UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 182-xiii

HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

LOCALISED CHILD GROOMING

WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2013

MR EDWARD TIMPSON MP

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 884 - 913

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.    

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2.

Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

3.

Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.

4.

Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 20 March 2013

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Steve McCabe

Mark Reckless

Chris Ruane

Mr David Winnick

Examination of Witness

Witness: Mr Edward Timpson MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (children and families), Department for Education, gave evidence.

Q884 Chair: This is the final session of our inquiry into child grooming and exploitation. We are delighted to welcome the Minister for Children to the dais. Can I, on behalf of the Committee, congratulate you most warmly, Minister, on your appointment? This is the first time you have appeared before the Home Affairs Committee. Are you enjoying the job?

Mr Timpson: Yes. I am six months into the job, and I am obviously delighted to have a portfolio that-by design rather than accident, I hope-starts to draw on some of my personal and professional experience before coming to the House. As you will know, Chairman, I am also currently in the throes of the Children and Families Bill, which is setting out a lot of the Government’s reform agenda around adoption, special educational needs and vulnerable children in the care system, as well as other areas, to try to support families. It is good to get the opportunity to, I hope, put some important legislation on the statute book. But, of course, I have a wide remit, and that includes coming to see you to talk about some of the important issues the Committee is wrestling with.

Q885 Chair: You do, and you seem to be ideally qualified, given your former chairmanship of the all-party group and you membership of one of our sister Select Committees. Can I put to you a statement made by your predecessor, Tim Loughton, on 16 January to the Education Select Committee? He said that the children’s agenda in your Department had lost out to "the bulldozer that was the schools reform programme" and that there had been "complete…silence" on child sex abuse from his former Department. Do you agree with that statement, or do you think he is wrong?

Mr Timpson: Well, I can’t vouch for what happened in the Department before I arrived in it, but, certainly, since I have been in post, there has been a concerted and focused effort both on building on the excellent work that Tim did in setting up the action plan on child sexual exploitation in November 2011 and on the progress report we had last summer. We are also following up the recommendations from the accelerated report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. In my first answer, I outlined in broad terms that the legislation we are putting through for vulnerable children is a demonstration of the commitment that I and the Department have to children and children’s services. Only yesterday, I was able to speak to the Secretary of State, who had gone to visit Hackney children’s services to see for himself the work they are doing through their "reclaiming social work" model to try to bring agencies closer together and to get better outcomes for children who come into contact with children’s services. Of course, the speech he made to the IPPR back in November set out in great detail his analysis of the difficulties that are still faced in some areas.

Q886 Chair: Thank you for that, but going back to what Mr Loughton said, he was not criticising what was happening when he was there; he was saying that he regarded this as being a declining priority for the Department since he left. You disagree with him; you still believe this is a priority for your Department. Is that right?

Mr Timpson: It is a priority for my Department. I have set out to the Department that it is in my list of priorities. What I was seeking to do in my previous answer was demonstrate that there is still a strong element of work being done on this, and not just by me. The Secretary of State is also taking an interest in this, and that goes beyond just the remit of academies and school reform.

Q887 Chair: Let us move on. You have probably noticed the fact that we have spent a lot of time taking evidence from various groups and individuals. We were very impressed by the report published by the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, who looked at this issue. However, there has been criticism in the press from the Government or Government sources. On 20 November, The Daily Telegraph said that a Government source told the newspaper that in the Government’s view the report was "hysterical and half-baked". It seems that a number of newspapers were briefed by what they quote as "a senior government source." The Daily Mail said on 20 November: "It is difficult to overstate the contempt the Government has for the methodology and analysis in this report." Do you agree with those statements, or do you say that this was done without the approval of Ministers, and in fact you welcome the report the commissioner made?

Mr Timpson: I do welcome the report the commissioner made. In fact, I was at its launch at the CEOP headquarters in London and was able to state my thanks to the Deputy Children’s Commissioner for the work that she has done and continues to do in the second year of her report and analysis into child sexual exploitation. The derogatory comments to which you referred are not ones that I share. They are not ones that the Government share. As much as I would like to be able to control everything that comes out of Government, sometimes it is beyond my lowly capabilities. From the day that report came out, the Prime Minister-at Prime Minister’s questions, you may remember-voiced his support for the work that Sue Berelowitz is doing. Letters exchanged between myself and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner are in the public domain, setting out our support for her work and the continued engagement we will have as that work continues.

