Child Sex Abuse (Rotherham)

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons am 12:33 pm ar 2 Medi 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary 12:33, 2 Medi 2014

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on child sex abuse in the light of the Alexis Jay report in Rotherham.


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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Professor Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 is a terrible account of the appalling failures by Rotherham council, the police and other agencies to protect vulnerable children. What happened was a complete dereliction of duty. The report makes for shocking reading: 1,400 children—on a conservative estimate—were sexually exploited, raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities, abducted, beaten and intimidated. Like the rest of the House, I was appalled to read about these victims and the horrific experiences to which they were subjected. Many have also suffered the injustice of seeing their cries for help ignored and the perpetrators not yet brought to justice. There can be no excuse for that.

Last week, I spoke to the chief constable of South Yorkshire police to receive an update on the live investigations into child sexual exploitation in south Yorkshire and the force’s plans to ensure that victims and witnesses receive the highest levels of care and support. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss ongoing investigations in detail, but I can tell the House that there are currently a number of investigations covering several hundred victims in south Yorkshire. We must ensure that these perpetrators are brought to justice.

Rotherham is just the latest in a line of harrowing revelations about the sexual abuse of children. It is because of cases such as these that we are establishing an independent panel inquiry to look into the way state and non-state institutions have treated child sexual exploitation. Later this afternoon, I am meeting Professor Jay to discuss her report and make sure that her findings and all the lessons of Rotherham feed properly into the work of the panel inquiry. That inquiry will, of course, take time to investigate the historic failings of state and non-state institutions, but we will not delay in taking action now to protect children who are at risk of sexual exploitation. All local authorities, working with other public bodies such as the police and health and children’s services, have a responsibility to keep our children safe.

This report raises a number of issues that will need immediate action from Rotherham in particular. National Government must also, and will, assist. That is why I will chair meetings with other Ministers, including my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and for Communities and Local Government to look at what happened in Rotherham. We will consider the findings of Professor Jay’s report and consider what the state at every level should do to prevent this appalling situation from happening again. The meeting will build on the existing work of the Home Office-led national group to tackle sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, which is bringing the full range of agencies working in this area together to better identify those at risk and create a victim-focused culture within the police, health and children’s services.

The issues raised in Professor Jay’s report are ones that have been running through the work of the national group. It has already taken a number of practical steps that will help to tackle failures such as those found by Professor Jay in Rotherham. For example, we have published new guidance for the police and Crown prosecutors on investigating and prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse, which moves the focus of investigations away from testing the credibility of victims on to the credibility of the allegation. We have given the police new powers to request information from hotels suspected of being used as locations for child sexual abuse, and powers to close premises where child sexual offences have been or are likely to be committed, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend Kris Hopkins for his campaigning work in this area. We have provided training for private security workers to spot signs of child sexual exploitation. We have piloted pre-trial video cross-examination for vulnerable witnesses, ensuring that the process of giving evidence is less traumatic, and we published a new victims’ code in December last year. We will do more.

Professionals tell us, and Professor Jay’s report suggests, that co-located teams involving the police, children’s services, health services and others are a successful model for mitigating the risk of children slipping through the safeguarding net. We will therefore consider how best to support that work. Effective multi-agency safeguarding work will help to identify and support those at risk of sexual abuse and to bring offenders to justice.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government shares my concerns over the failings by Rotherham council that have been identified. This includes the inadequate scrutiny by councillors, institutionalised political correctness, the covering up of information and the failure to take action against gross misconduct. My right hon. Friend is minded to use his powers under the Local Government Act 1999 to commission an independent inspection of the council’s compliance with its best-value duty, with a particular focus on its corporate governance and service arrangements. In parallel, he is considering the implications of the report’s findings for all local authorities in England.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has already discussed these issues with the chief social worker and is looking at how better to support victims and children at risk. The Department of Education will consider the skills required by social workers and others to intervene effectively with those at risk of abuse and ensure that existing skills development work specifically addresses support for children who are at risk of sexual exploitation.

The Department of Health-led work into the mental health and well-being of children and young people will include a specific focus on the mental health and psychological well-being of victims of sexual violence and abuse, and consider the particular needs of those subject to exploitation.

I am clear that cultural concerns—both the fear of being seen as racist and the disdainful attitude to some of our most vulnerable children—must never stand in the way of child protection. We know that child sexual exploitation happens in all communities. There is no excuse for it in any of them and there is never any excuse for failing to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The abuse of children is a particularly vile crime and one that the Government are determined to stop. We have made significant strides since 2010. We have important work under way but we will learn the lessons from Professor Jay’s report to ensure that we are doing all we can to safeguard children and to prosecute the people behind these disgusting crimes.


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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary

In Rotherham 1,400 children were groomed, raped and exploited; 1,400 lives were devastated by abuse. Criminals, rapists and traffickers have got away with it and may be harming other children now. The council, social services, the police—people supposed to protect our children—failed time and again to keep them safe. Alexis Jay’s report is damning. It is never an excuse to turn a blind eye to evidence of children being abused. It is never an excuse that vulnerable girls may have consented to their own abuse. It is never an excuse to use race and ethnicity or community relations as an excuse not to investigate and punish sex offenders. That is why the Government need to act.

First, what is being done to ensure that the victims get the support and help that they need now? Secondly, what is being done to catch and prosecute those who committed the dreadful crimes? The Home Secretary will know that there is considerable concern that South Yorkshire police do not have the capacity to pursue both historic investigations and current child protection. What is she doing to ensure that all forces have the resources they need and give child exploitation and protection the priority they deserve?

Thirdly, what is being done to investigate the failings in the police force at the time? The Jay report found:

“the attitude of the Police at that time seemed to be that they were all ‘undesirables’ and the young women were not worthy of police protection.”

The chief constable is right to agree to an independent investigation of South Yorkshire police, which we called for, but can the Home Secretary tell the House why that is not being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission?

Fourthly, what is being done on accountability? The leader of the council has rightly stood down. The Labour party has started further disciplinary action against individual councillors, but is the Home Secretary concerned that the police and crime commissioner has not stood down and that there appears to be nothing in the legislation to hold him to account? Will she say what the Government can do to ensure that appropriate disciplinary action is taken against individuals involved? What is being done to find out what other institutions, including the Home Office, were informed?

