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 Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:00, 12 Chwefror 2013

It is a pleasure to be able to support the new clause. I can sum up in four reasons why I think that I should do that. First, the current law is clearly out of date. The issue of emotional neglect needs to be reflected in the law. We know far more now about child development and the impact of neglect over long periods than we ever could have done in the 1930s. Also, emotional neglect and non-physical violence are now recognised in the law when it comes to adults and domestic violence. That is quite a recent change, and it seems a little odd that the same protection is not afforded to children. It should be noted that the new clause has cross-party support and that the issue is of great concern to people outside Parliament, too.

The hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) obviously tabled the new clause as a coalition Back Bencher. I have worked with him in the past on issues such as stalking and I have huge respect for him. The new clause is also in the names of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. I found the way in  which my right hon. Friend just explained the need for the new clause very persuasive. I hope that the Minister is also of that mind.

Neglect is a very serious and, upsettingly, prevalent issue. I know from my role as lead council member for children’s services in my constituency before being elected to the House just how common it can be as a form of child abuse. The term “neglect” not only covers abandonment and physical maltreatment but, importantly, includes cases of emotional neglect, which we know can be critically damaging to children and can have long-lasting effects, well into adult life. It therefore seems pretty obvious that the law as it stands is in need of re-examination, as it has not been updated for many years and does not afford proper protection to children at risk of maltreatment.

Our understanding of neglect has thankfully developed hugely since the 1860s and since the 1930s when the current law was framed. The problems with the current law are several. It does not recognise emotional neglect as an offence and the language is outdated and ill-defined. Things have moved on an awful lot since the law was passed, making it difficult to prosecute offences and hard to defend vulnerable children. Civil law already recognises the full range of physical and emotional harm and is at odds with the outmoded criminal law, making it harder for the police and social services to navigate cases together. As I mentioned previously, it was welcome when guidance was announced for the prosecution of domestic violence cases, which for the first time now allows non-physical harm of a victim to be recognised as a criminal offence. If new clause 3 is not adopted, that leaves us in a situation where we are prepared to offer protection against emotional abuse to victims over the age of 16, but not to children, which seems odd.

New clause 3 has been cannily drafted and effectively updates the law, incorporating emotional maltreatment and bringing criminal law on child neglect into line with other statutes. We need the law to be fit for purpose. I recognise that there are concerns regarding the undesirable effect of criminalising vulnerable parents, but that has been taken into account, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East made clear in his remarks, in the drafting of the new clause, which specifies that the offence is a reckless—which is clearly defined—act of neglect or omission of care.

It is evident from this Committee and from the names on the new clause that the matter is of concern and that progress is needed. That view is shared by many from all parts of the House. If the Minister feels unable to commit the Government to including the new clause at this stage, we strongly urge him to meet colleagues with an interest in the matter and to reassure us that the Government intend perhaps to bring something forward on Report. That would be well received by members of the Committee and those with an interest from outside Parliament. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts in response to the new clause.