Q888 Chair: That is very helpful, because she gave us some pretty stunning figures. She said that 16,500 children were currently at risk of sexual exploitation and that 2,409 had been sexually exploited in a 14-month period. Do you think that this is on the increase, or have we reached a plateau as far as the number of children being abused is concerned?

Mr Timpson: The first thing to say is that we would all recognise, Chairman, that even one is one too many. The analysis that the Deputy Children’s Commissioner has undertaken is in many ways starting to show the glaring gaps that have existed for far too long in understanding the prevalence of child sexual exploitation across the country. It is difficult to say at this stage, while there remain gaps in that knowledge, understanding and data, whether the prevalence is at about the level that Sue Berelowitz has put forward in her report or whether it is on the increase. What this does do is reinforce the view that the Government-my predecessor, Tim Loughton-took in setting up the action plan on child sexual exploitation.

Q889 Chair: So you cannot tell us today whether you think it is on the increase or not? You just accept the figures?

Mr Timpson: We know it is a serious problem and we need to do more to address it. There has been some good progress. That has been acknowledged by Barnardo’s in its latest report, "The Tangled Web", which is a follow-up to "Puppet on a String". "The Tangled Web" report is from January this year and said that both at national and local level there has been good progress, but clearly, from the continued cases that we hear about, a lot of work still has to be done. The work that this Committee is doing, and the recommendations that I am sure will flow from this inquiry, will very much assist in the work that we take forward.

Q890 Chair: One aspect that has run through our inquiry has been the issue of race. You commented when the report was published, and these were your words: "We should not let those cultural sensitivities or that political correctness get in the way of ensuring that we follow the evidence where it leads". Do you think that that has not happened in the past? Do you think that there have been cultural sensitivities, and therefore, on the basis of what you have seen over the last six months, that people should have been more proactive in dealing with the issues, and they have not done so because of cultural sensitivities?

Mr Timpson: Various communities themselves, the police and other agencies recognise that there has not always been the robust investigation in every situation that there should have been. I believe there is a common consensus that, as you have quoted me saying, we should not let any cultural sensitivities or political correctness get in the way of following the evidence, wherever it leads. I know that you have had evidence from a number of members of different communities who have accepted that.

We also need to acknowledge that this cuts across many communities, and we therefore need to have a very pragmatic approach, looking at any evidence that comes to light, following that evidence, and gathering intelligence so that we get better at preventing these crimes in the first place. We need to get away from the suggestion that we have to concentrate all our efforts in one particular area.

Q891 Chair: The evidence that we have seen-we took evidence from Andrew Norfolk-suggests that this should be focused on the British Pakistani community. Do you agree with Baroness Warsi, your colleague in Government, that Pakistani men view women as second-class citizens and white women as third-class citizens, and with Jack Straw, the former Home Secretary, who said that Pakistani men see white girls as "easy meat"?

Mr Timpson: Clearly, we have seen a pattern develop within a minority of some Pakistani communities, where there have been particular traits of activity that have continued for far too long without being detected, properly investigated, and followed through with a prosecution. The good news is that we are seeing a large number of prosecutions and convictions, with long sentences, coming through. That is welcome, but it does not prevent the underlying issue that within some communities there is still work to do, both within the community itself and in their engagement and communication outside of their community, particularly with the police and other agencies, so that there is a better understanding of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

Q892 Mr Winnick: Minister, would you accept that where Pakistanis have been involved, as indeed they have been, the overwhelming feeling within their community-if it could be described as theirs-is one of disgust, dismay and total dissociation from the sort of crimes that we are mentioning at the moment?

