Before I call the Home Secretary to make this statement, I remind hon. Members that they should not refer to any specific cases currently before the courts and that they should exercise caution with respect to any specific cases that might subsequently come before the courts, in order not to prejudice those proceedings.
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. Last Thursday, the inquiry’s report was published. It concludes seven years of investigation into institutional failure across England and Wales to protect and safeguard children from child sexual abuse.
I want to thank the chair of the inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, and her whole team for their fearless dedication and commitment in uncovering generations of horrendous societal, professional and institutional failings. I have written to Professor Jay and offered to meet her in the coming weeks to discuss her findings.
Above all, I want to extend my profound gratitude to the thousands of victims and survivors who have come forward to share their testimonies and experiences with the inquiry. That took immense courage. We will honour that courage by keeping their voices front and centre in everything we do and in overseeing a radical improvement in how this crime is dealt with and prevented. The whole House will be deeply moved by the reasons that victims and survivors gave for wanting to share their stories. They wanted their experiences to be acknowledged, to be listened to and to be taken seriously; they wanted to protect other children from suffering as they have suffered. Yet they also wanted not to be defined by this experience and to find, as one survivor put it, “life after abuse”. Madam Deputy Speaker, they are heroic.
Nothing—nothing—is more wicked than hurting a child, and there is no worse dereliction of duty than failing to protect a child. The report reveals horrific abuse of children. It makes for devastating and distressing reading. It finds that organisations have put their reputations ahead of protecting vulnerable children—either turning a blind eye or actively covering up abuse. That is inexcusable.
I am a father of three children and this report has made for very difficult reading. I cannot imagine the pain that victims have been through. Madam Deputy Speaker, I say this on behalf of the Government and all Governments who came before: to all the victims who have suffered this horrendous abuse, I am truly sorry.
The inquiry heard from more than 7,300 victims and survivors. It investigated abuse over not only the last seven years but several decades. The report makes a wide range of recommendations, including greater accountability, increased reporting, better redress for victims, an increased focus on bringing the perpetrators of these abhorrent acts to justice, and a stronger voice from Government on this issue. The Government will take all these recommendations, and the insights provided by brave survivors, seriously.
Getting this right will mean everyone redoubling their efforts and working more closely together—all of Government, the police, the health and care system, local authorities, schools, and all other interested parties. I will convene meetings with Ministers across Whitehall to drive that change. Our new child protection ministerial group, set up following the care review, will champion children’s safety at every level and provide the leadership to oversee reforms across children’s social and care services. Several Government Departments have been core participants in the inquiry, and we have been working to respond in real time to recommendations already made during the course of the inquiry.
The actions that we have taken include the Government’s tackling child sexual abuse strategy, published in January last year; driving initiatives to increase reporting of this too often hidden crime, including awareness raising campaigns, and to improve the confidence and capabilities of frontline professionals to identify and respond to child sexual abuse; ensuring that education and safeguarding professionals are better equipped and supported in identifying harmful sexual behaviours and protecting children from peer-on-peer abuse and harm; targeting offenders by investing in the National Crime Agency, GCHQ and new technology, and by giving the police stronger powers; and providing better support to victims—committing to a new Victims Bill and increased funding for specialised support services.
The conclusion of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse marks the end of a vital period of reflection and learning, but it also marks the start of the next chapter in how society confronts and defeats this evil. Nothing must be allowed to get in the way, be it inertia, misplaced cultural sensitivities, indifference, self-interest or cowardice from those whose job it is to protect children. In fact, it is the job of every adult to do all they can to protect children. Anything less is a profound moral failing, not to mention a professional and institutional failing. Walking by on the other side is never acceptable. Would-be abusers need to know that they will be caught and punished. Victims need to know that it is never their fault and that they will be heard and protected.
I have laid a copy of the inquiry’s report before Parliament. It is only right that the Government will now take time to carefully consider its findings and recommendations in full. We will respond comprehensively and in line with the inquiry’s deadline, but let me make this promise now: I will use all available levers to protect our children and right the wrongs exposed by the inquiry’s findings, I will do all in my power to improve how law enforcement and the criminal justice system respond to child sexual abuse, and I will work with ministerial colleagues and across party lines to hold organisations to account, bring perpetrators to justice and support victims and survivors with compassion and total care.
