New Clause 3 - Child maltreatment

Part of Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 12 Chwefror 2013.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Llafur, Wythenshawe and Sale East 2:00, 12 Chwefror 2013

I am grateful for that welcome, Mr Caton. I was actually being challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak not so much to probe but to pursue Ministers on new clause 3, and although I may lack the legal experience of some who put their name on the new clause, I hope that I will be able to do that.

The new clause deals with a substantial concern, which is shared by both sides of the House, as is evident from the names on the new clause, including my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington. The Committee should make no mistake: this would be a major change in the law and would change legislation that has been on the statute book for 80 years. When a shared concern is coupled with a major change in the law, it is right to seek engagement and discussion with Ministers and to consider such things carefully and with outside experts as well as Members of Parliament. If the Minister says that new clause 3 does the trick and he is happy to accept it, I would be delighted, but if he says there is food for thought that he would like to debate and discuss further both with hon. Members and with experts from outside, I would be equally pleased.

There are strong arguments for change. There is a need to modernise and to update the legislation on child neglect. As I mentioned, the current law was set in statute in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, but that legislation was based on an Act from 1868. If we are still applying in 2013 definitions that applied in 1868, with all that we now know about child neglect, it may suggest that the definition has stood the test of time, but we should at least examine it.

One thing that we suggest in new clause 3 is to replace “unnecessary suffering” with “significant harm”. That is not just about changing the words; it reflects a fuller and wider understanding of what constitutes child cruelty and neglect. It is understandable that in Victorian England when poverty was widespread, and even in 1933 when the current definition was put into law, neglect was understood by Members of Parliament, professionals and the courts as predominantly physical. These days, however, we know that a child, who by the standards of the 1930s may not be materially neglected, may be neglected emotionally or psychologically, and the law needs to take account of that. The 1933 Act refers to

“loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body”.

It is a physical understanding of harm, rather than the wider definition that we propose in new clause 3.

A helpful report was published last week by a panel of experts gathered together by Action for Children—an excellent children’s organisation, from which hon. Members of all parties receive briefings and with which many Members are involved in local projects and initiatives. Page 3 of the report includes three examples from recent serious case reviews of the wider understanding of what constitutes harm, such as

“parents knowing that their child had consumed a drug and not seeking timely medical assistance, resulting in death; children in the care of an intoxicated parent who died as a result of an accident, which could have been avoided had they been supervised; and a child with poor attachment to their mother witnessing domestic violence and subsequently going on to commit a serious sexual assault.”

I am not saying that we did not have domestic violence, intoxicated parents or drug misuse in the 1930s and before, because we may have done. I am arguing that the definition of neglect in the 1933 Act does not fully take such neglect and abuse into account. The consequences can be horrific; the third example I quoted referred to a child witnessing domestic violence and going on to become a perpetrator of domestic abuse and sexual violence themselves.

It is my contention that we need a wider definition in legislation.