Mr Timpson: The short answer is yes, and I know you heard evidence yesterday from some communities where they have that concern, but, of course, there has to be responsibility from all of us for what is going on in our society, and that includes people within particular communities. What we can’t do is completely absolve ourselves of all of that responsibility. We have to redouble our efforts to make it clear to any communities that know, or have some belief, that this is going on within their community that they need to stand up to it, to report it and to work with the agencies that can help them, both in terms of preventing it from happening in the future and also in terms of bringing those who are carrying out these appalling crimes to justice.

Q893 Mr Winnick: Absolutely, Minister. No one could possibly disagree with a single word of that. But let us take as an example what happened in Torbay in Operation Mansfield, which perhaps is familiar to you: one person was convicted and one was cautioned, and the one who was convicted received a substantial prison sentence, and rightly so. It so happened that they happened to be white, but if someone said, "Look at the whites; how disgraceful and disgusting," our reaction would surely be to say, "Who do these people who committed these crimes represent? The white community can hardly be held accountable." Is that not the same for any community? Where there are villains, whether we are talking about Pakistanis, Hindus, Jews, Christians or people of no religion, they should not be seen as representative in any way of the religion they were born into or the community that they belong to.

Mr Timpson: My focus is on finding where any sexual exploitation of children is taking place, wherever that may be and whoever is responsible, and on bringing those people to justice.

Mr Winnick: Absolutely.

Mr Timpson: And on protecting victims, and supporting them where we can. I have set out what I believe we have to do, which is to get away from any cultural sensitivities or political correctness and to get to the bottom of what is going on in our country. Some important work is happening, but there is a huge amount that we still have to do. You may, perhaps, think that approach is simplistic, but I think it is the most effective way of cutting through many of the issues there still are around child sexual exploitation, so that we can concentrate on what we think is the most important aspect of all of this, which is protecting vulnerable children.

Q894 Steve McCabe: Good morning, Minister. I would like to ask about the question of consent. There seems to be some confusion at times in the minds of young victims about whether or not they were engaged in consensual activity. There also seems to be some confusion on the part of professionals at times: I think it was in the Rochdale case that some of the social workers thought they were actually witnessing consensual activity, and of course we have had the recent controversy about the actor Bill Roache’s comments, that have been all over the press. What do you think needs to be done to make it absolutely crystal clear that no child can consent to sex with an adult, and that no child can consent to sexual abuse with multiple adults?

Mr Timpson: The first thing I’d like to make absolutely clear is that what we are talking about here are victims. Children cannot consent to something that they either do not understand or, in law, they are not able to consent to. To answer your question as to how we can ensure that everybody, but particularly those working with children, understand both the law of consent but also how it affects children, and their role in being able to consent or not consent to any particular act: first of all we need to establish where it works well and where there are examples of good practice-we know they exist. Second, we need to raise awareness of this among all professionals. My Department has the step-by-step guide, which came out last year-and we re-issued in February this year-on how to understand where child sexual exploitation may be taking place, and the signs that may demonstrate that that is the case, so that there is an appropriate response and we get away from some of the misconceptions that are still out there as to what constitutes consent.

I think there is an important role at local level, through local safeguarding children boards, and also in the health service, to demonstrate that they understand at every stage what consent means. But we also have a responsibility to continue to push home the message that it is just not acceptable to expect children to consent in circumstances where it is beyond any stretch of the imagination that we would expect them to be able to do so.

So it is about improving practice on the ground, and making, as we have in the Department, strong step-by-step, easy-to-understand guidance available on how to deal with these situations. That is how we will start to bring about the culture change that is so clearly necessary in too many parts of our country.

Chair: Thank you.

Q895 Chris Ruane: The Children’s Commissioner report recommended the removal of all reference to child prostitution in legislation and Government guidelines. Is this happening?

Mr Timpson: I responded to the Deputy Children’s Commissioner’s recommendation in a letter that I believe is on our website, if you care to visit it. It sets out that we agree with the recommendation, and will do all that we can to remove the word "prostitution" where it is inappropriately used in any guidance, legislation or other documentation. That has already taken place in relation to the guidance on safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation, to exemplify that exact point. Clearly, there is some legislation where, because it is an Act of Parliament, it would need the Act itself to be revised, and we need to look at how that process could be carried out, but we are undertaking work to look at a thorough search through various documentation guidance, to see where there may be references, and where we are able to change those references. We will continue to look closely at every opportunity to do so.

