A Child Sexual Abuse "What Works" Centre
UPDATE: Graham asked another question to David Cameron about this issue on 4th May 2016. You can watch the question here: http://goo.gl/och4Ie and read the exchange below or here:
Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab)
Q13. What assessment he has made of the effect on the performance of Government of the introduction of five-year fixed-term Parliaments; and if he will make a statement. 
The Prime Minister
What matters is what works and allows the Government to make long-term decisions in the long-term interests of the country. In my view, five-year fixed-term Parliaments are an important part of that.
Will the Prime Minister ensure that his Government’s performance includes the long-overdue creation of a centre of evidence on sexual abuse of children—something that I first raised in Prime Minister’s questions with Margaret Thatcher in 1989? We can deal with the awful consequences of child sex abuse for victims and perpetrators, but we must also use early intervention expertise to stop it happening in the first place. Will the Prime Minister back the excellent work of Ministers and Members from all parties and get this much-needed What Works centre up and running without delay, within the five-year term of this Government?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman rescued his own question with those last words. We are grateful to him, constitutionally at least.
The Prime Minister
I am sorry that it has taken so long for a question in 1989 to get an answer, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that setting up a centre of expertise on sexual abuse is exactly what the Home Office is doing. It will play a significant role in identifying and sharing high-quality evidence on what works to prevent and deal with sexual abuse and exploitation. Alongside this, the Department for Education’s existing What Works centre will ensure that social workers across the country are able to learn from the best examples. It is a good example of Government reform, which I know the hon. Gentleman supports.
Graham asked the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP (standing in for David Cameron) about Child Sexual Abuse at Prime Ministers Questions.
Nearly 25 years ago, I asked the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, at Prime Minister’s questions whether she would set up a national institution to reduce the sexual abuse of children. May I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister and his Government on setting up, over the past five years, a series of “what works” organisations to provide best practice including early intervention? Will he and other party leaders consider putting in their manifestos the creation of a national institute for the study and prevention of sexual abuse of children so that we do not have another 25 years’ worth of belated inquiries? Such an institute would pre-empt perpetration and help victims with the best evidence-based practice and programmes both nationally and internationally.
To Fellow Members of Parliament: A couple of Oral Prime Ministers Questions to Mrs Thatcher, if only we‘d acted then nearly a quarter of a century ago, imagine the body of work and policy that a National Institute could have produced by now! But political leaders have no excuse in not acting now to tackle causes. I hope you will join me as I renew the campaign to set up such an Institute. To show your support please just reply “YES “if you would support an identical EDM to my 1990 one below. This will of course be all party. -Graham Allen
National Institute on Child Sexual Abuse. 11/06/1990
It is 26 years ago that Graham called upon Government to create a National Institute to tackle the problem of the sexual abuse of children. If anything it is more relevant now than any time in the intervening years when the call was ignored. It appeared as a Early Day Motion in the House of Commons which Graham extended by getting friendly MPs to add helpful amendments to draw attention to the need for a serious programme of research properly funded to help victims and reduce perpetration. The National Institute would have been -and still can be -the organisation to coordinate work in this field by Government departments, local authorities, academics, professionals and charities to spread best practice and research throughout the UK and internationally.
Graham said " Countless numbers of individuals could have been saved from sexual abuse had the Government listened and acted long term in 1990. There is a chance to listen and act now rather than have more cases brought to light in another 24 years time. I renew my call to Political Leaders of all Parties to make the small investment now to bring about the inter-generational change in behaviours necessary to help prevent such misery."
You can see Graham's EDM and the helpful amendments by clicking here:
Research Programme into Child Sexual Abuse-EDM 1091
· Session: 1989-90
· Date tabled: 11.06.1990
· Primary sponsor: Allen, Graham
That this House calls upon the Government to recognise the seriousness of the problem of the sexual abuse of children by funding research into helping victims and reducing perpetration, under the auspices of a national institute which can effectively co-ordinate work currently undertaken by Government Departments, local authorities, academics, professionals and charities and spread best practice and research results to all relevant bodies.
Question to the PM Mrs Thatcher on 19th Jan 1989
Broxtowe Estate/Sexual abuse of children
Q2. Mr. Allen : To ask the Prime Minister if she will visit the Broxtowe Residents' Association to discuss its recent ballot on the sale of the Broxtowe estate.
The Prime Minister : No, Sir.
Mr. Allen : The Prime Minister's Office was made aware this morning that one of the families that did not vote in the ballot has been involved in the worst child sex abuse case on our records. It involved 16 children and their parents. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to commend the work of Nottinghamshire county council's social services department in this particularly harrowing case? Will she also take the opportunity—
Mr. Speaker : Order. The same rules apply. The question must relate to the Prime Minister's responsibility.
Mr. Allen : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to commend the use of the video link to ensure that evidence is given in this case? Will she speak to her colleague the Home Secretary and ensure that money is granted so that proper research can be done into child abuse and to help prevent the generation-to-generation continuation of such harrowing cases?
