lives. We have to ensure that we create a happy, healthy sport where people can feel safe.
My Lords, I start by saying how impressed I have been by the bravery of those footballers who have found the strength to talk about their painful childhood experiences; I thank them for what they have done. We all have a duty to ensure that their suffering has not been in vain. I have talked to some of them, including Ian Ackley and Paul Stewart, and it is clear that their main motivation is to try to ensure that these terrible experiences are not suffered by vulnerable children in the future.
I have long been a campaigner for mandatory reporting. I and many of the footballers feel that if we had had a legal duty to report 20 years ago, someone would have told the authorities about their suspicions—indeed, there were disclosures in some cases—and the abuse would have stopped. This is what children want when they disclose abuse. They want action and they want the abuse to stop. The Government agreed in 2014 to have the public consultation on mandatory reporting, which has recently ended. The responses have not yet been published and, of course, neither has the Government’s response. It took them over 18 months from promising the consultation to actually reporting it. I do not want to wait for another 18 months before they respond to the views expressed. When will the responses be published and when will the Government respond? In doing so, will they take seriously the victims’ demands for legislation to try to ensure that this never happens again? Will the Government now accept that all the guidance, training, professional sanctions and so on have not worked? Not all the cases that the police are investigating are non-recent. It is still happening. Mandatory reporting would include national sporting bodies, so some of this abuse could be stopped before more young people are damaged for life.
I am not looking for custodial sentences for those who ignore suspicions of child abuse and fail to report it to the authorities, but I am looking for a criminal offence and a fine, not in order to criminalise people who work with children, most of whom do wonderful work, but to act as a disincentive to the perpetrators. If they know that thousands of eyes are watching and they have a legal duty to report what they know, some will be deterred from acting and many will be caught before they damage any more children. One of the footballers said to me yesterday that if parents realised that no legal duty to report exists—just guidance and professional sanctions—they would be more hesitant about exposing their children to the opportunities that are so readily taken up by paedophiles. Current measures have patently failed to protect children and it is time to go further.
I believe that those who have reported suspicions in the past, and risked damage to their own careers, would be protected by a law that mandates them to report what they know. Mandatory reporting works in Northern Ireland and in Australia, where a seven-year study has been carried out by Professor Ben Mathews. He found that there was initially an increase in reports, but resources must be made available to deal with them. I fear the Government have resisted this for as long as I have been pressing for it because of money. That fact is being disguised by spurious claims that increased reports would prevent services being provided for the worst cases. In the end, MR would save money because of the mental health costs avoided and lives destroyed. Ian Ackley’s late father raised his concerns 20 years ago. I have here all his letters from organisations which passed the buck and said that they could not do anything until the Government acted. Do we have to wait another 20 years before the Government act?
The Government have resisted demands for legislation on MR for years. Ian Ackley was in a supermarket yesterday and was charged 5p for a plastic bag. He says that if the Government can legislate to save plastic and marine life, surely they can legislate to save children. I remind the Minister of how few people used seat belts until it became illegal not to. Legislation is not a silver bullet but it works. Will the Minister agree to meet with me and some of the footballers to discuss how we can move forward?
My Lords, as many other noble Lords have said, football is not simply a sport or pastime but more important even that life and death. It is part of our national fabric, and the news that we have been hearing has shocked us all. I did not know some of the details that have been revealed today but I felt that David White’s story, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, was very moving indeed and got to the heart of the problem.
We have to reassure parents that everything possible is being done. When we last spoke about this issue in the House, I said that it had the makings of a major scandal. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, mentioned, since then the number of football clubs that have been named has gone from six to 98 and all tiers of the game have been affected. Twenty-one police forces are now opening investigations and the helpline set up by the NSPCC is working extremely well—sadly so. It has become a UK-wide scandal and needs a high-level response.
