Amendment 21

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 20 October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Rosser:

Moved by Lord Rosser

21: Clause 7, page 8, line 16, after “violence” insert “and safeguard children involved in serious violence”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require specified authorities subject to the “serious violence duty” to safeguard children involved in serious violence.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

We now move on to Part 2 of the Bill. The amendments in this group all relate to the issue of ensuring that safeguarding and tackling the criminal exploitation of children is a central part of the duty to reduce serious violence as set out in Part 2, with its duties on specified authorities to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence.

There are a considerable number of amendments in this group. Amendments 21, 23, 36, 37, 42 and 43 would require specified authorities subject to the serious violence duty to safeguard children involved in serious violence.

Amendment 24 would require specified authorities to safeguard children involved in serious violence as part of the serious violence duty, including identifying and safeguarding children who are victims of modern slavery and trafficking.

Amendment 25 would require specified authorities subject to the duty to prepare and implement an early help strategy to prevent violence, support child victims of violence and prevent hidden harm. Early intervention is surely crucial to prevent violence before it occurs, and that needs to be in the Bill. Preventive safeguarding activity can be focused on offering support to a child and family through targeted or universal services at the first sign of issues in their lives becoming difficult to prevent them being coerced in activity associated with serious violence.

Amendment 27 would ensure that any children’s social care authority which was not already involved in the strategy would be consulted in the preparation of the strategy.

Amendment 49 would require specified authorities to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce child criminal exploitation and safeguard affected children.

Amendment 50 introduces a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation. Children who are groomed and exploited by criminal gangs are the victims, not the criminals.

Amendment 52, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, is a probing amendment. It would require the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a strategy for providing specialist training on child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence.

While we support this part of the Bill, the statutory duty to reduce violence will not work in the way we need it to unless it includes the duty to safeguard children who have been pulled into that violence or are being impacted by it. These amendments would require authorities subject to the serious violence duty to safeguard children involved in serious violence, and would specifically add safeguarding children involved in violence and identifying and safeguarding children who are victims of modern slavery and trafficking as requirements of the serious violence duty. They would make preparing and implementing an early help strategy to prevent violence, support child victims of violence and prevent hidden harm a specific requirement of authorities as part of their serious violence duties and would ensure that any children’s social care authority that, as I said, was not already involved in the strategy to reduce serious violence, would be consulted in the preparation of this strategy.

The amendments on child criminal exploitation would require specified authorities to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce child criminal exploitation and safeguard affected children, as well as introducing the statutory definition of child criminal exploitation to which I referred. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, to which I have already referred and which we support, would require the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a strategy for providing specialist training on child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence. I will say more about the amendments on child criminal exploitation shortly.

The Bill places a significant and welcome new duty on specified authorities to identify the kinds of serious violence that occur; to identify the causes of serious violence in the area; and to prepare and implement a strategy for exercising their functions to prevent and reduce serious violence in an area. While obviously prison and policing are crucial in terms of justice and bringing to book those who have committed offences, prevention of crime in the first place is the real long-term solution to reducing violent crime and creating a safer and better society. Case studies have shown that, if someone is in care, is vulnerable, has experienced domestic abuse in the home, has parents with addictions or has no parents at all, these are matters that make them more vulnerable to getting involved in violence later in life. If we can intervene at the earliest possible stages, we can have a significant impact not just on the lives of those young people but on society and on the costs to society of high levels of violence.

This part of the Bill is a step in the right direction towards doing that. However, while a public health approach to tackling serious violence that seeks to address the root causes is welcome, creating a statutory public health duty will not deliver if the desired result of reducing the number of children who are harmed by serious violence is not also achieved. An approach for tackling serious violence that does not also help to protect children from harm, does not include the full range of partners and interventions needed and does not consider some of the more structural factors that contribute to violence just will not deliver the desired outcome that surely we all want.

We need a strategy that equips the safeguarding system and the statutory and voluntary services to protect children from harm with the resources and guidance to do so. These amendments make the specified authorities involved in the serious violence duty safeguard children at risk of or experiencing harm and they refer in particular to children involved in serious violence in the area as a result of being a victim of modern slavery and trafficking offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

I repeat that the statutory duty to reduce violence cannot be effective on its own without a statutory duty to safeguard children, as provided for in this group of amendments. Currently, the draft guidance on the serious violence reduction duty does not mention safeguarding. Can the Minister reassure the House that this will be revisited?