Where we can act more quickly, we will. That is why we have already announced that through the support for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse fund, we are allocating £4.5 million over three years to seven organisations to support victims and survivors. The fund is only the start in addressing the inquiry’s recommendations, but it is another step towards ensuring that we provide vital support for children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse, for adult survivors and for parents and carers of victims. It is just one part of the more than £60 million a year that the Home Office is investing in tackling this crime.
Child sexual abuse is a terrible but preventable crime—and we must prevent it. We will do so with the inquiry’s recommendations in front of us and with the words of heroic survivors ringing in our ears. I commend this statement to the House.
I welcome the new Home Secretary to his post and thank him for the advance copy of his statement. I join him in paying tribute to the victims and survivors who pressed for the inquiry and who have shown great bravery and strength in telling their stories and speaking out to seek justice, to seek truth and to seek protection for others. I thank the inquiry team for their work.
This is a deeply serious report about one of the worst imaginable crimes, the sexual abuse and exploitation of children—the violence, pain and terror that they have described; the degradation, the violation and the consequences that they have felt throughout their lives; and the deep failure of the institutions and people in power who were supposed to protect them. It was a failure to listen, a failure to believe and a failure to act on the part of institutions that, through generations, were found to have protected their own reputation rather than protecting children and to have put deference to authority above the basic duty of care to children, whom they badly let down. I and my party join the Home Secretary and the Government in their deep apology towards those who were so badly let down by state institutions that should have kept them safe. We are truly sorry.
The inquiry recommends major changes in child protection and in support for victims. The Home Secretary has rightly committed himself to overseeing a radical improvement in the way in which this crime is dealt with and prevented, and that is welcome, but I have stood at this Dispatch Box and heard similar promises before. The Home Secretary’s response today is not strong enough and does not go far enough, because this is not just a historic inquiry; the report makes clear that child sexual abuse is endemic and increasing. There are children at risk today, and there are basic child protection issues that are getting worse and require action now, in advance of the Government’s full response to the inquiry.
First, the report refers to
“the explosion in online-facilitated child sexual abuse”, including grooming and the online streaming of the rape of babies and children. The Home Secretary did not really mention online harms, and, as he will know, the Online Safety Bill has been repeatedly delayed. Can he confirm that it will definitely complete its remaining stages next week and that its progress to the House of Lords will be accelerated, because this is urgent? Can he also confirm that the National Crime Agency will not have to make the 20% staff cuts that his predecessors asked it to draw up?
Secondly, the report says that
“significant reductions in funding of public services” after 2010, when referrals were rising, are one the key factors that have had
“a deleterious impact on responses to child sexual abuse.”
Does the Home Secretary accept that that damage was done, and is he acting now to ensure that child protection services do not have to pay the price of his party’s mini-Budget when the public spending announcements are made next week?
Thirdly, everyone has been expecting the inquiry to recommend a mandatory duty to report child sexual abuse, and Labour has been calling for that since 2014. May I urge the Home Secretary to announce that he will support it straight away, and send a strong signal to those across the sector? Fourthly, he referred to the criminal justice system. As he will know, the charge rate for child sexual abuse has dropped from 32% in 2015 to 12% last year. Will he take urgent action to prosecute dangerous criminals, because that has been getting worse?
Fifthly, the Home Secretary’s own Department has responsibility for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, but just last week the independent inspectorate found that they were being placed in unsuitable hotels whose staff had not even been subject to Disclosure and Barring Service checks. According to reports over the weekend, hundreds of asylum-seeking children have disappeared. When his own Department is failing in the most basic child protection and safeguarding, the Home Secretary will understand that his words today are not enough. What action has he taken since he saw those reports over the weekend?