Q896 Chris Ruane: That should be quite an easy thing to do, though, with computers these days. You put in word search, and-

Mr Timpson: We’d like to think so, Mr Ruane, and hopefully that will resolve some of the effort to try to establish where there may be what we now deem to be references that are not reflective of what we want society to understand; but that work is under way, and I am sure that as we move through the second year of the Deputy Children’s Commissioner’s report, and as she moves on from prevalence to an analysis of what action is required, we will be able to provide further reassurance that that work is starting to hold water.

Chair: Thank you.

Q897 Nicola Blackwood: Minister, one of the problems that has emerged quite clearly in this inquiry is that there is a reluctance among different agencies to share data because of fears relating to data protection and confidentiality, but obviously where criminal offences are an issue there are exceptions to data protection. May I ask what work is ongoing to make sure that those public agencies are being reassured and informed about those exceptions under data protection?

Mr Timpson: I suspect I share your frustration at the fact that on too many occasions, agencies give data protection as an excuse as to why they cannot share data. There is no shortage of data. There is a huge amount of information out there, but it simply is not being shared properly, expediently and in a way that will improve practice on the ground. We must remember that most data can be shared legally; it is simply that practice has got in the way, and we need to try to break that down. The University of Bedfordshire is developing a data-collecting tool, which has now gone out to LSCBs and others agencies so that they can disseminate it to explain how they can break down the perceived barriers to sharing data. That is an important development.

Data sharing is exemplified in other ways. For instance, just before Christmas, the Department of Health announced that it had set up a child protection data-sharing system with children’s services, so if a child in care goes missing-children in care who go missing are the group most vulnerable to sexual exploitation-that information will be shared between health and children’s services. If a child comes into A and E, it will be flagged up that they are a child in care and therefore probably more vulnerable to some of the crimes that are committed.

There is also the co-location of services, which we see, for instance, in Lancashire with the Engage programme. By co-locating those services and having, as in Nottingham, multi-agency safeguarding hubs, the police, the health service, education and children’s services are all within the same building, so that there is much less prospect of each service’s data being different and not being passed from one agency to another. Those are all ways that we know are effective; we just need to make them work much more widely.

Q898 Nicola Blackwood: Yesterday, we heard evidence from Sheila Taylor from the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People. One of her proposals was to ensure that every LSCB had a CSE co-ordinator. What work is ongoing to ensure that that proposal is taken forward, or is indeed effective?

Mr Timpson: In January, I held a round-table discussion with LSCB chairs through the Association of Independent LSCB Chairs, which we helped to fund. It was chaired by Sue Woolmore, who does an excellent job. I impressed on them the need to take heed of the warning signs of child sexual exploitation, which were identified by Sue Berelowitz in her interim report. The working group that was set up, to which we are also providing some funding, set as a priority child sexual exploitation, which has led to each region of LSCBs appointing a lead on child sexual exploitation to co-ordinate the action that is happening within LSCBs.

Q899 Nicola Blackwood: How many LSCBs will there be in a region?

Mr Timpson: It depends on the region, but I can find you the figures.

Q900 Nicola Blackwood: Greater Manchester has 10 LSCBs, and they each have different data-collecting mechanisms. If there is a problem with data sharing between LSCBs and there is one CSE co-ordinator across the 10, you would still have a data-sharing problem, even though there is one CSE co-ordinator for all 10, so I wonder whether that would resolve the problem. We had evidence from Greater Manchester police to say that that was their problem, as opposed to the problem in Lancashire. Lancashire could tell us very quickly what their CSE convictions were, but Greater Manchester could not at that point, because its data collecting mechanisms were not harmonised across its LSCBs in the region. It is just trying to understand how we can resolve the problem, because of the uneven performance among LSCBs.