I reiterate our support from these Benches for the actions the Government have taken so far; I am sure they are taking this issue very seriously. However, it is important that we get reassurance today about what the strategy is and whether it will be all-encompassing, as it needs to be, and in particular whether the victims will be supported in that. I pay tribute to the Minister for being here for the whole morning and still on her feet—well, not quite, but I am sure she will be shortly. When she responds, I would be grateful if she shared with us, after telling us last month that the department was in touch with all sporting organisations, what the preliminary responses have been. We need to know whether this is restricted to one or two sports or whether it goes—as I think we fear—to all sports, whether or not they are, as it were, in the same league as football.
Although the FA is doing as much as it can on this issue and the independent report is valuable, do we not now need a proper independent inquiry to pick up on all the points that have been mentioned today? It has been said that the independent inquiry into historical child abuse is competent to look at this issue. Can the Minister confirm that that will be the case and, if not, what steps will be taken? What is being done to ensure that the question which underlay the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, is answered—namely, is it now safe for today’s children? As I think other noble Lords said, reports and prosecutions may not be enough in this case. We need an educational initiative and an all-sports initiative, and we need access to help to be signalled more clearly. We probably need leadership from within the sport, and a number of top sports people need to be involved in that.
In a vain attempt to maintain my physical health, I sometimes run at the weekend. Usually, it is an excuse to take the dogs out. My route takes me past the local secondary school. Last Sunday, I noticed several hundred young children out there having what seemed to be the time of their lives. It is a measure of the way this scandal has hit me that I could not see that and enjoy the innocence that was obviously on display. Rather, I worried about what was happening behind the scenes, and the darkness that we have talked about. We need to think more clearly about some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about duty of care. That is a very important initiative which I hope will be supported when she produces her report. She talked about the right to be free from sexual harassment. It is now well past the time that we had mandatory reporting.
My Lords, I offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, who spoke so movingly about how tragic this issue can be, and about the bravery of people who come forward, whose only wish is that this does not happen to anyone else.
This is a very important debate. It is clear from the considered and heartfelt contributions we have heard that this is an issue which strikes right to the heart of our society. It raises many important and, in some cases, uncomfortable questions. It is right that we do not shy away from any of these questions. We must look at what these recent allegations tell us about our national game and learn all that we can to ensure that children playing football and, indeed, all sports today and in the future are as safe as they can possibly be.
The noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, made an interesting point about how—thank goodness—awareness on this issue has changed over the years. I pay tribute to the former footballers who have so bravely come forward to talk publicly about the abuse they have experienced. We have seen the impact this has had, with so many people now coming forward to the police and the NSPCC helpline to talk about their experiences. It is only through people talking about abuse that we can hope to identify perpetrators, bring them to justice and ensure that no one else has to endure the suffering that child sexual abuse can cause. It is only through people talking about abuse that we can ensure victims and survivors are offered the support they may need.
As has been reported, the Football Association has launched an inquiry into its past processes, to be led by Clive Sheldon QC. This review will look at who knew what and when, and what action was, or should have been, taken. The full terms of reference for this review have been published, and the FA has given assurances that the process will be as transparent and open as possible. The child protection in sport unit will also be conducting a review of the FA’s current child protection processes to ensure that these are as robust as possible. We have seen further actions from the FA, such as the excellent video featuring Wayne Rooney and other English captains, encouraging people to speak up if they have any concerns, as the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, pointed out.
As my noble friend Lord Holmes mentioned, it would be naive to think that this is an issue that affects only football. We must be open to the possibility that this is an issue across other sports as well. To that end, the Minister for Sport has written to more than 40 sports to ask them to redouble their efforts relating to child protection. She has asked them to ensure that they have processes in place to manage non-recent allegations, and that their current child protection processes are as robust as possible. The Culture Secretary and the Home Secretary have also chaired a meeting with some of the biggest sports, the police and sports agencies to ensure that current processes are in place and as strong as they possibly can be. This demonstrates the strong cross-government co-operation on these issues. We are working with sports bodies, as a matter of urgency, to identify where systems and processes can be strengthened still further, and how government can support them in doing so. We look forward to receiving the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on the duty of care in sport, which is looking at safeguarding issues.