Where is the overarching inquiry? It is two years since we called for it. It is two months since the Home Secretary agreed to it, but we still have no chair and no terms of reference, despite the seriousness of the issue. This is not just about Rotherham. If we look at Oxfordshire, Rochdale, the abuse by Savile ignored or covered up in the BBC and the health service, north Wales care homes, and allegations around Westminster and Whitehall, we see that this is about every town and city in the country. It is about every community. Time and again, it is the same problems: children not being listened to, victims treated as though they were responsible for the crimes committed against them, and institutions that just looked the other way.

This is not just historic; it is happening today. That is why we need the overarching inquiry urgently in place. But we also need to go further. Child protection has rightly been strengthened over many decades but it has not yet gone far enough. I agree with the Home Secretary that action is needed by different Government Departments and different councils, agencies and police forces across the country, but I also call on her to consider changing the law because we need mandatory reporting to underpin a culture change, so that no one ever feels that they can just turn a blind eye or walk away when children are at risk. That means that Parliament and Government cannot turn a blind eye, too, and that is why all of us need to act.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The shadow Home Secretary has raised a number of points. The last point was about mandatory reporting. I recognise that this is an issue that has been raised, and we are looking at it, but it is important in doing so that we properly look at the evidence of whether it is effective in protecting children. In some other countries, with mandatory reporting the number of reports goes up significantly, but many of those reports are not justified, and that diminishes the ability to deal with the serious reports and protect children. So it is a very complex issue. It is a serious question, and we need to look carefully at countries such as Australia and the United States, where there is mixed evidence of its effectiveness in improving the ability to deal with these issues.

The right hon. Lady asked about Home Office involvement. A report into child prostitution was funded by the Home Office and conducted by the university of Luton, which is now part of the university of Bedfordshire. As I understand it, the researchers were not employed by the Home Office, although the Home Office was providing funding. Since the connection first came up, the Home Office has been looking at the files to ascertain exactly what happened, and many Members will have heard the researcher herself being quoted on television and radio broadcasts in relation not only to her experience at Rotherham but the suggestion that she did inform the Home Office. The Home Office is looking into that internally. When that work has been completed, Richard Whittam and Peter Wanless—who have already been in the Home Office looking at the process of how what was called the Dickens dossier and the files on that were dealt with—will be looking at that process to make sure that it has been conducted absolutely properly.

The right hon. Lady asked about the overarching inquiry. As Members will be aware, I made an appointment for the chairmanship of the inquiry, but the noble Baroness Butler-Sloss felt that she should withdraw from that. I hope we will soon be in a position to announce the chairman of the inquiry, but we have been taking our time because of the concern expressed about ensuring that the individual who does the job is somebody whom people throughout the communities concerned can have confidence in. We have been deliberately taking our time to ensure that we get the right chairman, and in due course the right panel, to deal with this inquiry.

The right hon. Lady asked what was being done in terms of investigations. I indicated in my statement that I have spoken to the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, which has a number of ongoing investigations. I have talked to him about resources and the impact on the force, and he is able to support the work currently being done. As he has announced, he will be bringing in another, independent force to look at these issues and whether further action needs to be taken as a result of what the police did over the period of time covered by the Jay report.

In relation to the question of the police and crime commissioner, I have to say this to the right hon. Lady. She made some points that were an attempt to raise political issues around the police and crime commissioner. [Interruption.] If hon. Members will just calm down, I will respond to the point the right hon. Lady made. The police and crime commissioner is an elected individual, accountable to the electorate in the ballot box. That was the point of setting up the police and crime commissioner —that they are accountable to the electorate in the ballot box—but I would also make this point to the right hon. Lady: the Labour party chose the Labour councillor who was responsible for children’s services in Rotherham, and who had stood down in 2010 following the failings there, to be their candidate for PCC. So I suggest that they think carefully before starting to raise that particular issue.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

We have institutionalised racism, and we now appear to have problems arising from an institutionalised fear of accusations of racism, whether in education in Birmingham or in safeguarding in Rotherham and elsewhere. What can be done to ensure that effective action is taken to ensure that children are protected, regardless of the community in which wrong is found?


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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. We have to send a very clear message to everyone involved in the protection of children that there can be no excuse for failing to protect them or failing to bring perpetrators to justice. We need to send a clear message that it is completely and utterly unacceptable for children not to be protected as a result of a fear that stating particular communities were involved in a particular activity could lead to accusations of racism. We also need to deal with the cultural problem that lay behind what happened in Rotherham. Frankly, it was a culture that failed to believe young girls because of the background and the families that they came from. More than that, according to Professor Jay’s report, it was as though people felt that this was the sort of thing that happened to girls from those sorts of backgrounds. That is appalling and we must reject that view across the House and send that message loud and clear.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Llafur, Rotherham

I am exceptionally angry on so many levels. I am angry that the people paid to take care of those children let them down so appallingly. I am angry that the abusers are still out on the streets. And I am most angry that at least 1,400 young people have not got the justice or the support that they deserve. Will the Home Secretary work with me to ensure that the necessary resources are in place so that they can get the resolution that they so desperately need?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes. I commend the hon. Lady for the careful and thoughtful way in which she has responded to this appalling report and these appalling revelations.

We will certainly work with her. As I have said, I have already spoken to the chief constable of South Yorkshire police about the ongoing investigations there. Sadly, we must recognise that similar investigations are also taking place in other parts of the country. We are beginning to unveil the extent of the problem across the country, and in so doing we can now start to get to grips with it.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Ceidwadwyr, East Worthing and Shoreham

The scale of the revelations in Rotherham was truly shocking but, alas, came as little surprise to those of us who have been railing against institutionalised political correctness, as the Home Secretary put it, for so long. More Rotherhams will come to light, which is why the Government put in place the child sexual exploitation action plan in November 2011 to co-ordinate activities to intervene and prevent. Will she update the House on the progress of that co-ordinated action plan? In particular, will she tell us whether anyone is monitoring the plan to ensure that every local safeguarding children board in the country—well beyond Rotherham—has a fit-for-purpose action plan to intervene, prevent and prosecute in every part of the country?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Secretary of State for Education has been looking into the local safeguarding board plans across the country, and it is true to say that they are of variable quality. One of the pieces of work that we will be discussing in the ministerial team—I know that my right hon. Friend is already considering it—is how we can raise the quality of those plans. This is not just about the quality of the plans, however; we need to ensure that something happens behind them. It is all very well putting words on a piece of paper, but it is essential that work is then done to put them into practice.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee on Standards

