Victims of Crime (Rights, Entitlements, and Notification of Child Sexual Abuse) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:15 pm on 19th July 2019.

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Photo of The Bishop of Rochester The Bishop of Rochester Bishop 1:15 pm, 19th July 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for bringing forward this Bill and applaud the intention to give a stronger statutory position for victims of crime, especially in relation to the code and the role of the commissioner. The noble Baroness spoke of the “dignity and respect” with which we should treat the victims of crime. In my capacity as Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons, I often find myself in conversations about treating with dignity and respect the perpetrators of crime. It seems obvious that we should accord at least the same to victims of crime. In the context of this debate, I am proud that my diocese has become the first English diocese formally to sign a partnership arrangement with the White Ribbon campaign in relation to male violence against women and recruiting of champions.

However, as already trailed by the noble Baroness, my main comments relate to Clause 11, concerning the duty to be placed on certain people, occupations and professions to report to the police where a child discloses abuse, or the person concerned reasonably suspects that such abuse may have occurred. As the noble Baroness pointed out, in the context of the current IICSA hearings, the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have both indicated a shift in their thinking towards the principle of mandatory reporting. The Bill does not specifically include the clergy or other church workers by occupation—youth workers in particular come to mind—but they could come within its scope in so far as their work might relate to regulated activities.

Following the IICSA hearings and when their reports are produced, it is likely that the Church of England—I cannot speak for other churches or faith communities—will seek to strengthen what is already provided for in its various measures and provisions around these matters. In particular, Section 5 of Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure could be revised in line with the direction of travel. I am given to understand that there is an intention to explore ways in which the kind of disciplinary provision already in place in for clergy might be extended to others engaged in regulated activities in a church setting.

There are details that are not simple. Certainly, if we step outside named professions and begin to talk about people in voluntary activities, we enter a different world, but, none the less, those matters need to be taken seriously. For some church traditions and communities, the whole business of information received in the context of sacramental confession is an issue. It is being looked at at the moment by the Church of England; those discussions have not yet concluded, but they are actively under way. While Clause 11 might not directly or explicitly encompass the clergy and others in churches in all respects, my view is that it would none the less offer the churches, and potentially other faith communities, helpful support as we go about strengthening our own procedures and practices in this regard.

As for the rest of the Bill, I simply say that it sounds obvious; it sounds like good practice; it ought to be there. It has my support.