Committee (3rd Day)

Part of Serious Crime Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 15th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 15th July 2014

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 40BZE, which follows on from it. These amendments support much of the debate we had on the previous group but move us into the practical arena rather than the one of legislative definitions. In the past year, the NSPCC helpline dealt with 8,000 contacts about emotional neglect and abuse, and 5,500 cases were so serious that they were referred to local authorities for further action. This was a substantial increase on previous years. I am glad that the Minister recognised that clarity is required on this difficult issue of defining emotional, social, psychological or behavioural neglect.

Alongside these statistics, new evidence shows that child protection professionals do not have a clear sense of the law in relation to neglect and that the law is sometimes not being applied consistently. My concern in these amendments is to ensure that there are mechanisms in place for the moment a potential offence of child cruelty has been reported, whether to police or local authorities. In essence, there must be a case conference with all the relevant stakeholders from all the different departments and, crucially, the child concerned should have access to child and adolescent mental health services. The reason for this is that two years ago the NSPCC carried out an online survey which showed that only 7% of social work professionals believed that timely action was taken in response to neglect and only 4% thought that it was likely or very likely that timely action would be taken to respond to emotional abuse. That 4% is a shocking statistic and exactly why we are having this debate about being more specific in the legislation on this. That contrasts with 75% of respondents to the survey who said that they were very confident that timely action would be taken in response to physical and sexual abuse.

That is the point of these amendments, which may or may not be appropriate in this legislation, as I mentioned in my Second Reading speech. I would be very grateful to hear from the Minister that there is some cross-departmental discussion about how we ensure that this is framed in guidance to social workers, health professionals—whether doctors, school nurses or district nurses—and anybody else involved in a child’s life, such as at sports clubs and certainly including teachers in schools. We need to make sure that the victims of this are as well covered as the offence and the offender.

That brings me to my final point. This will be effective only if professionals in this area have adequate training to recognise and understand the very particular problems of emotional and psychological abuse. I am reminded of a debate we had during the passage of the Children and Families Bill when my noble friend Lady Walmsley and I tabled some amendments about exorcism and the emotional trauma that some children face, particularly when exorcism is carried out with them present. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said at the time that we did not need a specific law on this, and she was absolutely right because there is some legislation within the current framework—the problem was that it was not being carried out by the professionals. That is why these amendments have been proposed. I will not repeat the points that were made in the previous group, but this supports all those made by noble friends and other colleagues. I beg to move.