I know the Home Secretary will say that he is new in his post, but he will understand that that is part of the concern. This report is too important to get lost in all the political changes that have been taking place and all the confusion within Government. I therefore ask the Home Secretary to answer my five urgent questions now, and to recognise that we owe it to the thousands of victims and survivors who have spoken out, but also to the millions of children in the current generation who are still at risk of abuse, to ensure that this inquiry leaves a lasting legacy to protect our children.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her response to my statement. I repeat the message in the statement that I want to work across parties to do all we can to protect victims and, indeed, drive down this appalling crime.
The right hon. Lady raised a number of specific points, and I will, if I may, respond to her in writing, because I will then be able to give a more detailed response. However, one or two things did catch my eye as she was speaking. In particular, it is worth saying to Members who have not had a chance to read the report that 2 million pages of evidence were presented, and that there have been 107 recommendations and Thursday’s report contains a further 20. We have already started to implement many of those recommendations. I listed some in my statement so I will not backtrack, but, as I have said, I intend to respond to all this in full and within the inquiry’s own deadline, and as I have also said, I will try to expedite as many responses as I can. In particular, the right hon. Lady called for mandatory reporting; I noted that comment, and I will look at all those individual areas.
On prosecutions, the picture is a bit more complicated than has been presented in the right hon. Lady’s response. For example, the number of convictions for indecent image offences has increased by 39% in the past year alone. However, I accept that overall there is still a huge task to be done in the Online Safety Bill, which contains some very important clauses. I have not yet caught up with the Bill managers, but I know that it is progressing quickly and I want to see that happen. The figures are staggering, with 103,000 child sex offences recorded by the police in the last year alone. Much of this has gone online, and the right hon. Lady is right to pinpoint the measures in the Online Safety Bill as being extremely important.
As the right hon. Lady knows, I take a great deal of interest in the issue of asylum, including refugees—we have some living in our house, in fact—and I want to ensure that we do everything we can. I know that the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat, has made inquiries in the past few days on the priorities with regard to asylum-seeking children. With that, it will probably be most helpful to the right hon. Lady and to the House if I write to her in detail on all her points, and I will be happy to put that letter in the Library of the House.
When I set up this inquiry, I said that I thought the public would be shocked at the extent of child sexual abuse that was taking place in our country. I would like to thank Professor Alexis Jay, the other members of the inquiry panel and all of their team for their hard work in producing this report. I particularly want to echo the comments of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and Yvette Cooper in thanking all those who came forward to give evidence, which will not have been easy for them.
This report has shone a light on the horrific violence against children that has been taking place in the past and that also, sadly, takes place today. The Government now have an opportunity, on the back of this inquiry report, to make changes that will make a real difference, so I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that all parts of Government take this report and treat it with utter seriousness, particularly the recommendation on mandatory reporting.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all that she did in setting up the inquiry. This has involved seven years, 725 witnesses, 20 reports across 15 investigations, 24 research reports and, as I mentioned, the processing of 2 million pages of evidence. It is extremely important that we take all this information and ensure that we act on it, and I give an undertaking from the Dispatch Box today to honour the spirit in which she set up the inquiry in the first place.
I, too, welcome the Home Secretary to his place and, like him, I want to thank the members of the inquiry and their staff for their incredibly thorough and painstaking work over many years. Like everybody else, I think the most important thing is to pay tribute to all the survivors who participated courageously in recounting their own horrific experiences. They did so seeking acknowledgement and accountability, but also in the hope that children in future would be protected from the same dreadful ordeal. As the Home Secretary says, it is now incumbent on all of us to work constructively to make those aspirations a reality.
Obviously there is a lot to consider, and while it is good to be able to question the Home Secretary on the report today, I think many of us would appreciate the opportunity for a full debate in this Chamber in due course, or at least regular updates on the progress being made on implementing the report’s recommendations. Most of the recommendations are focused on England and Wales, but as the report notes, this is a global crisis and a similar inquiry is ongoing in Scotland.