I welcome many of the things that the Home Secretary has said. Over a decade ago, I met one of the victims, Emma Jackson, and her parents. They were concerned about the inactivity of the investigation being carried out by South Yorkshire police into what I believed to be a horrendous crime. At that time, South Yorkshire police refused to meet me and the family together, although I did have meetings with them. I am not one who wants to direct the police and tell them what they should be doing on a day-to-day basis—that is not a matter for politicians—but I had deep concerns then, and they have remained with me ever since. South Yorkshire police have said this morning, six days after the announcement, that they are going to hold an independent inquiry into these historical cases. Will the Home Secretary support that inquiry and ensure that it is properly resourced?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I absolutely understand the frustration and anger that the right hon. Gentleman feels about the attitude that was taken by South Yorkshire police. I think that his view is shared across the Chamber. South Yorkshire police are bringing in another police force to conduct that independent investigation. They have been discussing it with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to establish who it would be appropriate to bring in, and the Home Office is being sighted on that. We want to ensure that the inquiry is done properly, and that if further action needs to be taken as a result, it should be taken.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Birmingham, Yardley

The Jay report confirmed that some girls who had been taken into care for their own protection actually received worse protection in care. The independent reviewing officer, whose job is to protect children in care, is an employee of the same local authority and therefore not independent. Will the Government consider backing my private Member’s Bill, which seeks to establish a remedy for children in care so that they can be protected from maltreatment in the care system?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point and, if I may, I will take it away and discuss it with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It is bad enough when agencies such as the council and the police fail to take seriously the concerns of young people, but it is even more concerning when those young people are in the care of the local authority itself and have become the victims of these crimes as a result of dereliction of duty. I will take my hon. Friend’s point away.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Llafur, Wentworth and Dearne

The scale and brutality of the sexual exploitation revealed in the Jay report have shocked and shamed our whole town. Does the Home Secretary agree that those who knew about that terrible abuse but did not do their job by protecting those children or prosecuting the offenders must now be called to account? The Labour council leader has rightly resigned, and the Labour party is taking further tough steps today to get to the bottom of what has happened. Does the right hon. Lady agree that the council and the police must now do the same? She has rightly said that this is not just about Rotherham, so will she ensure that the shocking conclusions of the Jay report are used as the basis for her overarching inquiry, when she eventually launches it?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is absolutely clear that there are serious questions to be asked of all those involved who failed to take the action that they should have. The right hon. Gentleman talks about individuals in the police force and others being brought to account. I believe that the current chief constable of South Yorkshire is appearing in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee this afternoon, and I am sure that questions will be asked about the processes that the police force is following, including the independent investigation, which could of course lead to action being taken against individuals. I decided last week that I needed to meet Professor Alexis Jay to talk to her about her report, precisely so that we can ensure that her findings can be taken into the work of the panel inquiry. The original focus was on historical allegations, but we need to ensure that action is taken now, alongside any work that the inquiry is doing.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Ceidwadwyr, South Cambridgeshire

Among the many shocking aspects of this case, one of the most shocking was to hear a victim of the abuse saying that she could still see her abusers walking free on the streets of Rotherham. In my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the chief constable, did she make it clear how important it was that the investigations of these crimes should be undertaken actively, successfully and rapidly? In that context, we have to ask whether South Yorkshire police carry the capability and the confidence to undertake all those investigations in the given time frame to achieve the success that they should achieve. Did she make it clear in her discussions that it might be preferable for additional resources to be given to South Yorkshire police to enable them to undertake those investigations?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

In my discussions with the chief constable, we discussed the investigations that are currently in hand in South Yorkshire, as well as the resource requirements involved. We also discussed the need to ensure that the work that the police are now doing with the council involved better cohesion to ensure that the victims are being properly supported. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest that it is terrible enough to be subjected to these kinds of abuse, but that to see the abusers walking free and no one taking any action is absolutely appalling. I believe that South Yorkshire police are now working on investigations to ensure that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

There is rare unanimity between the Front Benchers about the seriousness of this situation. As the Home Secretary says, the chief constable of South Yorkshire will be appearing before the Home Affairs Committee this afternoon. I have spoken this morning to Commissioner Wright, and he will be appearing before us next week. Last June, the Committee published a report on Rochdale and Rotherham, and child grooming nationally, making 130 recommendations. One was specifically about getting an Ofsted investigation by last December and a second was about collating good practice. Can the Home Secretary assure the House that that has now been done? Although it was the Committee that urged her to pause before she announced her panel and the name of her chairperson, the length of pause is slightly longer than we anticipated. We would hope that she has that name and panel in place as soon as possible. I know that she has been careful, and I appreciate that, but the time is right for us to have that name.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman raised specific issues about the recommendations his Committee made when it looked into Rochdale and Rotherham. I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education that Ofsted will be going in again to look at these issues, and that is important. Obviously, some of the findings that have been developed in previous reports of that sort have gone into the work the national group has been undertaking. It is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention.

Photo of Margot James Margot James Ceidwadwyr, Stourbridge

The understandable focus on the gross dereliction of duty by Rotherham council and South Yorkshire police should not detract from the need to bring the full force of the law against the perpetrators of these wicked and organised crimes. Could my right hon. Friend give any more details about the criminal investigations that she said were under way?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have to ask my hon. Friend for her forbearance because it is not possible for me really to talk about ongoing police investigations—I am sure she will recognise the difficulty involved. Suffice it to say that a number of investigations are being undertaken by South Yorkshire police, and obviously the clear intent is to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Llafur, Vauxhall

This shocking report should unite all of us in this House, all political parties and all communities to see what we can do to make sure these things never happen again. Just at this moment a little boy is sitting in a prison in Spain, a very long way away from his parents. Will the Home Secretary make it clear that the Crown Prosecution Service will be asked to rescind the legal document, because it is shocking that this is happening now? Whatever the original reasons, it should not be happening now, and this document should be rescinded and the family allowed to be together.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hope the hon. Lady and others in the Chamber will be reassured to know that I understand that the CPS is indeed reviewing this issue as we speak. I am not able to give her an answer on what the CPS is doing, but it is doing it as we speak.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Ceidwadwyr, Aldershot

It is clear that the lives of 1,400 very vulnerable young people in Rotherham have been devastated, in large part by a wicked culture of political correctness, assiduously promoted over decades by the Labour party, as public officials denounced as racist people like their colleague—our colleague—Ann Cryer, who sought to tell the truth. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to be vigorous in her campaign to end this culture, so that in future people can speak the truth without fear of losing their jobs or, worse still, being sent on an Orwellian diversity course?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have already made the point, as my hon. Friend has, that cultural concerns can never be an excuse for failing to bring the perpetrators of these appalling crimes to justice. I commend the work done by the former Member of this House Ann Cryer, who did stand up on a number of issues, often in the face of her own party, and raised issues of very real concern. But the message from the whole House is very clear today: cultural concerns cannot get in the way of dealing with the perpetrators of these appalling crimes.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Llafur, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