Amendments 49 and 50, and the amendment in the lead name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, deal specifically with the issue of child criminal exploitation and are supported by organisations including Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society. Amendment 50 would introduce a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, putting a recognised definition in law for the first time. It provides that exploitation is where:

“Another person manipulates, deceives, coerces or controls the person to undertake activity which constitutes a criminal offence.”

At the heart of this group is the fact that children and vulnerable young people who are being pulled into violence require a bespoke response that recognises their particular risk factors. I think it is fair to say there is a growing awareness of child criminal exploitation, but it is also irrefutable that, for so many children being exploited, we are failing to identify them and provide support in time to quite literally save their lives. Not only do we need to improve that support, and action at the point of crisis, we need to look at the long-term support required by a child who is traumatised by what they have experienced.

Child criminal exploitation could include being coerced into carrying weapons, drug trafficking as part of county lines, or committing acts of serious violence, perhaps against a rival gang. A preventive approach needs to target those who commit these crimes against children and find ways to support the children out of the situation they so often feel they just have no way of leaving.

Barnardo’s says it has found that agencies, including police forces, are not routinely collecting or recording information on this type of exploitation. It reports that a number of reviews have found that children at risk are being passed between agencies without meaningful engagement. A statutory definition would improve awareness and understanding and encourage joined-up working, not only across the justice system but across all partners included in the serious violence duty. It would give a common definition of what we are seeking to tackle.

Amendment 52, to which I have also added my name, was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who is unavoidably unable to be here today, and we are sorry not to have the benefit of her knowledgeable contribution to this debate. The amendment would support the definition of child criminal exploitation by ensuring that professionals are trained to identify and prevent this exploitation and effectively support children who are victims or at risk of being victims. Training is surely key to ensuring that our agencies have the skills and resources to tackle this problem, and we strongly support the amendment.

Together, these particular amendments would pave the way to a more focused, effective and joined up response to this abhorrent coercion and manipulation of children and vulnerable young people. Overall, the amendments in this group are intended to ensure that safeguarding children who have been pulled into violence or are being impacted by it, and tackling the exploitation of children, is a central part of the duty to reduce serious violence—a much-needed provision, because a statutory duty to reduce violence cannot be effective on its own without a statutory duty to safeguard children. I move.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 9:45, 20 October 2021

My Lords, I have signed most of the amendments in this group because I think they are extremely valuable. I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on his very thorough exposition of why they are needed.

As I and others have mentioned many times, there is a serious failing of the police and the Home Office to safeguard children and young people from serious violence. This is most explicit in the police’s ongoing use of child spies, where they scoop up children who have got stuck in dangerous criminal situations and put them in even more danger by working them as an intelligence asset with very few safeguards. Obviously, Amendment 50 could then apply to police officers who put children in that sort of situation.

The serious violence duty is important, but it must include a duty to safeguard children and young people who are caught up in the chaos of organised crime. Early interventions, removing children from organised crime, and well-funded youth programmes are all key to ending this cycle of violence. Writing them off as destined for a life of crime and using them as disposable police assets is inhumane and dangerous. I hope that the Minister can change tack on this so that we can change many young lives for the better.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester was in his place earlier but has had to go elsewhere for the evening. He has asked me to speak on his behalf on the amendments in this group tabled in his name alongside those of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I thank the Children’s Society and Barnardo’s for their support and helpful briefings.

The Church has a particular concern for vulnerable children. As far as the Church of England is concerned, there are 4,644 schools in which we educate around 1 million students. This educational commitment is combined with parish and youth worker activities that bring the Church into contact with thousands of families each year. Through the Clewer Initiative, many parishes and dioceses have worked closely on the issues of county lines and confronting the blight of modern slavery. Accordingly, we have seen at first hand and, sadly, all too frequently the terrible damage caused by serious youth violence and by the criminal exploitation of children. The latter is an especially insidious form of abuse, which one victim has described as “when someone you trusted makes you commit crime for their benefit”.