I want to highlight the growing concerns outlined in the report about how child sexual exploitation is being facilitated by modern slavery and trafficking. There has been a lot of concerning chatter in recent weeks from the Home Office about the future of modern slavery laws. Given that sexual exploitation is the second most common reason for children being referred into the national referral mechanism, will the Home Secretary acknowledge the importance of modern slavery laws in protecting children from abuse and commit to making those laws work better, rather than tearing them up completely?
I echo what the shadow Home Secretary said about the recent worrying reports of asylum-seeking children going missing from hotels on the Home Secretary’s watch. We are now talking three figures, so will the Home Secretary say a little more about what is being done to look into why that is happening and how it can be stopped? What progress has been made on rolling out the use of independent child trafficking guardians? Finally, given the time constraints and the fact that we understand the Online Safety Bill will return to the House next week, what discussions is he having with colleagues about the implications of this report for that Bill, including in relation to age verification?
I know work is being done. I think there was a report five years ago and there are separate, ongoing reports in Scotland, with many cross-cutting themes. The hon. Gentleman rightly asks about modern slavery laws, many of which we have my right hon. Friend Mrs May to thank for. I reassure him that any changes made for the specific purpose of ensuring that potential loopholes are closed will not have an impact on the main purpose, just as he describes.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding us that the Online Safety Bill will return very shortly. I am ensuring that its findings, many of which were in the interim report, will be covered in the Online Safety Bill. I will return to him in writing on his comments about asylum seekers in hotels.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place. He will know that his role comes with huge responsibilities, especially for protecting children, which is why I welcome his statement and the comments of the shadow Home Secretary. I welcome this excellent final report, of course, and I thank Professor Alexis Jay, the victims and survivors, and Professor Jay’s entire team for producing it.
The Disclosure and Barring Service is referenced some 84 times in the report. In 2020, when I led a commission into child sexual abuse and exploitation, we discovered a number of issues relating to the DBS, particularly the ability of convicted child sexual abusers to avoid detection by simply changing their name. This loophole has still not been closed by the Government, so I urge my right hon. Friend to work with his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to close it as quickly as possible.
My right hon. Friend has occupied my post and is very knowledgeable about this subject. There are concerns about the DBS, and I asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Mims Davies, to look into this urgently. That work is already under way, so I will report back to the House.
I, too, pay tribute to all the victims and survivors who gave testimony to the inquiry, and to Mrs May for establishing it in the first place. We can all agree that victims and survivors have waited far too long for this inquiry and for robust action to be taken against child sexual abuse. We must not waste any more time. Will the Home Secretary commit to bringing forward, in this Session, any legislative changes that are needed, particularly on mandatory reporting?
The right hon. Lady has expertise in this area, so I thank her for her point. As I said, I want to act as quickly as possible. She will appreciate that this report was seven years and £184 million in the making, so there is an awful lot of information for us to look at and consider, and we will come back to the House with our response. I would rather go through that process systematically, to ensure we get it right, than make a promise from the Dispatch Box that I do not know I will be able to fulfil. I reassure her and all Members that I will be doing it with the utmost speed and determination.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place and commend him for his response to this report, as well as thanking my right hon. Friend Mrs May for establishing the inquiry in the first place.
The victims’ stories make horrific reading. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be aware that, when it comes to the detection and tackling of child sexual abuse and exploitation, a critical role is played by children’s social workers, the overwhelming majority of whom do outstanding work in the most difficult circumstances, but we can do more to support them. Will he work with the Secretary of State for Education to look once more at Martin Narey’s report on how we can improve social workers’ education, and to see whether more resource can be devoted to ensuring that the work of Frontline, the organisation that brings the brightest and the best from higher education into social work, can be expanded?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The report is difficult reading, as we see when we start to read some of the testimony, and he is absolutely right on that. I also agree with him on the need to pay tribute to the vast majority of frontline workers and social workers who do an extraordinary job. He is probably familiar with the independent Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse, which was funded by the Home Office and set up in 2016, and which has been helping to provide and strengthen the ability of professionals to identify sexual abuse. To answer his question directly, I will undertake to work with the Secretary of State for Education and pull together Secretaries of State and Ministers from across the Government to make sure that we work on this issue and stamp out the sexual abuse of youngsters.
