Child Abuse (Mandatory Reporting)

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 19th November 2013.

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Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:30 am, 19th November 2013

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education on making reporting of suspected child abuse mandatory for schools.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve The Attorney-General

I have not had any discussions with the Secretary of State for Education on making reporting of suspected child abuse mandatory for schools. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Mr Timpson told the House on 11 November that the relevant statutory guidance is clear: if anyone working with children, including in schools, has concern about a child’s welfare, safety or care, they should report that to the appropriate authority.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with the recent recommendation made by the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, that teachers and health workers who fail to report reasonable suspicions of child abuse should face criminal prosecutions? Will he produce guidance for schools on what constitutes reasonable suspicion?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve The Attorney-General

The former Director of Public Prosecutions has made an important contribution to this debate. I assure the hon. Lady that this matter is being considered by the Government, including by the Home Office. Unless criminalisation of failure to report comes in, guidance is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. As I indicated in my earlier answer, there are clear guidelines which ought to ensure, even at present, that if there is suspicion or anxiety that a child is being abused, it will be reported to the proper authorities.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

Does the Attorney-General believe it would be easier or more difficult to tackle child abuse if the age of consent were reduced to 15?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve The Attorney-General

The question of whether the age of consent might or might not be reduced to 15 is a matter for the House, but speaking personally, I cannot see any advantage from doing so.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

As a professional who worked in this area for 20 years, I was always clear that child abuse suspicions should be reported, but I am concerned that there now appears to be a lot of doubt among the wider public and some professionals. Will the Attorney-General work across Government to ensure that the statutory guidance to which he has referred and the need for all professionals in contact with children to report suspicions are made absolutely clear, as it is far from clear that mandatory reporting in legislation would improve child protection?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve The Attorney-General

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who makes some sensible points. I will ensure that what has been said in the House today will go back to the Secretary of State for Education and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.