Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the recent prosecutions in Huddersfield, whether there are sufficient resources to investigate the alleged sexual offences in the other towns and cities of the United Kingdom in a timely manner.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.
My Lords, these horrific crimes are sickening and I commend the bravery of victims coming forward and the police for the successful prosecutions so far. The Government have made a commitment to tackle child sexual abuse in all its forms and we have made a significant investment to help transform law enforcement’s response.
My Lords, justice delayed is justice denied and this seems to have happened from Huddersfield to Rochdale, from Halifax to Newcastle, and in many other towns. Criminal law practitioners have sought to maintain the rule of law for victims and perpetrators without fear or favour. Have timely investigation and prosecution been sacrificed in favour of social cohesion? Will the Government invite the inspectors of constabulary and the CPS to analyse and report on the timeliness of the investigations and the prosecutions?
My Lords, I do not think that what has happened here is political correctness; I think that, given the sheer number of people involved in the types of crimes they committed against some very vulnerable girls, it has taken time to bring this case forward—and, of course, the case was delayed for reasons outside the CPS’s control. It is really important, for successful prosecutions to be brought, that full rigour goes into the investigation and subsequent prosecutions.
My Lords, first, I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to the police and to the bravery of the victims of these appalling crimes. By coming forward, they have highlighted this evil, had the criminals brought to justice and protected other young girls from becoming victims. Compare that to the irresponsible actions of those who risked collapsing the trial. What work are the Government undertaking to understand the full scope and size of this crime, of these offences, in our country? Without understanding that, it will be very hard to effectively resource both prevention and investigations, and to bring all the perpetrators to justice.
The noble Lord makes a very good point: unless we can understand the root causes of this, it is very difficult to tackle it. There have been several similar cases of the abuse of children. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said:
“I will not let cultural or political sensitivities get in the way of understanding the problem ... I’ve instructed my officials to explore the … characteristics of these types of gangs and if the evidence suggests that there are cultural factors that may be driving this type of offending, then I will take action”.
My Lords, according to the Sunday Times, the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks that the police would help their case for more money if they were more responsive to local residents and investigated crimes such as burglary, rather than labour-intensive investigations into historical sexual offences. Does the Minister agree?
I have to apologise to the noble Lord because, although I read the Sunday Times, I did not read that particular article. But nobody can be in any doubt about the commitment of this Government commitment to tackling this type of abuse, and in particular that of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. Child sexual abuse has been declared a national threat and the Government are investing millions of pounds to enable officers to actively seek out and bring these types of offenders to justice. Last February, the Government published our tackling child sexual exploitation progress report and we have announced a £40 million package of measures to protect children and young people from sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking, and to crack down on offenders. This has included £7.5 million for a new, ground-breaking centre of expertise that will identify, generate and share high-quality evidence of what works in preventing and tackling child sexual abuse and exploitation. We have put a significant increase in resources into the NCA, leading to a near doubling of the CEOP command’s investigative capability, and an additional £20 million has been committed up to 2020 to maintain this. There is a further £20 million of transformation funds going into the regional organised crime units, which do a superb job in bringing to justice perpetrators who target children online.
My Lords, this Question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, is actually just a provincial equivalent of the discussion we had on the first Oral Question. The simple fact is that the Minister is explaining small penny-packets of money that are being put into a particular problem. My successor but two as commissioner, Cressida Dick, has 20% less money than I had when I left 10 years ago. Will the Minister accept that it is simply impossible for the police service to go on with 20% less money without something giving? Something is already starting to give and the Government must take action.
I think I have made it clear, in response to both this and the earlier Question, that there are certain types of crime patterns, such as knife and gang crime in London, which are worrying and into which the Government have sought to put specific types of funding, but also that this type of child sexual abuse and exploitation requires a dedicated approach to a specific problem. But I do not resile from the fact—and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary recognises this, as does the Policing Minister—that considering all the things that the police have to do and the strain they are under, they have significant burdens on them. Both my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister are very aware of this as we go into next year.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the police’s resources and priorities should be in part determined by public concern? Is she in any doubt at all that the public are deeply concerned about the exploitation of vulnerable girls by gangs? What role have the police commissioners played in this matter?
My Lords, this has to be a multiagency approach. It is a job that local government will have across its desk in terms of protecting vulnerable children. The police will have it across their desks. The Department of Health will have it across its desk. It is also the job of education to ensure that girls—predominantly—who may be vulnerable to this sort of exploitation are supported in the communities in which they live. I have outlined the various funding packages to try to prevent such things happening, but the noble Lord is not wrong when he says that resources need to go into this. Sometimes the public’s priorities are not the priorities that the police might seek to invest in, but this is a major national priority.
My Lords, the Minister may have read the Times report this morning on the county lines abuse of young children in Bradford. I am sure that the Government think that getting at this abuse of children through county lines drug networks is also a priority. The last time I was driven around north Bradford by one of our local councillors, I did not see a single policeman on the streets all afternoon—although I did see three people peddling drugs on the streets as we passed by. Does that not mean that we need larger resources than we have at the moment to cope with the underlying social issues that give rise to this sort of exploitation of children, male and female?
The noble Lord is absolutely right to bring up the issue of county lines, because that encompasses everything we have been talking about in response to the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, as well as to this one. There is definitely a link between gangs, guns, drugs and exploitation, and at the heart of it—always—is exploited children.
My Lords, do the Government accept that if we extrapolate nationally the Jay report on Rotherham and other reports from Telford and Oxford, there appear to have been upwards of 250,000 young white girls raped in this century, very largely by Muslim men, usually several times a day for years? What is the Government’s answer to the chief constable of Northumbria Police, who has just said that there is every likelihood that these grooming gangs are operating in every one of our major cities? What are the Government doing to prosecute those in authority who turned a blind eye to all this because they were afraid of being called Islamophobic and so on? What are they doing to compensate and help these victims mentally?
My Lords, I refute the charge that those in authority are turning a blind eye to this. Noble Lords from across the House have outlined various child sexual abuse perpetrations in various parts of the country. One thing we can say above all else is that what these people target is vulnerability. It is not specific to race, creed or colour—it is vulnerability.