I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Maidenhead on having the courage and determination to establish this inquiry, at a time when, I recall, it was not popular everywhere. When I worked in this field in the late 1980s, one thing that struck me was that we tended to put more emphasis on finding the evidence to prosecute the perpetrator than we did on the damage experienced by the victim; I appreciate that this is sometimes a difficult balance to strike. In that context, may I ask the Home Secretary to think about the problems that victims face today as they try to negotiate the myriad services when seeking help? There is lot of faith now in the child house model, which is, in essence, an all-in-one service that tries to make it easier for victims. Will he do what he can to make sure that that model is properly resourced, so that we are not treating the needs of the victim as being in second place to the prosecution of the perpetrator?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. One problem with tackling child sexual abuse is that it can happen in so many different settings and environments that it is difficult to have one central location always to deal with it. But what we can do is provide the services, expertise and some of the different initiatives I referred to in my comments to help bring that support. I absolutely agree with him and I am determined to do that, on behalf of all the children who have been abused and to prevent further abuse in future.
I, too, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mrs May for establishing the inquiry, and to Professor Jay for her report. I know something about how difficult and painstaking the evidence-gathering exercise was, because I was a barrister on the inquiry for a year in 2017. From Dolphin Square to the Catholic Church, from young offenders institutes to residential schools, the findings of the inquiry reveal the extent of prolonged child abuse, often in places where children were meant to be kept safe. Repeatedly it was found that if they complained about it, they were accused of lying or were even blamed for it happening in the first place.
There are multiple lessons from the report, but I would like to ask my right hon. Friend about the specific findings in relation to sexual predators—paedophiles—who travel overseas to abuse children. The report finds that civil orders restricting foreign travel are often underused and ineffective, because they only prohibit travel to a named country, which means that the perpetrator can circumvent that restriction by taking a different route. Will he say what the Home Office is doing to tighten up the restrictions in that area specifically?
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work in 2017—these cannot have been easy pieces of legal work to do. She is right to say that it is never the fault of the victims and we need to make sure that the response from officialdom is never to disbelieve and never to blame the victim either. She raises an important point about the narrow scope of those civil orders. We will certainly be undertaking to look at those and how they could operate much more efficiently.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrat party I echo colleagues on both sides of the House in praising the bravery of the victims. We recognise the lasting physical, emotional and psychological damage done to them, and our thoughts are with them. The Liberal Democrats endorse all the inquiry’s recommendations and call for them to be implemented urgently, but will the Minister commit to act specifically on the long-term Liberal Democrat call, which is a recommendation in the report as well, to sponsor a meaningful public campaign to make children more confident about reporting incidents?
One thing that has happened since the Savile case and the publicity that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead brought to this issue by calling the inquiry in the first place is that a lot more people are coming forward, and that is a good thing. Specific pieces of work, including some that I have referenced, are already under way to make sure that children know that those routes to reporting are there, but I am sure there is still more to be done, and I will take a close look at what more can be achieved.
I declare an interest as the chairman of a safeguarding board. As one of the six MPs who harangued the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mrs May, to set up the inquiry, I absolutely commend the huge amount of work that Alexis Jay and her team have undertaken and the bravery of the survivors who came forward with their testimonies.
I completely agree with all the comments the Home Secretary has just made. The trouble is that they were all included in the Government’s first child sexual exploitation strategy, which I published back in 2011. What has changed? Despite the continued call for a change in culture, the problem is getting worse, with criminals using technology to find even more ghastly ways of abusing children.
On two of the recommendations, what does the Secretary of State think the role of a child protection authority would be, and how would it interact with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre? Does he think it was a good idea to roll CEOP into the National Crime Agency, rather than keep its independence?
The Secretary of State mentioned the need to have a cross-governmental response, so does he agree with the recommendation to create something that many of us have wanted for many years—a Cabinet-level Minister for children, looking after that 20% of the population and particularly the most vulnerable children, who are what this report is all about?