The Prime Minister : This was a particularly bad case of child abuse, which was reported in the newspapers this morning. It was utterly repugnant. All child abuse cases are repugnant, but this was especially so. When one of the judges heard it, he acknowledged the excellent way in which Nottingham social services department handled this difficult case and he also complimented the foster parents on the way in which they had handled matters. I am very glad to follow that. It was one of the first cases in which video links have been used to enable children to give evidence and we are very pleased that, after recent legislation, it worked extremely well. With regard to research on child sex abuse, the Department of Health has already identified research projects on this matter and has so far allocated £160,000 to those research projects. It intends to commission further research on this in the coming year and it is discussing the research programme with the Home Office.
Then a PMQ in May 1989.
Child Sexual Abuse
Q7. Mr. Allen : To ask the Prime Minister if she has any plans to increase the amount of money being spent by Her Majesty's Government's Departments into research into the sexual abuse of children ; and if she will make a statement.
The Prime Minister : We will continue to support research into child sex abuse. We have already increased our expenditure, and further research proposals will be considered in the light of the knowledge gained from existing studies.
Mr. Allen : Is not the Prime Minister ashamed that in 10 years her Government, through the Department of Health, has put just £1 million into this difficult and sensitive subject? Will she consider establishing a national institute for the study of the sexual abuse of children, as has been done in Canada, Australia, America and many other countries? The victims need help and the perpetrators need to be prevented. For a very small amount of money the Prime Minister could do a great deal of good. Will she take that suggestion away and consider it?
The Prime Minister : I do not think that it is a question of finding extra money. Well over £800 million is provided for basic research. It would be quite easy to put into that sphere and perhaps take a little away from others, but we must decide our priorities. The real difficulty, as I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would know, is that of designing and conducting research and obtaining incontrovertible results. We need to ensure that projects are considered properly before they are commissioned
And his debate contribution in 2012 where he made similar points :
Child Sexual Exploitation
Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I have a slightly different take. I will not talk about cases, although we all have them and they are horrendous. I will not talk about picking up the pieces and how we help victims, although it is incumbent on all of us to try to do that. I will talk about something that people do not want to talk much about: the causes. Why do people perpetrate these horrendous crimes? It is important to talk about that, because if we can understand some of the causes, we can take action to alleviate and diminish these horrible episodes.
We here are responsible for making the overarching legal and cultural frameworks that can lead to there being less sexual abuse in our society. It is our responsibility not to hold another debate in five or 10 years’ time when more cases come forward or, as is the case now, to hold a debate some 15 or 20 years after such cases, but to take action now to change the culture that allows such people to proliferate and continue.
I would like to hear a response on that from the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne). However, much as I enjoy his company, I am saddened that there are no Ministers present from the Department of Health, the Department for Education or the Cabinet Office, because this is a matter for the whole of Government. I am not making a partisan point, because Governments over the past 20 or 25 years while I have been a Member of this House have not covered themselves in glory in trying to prevent offences in this field.
Mr Andrew Smith: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr Allen: I will make a little progress first. I am conscious that some people have taken a considerable amount of time to make their points, so I will try to be a little more succinct.
It is important that Ministers do not view this matter in relation to celebrities, politicians or the BBC, but that they attempt to get a serious, strategic grip on how we can combat sexual abuse. We can do that in two ways. First, there should be a coherent and precise programme of research on the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Secondly, there should be an inquiry. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) mentioned an overarching inquiry. I would like such an inquiry to transcend the individual cases that we have all been talking about over the past few months.
Mr Andrew Smith: My hon. Friend talked about the ministerial presence or absence in this debate. Is that not symptomatic of an attitude that all too easily characterises Governments—I am not making a party political point—which is that Departments do not take seriously enough matters that are raised in Back-Bench debates or from the Back Benches? They would be well advised to start doing so.
Mr Allen: I will let my right hon. Friend make his own points about that. What is important is that Ministers do not act defensively or in a way that is intended to make tomorrow’s newspapers, but that they look at this matter strategically.
There is a plethora of inquiries that have taken place, are under way or are about to take place. The most important inquiry to have, which needs to be heavyweight and overarching, is one that backs off from specific incidents and looks at the steps that we could take immediately. It should ask why the extreme dysfunction of child sexual abuse takes place at all, how the cycle of sexual abuse can be broken, and what plans all public and private institutions must deploy to intervene pre-emptively to eradicate the sexual abuse of children over a generation and longer. It should be about long-termism and should set out a stall, hopefully on an all-party basis, so that we are not back here in 20 years’ time discussing these things. It should also include how we can change personal and family behaviours and social attitudes.
This matter is as significant as the Victorian elimination of cholera and typhoid through the provision of disease-free water. It is the public health issue of our time, and we need to step up and tackle it in a serious and strategic way. I would therefore go further than the former Minister who has just spoken, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, and say that something on the scale of a royal commission is needed. Such a commission has just been announced in Australia. It should look not at particular cases or at how other inquiries went wrong, but at how we can combat the development of abusive behaviour within relationships and outside the family.
Mr Graham Stuart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr Allen: If the Chairman of the Education Committee can be brief, I will of course give way.
