To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the national scale of the “grooming gang scandal”, including sexual exploitation of non-Muslim children by Muslim men, as emerged recently in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and elsewhere; and what steps they are taking to enable the prosecution of those in the police and local authorities who have failed to prevent it.
My Lords, the government-funded Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse is working to build a more informed picture of the scale of these crimes, and preventing them is a priority for the Government. The Independent Office for Police Conduct is currently conducting investigations into 33 police officers of varying ranks for potential criminal offences and breaches of the standards of professional behaviour, linked to the Rotherham case.
My Lords, I fear that reply is shamefully inadequate, because these girls are usually raped several times a day. If we accept the views of our lead police officer for child protection, of Rotherham’s MP and of the recent Jay and Quilliam reports, we are looking at millions of rapes of white and Sikh girls by Muslim men, only 222 of whom have been convicted since 2005. Will the Government ask our Muslim leaders whether the perpetrators can claim that their behaviour is sanctioned in the Koran, and to issue a fatwa against it? Secondly, will the Government encourage a national debate about the various interpretations of Islam? Can we talk about Islam without being accused of hate crime?
My Lords, child sexual exploitation is a vile crime and it is not exclusive to any one community, culture, race or religion. Political or cultural sensitivities should not get in the way of tracking down offenders and preventing future abuse. I say to noble Lords that we should be careful about our language in this matter, not least because I am about to repeat a Statement on inflammatory letters inciting a “punish a Muslim” day on 3 April. We need to be careful about how we approach this.
There is nothing in the Koran that encourages the sort of activity the noble Lord has referred to. In any case, the Koran would be trumped by the law of the land. Islam, like all world religions, does not support, advocate or condone child sexual exploitation. Indeed, respect for women is inherent in its faith. As my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon has just told me, one of Islam’s phrases is, “Paradise lies at the feet of the mother”.
As for encouraging a debate on Islam, the Government are supporting an initiative by British-based Islamic leaders of all denominations to dispel the poisonous interpretations of Islam peddled by al-Qaeda and Daesh. We are taking a number of other initiatives to minimise the exposure of children to sexual abuse from whatever source.
My Lords, I believe many people will be grateful to the Minister for clarifying that point, but is there not a contradiction in our own society, where we fail? I ask about a questionnaire sent out by Brighton and Hove City Council, asking children as young as six or seven, or their parents, for their gender perception. If we are allowing this type of information to be collected, for what purpose? It is to condition people as they grow up. Will the Minister look at our so-called liberalism, which enables this to happen and prevents the police getting on with their duties?
My Lords, that goes slightly wider than the specific Question. I am aware of the debate taking place on transgender issues and the whole debate about at what age, if at all, children should be allowed to express their own sexual preference. This is not a subject on which I am an expert. I am very cautious about entering into it, but I will certainly draw what the noble Lord has just said to the attention of the relevant Ministers at the DfE.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the Minister’s Answer to the Question. I had the great privilege to be the Bishop of Sheffield for seven years during the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham and I am now the Bishop of Oxford. I spent a great deal of time in Rotherham following Professor Jay’s report and registered the shock across all sections of the community, including, of course, the Muslim community there, who were as deeply appalled by what had happened as the rest of the community. I vividly remember visiting some parents at a mosque in Rotherham and hearing how their children were insulted by the rest of the community in words I will not repeat in this House. Will the Minister affirm the condemnation with which these scandals are greeted across the Muslim communities in each of these towns and cities?
My Lords, the experience of these young girls is not to be used to encourage religious intolerance, but it is still extremely serious. Yet again this week there have been calls for a proper investigation into what happened in Telford from the local MP, a Conservative, and from Sarah Champion, who has of course championed the victims in other parts of northern England. Why is an investigation not to be launched into Telford? This seems an extreme case of these extreme violent acts against young girls.
I have read the reports of what happened in Telford—disgraceful cases that took place, I think, between 2007 and 2009. The case called Operation Chalice concluded in 2012 with a number of convictions. Since then I understand that both the police and children’s services have improved the way they operate. However, the option is open in this case for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, chaired by Alexis Jay, to look at what happened in Telford and at the institutional responses to the child sexual exploitation that took place in that borough.