My hon. Friend may not remember this, but we first met when he was shadow Children’s Minister, and I and the whole House know of his extraordinary work campaigning on these issues over many years. I have heard what he has to say, and I hope he will forgive me—three or four days into the job—for not having all the answers for him, but I will certainly undertake to write to him with them. I would just say that, although he is right that some of these issues were emerging in 2011, vastly more information and data are now coming forward, particularly as a result of the publicity that the inquiry has brought to this issue.
My hon. Friend asked me some very specific questions about CEOP and about whether there should be a Minister, or even a Cabinet Minister, for children. That is one of the recommendations in the report, and I will respond to it in the House within the report’s timelines or even sooner. We all, in a sense, have to be Ministers for children; we should all care about this issue as we look after children in different ways, and the whole of society has that responsibility as well. However, I will certainly come back to my hon. Friend on his inquiries.
I welcome the Home Secretary to his post. For anyone who has picked up this report, the findings are very difficult. You do not need to be a parent to be disturbed by some of the testimony. One issue that I have spoken a lot about in the House is young women who are sexually abused and assaulted by criminals as a result of child criminal exploitation. Some of them face the same horrific treatment as some of the victims we are talking about. They are victims and we should believe them, but they are never believed, because they are involved in crime. The Home Secretary referenced the victims Bill, and when it finally comes forward I urge him to look at the issue of child criminal exploitation and of young boys and girls being sexually assaulted by gang members who know they will get away with it because those young people are viewed as criminals.
The hon. Lady is right, and this plays into the wider issues of gang traffickers as well, because they know that they can be in an exploitative situation and do exploit, in particular, girls but also all children. She refers to the victims Bill, which was published in May in draft format. The whole point of that is for it to have pre-legislative scrutiny. I know that many organisations and many colleagues across the House have been involved in that, which will mean, I think, that we come forward with legislation that is in a better place to tackle many of the issues that she and others in this House have raised.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the commitments that he has made to looking at the recommendations of the review. The problem is that child sexual exploitation and abuse are getting worse in this country. In 2020, the Internet Watch Foundation found 153,000 images of child sexual abuse online and reported a 77% increase in self-generated images of sexual abuse. I welcome his commitment to the Online Safety Bill, but the truth is that it is the proliferation of online pornography, which is increasingly extreme in nature, that is driving up demand for child sexual exploitation. In fact, the word “teen” is one of the most commonly searched terms on PornHub. When will the Government acknowledge that online pornography is an enormous public health issue, child protection issue and criminal justice issue that is driving much of the child sexual exploitation that we see today?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. She mentioned some figures. The ones that really stuck out for me were that, in 2021 alone, global technology companies reported more than 29 million suspected instances of child sexual abuse material on their platforms. To be clear, that is just social media platforms; that is not the whole of the internet. There are 85 million files, including images of videos of child sexual abuse. She is absolutely right about the scale of the problem. As she will know, the Online Safety Bill contains clauses to deal with some of this. I think she is referencing two parts of this: the strictly illegal aspects—the Home Office clauses; and the wider issues that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is taking forward in the Bill. That Bill is active and in front of the House, and she is right to highlight the necessity of its completing its passage.
This is the most disturbing of reports—probably one of the most disturbing things that any Member could read. We know that 80,000 children are in care; that is due to increase by 25% over the next decade without intervention. We know, too, that children in the care sector are at greater risk of child sexual exploitation. How will the Secretary of State be working with the independent review on children’s services in the care setting? Moreover, will he work with the Education Secretary to bring an immediate end to the use of unregulated care settings?
I can tell the hon. Lady that we are setting up a cross-Government group to specifically work on the issues that she has raised, and that will include my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary.
I welcome the statement from the new Home Secretary and also welcome him to his place. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend Mrs May on starting this process in the first place. Child sexual abuse is not new; it has been going on since time immemorial. Young children are abused in families, in institutions by gangs, and by paedophiles who groom them online and then abuse them. Those of us who have had a long political career have witnessed some of the inquiries that have gone on, and we know the sad reality is that the people who do such things are thoroughly evil and need to be brought to justice. Although it is good news that more people are coming forward to report historical child sexual abuse, we need to ensure that those currently experiencing it are enabled to report what is going on and are believed, and that action is taken. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to do that as a matter of utmost priority?