Mr Stuart: I will be very brief. Royal commissions have famously been used to put things into the long grass. Such an overblown inquiry might just put the issue away until the public focus has moved on and so it might be counter-productive.
Mr Allen: Royal commissions have rarely been used in recent years, when inquiries have been used to put things into the long grass or to deal with specifics rather than the generic problem.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) on being so assiduous on this issue over many years, and the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) on helping to promote this debate. Perhaps I may also offer some friendly advice to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood). A long time ago in 1989, when I had been in this House as long as she has—about two years—I asked questions of the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, and tabled early-day motions on the sexual abuse of children. I suggested—thankfully, this is still on the record—that the Home Office, and the Departments for Education and for Health should work together to figure out a strategic answer to the problem, and undertake serious, long-term research. I also suggested as part of that campaign that we should take video evidence from children in cases of child abuse. Thankfully that tiny bit of progress has been made.
I hope that success comes faster for the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon than any success that I may or may not have enjoyed. We must now look at this issue in the round, rather than at just those cases that affect us as constituency MPs. We must get to the heart of the matter, stop being reactive and start looking at the causes of the problem. There is a continuum. Abuse often begins in quite trivial ways; it escalates through violence; and it can go even further into sexual abuse—and we must start to understand how such relationships occur and how they degenerate, whether in the family or outside.
A tonne of evidence is available. I will not attempt to put it all on the record, although I will refer to a couple of points. Marcus Erooga has done a lot of work on this issue and writes about the
“high rates of convicted child abusers who have been themselves sexually abused as children”.
This is about breaking the cycle of abuse. In a horrendous case that took place 25 years ago in my constituency, children began to accept as normal some of the things that happened to them—I will not put those things on the record in Hansard—and they grew up thinking that that was part of normal sexual relations. As soon as the case was discovered, people went to great lengths to break those children away from the attitude that such things were normal. If they considered such things to be normal, it could happen again in the next generation.
I do not, of course, condemn anyone who has suffered sexual abuse as an offender in their own right—statistics do not bear that out and neither does common sense—but none the less, a very high proportion of people who perform such behaviour have had some experience of its being perpetrated on them by people they know. We can do something about that by helping people and ensuring that they have the social and emotional capability to make choices. As was mentioned earlier, people do not often choose to enter such relationships, and if we gave them the social and emotional armoury that most of us have, they would have a choice. They would be able to say no and to a greater degree resist grooming techniques.
Beckett, another source, states that abusers are
“typically, emotionally isolate individuals, lacking in self-confidence, under-assertive, poor at appreciating the perspective of others—”
in other words, no empathy—
“ill-equipped to deal with emotional distress. They characteristically denied or minimised the full extent of their sexual offending and problems. A significant proportion were found have little empathy for their victims; strong emotional attachments to children; and a range of distorted attitudes and beliefs, where they portrayed children as able to consent to, and hot be harmed by, sexual contact with adults.”
It goes on and on—personality characteristics and psychological well-being; parental histories and the cycle of abuse; substance abuse. Often, abuse is an inter-generational phenomenon that we can tackle by ensuring that people have some of the basic social and emotional capabilities that we all enjoy.
I was saddened that the case of baby P generated into finger-pointing and whether a particular social worker or person was responsible, and there was never a real analysis of why those individuals, who were allegedly care givers, treated baby P as they did. Why was no analysis done of where those people came from, why they acted as they did and why 20 years earlier—when I was new to the House of Commons and in the position that the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon is in now—when those care givers were born, nothing was done to ensure that they were adequately equipped to be decent, rounded human beings, just as we would expect for ourselves and our children?
This is not rocket science; it is about how to promote good parenting and the social and emotional aspects of learning that is provided to primary school children. Every child in Nottingham starts to understand qualities such as empathy, interaction, learning and respecting others, and each time one of those capabilities is built in, the prospect that someone will become abusive, antisocial or treat others in a disrespectful way is diminished. Every teenager in the city of Nottingham studies life skills—it is like personal health and social education but involves talking about relationships and what it is like to have a family or a baby, or to maintain a relationship. By giving people such skills, their parents, care givers or teachers give them not a guarantee but an inoculation against the things that we are discussing today.
This is about the development of empathy and love and about nurturing. If people have social and emotional capability, it is difficult to go wrong. If they do not have that, they might be prone to some of the behaviour that, at its most dysfunctional and extreme, can include the sexual abuse of children. We must think beyond tomorrow’s headlines and constituency casework, and beyond the horrendous things that happen to individuals, and look strategically at how we can start to take steps to eliminate, as far as humanely possible, the sexual abuse of children.
Finally, I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon on initiating this debate—it is a great thing to have done. I hope that she, unlike me, will not be here in 20 years’ time listening to Members protest and object to terrible things that have happened in their constituencies, without having seized from the Government an opportunity to help change the culture that allows noxious individuals to grow and thrive in our society. We can do something about this issue, but we need a proper culture in which to develop serious research that the Government can pull together. We also need an overarching inquiry that deals not with individual cases, but tells us how we can combat the development of these predators and reduce sexual abuse of children in our society.