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‘Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (Cruelty to persons under sixteen) is hereby repealed and replaced as follows—
“1 Child maltreatment
(1) It is an offence for a person with responsibility for a child intentionally or recklessly to subject that child or allow that child to be subjected to maltreatment, whether by act or omission, such that the child suffers, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
(2) For the purposes of this section:
(a) ‘recklessly’ shall mean that a person with responsibility for a child foresaw a risk that an act or omission regarding that child would be likely to result in significant harm, but nonetheless unreasonably decided to take that risk;
(b) ‘responsibility’ shall be as defined in section 17;
(c) ‘maltreatment’ includes—
(i) neglect (including abandonment),
(ii) physical abuse,
(iii) sexual abuse,
(iv) exploitation, and
(v) emotional abuse (including exposing the child to violence against others in the same household);
(d) ‘harm’ means the impairment of—
(i) physical or mental health, or
(ii) physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development.
(3) Where the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the child’s health or development, that child’s health or development shall be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child.”.’.—(Paul Goggins.)
This is a fairly dramatic switch from organised crime taskforces to child neglect. None the less, it is an important new focus for our Committee. I am happy to speak to the new clause which is in the names of the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate. I commend them for the work they continue to do on the issue. Much work has gone on with Action for Children and I have been involved with it too.
The new clause seeks to update and modernise the law on child neglect. Action for Children does tremendous work and I pay tribute in particular to the contribution of Baroness Butler-Sloss. She has applied her vast experience of family law and child welfare to the issue in a very helpful way.
Action for Children convened a panel of experts, which last week reported its findings on the need to update the law and replace it with a new offence of child maltreatment. The new definition is more than just a new form of words; it reflects the fact that it is now 80 years since the existing law on child neglect came into operation, through the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
Neglect is the most common form of child abuse in our community. The worst cases come to public attention, and sadly we read of stories of children so neglected that they starved to death; or of children killed in accidents that were completely avoidable if their parents or those caring for them had been more closely involved and offered closer supervision.
Child neglect is the most common reason for a child protection referral. Therefore it is very much in the minds of the police and social services departments that child neglect affects the lives of some of the most vulnerable and needy children in our community. I support the proposal because I hope it will probe and provoke debate and response from the Ministers on that important issue.
My right hon. Friend said that he hoped the new clause would probe. Surely the whole purpose of the Bill is to remedy deficiencies in law enforcement, the courts and the procedures that we employ. That has been the thrust of every Minister’s proposition in the course of the Committee. Here we have a glaring weakness in the law that fails to protect children and plenty of cross-party support to do something simple to remedy it. I encourage my right hon. Friend not only to probe but to invite the Minister to accept the new clause.