Sexual Exploitation: Protection of 16 and 17-year-olds

17th December 2015



2.15 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I declare an interest as the founder of the Early Intervention Foundation. It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) who made an eloquent speech. Those who see Members of Parliament from the end of 140 characters on Twitter would do well to follow colleagues such as my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), and for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood)—unfortunately she is not with us today. They are exemplars of what Members of Parliament can do when they get their teeth into an issue that they care about, and refuse to let go until something is done. I hope that this debate will be another demonstration of how Members of Parliament from across the House can be effective when we work together as parliamentarians, pushing Governments of all colours in the right direction.

I am not going to talk about 16 to 18-year-olds, because we will help those people by intervening much earlier. If we only help a 16 to 18-year-old, we are firefighting. That has to be done and fires have to be fought, but if we are to get a strategic grip on this issue we must eliminate the causes of child exploitation, as well as tackling the consequences. That, in essence, is the definition of early intervention, and it is important to consider this as an intergenerational problem.

This problem is so big and deep rooted that we must have not merely a set of tactics, but a set of strategies to take us forward. One of the best ways to do that is to consider the example of What Works centres in this country, where people collect together best practice and evidence to discover what kinds of programme work most effectively to help victims, and indeed to help perpetrators from re-offending. We have that all in one place, so that instead of reinventing the wheel, whether in the police, the health service or as a Member of Parliament, there is a place to go where we can rely on other people’s experience and practice that has accumulated over many years. Every instinct in a normal human being to the awful sexual abuse of children and 16 to 18-year-olds is an emotional response, but this is about evidence and science.

I first called for a national institute to consider how to reduce the perpetration of sexual abuse 26 years ago, together with the then right hon. Member for Finchley—the Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher. I say that only to bring us up to date and to urge us to ensure that our successors are not sitting here in 26 years’ time demanding exactly the same thing. It is now time for us to help the next generation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): In the interests of time, let me put on the record that the Department for Education has recently announced a new What Works centre for child protection. That will build an evidence base to show us the best practice available to help social workers, health workers, the police and other practitioners, and give better support to children and families—something I know that the hon. Gentleman has been calling for.

Mr Allen: I was just about to make that point and the Minister has made it very eloquently for me. I have served in the House with Governments of all political complexions. Ministers are concerned and empathetic. We are fortunate to have her as a Home Office Minister as well as having colleague, the Minister for Children and Families; the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who has responsibility for public health, and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara). All of them have been involved in pulling together the idea that there should finally be a national institute or centre of excellence to look at the sexual abuse of children and how to help them and perpetrators.

I raised that with her colleague the Minister for Children and Families in an Adjournment debate in June—I did it as fast as I could after the general election. The Minister has already said as much, but in that debate, the Minister said that there would be a centre of expertise to identify and share high-quality evidence to tackle child sexual abuse. That must include 16 to 18-year-olds.

I am conscious of the announcement, but I will tee this up for the Minister as the willing smasher of volleys over the net that I know she can be: will she tell the House how that is going and when we can expect it to be established? I hope the centre can be productive before the next general election, producing reports on best practice in particular situations and in the field, and producing reports for the agencies—the police and the health service—Members of Parliament and everyone who has an interest. Above all, I hope it can give Justice Goddard a head start by doing an interim report that calls for and supports the institution, so that, before what could be a Chilcotian length of time before he reports, he can influence the necessary political developments and changes.

I hope the Minister will inform the House that, as well as doing valuable work pulling together departmental interests, such an institution will listen to the voluntary sector, which does so much work in the field, and those out in the individual local authorities. There is a great body of work, but it is all over the place and it is never quite there when we need it. I suspect that many colleagues who have been through the awful experience of raising constituency cases are powerless and frustrated for a fair period because they cannot quite lay their hands on what somebody did earlier that would save them a lot of time and victims a lot of grief.



I should highlight the work of the Early Intervention Foundation. It is working closely with the Home Office, as the Minister knows, and has commissioned a review of the evidence on the indicators that suggest that a child under the age of 18 is at heightened risk of becoming a victim, or even a perpetrator, of sexual abuse or exploitation and many other things. The foundation will undoubtedly do a first-class job on that commission but, in the long term, the answer for us all is to get 

The House can have an impact, working closely with the Government. The Government have been very receptive to representations made to them and will do something that will resonate and help children—it will also help perpetrators not to offend—in a way that could last several generations. That is an incredibly worth while thing to do. I congratulate all Members of the House who have led us to the conclusions that the Children’s Society has put before us today, and who have led to the Government introducing a national institute for the study and prevention of the sexual abuse of children, including 16 to 18-year-olds.