As the Home Secretary will accept, I am very glad that my Front-Bench team has taken the steps it has on this matter, because the historical fact is that it is children and communities such as these that the Labour party was set up to protect. That is why it is important that we have taken the steps we have. I am afraid I do not accept that political correctness alone is responsible for those girls being abused. In the end, people at the top of the local state in Rotherham thought those girls were worthless and did not care enough to read the reports, to go to the seminars and to act. It is long past time that the Government looked at the employment arrangements for heads of social services, because all the way back to Victoria Climbié and the Laming report there has been a concern that terrible things happen to children and the most senior people paid to protect them do not seem to pay any price and, worse, go on to other senior jobs.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady has raised a number of issues of concern generally in relation to these matters. I absolutely agree with the first point she made, which I have alluded to in my statement and in my replies: what underlay this was a feeling that somehow it did not matter and that because of where these girls came from—in some cases it was boys, but in the overwhelming number of cases it was girls—nobody needed to do anything about it. That is absolutely appalling, and we must reject that culture and do everything we can to make sure it no longer exists.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Ceidwadwyr, South Leicestershire

Let me take my right hon. Friend back to the issue of the 2003 report presented to the Home Office, as she has direct responsibility for the Department. The shadow Home Secretary talked about people turning a blind eye, suppressing and ignoring the report. The allegations made yesterday and today on the BBC were very distressing, so could the Home Secretary please publish what she finds out about all that, without an overarching inquiry and without a freedom of information report? She needs to publish details of what happened in the Home Office in 2003 and who was responsible, and hold to account the officials, or indeed Ministers, who were responsible at the time.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am certainly prepared to make sure that the results of the work that we do in the Home Office, which is then looked at by Richard Whittam and Peter Wanless, to ascertain what happened in the Home Office is made available to Members of this House. As I indicated, this was a Home Office-funded piece of work. The report that came to the Home Office did not include, at the second stage, Rotherham. That appears to be because of the actions taken within Rotherham in relation to the researcher. We are doing everything we can to get to the bottom of this and find out exactly what was known and by whom, and what actions were taken.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Llafur, Hampstead and Kilburn

This is not the first time this House and this country have been horrified at the revelations about our absolute failure as a nation to protect our children. I commend the Home Secretary for putting her finger on what is central to this: the idea that there are certain sections of our society, and in particular their children, who are worthless, who are useless and for whom there should be no care whatsoever. This is a national, not exclusively a local, disgrace. I very much welcome her argument that this crosses all areas of government and is not the responsibility of one Department or indeed one local authority, but I hope there will be sufficient financial resources to ensure that those who have suffered so much in the past are actively helped to make lives for themselves in the future; that those who should be brought to account are brought to account; and, most important, that never again do this House and this country have to learn that such things are happening on our streets to our children.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

There is absolute agreement across the House that we need to look at what has happened and learn the lessons, so that we can ensure that behaviour in the future is different and that people, particularly children, are given the protection that they need.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

The Home Secretary has given a good account of what the Government are proposing. She mentioned ministerial meetings. Will she take regard of what Margaret Oliver said on the “Today” programme, which is that she believed that this problem existed at the “very top”? Given the fact that criminal offences may be involved—including that of aiding and abetting, which has been engaged in by people at very senior levels—is it not appropriate for the Attorney-General to attend those ministerial meetings to give advice, because there will be some very deep inquiries about some apparently very important people?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Obviously, a number of investigations are taking place to identify whether action needs to be taken against individuals who were involved in these matters. As I bring Ministers together to look at these issues, I will ensure that, where necessary, we take the best legal advice.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Llafur, Worsley and Eccles South

The Home Secretary has already said that we are starting to unveil the extent of the problem of child abuse across the country, and it is right that other towns and cities take a look at their child protection. Will she assure the House today that she will get the overarching child abuse inquiry going soon—that is a strong feeling across the House—and underline her commitment to start to bring the perpetrators to justice right across the country, as well as in Rotherham? That is a really important message to send out to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, it is, and I expect to be able to progress the overarching inquiry within a relatively short time scale. We now have a different approach being taken by police forces across the country. For example, Thames Valley police, who have been conducting further investigations, have made a number of arrests today. They have already had the case in Oxford. There have been a number of arrests in Buckinghamshire and elsewhere, which shows that these abuses are ongoing across the country. The Government and this House are sending out a very clear message that perpetrators must be brought to justice and that the abuses should be investigated properly.

Photo of Simon Wright Simon Wright Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Norwich South

Ofsted has announced an early inspection of Rotherham’s safeguarding and child protection functions. Given that a series of external reports over a 15-year period have been conducted, what intervention will the Government consider to ensure that any ongoing issues identified by this Ofsted inspection will be robustly and swiftly addressed?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State for Education is looking very carefully at the matter. She has already met the chief social worker and others to discuss the lessons that need to be learned. We will of course look very carefully at any proposals that come out from the Ofsted review. I have also mentioned the action that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is minded to take to be able to go into Rotherham to ensure that it conducts its responsibilities properly.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Llafur, Sheffield, Heeley

Earlier this year, the Children’s Commissioner produced a report that said that it is difficult for children to tell about their experience of abuse. It is often in their difficult behaviour that problems are identified. What we find in many of our schools is that the focus solely on academic achievement means that many children with these problems are either pushed out of the school or not listened to. Will the Home Secretary and her ministerial colleagues take this opportunity to ensure that, alongside a perfectly proper focus on children’s education achievements, difficult behaviour by children in schools is properly looked into, that the trust that is needed for them to be able to talk about their experiences is developed and that children who are exhibiting difficult behaviours are not ignored?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady makes a valid point. Very often, difficult behaviour by children masks these sorts of abuses that may be taking place, which can be in the form of this sort of sexual exploitation, abuse at home or domestic violence that is being seen within the home. Much work is being done in relation to the children’s mental health and the support that they need. Work is also being carried out to help professionals better identify the issues underlying the behaviour of the children, so that they do not simply look at the superficial issue of the behaviour that is being exhibited.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Ceidwadwyr, Ashford