Amendment 50, as we have heard, seeks to create a definition of child criminal exploitation that would sit alongside other definitions of exploitation already in the Modern Slavery Act. The present lack of a single statutory definition means that local agencies are responding differently to this form of exploitation across the country. Research by the Children’s Society in 2019 found that only one-third of local authorities had a policy in place for responding to it. By its very nature, exploitation through county lines crosses local authority boundaries, so it is imperative that there is a national shared understanding of child criminal exploitation so that children do not fall through the gaps if they live in one area but are exploited in another. A consequence of the current lack of a shared definition and approach is that many children receive punitive criminal justice responses rather than being seen as victims of exploitation and abuse.

Youth justice data shows that in 2019-20, 1,402 children were first-time entrants to the youth justice system due to drug offences, with 2,063 being first-time entrants due to weapon offences. Both issues are often associated with criminal exploitation through the county lines drug model. Despite positive work from several police forces and the CPS, many criminal cases are still being pursued against a child even when they have been identified as a victim of criminal exploitation.

Relatedly, too many children are coming to the attention of services only when they are arrested by police for drugs-related crimes, as early warning signs are not understood or are simply missed. We too often find that not all professionals involved in children’s lives fully understand this form of exploitation and how vulnerabilities manifest in children. There are countless serious case reviews that point to safeguarding interventions not being made earlier enough in the grooming process.

A statutory definition agreed and understood by all local safeguarding partners would enable professionals to spot the signs earlier and divert vulnerable children away from harm, in much the same way as the recently adopted statutory definition of domestic abuse is now helping to improve responses on that issue. I am sure that every Member of this House shares the desire to protect vulnerable children. Adopting this definition would send a strong message to those children that their abuse is seen, heard and understood.

This also leads me briefly to address Amendments 21, 23 to 27, 42 and 43, which would amend the serious violence duty. Concern with the serious violence duty, as presented here, is about a lack of clear commitment to the safeguarding of children. No differentiation is drawn between how this duty impacts on children as opposed to adults.

Children and vulnerable young people experiencing serious violence require a different response. Being involved in violence is often an indicator that children are experiencing other problems in their lives, such as being criminally exploited. It is important to understand these underlying causes of why children may be involved in violence, and for these underlying causes in a child’s life or in the lives of children within certain areas to be addressed. We need to intervene to protect and divert children, not treating them as adult criminals. This requires a co-ordinated approach to preventative safeguarding which focuses on offering support to a child and family through targeted or universal services at the first signs of issues in their lives to prevent them being coerced into activity associated with serious violence.

Safeguarding and protecting children and vulnerable young people from harm should be the first priority of statutory agencies, and in any subsequent duty for these agencies to co-operate with one another. The duty as currently drafted does not mention “safeguarding” once, nor does it signal the need for the specific involvement of children’s social care teams in creating a strategy to prevent violence in a local area. A failure to write into the duty the need to safeguard children risks young people falling through the cracks in statutory support and receiving a punitive response from statutory services. It makes the duty all about crime reduction at the expense of safeguarding. It would also hinder the ability of the duty to be truly preventative if it did not specify the involvement of children’s services.

I hope that we shall receive some assurances from the Minister on the commitment to safeguarding, ideally on the face of the Bill, but certainly a commitment that the issue of how the duty relates to safeguarding will be more closely considered in guidance.

Photo of Baroness Stroud Baroness Stroud Conservative

My Lords, I support Amendments 50 and 52, which seek to create a statutory definition for child criminal exploitation and provide training on child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence.

The intention of these amendments is to ensure that those who first encounter victims—most often, police officers on a child’s arrest—know what they are looking for and are prepared to respond to signs of child criminal exploitation and secure the intervention and support for children who are being exploited.

This amendment could well be needed to ensure that we no longer allow our most vulnerable children to slip through the cracks and end up in a cycle of exploitation, violence and criminality. I was particularly struck by a story published by the Children’s Society in which a child was repeatedly exploited to transport drugs and weapons, and his mother threatened by older youths when he failed to provide money to those coercing him into criminal activity. He was known to his youth offending team, but the extent of the ways in which he had been exploited did not become manifest until his tragic murder in January 2019. His story is just one of thousands.