Mr Timpson: Absolutely. There are some very effective LSCBs, but I am afraid there are still too many LSCBs and local authorities that have yet to grasp the enormity of the work that needs to be done. You mentioned Greater Manchester and Lancashire, and I know that Greater Manchester are working with Lancashire to try to understand how they have managed to get much further towards a harmonisation of their data. The CSE lead in LSCBs will be an important person to help drive that in a wider area than just each individual LSCB area.

Q901 Nicola Blackwood: What enforcement mechanism do you have at the DfE for an LSCB, or an LSCB area, that you do not think is actually trying hard enough, or doing the job of protecting these very vulnerable children?

Mr Timpson: There are levels of intervention that we can make within a local authority and in the role of the LSCB. Clearly, part of that is me impressing the point on them, face to face, by going round the country and establishing with them what their priorities should be, and monitoring that performance as part of the overall ability of a local authority area to provide strong child protection and safeguarding services.

There are examples around the country where we have taken a far more robust approach to intervention when we are not satisfied with the work currently being done, or when we are not satisfied with the pace of change after a notice of intervention, or after some other form of intervention has been requested of them as an absolute necessity. These are ultimately the tests that all local authorities and LSCBs should be setting themselves. Can we be satisfied that all children in our area are being protected? That includes child sexual exploitation. We have had some good advance on that, but there is still too much inconsistency and we need to keep a strong focus on it.

Chair: Indeed. Final question.

Q902 Nicola Blackwood: Do you think you could provide the Committee with the information about which LSCBs are still requiring intervention and which ones are now performing well?

Mr Timpson: It will be in relation to local authority children’s services areas, and certainly children’s services, because the LSCB is an important component of making sure that we are improving, for instance, multi-agency working on the ground and therefore the performance of local authorities. How each local authority is performing is in the public domain, but I am very happy to provide that information to the Committee.

Nicola Blackwood: That would be helpful.

Chair: Yes, that would be helpful. David Winnick.

Q903 Mr Winnick: We were rather surprised, Minister, when we heard evidence from senior people who had been involved in children’s services that no action had been taken at the time when allegations were made about child abuse and the rest of it. Do you think that in the new climate where, clearly, there is far more arising from the allegations against the late Jimmy Savile, there is a greater awareness now among professional people? I am sure that most carried out their duties in a proper way, but where that did not occur, the abuse carried on and those responsible were not brought to justice. Do you think there is a different atmosphere?

Mr Timpson: As I said before, Mr Winnick, this has been under the radar for too long. Whether there has been a shift in awareness, there has clearly been increased activity on the ground to both understand the problem and seek to tackle it. The Education Select Committee heard evidence from Sue Berelowitz, who acknowledged that there has been a greater and more serious focus on this problem, but it is still early days. If we are going to embed this and ensure that it sustains beyond an initial burst of reaction to the problem, we need to continue, and I hope that the Committee’s report will help achieve this. A clear prioritisation of child sexual exploitation is one of the clear must-dos of all local authorities-police, health and other services-so that we do not lose the important momentum that we have managed to start to gain.

We also have to remember that we must not take our eye off the ball as regards children, safeguarding and protection more generally. The majority of abuse goes on in a familial environment, so yes, we need to keep a strong focus on child sexual exploitation-that is absolutely essential-but we must also remember that there are ways that we can improve the child protection system more generally that will also benefit children who may be at risk of exploitation.

Q904 Mr Winnick: We heard evidence yesterday from two witnesses concerned with dealing with and challenging child abuse, and they made one or two points that have some relevance to your position. As I understand the situation from the evidence given to us, your predecessor had a more narrow remit, dealing more with child abuse, whereas you have wider responsibility beyond the subject that we are now discussing. Is that the position?

Mr Timpson: No, that isn’t the position. I have a very similar remit to my predecessor, but I also have some extra responsibilities around children with special educational needs, for example, and in fact the Office of the Children’s Commissioner also falls within my portfolio.

Q905 Mr Winnick: Which your predecessor didn’t have.

Mr Timpson: Which my predecessor didn’t have, but there are also elements of my brief that my predecessor did have that no longer fall directly within my portfolio. In relation to child protection and child sexual exploitation, there has been a direct handover in the Department, from my predecessor to me.

