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Child Abuse

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 11th February 2014.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:30 am, 11th February 2014

How many local authorities have signed up to the information-sharing protocol for cases of child abuse launched in November 2013 by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Labour, North Tyneside

How many local authorities have signed up to the information-sharing protocol for cases of child abuse launched in November 2013 by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The national protocol came into force on 1 January this year. The aim is for all parties to sign a local protocol as soon as possible. The Crown Prosecution Service intends to carry out a survey of all CPS areas to monitor progress.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If the voluntary approach does not produce the goods that the Minister and the Opposition wish to see, will he consider making it compulsory for local authorities to sign such protocols, given the importance of the issue? In particular, will he discuss it in my area with the National Assembly for Wales?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

It is very important that local protocols should be signed so that there is a clear, seamless process and when an investigation starts the information is shared with the other authorities. A draft protocol has now been sent to contacts in all the local authorities in the right hon. Gentleman’s area, and discussions are continuing. It is thought that it will be possible to have the protocol signed by the middle of March.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Labour, North Tyneside

Given that openness and information sharing are key to prosecuting these cases, what assurance can the Solicitor-General give that the Government will resist calls to introduce suspect anonymity in cases of historical child abuse and rape?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

On the subject of information sharing, tomorrow the judges in Newcastle are meeting all the local authorities to try to agree a way forward. There are certainly no current plans to change the anonymity rules. If the hon. Lady wants to discuss this with me, I would be more than happy to do so.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

My hon. and learned Friend knows how important information sharing is in this very sensitive area. He is no doubt aware of the successful conviction of the former head teacher of Caldicott preparatory school the week before last in my constituency. Will he join me in paying tribute to Mr Tom Perry, who revealed his own historical child abuse to enable this prosecution to go forward? What encouragement can he give to Mr Perry and his colleagues as regards the Government looking favourably on mandatory reporting for regulated activities, which could help to protect more of our children in future?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

This was an horrendous case, and, like my right hon. Friend, I pay tribute to Tom Perry for his courage. She is absolutely right about information sharing and, as I said in response to Mr Hanson, it is important to have these local protocols in place so that information is shared expeditiously from the very beginning. We believe that that will happen; certainly, very good progress is being made. We will look at the results of the survey and at that point we will be able to see where we stand.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

On child abuse, is any progress being made on prosecutions for female genital mutilation? Is the Solicitor-General aware of the disappointment felt by so many people all round the country that so far it seems that this issue is not being taken seriously enough? Can we expect prosecutions in the near future?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, because this is a very important issue. Ministers met non-governmental organisations last week to discuss how to make progress. A number of things are happening. He will know that the Crown Prosecution Service is currently reviewing 10 cases, and it is very much hoped that it will be possible to ground a prosecution. However, the key thing is that one does need evidence, so it is very important that the information gathering for the sort of evidence that is needed for a successful prosecution is found and pursued. Every effort is being made, and I have recently visited all the units concerned.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Attorney General

Child abuse and rape prosecutions are falling because the agencies are not working together. I have uncovered the fact that local authorities are not disclosing information to police and prosecutors and the fact that the police are referring fewer and fewer cases to prosecutors. We now need to know what the Solicitor-General and his brother and sister Ministers are going to do to show some leadership on this issue. Are the Government doing nothing about it because violence against women and girls is not a priority for them, or because the 27% cuts to the CPS and the loss of a quarter of its lawyers mean that the Solicitor-General is resigned to the idea that more and more cases are going to be dropped?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

It is sad to hear the hon. Lady traduce the Crown Prosecution Service in that way. The fact is that we have the highest ever level of conviction rates for rape, for domestic violence and for child abuse, and the people who are prosecuting these cases are doing an excellent job. She knows that we are investigating fully, through a six-point plan, why referrals are falling in some parts of the country, but the idea that the Crown Prosecution Service can be criticised when it is doing the best it has ever done in terms of conviction rates is quite wrong.