My Lords, for those of us who have for decades supported football at all levels, from being the mum on the touchline on the Sunday boy’s league through to being a season ticket holder at professional games at various levels, the recent revelations cast an ugly shadow on the beautiful game. That is why I start by paying tribute to all those who have had the courage to come forward and witness through their personal stories, saying what until now has been unsayable.
We know that child sexual abuse is a society-wide problem. The problem has been getting everyone in society to accept that. The one good that can come from these revelations is that it will, I hope, become easier for others who have been abused to come forward in future.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, in her 2015 report on protecting children from harm, cites the following in her assessment of the impact of child sexual abuse in the family environment, but it is just as pertinent outside the family environment:
“Many victims do not recognise that they have been sexually abused until much later in life … Victims and survivors face considerable barriers to telling anyone and accessing help … Child-sexual abuse … casts a long shadow over the life of victims and survivors”.
I particularly welcome the proposal this week that a trust should be established to assist former young footballers who have been abused. The scale of abuse is huge, and no doubt there is more to follow in football and other sports where coaches come into contact with young people.
However, it is of deep concern that victims’ charities and organisations are not currently regulated by any governing body, statutory or voluntary. In effect, that means that anybody could establish a charity without the necessary qualifications. This in itself raises safeguarding issues, especially due to the vulnerability of the victims. That is why I tabled amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill that would place statutory duties on elected policing bodies and the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses to ensure that quality standards are developed, published and adhered to.
Your Lordships’ House debated the amendments and agreed to them on Monday night and, if implemented, they would ensure that a quality standard in relation to the provision of victims’ services was prepared and published. They would also ensure that the quality standard is reviewed at least every five years; and that, in preparing the quality standards, the commissioner and the policing bodies would have a duty to consult the public. These quality standards would cover appropriate qualifications: minimum standard of experience; correct indemnity insurance; compliance with data protection and safeguarding laws; complaints procedures; regulatory bodies to take complaints and ensure that the standards are adhered to; and a strict compliance with the victims’ code. Those quality standards would ensure much-needed services for abused boys and girls, men and women in sports and elsewhere, and that they are adhered to to protect everyone. Can the Minister help us to progress these when the amendments return to the Commons?
Finally, I mention the excellent work of Mandate Now, the campaigning group, which makes the important point that we need mandatory reporting of possible child sexual abuse, which we do not have. Here I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Walmsley, who has long been advocating this in your Lordships’ House. Mandate Now makes it plain that the FA’s own safeguarding policy is confused and inconsistent. While it says that it is mandatory to report, when it is not, its procedures are only guidance, not a requirement on its bodies. Worse, it is not clear who should undergo a criminal records check. When will mandatory reporting be introduced, and when will those inconsistencies be clarified? The time for prevarication on this is now over.