Q906 Mr Winnick: The two witnesses who gave evidence were also concerned about cuts. Presumably you have no more knowledge of the Budget than we have, but is there a possibility that further cuts will happen that could affect the work being undertaken to deal with child abuse?

Mr Timpson: I am not sure that I do have any more information than you about the Budget. In relation to the budget within local authorities and how they are choosing to spend their financial settlement, we have seen over the last few years a fairly consistent and continued level of funding going to child protection and children’s services. We have seen more children going into care, so that has put additional pressure on some local authorities, but we have also seen a huge disparity-this is where the amount of savings that local authorities can achieve through better working is important. By improving their early support and help within their area, some local authorities have seen a significant reduction in the number of children who are being taken into care. Others have actually seen a significant rise.

There are ways of working collaboratively across services, and there is also the issue of how authorities commission many of their services. We are looking in particular at residential care homes-the huge cost to local authorities of placing children in a children’s home out of their area-and the commissioning process that they go through. We are working with the Local Government Association to see how that commissioning process can be improved so that they get better quality placements and better value for money, and so that children are placed much closer to their home environment.

Q907 Chair: Thank you. I have a couple of points before I bring in Mr Reckless. In our report on forced marriage, which we published in May 2011, we recommended at paragraph 27 that the Secretary of State should write annually to local authorities to remind them of their responsibilities on child grooming and on forced marriages-the disappearing children, that was the subject of our 2011 report. We have not really had a positive response from the Department about that; I wonder whether you could take that back to the Secretary of State and see whether there is scope for that to happen.

You quite correctly said that it is about reminding people of their responsibilities. Government cannot do everything. It is happening at a local level. We tried to recommend to the Government that the Secretary of State or you wrote regularly and said, "Look, forget about cultural sensitivities. If you have got a whole lot of kids, especially girls, who are suddenly missing, inquire into that further." That is why we made that recommendation. Would you take that away and have a look at it again? We do not want you to decide today, but it would be very helpful if you could do that.

Mr Timpson: I am very happy to do that, Chairman. I have set out in the evidence that I have given a number of actions that the Department is taking, which inevitably mean communicating with local authorities and local safeguarding children boards and others who are also important communicators of the work that needs to be done. I am happy to take back to the Department your wish, desire or demand-whichever we want to call it.

Q908 Chair: "Request" is fine. The Home Affairs Committee is quite tame. You may not know this, but this morning Chief Constable Pat Geenty from ACPO said that because of the current climate, they do not have the resources to pursue every allegation of a missing person, so they are going to concentrate only on those they regard as being vulnerable. The worry when you hear a statement like that is that people might fall through the net. Have you had a chance to look at that statement, and do you have a view on whether that is the right way to approach this sensitive subject?

Mr Timpson: I am afraid, Chair, that I have not seen the statement that you are referring to. My understanding, if I am correct, is that ACPO has been carrying out some pilots, looking at how it collects information around children who go missing, how it responds, and how it can target its resources most effectively.

Q909 Chair: The worry is that while they target, instead of chasing up all these cases, they might lose some kids in the process. As Mr Winnick put it to you, this awareness is extremely important and every lead has to be followed. The evidence must lead where the evidence leads. Our worry is that if the police are starting to cut back on this area, we will get fewer people involved.

Mr Timpson: One of the pieces of work that we are doing currently is on children going missing from home or care and the guidelines that exist. One of the discrepancies in the past has been a mismatch between how the police have been collecting and responding and how local authorities have been collecting and responding on those individual cases that come to their attention. We are seeking to align those pieces of guidance much more closely so that those agencies that do come into contact or are referred to through a child who goes missing are treating it in the same way, rather than how they have done it in the past. The other thing we are doing in the Department-we will be piloting it in the hope of bringing it in next year-is on children who go missing from care. They are the most vulnerable group that are relevant to this inquiry.

Rather than only keeping data on children who go missing from care for more than 24 hours, we will be collecting data for all children who go missing from care, regardless of how long that period of time is, so that we have a clearer picture of where that is happening and what response is taking place.

Chair: Very helpful. Mark Reckless and then Steve McCabe.