The Children’s Commissioner has estimated that at least 27,000 children in the UK are currently at serious risk of gang exploitation. The national referral mechanism has begun to recognise the weight of this criminal exploitation as a form of modern slavery, and 2,749 of the 4,964 child victims that it encountered in 2020 had been subject to child criminal exploitation. However, only a minority of exploited victims ever reach the national referral mechanism. These amendments are designed to probe whether we need a clear definition and understanding of criminal exploitation, and training which equips local authorities to intervene and protect children from it.

It is important that we recognise that when a child is being exploited, first and foremost, as we have heard this evening, they are a victim. According to an FOI request by Barnardo’s, only one of 47 local policing departments responded with existing awareness and a strategy for combating child criminal exploitation, leaving 29 which had no approach and 17 which were unresponsive.

Without awareness of child criminal exploitation and a policy in place for its detection and eradication, children are arrested as criminals and enter the criminal justice system with no assistance against the coercion that they face. This often results in their continued exploitation on release and a perpetuated cycle of coerced reoffending.

These amendments are about equipping those who have the greatest visibility of these matters to intervene and provide support when it is needed most. Will the Minister outline her plans for ensuring that the 29 local policing departments which had no approach to child criminal exploitation and the 17 unresponsive departments are properly trained and equipped to identify and address this issue?

As we know, this Government are committed to an ambitious levelling-up agenda. For the UK to truly level up, to build a society where everyone is able to flourish and reach their full potential, no matter the circumstances into which they were born, we need to be far more proactive in breaking the cycle of exploitation and intervening to give our children a chance to thrive. Can the Minister confirm that the challenges that these vulnerable children face will also be addressed in the forthcoming levelling-up strategy?

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee 10:00, 20 October 2021

My Lords, I agree very much with the concerns that have been expressed this evening, and I would because I have an interest which I should declare as a trustee of Safer London whose work is directed to deterring young people from becoming involved in crime. Giving young people the tools they need to resist being pulled into crime is a very wide agenda. As is obvious from the name, the work is confined to London, but it is needed all over.

As well as that, I remember the debates during the passage of the Modern Slavery Bill on what is meant by “exploitation”. I take the point about people—it is not just children—who may be perceived as criminals but who are actually victims, so I understand the calls for much better understanding of child criminal exploitation. I hope that what I am about to say is understood to be support for, not opposition to, the thrust of what is being proposed.

Amendment 52, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, on training is absolutely to the point. If all agencies and authorities were trained to recognise what they are seeing but not recognising, in a way that would answer all the other points that have been made. If the prevention and reduction of crime, which is what these clauses are about, means anything, surely it must include safeguarding. That is prevention. Safeguarding is not defined, which does not surprise me because it is comprised of an awful lot of component parts and is different in different circumstances. I would be interested to know whether the Minister call tell us what is already on the statute book in this area. Are we talking about bringing together provisions that should be brought together that are scattered, as can be the case, or are we talking about something new in statutory terms?

I do not think that we can leave the issue without referring to resources. If there were the resources to extend the excellent work being done by various organisations far more widely, both in the voluntary sector and to statutory authorities, I do not think we would be talking about all this. But I am quite convinced that it comes back to training to recognise what should really be in front of people’s eyes. I know it is easy for us, standing up in the Chamber, to say that, and I would not like to do the job that some police officers, teachers, health workers and so on do. But the training should support the achievement of everything that noble Lords are seeking this evening.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, there are a number of general points I need to make about the new legal duties to support a multiagency approach to preventing and tackling serious violence. I will try to make them in the appropriate group of amendments, but I hope the Committee will accept that there is a great deal of overlap.

The overwhelming response of the non-governmental organisations I have met with which have concerns about this part of the Bill is that, as drafted, it is actually about forcing agencies to support a police-led enforcement approach to serious violence—not a public health approach, or even a multiagency approach, to preventing and tackling serious violence. The Government’s own consultation on this issue gave three options: a new legal duty on specific organisations to effectively share information with the police; a new legal duty to revise community safety partnerships, the existing and well-established mechanism where local authorities and police forces work together to prevent and tackle crime, and where the local police chief and local authority chief executive are equal partners in doing whatever each partner and others can do to reduce crime and disorder; and a voluntary non-legislative approach. There was more support for a legislative approach than a voluntary one, but more respondents favoured enhancing community safety partnerships—40%—compared with a new legal duty to provide information to the police—37%—and, tellingly, the police supported equally options one and two.