One of the useful steps taken in recent years to fight this terrible abuse is the setting up of the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People, which, for the first time, brings together Departments across Whitehall, as well as other non-governmental bodies. We should add to the list of failures that have been identified by various Members across the House the failure of Departments to co-ordinate themselves properly at a national level. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what current work the group is doing that will lead to a better response in future?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

May I thank and commend my right hon. Friend for the work that he did when he chaired the national group and for work that he did with internet service providers in relation to abusive images of children on the internet, which can fuel interest and action in these areas? My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention will bring the national group together very soon, and it will consider the report of Alexis Jay to see whether it needs to do any further work to ensure proper co-ordination. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says: bringing together Departments to address these issues may sound simple, but it is crucial if we are to deal with these issues.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Secretary of State is right that the perpetrators must be hunted down and brought to justice. Does she also agree that officials who failed to do their duty must not be allowed to get off scot-free? It does not matter whether we are talking about the police who failed to uphold the law and let rapists walk free, councillors who put community relations above the interests of vulnerable children or council officials who deliberately destroyed evidence to hide the trail of betrayal. Does she not agree that, far too often in the past, people have either been moved aside, promoted or given pay-offs and that only rubs salt into the wounds?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. When people see somebody who has failed in their duty simply moving away to a similar job in another authority or another police force and nothing is done about it, then that does add insult to the original injury.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

Following on from the question from Sammy Wilson, it seems to me that this report is highlighting institutional failure but the lack of local accountability of senior councillors who are meant to be exhibiting political leadership is true not just of Rotherham but of lots of major local authorities. Those officials are too far removed from the public they are meant to serve. No one asks the right questions, and it takes a major report to shine the torch under the covers to get to the dirt beneath. What can we do to change that culture in local government in which not enough questions are being asked at the right time of the people who are paid very large amounts of money through allowances or salaries supposedly to make the right decisions?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is considering the lessons that may need to be learned across the board for local authorities as a result of this report. Of course my hon. Friend makes a valid point. What matters is that those who are elected representatives ask the right questions and are prepared to pursue their concerns and not simply to allow them to be allayed in unsatisfactory ways. We all have a responsibility for encouraging those who are councillors or elected representatives—Members of Parliament as well—to ask the questions and to push, so that when we are concerned about failure to take action, we highlight that and make sure that something happens.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Llafur, Huddersfield

May I say to the Home Secretary that it is very easy to respond in the wrong way when one of these crises arises? I hope that we will learn from some of the rather speedy reactions to the case of Baby Peter some years ago. I feel very guilty about the revelations in Rotherham. I was Chair of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families—we had responsibilities across the board and not just in education—and early on in my chairmanship, we discovered in an inquiry into looked-after children that gangs up and down the country were systematically preying on young girls in care. We knew about that and we did not do enough about it. Members of this House—many of us—knew what was going on. I had a debate in Westminster Hall in January 2009 on child prostitution and the gangs up and down the country who were taking girls away and trafficking them across the country. A lot of us knew, but we did not work hard enough. Ann Cryer did. A group of us did something about runaway children and the fact that the police, social services and children’s services were not joined up enough.

Let me say one last thing. It is easy to blame particular services. I do not think political correctness was the only issue. Of course, it played a part, but when I went and visited police officers, I often heard that this was too difficult; the girls would not give evidence, and if police needed to track and to have sophisticated operations, it was too expensive. Please, let us hesitate and listen to people such as Professor Eileen Munro. Let us get the right answers, not the wrong ones.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman’s point about ensuring that we do not have a knee-jerk reaction and that anything that is put in place will genuinely deal with the problems that we have identified is valid. His other point about the coming together and working together of different services and agencies, and the fact that very often people slip between nets of different agencies, is also very valid. That is why the multi-agency safeguarding hubs are so important. All the evidence shows that if we bring agencies together, we get a much better result than if they just act independently.

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood Ceidwadwyr, Oxford West and Abingdon

Professor Jay’s report has shocked the nation and we have rightly heard many calls for prosecutions, but that relies on a criminal justice process that protects victims from the kind of intimidation and disbelief that seems to have been endemic in Rotherham. The Government’s pilot on pre-recorded evidence is a vital tool for protecting very vulnerable witnesses from being re-traumatised in the court process and for increasing the chances of prosecutions. Will the Home Secretary press for an urgent national roll-out of the provisions, as that will make a material difference to the policing and prosecution of this vile crime?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I commend her for the work she did following the revelations in Oxford to help us to change the legislation to strengthen the ability to deal with such issues. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims is waiting for the full evaluation of the pilot. We would want to be able to roll it out, but it is right that we should look to ensure that we do that in the right way. We need to learn the lessons from the pilot.

Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Shadow Minister (International Development)

Many of the men who perpetrated these crimes did so not just for their perverse gratification but for the commercial benefits. We must recognise the pattern in so many cases, which is that the grooming of the most vulnerable leads to child sexual exploitation then commercial sexual exploitation. May I urge the Home Secretary and the whole House to examine the relationship between prostitution and the current law on it and child sexual exploitation, with a view to reducing demand for the sale of sexual services? That might lead to cultural change and allow these girls to be heard.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I fully accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about how this can lead to commercial exploitation and we should not lose sight of that fact. This case is part of a wider issue in that sense, and, of course, the report commissioned in 2001-02 considered child prostitution, so we must remember, as he says, that this is sometimes not just about personal gratification but about commercial exploitation.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Although nobody wants to say so, the reality is that the vast majority of men who have been involved in this have all come from one ethnic background—they are of Pakistani origin. Nobody is suggesting that anything more than a minority within that community have, frankly, a barbaric view towards women, but some clearly have. Does the Home Secretary accept that it is more than a coincidence that so many have come from this background, that we must be able to say so without fear of being branded a racist and that something needs to be done to change cultural attitudes among certain people in the community?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Obviously, that was the case as regards the people identified in the Rotherham case, but I will say to my hon. Friend and all Members that sexual exploitation of children takes place across all communities. We need to recognise that and not simply think that it is a problem for one particular community. When certain communities are involved, we should not allow cultural concerns to get in the way of protecting children and bringing perpetrators to justice.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. These are very important and solemn matters, fully worthy of the full-length Government statement that I had originally been advised that there would be yesterday or today. I am sensitive to the interests of the House and keen to accommodate colleagues, but some premium on brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike would now assist.

Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Llafur, Coventry North West

Although we urge on the Home Secretary the need to get the overarching review under way—the names and all that—we already have Professor Jay’s report. We can learn from the dreadful experience of Daniel Pelka in Coventry, of which the Home Secretary is aware, and we had a report on that. We are not short of reports or action plans for local safeguarding boards, but what we need is a clearer sense of responsibility. That was the lesson, as I understood it, from Coventry. Three major Departments are involved, which have been represented at this urgent question today, but what is lacking is a clear sense of responsibility. Once that is all brought together, what do we do about it? What action do we take? Do we intervene or do we not? That sense of responsibility must somehow be clearly established locally.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We can have all the reports, and perhaps more, and all the action plans we want, but what matters is not whether we have something written on paper but what people are actually doing and, in particular, what people who have responsibility for the protection of children are doing in their day-to-day jobs. That is partly about the cultural issue of ensuring that people understand that this matters and that nobody should be written off.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Ceidwadwyr, Wycombe

Earlier, my right hon. Friend mentioned arrests made today—once again, by Thames Valley police—across Buckinghamshire. Does she agree that we can have much more confidence locally in our police than might be suggested by the situation in Rotherham? Since she is aware that trials have collapsed, will she agree that there is a real problem in that vulnerable witnesses sometimes face a succession of aggressive barristers? Will she take steps to ensure that that problem is addressed?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The whole question of vulnerable witnesses and how they can be supported to ensure that they can give the evidence that is essential to bring prosecutions has already been considered by the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. The national group chaired by the Minister for Crime Prevention is looking again at the issue.

Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Months ago, I wrote to the Home Secretary asking for the terms of reference of the overarching inquiry and, in particular, to ensure whether it would be capable of shining a spotlight on abuse wherever it had occurred, including in this place. Seven weeks later, I had a response that said that the terms of reference would be published when they were agreed. We have just heard that the protection of vulnerable witnesses has stalled and we know that the inquiry still has no chair. I still have absolutely no idea whether the inquiry will have a remit to consider this House or elsewhere. The Secretary of State says that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, but what will she say to those brave young people in Rotherham, Rochdale, Keighley, Oxfordshire and around the country whose perpetrators have not been brought to justice and who look at this House and see that, decades on, other people still have not got justice for the abuse they suffered?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I recognise that, and that is one reason we are setting up the overarching inquiry to consider the historic allegations, to learn the lessons and to ensure that we can ensure for the future that people are brought to justice. The hon. Lady said that the protection of witnesses has stalled, but it has not. Action has already been taken to support vulnerable witnesses and we are looking to see whether anything more needs to be done. This is an ongoing process, not something that happens once, is all done and that is it. We need constantly to look to see whether there is more we can do to ensure that victims feel able to come forward. I hope that by our shining a spotlight on all this victims will feel better able to come forward and that they will be believed, but we need to ensure that, when they do, they are.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

May I ask my right hon. Friend a question about the width of the inquiry and its relevance to present-day abuse? Will she ensure that the inquiry covers the issue of definition of incidents, particularly in family cases or suspected family abuse cases? I understand that there is a difference between how cases alleged to be neglect are dealt with, as opposed to cases of abuse, in that the one is genuinely more difficult than the other; once a case is labelled as abuse, there is a series of consequences that are more difficult and more expensive. There is anecdotal evidence that some cases have been wrongly marked up because it prevents work from needing to be done after. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the inquiry looks at that, to ensure that we do not have under-reporting, and that in years to come we do not unearth another scandal in which abuse has been inadvertently hidden?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. That issue needs to be looked at. I do not know whether it is appropriate for it to be looked at as part of the overarching inquiry, or perhaps as part of the work that is being done more immediately, particularly by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

My right hon. Friend raises an important point about how local authorities define incidents. As he says, certain definitions lead to certain actions, and the definition must not be driven by an expectation of what sort of action people feel they can take; it must be driven by the reality of what is happening.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Llafur, Sefton Central

Many of the victims were, or had been, in care. The Education Committee visited children’s homes with sex offenders living nearby. It also met care leavers who lived in very poor-quality accommodation and feared for their personal safety. The time is long overdue to prioritise the needs of children in care and care leavers—the most vulnerable groups of children in this country—so will the Home Secretary ensure that colleagues across Government make sure that children in care and care leavers receive the long-term support, quality of care and accommodation that they need, including measures to ensure that they do not become the victims of sexual exploitation?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said in answer to an earlier question, the whole question of how we have looked after, or often failed to look after, children who are in care is shameful for this country and shameful for Governments of all sorts over the years, so that area needs to be looked at properly. The ability for children in care to be taken away and abused and sexually exploited is something that we should be absolutely ashamed of.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Ceidwadwyr, Hertford and Stortford

The Home Secretary is absolutely right to say that this is not about the right resources; it is about the lack of the right leadership in the local agencies. May I therefore ask her, given this challenge, what confidence can local women and local families have that South Yorkshire police now has that leadership?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Obviously, some of the officers in South Yorkshire police today were not in post at the time of some of the situations, although the report did cover the period up to 2013, which is very recent. However, the chief constable of South Yorkshire is absolutely clear about the importance of ensuring that the force is dealing with these issues properly, and is giving that very clear message to people in the South Yorkshire force area. However, for everybody the proof will be in the actions that South Yorkshire police take, and that is why I have already had a conversation with him about what they will be doing.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The people of south Yorkshire are expressing an unprecedented anger at what has happened to those young girls. Indeed, in my time as an elected representative I have never seen anything quite like it. The least they expect is that the individuals who let those young girls down are held to account. So what support can the Government practically give to the process of holding those individuals to account, especially given that one of them is now resident in Australia and discharging a very senior post in child protection over there?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is one of the issues. Obviously, there are different processes that take place, depending on whether the individuals are council officials or members of the police. As I have said, South Yorkshire police are bringing another police force in to look at the whole question of how, from their point of view, the situation was managed. We will be discussing the issue of council officials with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as he looks at the implications across local authorities.

Photo of James Morris James Morris Ceidwadwyr, Halesowen and Rowley Regis

One of the most devastating aspects of this case is the impact on the long-term mental health of the victims. Will the Home Secretary say a little more about what resources have been made available to ensure that the victims get the long-term help they need to cope with the catastrophe that has befallen them?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

This is an important aspect. The Department of Health is considering the mental health needs of those who have been the victim of sexual exploitation of this type, and what action is necessary. I believe that that has also been looked at in a very real sense in terms of the Rotherham experience, but it is being looked at by the Department more widely.

Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Llafur, Stockport

Child sexual exploitation takes many forms and mostly involves single offenders, but if we are to learn from what happened in Derby, Rotherham, Telford, Rochdale, Oxford and Stockport to prevent the horrific rape and sexual abuse by groups of men from happening to other children, we need to be better able to identify not only the children at risk, but the men who are likely to become perpetrators of this crime. Does the Home Secretary think that the overarching inquiry should be looking at the attitudes and behaviours of offenders as well as the national groups, so that we can learn from that and are better able to protect communities from child sexual exploitation and work with all communities?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady raises an important aspect. I would point out that in one of the very early cases in which perpetrators were brought to justice, that success was the result of a very good piece of work done on that occasion by Derbyshire police—I think in Operation Retriever. The overarching inquiry was set up with a prime purpose of looking at the historic incidents and allegations and the lessons that needed to be learned from those, and whether more needed to be done now to ensure that horrific crimes of that type were not being perpetrated today. I will be talking to Professor Jay about how the Rotherham report work can feed into that inquiry, but I think that is where the focus must be—to ensure that state and non-state institutions are behaving in a way that ensures that these things cannot happen in the first place, and when they do, are taken seriously and dealt with properly.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Ceidwadwyr, Skipton and Ripon

It beggars belief to many across Yorkshire that Rotherham council today retains responsibility for children’s services. I urge my right hon. Friend, at ministerial meetings, to look carefully at stripping the council of children’s services, as we have done in Doncaster, Slough and, previously, Hackney. I also urge her to look at the role of legal officers within the CPS, who in this report, like the police, did nothing near what they could have done to help victims.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is minded to commission an independent inspection of Rotherham council, with a particular focus on its corporate governance and service arrangements, and obviously, as was indicated earlier, Ofsted will be going into Rotherham again to look at the areas for which it has responsibility. Following those inspections, decisions will need to be taken about the future responsibility for these issues.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Education)

When the Home Secretary meets Professor Jay, will she probe her further on what she knows about the raid on the offices of the youth organisation Risky Business? We need to know who authorised that raid, what happened to all the files that were taken and whether it was a deliberate attempt by people in senior positions to tamper with or destroy evidence.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman asks a very good question. What is interesting, in looking at the report, is that Risky Business does seem to be one part of the organisations actually doing good work. Indeed, Professor Jay raises a question towards the end of the report about whether, given that the work of Risky Business has now been incorporated, as I understand it, into the council’s work, it can be as effective in that environment. I would expect that what is known about the incident that the hon. Gentleman refers to is in the report, but certainly I will be discussing with Professor Jay anything that needs to be learned about those sorts of actions.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Ceidwadwyr, North West Leicestershire

My hon. Friend David T. C. Davies quite tactfully pointed out that the vast majority of the perpetrators of these crimes are Pakistani, Muslim men, so is it any surprise to my right hon. Friend that they might feel emboldened to prey upon vulnerable people in the wider community when for too long a blind eye has been turned to their behaviour towards their own vulnerable young ladies—I am talking about female genital mutilation?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I repeat the point that I made in reply to my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies: of course in this case, as in some others, the majority of the perpetrators come from that particular community, but we see child sexual exploitation across all communities. There is a question about the extent of hidden abuse and sexual exploitation within communities that is not revealed even by the work of Professor Jay. We should encourage the victims of not only child sexual exploitation and child abuse, but domestic violence, to come forward so that those issues can be properly dealt with.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

Shockingly, sexually exploited children in Rotherham were labelled as prostitutes by those to whom they turned for help. I think that that shaped the response, because the word “prostitute” suggests consent and volition. What is the Home Secretary’s response to the call on the Government from the children’s charity Barnardo’s to remove the term “child prostitution” from the Sexual Offences Act 2003 at the earliest opportunity?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention has looked at the issue—I think that the national group has considered it—and is sympathetic to the principle behind that point, but considerations of international law make it a more complex issue than it might at first seem.

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Ceidwadwyr, Selby and Ainsty

The industrial scale of the child sexual exploitation in Rotherham has cast a dark cloud over that part of south Yorkshire. The former Member for Rotherham has said that he “could have done more”, but as a “Guardian reading liberal lefty”, to use his words, he did nothing. That admission is bad enough, but Mr MacShane has also said that he thought there was a culture of not wanting to “rock the multicultural community”. If Mr MacShane is to be believed, what does my right hon. Friend plan to do to ensure that turning a blind eye to such appalling crimes because of political correctness never happens again?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We need to be clear in all our interactions with anyone involved in anything like this, and in the messages we send from the House and the Government, that there can be no excuse for allowing the perpetrators of such appalling crimes to escape justice. Cultural considerations cannot be an excuse for allowing perpetrators to escape justice but, as I said, there are two issues here, and while it is important to consider the one that my hon. Friend raises, underlying that is a question of the culture within the agencies with regard to the sort of families these girls came from and whether they were to be believed, and that is the culture we also need to break.

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Llafur, Birmingham, Edgbaston

My hon. Friend Mr Robinson rightly highlighted the lack of a sense of responsibility among many of the agencies that were working together. However, even if we can restore a sense of responsibility, we will need to ensure that there are proper information and data flows. Given the fragmentation of our secondary schooling system, will she talk to the Department for Education about ensuring that whatever school structure is in place—a free school, an academy or whatever—local authorities will have all data available and may then freely share them with all other agencies?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We would all agree about the importance of sharing information appropriately among the various agencies to pick up any children who are vulnerable or might be sexually exploited so that the relevant people are aware of that information and therefore take action.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Ceidwadwyr, Daventry

Given the activity—or, indeed, the lack of activity—of Shaun Wright, the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, does the Home Secretary believe that there is now a reason to introduce a system of recall for PCCs?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have been clear publicly about what I think Shaun Wright should do, but we set up police and crime commissioners with accountability to the electorate. I remind the House that, prior to PCCs, we had police authorities that had no accountability to anyone.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Llafur, Islwyn

One of the most shameful aspects of the report is the fact that victims were not believed because they were not seen as significant enough, and that they were labelled as prostitutes although they were the victims of vile abuse. What guarantee can the Home Secretary give that if, God forbid, there is a further abuse scandal in another village, town or county of this country and the victims have the courage to come forward, they will be believed and their allegations will be properly investigated?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have mentioned that cultural issue several times today. The CPS has issued new guidance and new guidance is being issued for the police. The guidance sets out that this is not about where people think a victim has come from or their believability. The message that is clearly being given is that a victim’s allegation needs to be investigated properly. I would say to any victim, “Please come forward and bring any evidence and allegations you have to the police so that they can be investigated.”