Absolutely, I will undertake to do that as a matter of priority. The National Crime Agency, GCHQ and a whole network of undercover officers and others work constantly on tackling organised exploitative crime through a programme. One thing that has struck me in my first few days in this office is the number of warrants that I have to sign off dealing with gangs who are exploiting children. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the scale of the issue, and our determination to stamp it out and work with our partners in enforcement agencies knows no bounds.
As one of the Members representing a part of the London Borough of Lambeth, with my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi sitting next to me, I pay tribute to all the victims and survivors of abuse suffered by children and young people in the care of Lambeth Council. It is a shameful period in the history of our borough. I also pay tribute to those whose lives were cut short as a result of the harm and trauma they suffered, and who are not here to see and read the vindication of their experiences as set out in the final ICSA report. It is a responsibility of us all to ensure that such shame can never again come to our communities, but we delude ourselves if we tell each other that children are safe everywhere in the UK today. We face a situation where 16 and 17-year-olds are routinely placed in unregulated accommodation, putting them at risk of abuse and exploitation; 222 vulnerable asylum-seeking children have gone missing from Home Office-procured accommodation and half of all local authority children’s services departments are currently rated inadequate or requiring improvement, so they cannot possibly be doing the best job of protecting the children in their care. What urgent work will the Home Secretary be doing on a cross-departmental basis to ensure that horrors such as those exposed by this report can never happen again?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for calling out what has happened in Lambeth and elsewhere; I have nothing to add to her words where that is concerned. A number of hon. Members have raised issues concerning unaccompanied children, particularly those seeking asylum. The accommodation care means that they should be moved within 15 days, but I think that needs to be done quicker, if at all possible. We have also set up a programme of paying local authorities, increasing placement offers to councils by £6,000 to accommodate every child. She asks about cross-Government work—I should possibly add cross-party work—and that is under way, led by my the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Mims Davies. I will be taking a personal interest in the matter all the way through and convening meetings with other Secretaries of State to tackle the problem from every possible angle.
In the 20 years that I led on child protection work in local government, we saw repeated attempts to restructure the systems in place for child protection. However, a common thread that seemed to run through every example of failure was a lack of really good information-sharing. Even today, while councils are the lead agencies on child protection, they are reliant on other organisations—the police, the NHS, especially schools and sometimes, in the case of asylum-seeking children, Border Force—to bring evidence to their attention so that early intervention can take place. Will my right hon. Friend give some consideration to making some of those safeguarding partners statutory partners in the safeguarding process, so that they can be held accountable for their actions in the same way that local authorities, police and the national health service are?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. This morning, I was at Hertfordshire Constabulary, looking at the impressive database it has for when people are booked into custody cells. I was surprised to learn on questioning, however, that if somebody had been brought in because they were suspected of abusing somebody, including a child, that data is not necessarily or automatically shared by all 43 forces across the country. That is just within the police, let alone the crossover he mentions with other statutory bodies, local authorities, care organisations and others. The big thing that strikes me in my first few days in this job is that working together with those statutory partners to bring the information together, so that it can be flagged up as and where necessary, must be an important part of the solution. We live in the 21st century and that should be possible to do. I take his comments on board and promise that I will be spending a considerable amount of time looking at how we can improve the situation.
I, too, welcome the Home Secretary to his place, but I share the frustrations of colleagues across the House. The Online Safety Bill has been delayed yet again due to the chaos at the heart of this Government—five years we have been waiting for that legislation. The victims Bill, which has been promised since 2015 and has appeared in four Queen’s Speeches, still has not been brought forward. The child abuse strategy was published 18 months ago, as the Home Secretary said, but which of its commitments have been implemented? The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, stated that warm words are no longer enough; we need action, so what direct action will the Home Secretary take to stop the paralysis of government?