Even the police, the sector most likely to benefit from a police-led enforcement approach, were ambivalent as to whether it should be a truly multiagency approach by enhancing community safety partnerships or a police-led enforcement approach. So why did the Government opt for the latter and not the former? A police-led enforcement approach was the Government’s preferred option from the beginning. These amendments, which we support, are the first manifestation of challenging that police-led enforcement approach, in that the legal duty does not sufficiently recognise that many young people, particularly those involved in county lines, are victims of criminal exploitation rather than free-acting criminals. Henry Blake is a former youth worker who draws on his personal experiences of working with at-risk young people in his powerful film, “County Lines”—a drama about one young man who is drawn into county lines drug dealing. I would highly recommend this film to any noble Lord who is unaware of the realities of county lines.

Many young people lacking family support and living in poverty find themselves groomed by adults who appear to show them the love and concern they desperately seek, and who treat them to meals in burger restaurants and buy them new trainers—something their often lone parent cannot afford. They promise them money, not just so they can afford the latest designer clothing that they need if they are not to be bullied by gangs, who see those who do not wear designer labels—even Nike and Adidas—as targets. It is not just so they can go to McDonald’s whenever they want, but so that they can help their mum put food on the table and make sure their younger sister has decent clothes to wear. I hope noble Lords can see how easily vulnerable young people are drawn into criminality, not just for pecuniary advantage but for the sense of belonging and the sense that someone is at last paying them some attention. For many, it is as much an emotional need as a financial one.

Of course, the reality is very different. The adults exploiting these young people take the vast majority of the profits of the drug dealing in which they are involving these young people whom they have groomed, and the youngsters take all the risks, often ending in violence from rival drug dealers. These young people are victims of criminal exploitation, and each one of us is to blame—not them. It is our fault that their single mothers have to do three minimum wage jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table and so, through no fault of their own, can rarely be there for their kids as most wish they could be. It is our fault that too many people do not have a decent place to live, because they cannot afford private rents for an appropriately sized home in a good state of repair, and that there is a shocking shortage of social housing and much of what exists is in an appalling state of repair. It is our fault that, as the cost of living spirals upwards, we take away £20 a week in universal credit from those most in need. The Government’s response is to force other agencies to divulge information that makes it easier for them to prosecute these victims of criminal exploitation.

That is why the Bill needs to radically change from a police-led enforcement approach to preventing and tackling serious violence to a truly public health and multiagency approach, starting with—although this is only the beginning of the changes needed—putting the safeguarding of children involved in serious violence in the Bill. That must include, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, suggests in his Amendment 50, and as both Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society have suggested, including a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation in the meaning of exploitation in Section 3 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, suggests in her Amendment 52, training for police officers in particular, to ensure that they are aware of child criminal exploitation and actively seeking evidence of such exploitation.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for setting out the case for these amendments. I wholeheartedly agree that nothing is more important than safeguarding children at risk of harm. That is why we introduced reforms to safeguarding in 2017, which led to the establishment of multiagency safeguarding arrangements in 2019. The statutory safeguarding partners responsible for safeguarding—that is, local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and chief officers of police—are also named as specified authorities under the serious violence duty, so I would argue that it is truly a multiagency approach. This demonstrates the importance of safeguarding in protecting children and young people from involvement in serious violence. We expect that existing work to safeguard vulnerable children will link very closely with local efforts to prevent and reduce serious violence. Therefore, we do not believe that it is necessary to include a separate safeguarding requirement in this part of the Bill, and it would not be possible to do so without duplicating existing safeguarding legislation.

On Amendment 25, which would require specified authorities to prepare and implement an early help strategy, the noble Lord is absolutely right to highlight the importance of prevention and early intervention and this, of course, is the key aim of the serious violence duty. We recognise that early intervention and prevention are essential to reducing serious violence. The duty requires partners to work collaboratively to develop a strategy to reduce serious violence in their local area. We expect partners to work with upstream organisations, such as education providers and children’s social care, when developing this strategy to ensure that it covers actions that relate to early help and considers risks that occur before a young person becomes involved in serious violence. This ensures that any strategy will include early help for this cohort. We believe that it would be less effective to separate this out into an additional strategy.

