§ 8. Mr. Greg Knight
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action has been taken by his Department to prevent child abuse and to improve the chances of the prosecution and conviction of those guilty of this crime.
§ Mr. Hurd
We have been running a "Stranger Danger" campaign for several years, and await the advice of an independent working group on further publicity measures against child sex abuse. A group of experts is preparing draft guidance to the police on the investigation of these offences. The Criminal Justice Bill would permit children's evidence to be given at the Crown court by live video link. I have asked for comment on whether video recordings should be more readily admissible in evidence.
§ Mr. Knight
Does my right hon. Friend agree that whenever there is an allegation of child abuse the police should be able to obtain a medical report on the child concerned so that they can decide whether to prosecute? Does he further agree that any attempt to prevent the police from so doing is to be deplored? Furthermore, is there not a clear case for substantially increasing the penalties available to the courts in cases of child neglect and for tightening the parole conditions on those convicted of child abuse?
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend is right on the first point. This would clearly fall within the scope of the inquiry which my hon. Friend the Minister for Health announced last week. There was a real problem in Cleveland on this point, which I have discussed with the chief constable. I believe that the disagreement about the local guidelines there has now been sorted out. My hon. Friend is right on the second point. One of the changes that we propose to introduce in the new Criminal Justice Bill is to increase from two years to 10 the maximum term of imprisonment for neglect of a child. Many cases involve more serious charges with more serious penalties, but even where it is only a question of neglect, we believe that the maximum should be increased.
§ Mr. Madden
Does the Home Secretary have any information about High Court injunctions issued against the parents of children who are alleged to be victims of 1270 abuse, forbidding parents from communicating with anyone, including lawyers and doctors, about the circumstances of their case? Will he make urgent inquiries into this matter, and does he agree that if such injunctions have been issued they are wholly unacceptable?
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
While public concern is fully justified, does my right hon. Friend know whether, or have the impression that, there is more of this than there was in the past?
§ Ms. Clare Short
Is the Home Secretary aware that when a child who has been sexually abused in its family is then removed from the family it causes the child more distress? A better alternative would be for a power to exist which requires the abusing male to be removed from the family. In his review of child law, will he look into this possibility, which already exists in many states in the United States of America?
§ Mr. Dickens
Has my right hon. Friend taken on board the fact that the nation is extremely angry about the reported rise in child abuse? Does he agree that Parliament has made adequate sentencing provisions and that our judges are doing a sloppy job in some cases? May I ask him to be cautious about the advice that he receives from the Lord Chief Justice when he shapes the Criminal Justice Bill, because that man has not distinguished himself recently in some of his judgments?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not waste time. Will he please withdraw his criticism of that judge?
§ Mr. Kirkwood
If the Home Secretary is really seeking a framework and apparatus to prevent child sex abuse in future, will he, in the course of his continuing child care 1271 review, look very carefully at the model in Scotland? The children's panel there allows all the statutory authorities to come together in casework conferences, which really do prevent problems from reaching a stage at which children are sexually abused.