Noble Lords asked several questions. The noble Lord, Lord Goddard, asked about David White being taken off a BBC programme. This is obviously a decision by BBC Radio Manchester. We applaud Mr White’s bravery in coming forward to talk about the abuse he has suffered. It is thanks to the courage shown by him that so many others have come forward. As noble Lords can imagine, I cannot comment on the details of this case. However, I understand that the BBC is saying that it made the decision on legal advice. That is all I can say at present, but at least the noble Lord has raised the issue.
My noble friend Lady Bertin referred to victims of non-statutory organisations. In January 2016, the Government announced that the £7 million funding for non-statutory organisations supporting victims and survivors of sexual abuse, including child sexual abuse, will continue in 2016-17; £4.7 million has been provided directly to police and crime commissioners to support organisations working with victims and survivors locally; £1.7 million has been allocated as an uplift to female rape support centres; and £0.6 million has been distributed directly by the Home Office to organisations working with victims and survivors of sexual abuse over a large geographic area. We have funded bids across a broad spectrum of activity, including services such as counselling, advocacy, helplines, online support, outreach, raising awareness and training. We recognise that service providers are under considerable pressure, and this funding will ensure that victims will receive the support they need, when they need it.
My noble friends Lord Holmes and Lady Bertin and the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, all raised the issue of confidence in the FA. I think that I have more or less covered that, but we should allow the FA the opportunity to carry out its review. As I said, it has taken a number of steps to ensure the transparency and independence of the review into past practices, including through the appointment of the independent QC, Clive Sheldon, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley. It has also published the terms of reference and committed to publishing any reports, where possible.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, brought up the statutory responsibilities of the police and asked about amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill, on which she and I have spent long hours. I will take her comments back to the department and no doubt we will have further conversations on the subject.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for the incredible work that she is doing. I know that the Minister for Sport is looking forward to receiving the noble Baroness’s report, which will be considered seriously, and I think will result in a lot of measures that we need to take forward being put in place.
As regards closing loopholes in background checks and reporting, the Government are determined to do all they can to help prevent child sexual abuse and are keen to understand where more can be done, including with background checks. The Department for Education and the Home Office carried out a joint consultation on mandatory reporting. I understand that responses are being considered at the moment, and that a response will be forthcoming shortly.
My noble friend Lady Vere talked about the speed of police investigations, and I understand her point on that. It is important to remember that the police do a fantastic job in challenging circumstances, and I know that they do everything possible to ensure that investigations are carried out as swiftly and efficiently as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, asked about government leadership, and I welcome his comments very much. The Home Secretary and Culture Secretary met sports bodies, including the Football Association, yesterday. The Government entirely support sports in ensuring that they have the robust processes in place to prevent child sexual abuse.
My noble friend Lord Holmes mentioned football governance. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport has had several discussions with the FA about governance, including on Monday, where she was clear that the mechanism is through compliance with the new code of governance for sport, which was published in October.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about whether the Government’s response will be published. As we know, the Government launched a consultation in July on possible new measures relating to reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect, including the introduction of a new mandatory reporting duty or a new duty to act. It is important to get this right, which is why we have sought views from practitioners and professionals as well as the wider public. The consultation closed on 13 October. We are carefully considering responses and will update Parliament on the Government’s conclusions in due course. I will of course pass on to the office that the noble Baroness would like a meeting. I am sure that it can be arranged, although it will be with somebody who is far more able to answer her questions than I am.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, brought up several points, which I will probably have to write to him about, as he knows. We now have a constant correspondence back and forth. We may find that quite a lot of his questions will be answered when the review led by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, appears shortly.
I end by saying that the protection of our children and young people is of paramount importance, and the Government will give whatever support they can to ensure people can take part in sport safely. This is ridiculous—this is probably my last debate in this House before I go to the Back Benches, and now I am getting all emotional, which is stupid. I am sorry. I will pull myself together immediately. The vast majority of people take part in sport with no experience of abuse, and likewise, most people who work in or volunteer in sport do so with people’s best interests at heart. But no abuse in sport can be tolerated, and we must do all we can to ensure that sport in this country remains something of which we can be proud.