It is also relevant that the provision of early help is an important feature of existing statutory guidance, called Keeping Children Safe in Education and Working Together to Safeguard Children. This requires schools, colleges, and organisations and agencies working with children and their families in discharging their functions to have appropriate safeguarding support in place. As such, this should already be built into existing safeguarding practice.

Amendment 27 would require all specified authorities to consult any children’s social care authority for the area, if not already a specified authority under this part of the Bill, as part of the preparation of local strategies. I totally agree that children’s social care authorities have a crucial contribution to make to local efforts, particularly for those young people at risk of being involved in serious violence, child criminal exploitation or other harms. However, it is also clear to me that local authorities are already a specified authority under the duty and have a responsibility for children’s social care services under separate legislation. The duty has been designed this way to ensure that children’s social care services play a significant role in the discharge of the duty, as they have valuable experience in safeguarding issues and tackling a variety of harms, including serious violence. The statutory guidance for the serious violence duty will make it clear that children’s social care services, as well as other services that local authorities are responsible for, should be involved in the development of the local strategy.

I would also like to assure the Committee that the Government are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery, including by the identification and safeguarding of child victims of modern slavery. Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 places a statutory duty on specified public authorities in England and Wales to notify the Home Secretary when they have reasonable grounds to believe that a person may be the victim of slavery or human trafficking. If the potential victim is a child, there is no requirement to obtain their consent to this notification, and the duty is discharged by referring a potential victim to the national referral mechanism, known as the NRM. It is the process by which the UK identifies and supports potential victims of modern slavery by connecting them with appropriate support. First responder organisations, which include law enforcement agencies, local authorities and specified non-governmental organisations, are able to make a referral to the NRM, as set out in the modern slavery statutory guidance.

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in their area, including child victims of modern slavery, is the responsibility of local authorities. Children’s services should already be working in close co-operation with the police and other statutory and non-statutory agencies to offer child victims of modern slavery the support that they require. In addition to the statutory support provided by local authorities, Section 48 of the Modern Slavery Act made provision for independent child trafficking guardians in England and Wales, whose role it is to provide specialist independent support for trafficked children and to advocate on behalf of the child to ensure their best interests are reflected in decisions made by public authorities. This service now covers in total two-thirds of all local authorities across England and Wales, so I do not think that to include a further requirement in this Bill is necessary, given that it is already mandatory.

Amendment 49 would require specified authorities to prepare and implement a strategy to prevent and reduce child criminal exploitation and safeguard affected children within the serious violence duty. I want to be absolutely clear here that targeting, grooming and the exploitation of children, who are often the most vulnerable in our society, for criminal purposes is wholly unacceptable and this Government fully condemn it. Noble Lords will know that criminals can adapt their approach in response to legislation and government policy, which is why the serious violence duty has been designed to be flexible, enabling areas to tailor the duty to their specific requirements and crime types that are deemed a local priority, as well as being able to respond to emerging and unforeseen threats.

There will also be accompanying statutory guidance, which we have published in draft form, that will make it clear to specified authorities that they will be able to determine what types of serious violence to include in their local strategy based on evidence from their strategic needs assessment. The legislation as currently drafted will allow specified authorities to include child criminal exploitation in their local serious violence strategies, and I am therefore not convinced of the need for a separate strategy at this stage.

Amendment 52 would require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for providing specialist training on child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence for all specified authorities under the serious violence duty. Training is of course absolutely essential in equipping professionals to strengthen their knowledge and skills so they can provide the best support for young people, but I do not think we need to include it in the Bill.

Existing statutory guidance, specifically Working Together to Safeguard Children, already makes it clear that local safeguarding partners are responsible for considering what training is needed locally and for planning how they will monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of training that is commissioned. There is a requirement to include how interagency training will be commissioned, delivered and monitored for impact in their published local safeguarding arrangements. Annual reports of the safeguarding arrangements must also include evidence of the impact of the work of the safeguarding partners and relevant agencies, including any training undertaken. I think that this existing approach is correct, given that the three safeguarding partners will be best placed to determine the training needs of their practitioners in response to the risks to children in their area according to local needs and circumstance.