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Ceidwadwyr, Rugby

The Jay report identifies many serious management and procedural failures in Rotherham council, many of which went unchallenged for many years. What steps can the Government take to bring about changes to procedures and culture in local authorities that will last for ever?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Part of the purpose of bringing together the group of myself and the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Education is to determine what we need to do to ensure that such matters are dealt with properly in the future. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is looking not just at action in relation to Rotherham, but more widely across local authorities at what lessons need to be learned following the report.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Justice)

Will the right hon. Lady ensure that one of the reviews looks carefully at the role of lead member for children’s services? As someone who used to hold such a job, I can tell her that its extremely onerous responsibilities should often keep any post holder awake at night, but I am afraid that many people who hold that post have a poor understanding of their role and no training in fulfilling it whatsoever. We are learning from Rotherham what can go wrong without someone who is championing the needs of local children in vulnerable situations.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady raises an important point. Some people will come to such positions of responsibility with a background of previous work that gives them greater understanding, but others will have no background in the area. I would say to anyone in such a role of responsibility, “You must be prepared to ask the questions, and if you have any concerns, you must actually pursue them.” Although there is undoubtedly more to it than this, we saw in Rotherham that people allowed themselves to be told an answer that appeared to deal with an issue and then felt that their conscience could be salved because they were given such an answer, rather than saying, “You know what? I don’t think I believe you—that’s not good enough.”

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Leeds North West

This was a grotesque failure by the relevant authorities, but it was also a triumph for investigative journalism, so I pay particular tribute to Andrew Norfolk for his amazing work over the years in The Times. However, it should not take an investigative journalist to expose such a scandal, so what can the Home Secretary do to ensure that the police, local authorities and charities involved with looked-after children act properly on suspicions so that things are fully investigated?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is right to praise the work of Andrew Norfolk in The Times on a subject that he has been highlighting and campaigning on for some time. The Government can work to ensure that the training and guidance given to those in positions of responsibility is such that they should take the right sort of action, but all Members have a responsibility to ensure that we give the clear message to local authorities and police forces that such issues need to be taken seriously, investigated and dealt with properly, and that they cannot be swept under the carpet.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Llafur, Bassetlaw

A significant number of unprosecuted child rape cases of white working-class girls and indeed some boys of my constituents sat with three separate police forces, and that does not include South Yorkshire. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the Department of Health brings out, as a matter of extreme urgency, guidance on mental health support that is sent across the country? Will she speak to the Ministry of Justice to ensure that a specialist Crown prosecutor sits in on each investigative police operation, because decisions on my constituents have been made without reference to the Crown Prosecution Service, and, as I say, not a single one of them has been prosecuted?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Department of Health is looking at the whole question of mental health and psychological well-being of the victims of sexual violence and abuse, particularly considering the needs of those who are subject to exploitation. I was surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that decisions were being taken without any reference to the CPS, because in any case such as this I would have expected advice to be sought from the CPS about the ability to take a case to court. I would be interested to know of the specific examples that he can point to in relation to that.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

Grooming online is a particular challenge in the disgusting practice of child sexual exploitation. What steps are the Government taking better to protect more children online regardless of background?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

One of the aspects of the work that is done that I have not mentioned so far this afternoon is that of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, now under the National Crime Agency, which is about not just protecting children and catching perpetrators who are grooming children online, but education and trying to ensure that youngsters themselves are better able to recognise what is happening to them and better able to take action.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Among the many appalling things that happened in Rotherham, which have been replicated elsewhere, were the decisions by some councillors and officers to view themselves as there to protect the institution rather than people, and the blaming of vulnerable young girls for their own abuse—I think it was in Rochdale where they were said to be making “lifestyle choices”. Will the Home Secretary ensure that each local authority reviews its procedures for dealing with grooming cases, including how it deals with children in care, how it gets young people to recognise abuse, and the training of its social workers and all those involved in corporate parenting, which is one of the most important duties of a council? Does she accept that it is not only the job of Ministers to ensure that that is done, but the responsibility of every Member of the House to make sure it is done in their own area?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady has raised precisely those issues that the work that I will be doing with the Secretaries of State for Education and for Communities and Local Government will be addressing. I have already said that action will be taken to look at the lessons that need to be learned by local authorities. Discussions have been held with the chief social worker about the whole question of social services skills and the training that is necessary for people to be able to identify these issues, but she makes an important point: as Members of Parliament we all have a responsibility for ensuring that these matters are being dealt with properly in our own areas.

Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Chippenham

Professor Jay’s report described the collective failures of political and officer leadership as blatant. The youth workers and front-line social workers who raised the alarm will be disgusted by the fact that their bosses who ignored them—some of them paid more than Ministers—escaped disciplinary action. How can we ensure that the reliance of council cabinet members on senior council staff does not lead to one rule for those at the top and one for everyone else?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, to which there is no single answer. It is the responsibility of us all to make sure that those in such positions understand their responsibilities and duties to protect people—in this case children, rather than, as Helen Jones has just mentioned, an institution.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

Institutionalised child sexual abuse in Rotherham has disturbed us all greatly: 1,400 young boys and girls were violently abused. There has been institutionalised child sexual abuse across the United Kingdom, in particular in the 1970s at the Kincora boys’ home in Belfast. At that time, politicians, social services, police and shadowy groups were involved. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the national inquiry will address the depraved and wicked sexual abuse of children that took place in Kincora boys’ home in Belfast?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have had a preliminary discussion with the First Minister about the abuse that has taken place over a number of years in Northern Ireland and I will be looking further into the relationship between the inquiry that we are setting up and the work that has already been started and done in various ways in Northern Ireland on these issues. Looking into that is on my agenda.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee

The Home Secretary may be interested to know that the chief executive and the executive director of children’s services in Rotherham are coming before the Communities and Local Government Committee next week. It is right that officers as well as politicians in Rotherham are held accountable for what happened.

Professor Jay specifically mentioned in her report several independent investigations and inspections of Rotherham children’s services over the years, a number of which were carried out by Ofsted. Virtually all of them offered general reassurance about what was happening in children’s services, and prior to 2009 talked about improvements. How can we be certain that Ofsted has the skills and abilities to conduct a much better inspection next time?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Secretary of State for Education is looking at the whole question of making sure that inspections at local authority level are aware of the issues that they need to be looking at and deal with those issues properly.