Q910 Mark Reckless: What are you doing to ensure that children who are victims of horrific sexual abuse get the help they need to, as best as they are able, recover from that experience?

Mr Timpson: It is an area that has been overlooked for too long. There are two strands that come immediately to mind that we need to be better at. One is those children who find themselves having to give evidence in a criminal justice setting. We heard from Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the lead in ACPO on 6 March, from memory, about reforming and overhauling in many ways their approach to child sexual exploitation, both in terms of investigation and prosecution, but also in terms of how they treat the victim. That includes-I know the Ministry of Justice is doing some work on this-how children give evidence in court. We have the special measures in place and the guidance around that has been revised quite recently. I know that it is looking at other ways vulnerable witnesses can be protected even further, in terms of giving their evidence in a pre-recorded video setting and so on.

As someone who has practised for some part of their career in the criminal courts, I know what a daunting experience it is, even for an adult, let alone some child or young person who has been the victim of sexual exploitation. We need to do better. I have already met with the Minister in the Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam, to discuss it. In the child sexual exploitation round-table that I held just before Christmas, we had a particular item on the agenda about supporting witnesses in court. It is back on the agenda when we have our next round-table in June. One of the areas that we agreed would be looked at in more detail was judicial training-how judicial staff understand the victims who are coming to their attention and how they should treat them through the court process.

I am sorry that this is a slightly long answer, Chairman, but the other area is what happens after that. That is not the end of their experience; it is something that is going to scar them potentially for life. They need to have better access to therapeutic support. I know that the Department of Health has set up a child sexual exploitation health working group to look at how we can improve long-term support. Often you can have a short burst of intervention but that only holds, rather than helps to improve, the situation. They will report in autumn on how they are going to do that. There is also an aim to improve access to psychological therapies. I think the Department of Health is putting in about £54 million to try to do that. That should help boost the CAMHS service, which is too patchy in too many places.

Chair: Thank you. There is a final quick supplementary from Steve McCabe.

Q911 Steve McCabe: Minister, you mentioned the problem about recording children who go missing from care. In fact, I think that in almost every major case that has surfaced recently, that has been an aspect: children frequently disappearing is being accepted as normal, not reported to the police and with no recording standards. Is it your intention that there should be clear guidance to all agencies about how children should be reported as missing, and that the data should be shared? Do you have any plans to make it an obligation on the care authorities that returners should be subject to a standard interview, which is recommended in most best practice guides, but not practised by most local authorities?

Mr Timpson: On your first point, about improving the sharing of data and agencies being more uniform in how they do that, in my previous answer I set out what we are doing with ACPO to try to align it more carefully.

In relation to children who are in the care system-particularly those who find themselves being moved out of area into children’s homes, with some of the vulnerabilities they face-we will be doing something that came out of the three working groups that were set up on the back of the accelerated report from Sue Berelowitz. We are consulting on further regulation around children’s care homes, so that there is a sign-off at a higher senior level within local authorities if a child is going to be placed out of area. The placing authority and the receiving authority must have in place a much more stringent and robust process before they can agree that that placement is the most appropriate for that child.

Q912 Steve McCabe: Minister, I apologise. Maybe I wasn’t sufficiently clear. I am talking about a standard return interview for runaways, so that when they return to the place of care they are interviewed about where they have been and what has been happening. That is recommended good practice, but it seems to be rarely practised by a substantial number of authorities.

Mr Timpson: You’re right that it is recommended good practice. It is happening in some but not all situations. I am happy to look at the current take-up and whether we need to go further than we have. On the back of your pertinent question, I will go back and do just that.

Q913 Chair: It would be very helpful if you could do that. I have one final question. When do you think the Government will publish the PSHE review that you are undertaking at the moment? I think it was promised at the end of last year.

Mr Timpson: Although that is outside my wide portfolio area, Mr Chairman, I think I can say it will be very shortly.

Chair: Minister, thank you for your evidence today. You have been very open and transparent, and can we wish you a long ministerial career?

Mr Timpson: Oh dear. Thank you.

Mr Winnick: Only to the next election.

Chris Ruane: Until 2015.

Prepared 28th March 2013