Finally, Amendment 50 seeks to establish a statutory definition of “child criminal exploitation”. We have explored the introduction of such a statutory definition with a range of operational partners and have concluded that Section 3 of the Modern Slavery Act, which provides for definitions of exploitation within the Act, is sufficient to respond to a range of child criminal exploitation scenarios. It was also a finding of the independent review into the Modern Slavery Act conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Field, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and Maria Miller MP, who considered the definition of child criminal exploitation under the 2015 Act and recommended that it should not be amended as it is flexible to new and emerging forms of modern slavery.

It is also important to note that child criminal exploitation is already defined in statutory guidance. This includes both the Keeping Children Safe in Education and Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance. It is also included in a number of non-statutory practice documents, including the Home Office child exploitation disruption toolkit for front-line practitioners and the county lines guidance for prosecutors and youth offending teams.

I also assure noble Lords that the Home Office is working collaboratively across government and with operational partners to raise the profile of, and improve local safeguarding arrangements for, child criminal exploitation. That is why, along with the Department for Education, we worked with Liverpool John Moores University to test the effectiveness of the multiagency safeguarding partnerships in dealing with young people at risk or involved in serious violence and county lines. We have recently received the findings from those reviews and are considering the best way to share the learning and practice with local areas.

In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, the vast majority of child criminal exploitation cases currently occur in the context of county lines. The Home Office is therefore providing up to £1 million in this financial year to provide specialist support for under-25s and their families who are affected by county lines exploitation in the three largest exporting force areas: that is, London, the West Midlands and Merseyside. We also fund Missing People’s SafeCall service, which is a national confidential helpline for young people, families and carers who are concerned about county lines exploitation. So, while I am not persuaded of the need for a statutory definition, I hope I have provided some assurance that tackling child criminal exploitation is a priority for this Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out that the guidance does not deal with safeguards. As he indicated, we have now published the statutory guidance in draft. That is precisely so that we can gather views on how the draft can be improved. We welcome feedback and will consult on an updated draft ahead of implementation. We are working closely with the DfE and the voluntary sector to develop the content on safeguarding in our statutory guidance.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that the duty is being led by policing and is focused on law enforcement. Tackling serious violence is not a matter for policing alone—it cannot be. To be successful in driving down violent crime we need, as I said at the outset, a multiagency approach. We do not think that the duty is a police-led enforcement approach; that is quite a mischaracterisation, I think, of what the provisions are about.

In summary, I wholeheartedly support the sentiments of all noble Lords. I hope that I have persuaded noble Lords that we do not need these amendments, and that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will withdraw Amendment 21.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 10:15, 20 October 2021

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and the Minister for the Government’s response. I will, of course, be withdrawing the amendment at this stage and I certainly do not want, at this late hour, to detain the Committee for very long.

I think we are back to the usual issue. As I understand it, the Government do not seem to disagree with the points made in this debate or the concerns expressed. It is just that they do not think that adding things to the Bill, in the way provided for in this group of amendments, will contribute to making the situation better. That, I suppose, is where we have, at the moment, a fairly fundamental disagreement. I will read the Minister’s response on behalf on the Government very carefully in Hansard and reflect on what they have had to say. My feeling at present, which may turn out to be unfair, is that the existing arrangements for safeguarding children and preventing their exploitation by criminal gangs are, frankly, not working as effectively as we want. As I say, I may be being very unfair in saying this, so I will read very carefully what the Minister had to say in Hansard, but the impression I am left with is that the Government believe that the present arrangements are working effectively and no significant change is needed.

Once again, if that is a fair reflection of what the Minister has been saying, there is obviously a fundamental disagreement between us—between everybody who has spoken on this issue, apart from the Minister, and the Government. After all, organisations dealing with the exploitation and safeguarding of children clearly do not hold the view that the present practices and procedures are effective.

I do not want to spend my time reiterating the points I made—that is not the purpose of summing up or responding at the end of the debate—but I do think there are significant differences of view between those of us on this side of the Committee and the Government over the effectiveness of the present arrangements. The Government appear to think that no change is needed, but I simply come back to the point that a statutory duty to reduce violence cannot be effective on its own—and that is what is provided for in the Bill—without a statutory duty to safeguard children also being placed in the Bill. We will need to reflect further on what we do on Report but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 21 withdrawn.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.30 pm.