I am not sure that question was put quite in the spirit of the cross-party way that we are trying to approach this issue. I set out in quite some detail a number of things that have already happened. The hon. Lady refers to the Government’s tackling child sexual abuse strategy, which was published last January. A number of the actions have already been undertaken, including initiatives on awareness-raising campaigns, which has already been mentioned; the capability of frontline professionals; identifying and responding to sexual abuse; better education for professionals; protecting people from peer-on-peer abuse and harm; the National Crime Agency, which I have already met and discussed the issue with, and GCHQ using new technologies; and strengthening police power—not, I should say, something that the Labour party has always voted for. We are already legislating with the Online Safety Bill, and the victims Bill is already out in draft. I have to say that we are moving pretty fast considering that the full report only came out on Thursday.
Child sexual abuse has plagued Rotherham for decades. The Alexis Jay report found that over 1,500 girls in my constituency and across Rotherham were raped in a period of 10 to 15 years. One of the reasons why so many children were victims of these paedophiles and evil people was that the authorities turned a blind eye and did not report what they saw, so I welcome the IICSA report’s recommendation of mandatary reporting of crimes. Will the Home Secretary tell us when that law will be introduced and what sorts of punishments will be given out to those who enable paedophiles by ignoring victims?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think I am right in saying that it was Professor Jay who carried out the work on the report on Rotherham. She was very clear that things such as cultural sensitivities and political sensitivities were all too often barriers to dealing properly with systemic sexual abuse. My hon. Friend asks specifically about things such as mandatory reporting. As I mentioned, I will come back to that within the time guideline in the report, or earlier if I can.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place and wish him well. I commend Mrs May for her initiative, and I thank all those who made contributions and statements to the independent inquiry. One in six girls and one in 20 boys suffers sexual abuse before they reach the age of 16. I would have assumed that that statistic was for a third-world country, but unfortunately it is not; I was shocked to discover that it describes the country we live in—this nation. It makes my heart ache in my chest to think of the robbery of innocence, which we have all referred to. How do we start to address that horrific fact? What steps will the Secretary of State take to address it in every corner of the United Kingdom, along with all the devolved Administrations?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the scale of the problem, which may surprise people who have not been involved in the subject before when they read the report. Some 7.5% of adults in England and Wales are estimated to have been sexually abused before they were 16—approximately 5% of boys and 15% of girls. That equates to probably over 3 million people in this country. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, I do not think that there is one single thing that can be done to solve that. As I mentioned, the problem of sexual abuse happens in so many different settings, so we have to act simultaneously on all fronts. This seven-year report—brilliantly commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, as many colleagues have mentioned—is just the start. We now need to make sure that we enact all the recommendations.
The report says that the internet is magnifying child sexual abuse and grooming, which, as my hon. Friend Miriam Cates said, has massively increased since the inquiry began under my right hon. Friend Mrs May. Can my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary assure me that the Online Safety Bill is strong and unequivocal, and will be put into law as soon as possible? It does seem to be taking an inordinate amount of time for it to go through both Houses.
I will certainly be working closely with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to make sure that happens. My hon. Friend is right about the scale of it, but we should not lose sight of the work that our agencies are doing—for example, the National Crime Agency estimates that it makes 800 arrests or voluntary attendances and carries out 1,000 safeguards each month because of industry reporting. I appreciate that that is not enough—we need to ensure that every case is being reported—but the agencies are working and will have increased the amount of work being done over the period that the report has been under way. She is absolutely right about the need to speed up the Bill.
I, too, thank my right hon. Friend Mrs May for getting the inquiry under way. Its recommendations will be rightly considered by the Government in the coming months, but we must not forget the victims and their families, who are at the report’s heart. Not long ago, the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Priti Patel, came to Keighley to meet victims and survivors, because unfortunately, child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation have haunted our community in Keighley and across the Bradford district for far too long. As we look at the recommendations, does the Home Secretary agree that the voices of victims and survivors should be at the heart of that, so we do not forget that those voices are important?
Absolutely, yes. On behalf of the 7,300 victims and survivors who came forward in the course of the report, we owe them a duty to do exactly what my hon. Friend has suggested.