HL Deb 19 February 1997 vol 578 cc722-56

5.27 p.m.

Lord Eames rose to call attention to the welfare of children, and in particular to problems of child abuse and the effects of paedophilia; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to invite your Lordships to consider what I believe demands serious thought at this time. I believe that throughout the nation there is widespread concern and genuine interest in the situation of children who, for various reasons, are vulnerable to abuse. Never before have the media so drawn the attention of the general public to the tragic circumstances of children and young people who are vulnerable to abuse.

In those cases brought to the attention of the public through the courts, the details of such horrors have touched the conscience of our generation. But, sadly, we know that there are many cases in which children continue to suffer abuse of various kinds hidden behind the closed doors and windows of even their own family homes.

Such children are the silent victims of circumstances over which they have no control. In some such cases, as we know, it may take years for those details to be brought to public attention. Their experiences cast an evil shadow over the most precious years of their lives. Understanding of what is happening to them is shrouded in physical and, even at that early stage of their lives, mental torment. How could many of them understand what was happening to them in the so-called sanctity of a family home, a place where they have the right to find genuine love and security?

The establishment of help-lines; the encouragement in a responsible way through television for children to seek help and support; the investigation of complaints by the police and social services authorities; the knowledge of neighbours and friends or the suspicions of teachers in the schools—all are important avenues of amelioration. But they are all limited by the knowledge of the existence of the problem.

The courts have taken a strong line once cases are proved. The welfare authorities of the nation now have legislative backing for their outreach into the darkness of child abuse. But we can well ask in this House whether we have done all we can to understand and to address something which is too often a scar on our national life.

We are equally aware that child abuse does not occur only in the confines of a family home. The instances we have known where persons placed in positions of trust and responsibility through which they are brought into contact with vulnerable children and young people and have misused that fragile trust are particularly horrifying. Condemnation of such behaviour is widespread and wholly justified.

Trust is a fragile entity. When it is broken something of the deepest degradation has occurred. Surely this House and the conscience of Members of another place ought to prompt us to be constant in our provision of sufficient backing for the courts which permits the gravest yet most enlightened attitude to be adopted to those who have betrayed such trust granted to them by our society.

The Health Committee of the House of Commons is at present inquiring into children who are looked after by local authorities. We must welcome that inquiry. It is an area of particular importance. It concerns the appraisal of those who will be entrusted with special responsibility and care. It will involve the criteria that society expects in the selection of those who will have responsibility for the vulnerable. It is to be hoped that the committee will make recommendations which will demand the highest possible standards in the scrutiny of those who have the care of children.

It must be of concern that the recommendations of the Warner Report and the code of practice issued by the Department of Health have yet to be fully implemented. Week by week we all read of cases of sexual abuse of little children by those entrusted by the state with their care and protection. The stark reality is that there are still far too many opportunities for those who offend against children to place themselves in positions where they have access to them, either through work or leisure activities and, of course, through voluntary work.

The cost to the nation of abuse in financial terms is enormous. Apart from the legal costs, compensation, inquiries and support for victims, the damage to the economy of our country in terms of sickness, alcoholism, drug abuse and dysfunctional behaviour generally is astronomic. All that is in addition to the human misery to which I referred earlier.

I have to say within the privilege of this House that the influence of ring abusers is considerable. Recently I read the claim that a group of 34 men involved in that sinister activity had potential contact with 2,500 children—2,500 potential victims. The degree of protection afforded to abusers by their sympathisers can be considerable. A recent case gave considerable cause for concern. A person who had formerly been a most influential and trusted adviser in residential child care had access to the Secretary of State for Health and all the senior echelon of people involved in child care. He was a founder member of the Paedophilia Information Exchange. His co-conspirators included teachers, social workers and many others in caring professions. Until we have primary legislation which demands full and proper positive vetting, not alone of residential social workers but also of those who seek to have access to children, the problem and the danger will remain.

We must recognise that sexual abuse of little children is still quite minor in the overall picture of abuse. It has the highest media profile from the headlines and the attempts to make the headlines; but mental and physical abuse are still the most prevalent examples of this sinister illness. As a comparative example, back home in Northern Ireland we have 1,550 children on the at-risk register, and some 11 per cent. of those, I am told, would be at risk of sexual abuse.

There are many aspects of the approach to the investigation of those tragic cases. An Act of 1996 permits the admissibility of children's evidence by video recording, yet the discretion to adopt such methods lies with the individual judge, magistrate, social worker or parents. The Piggot Committee, which recommended that move, also suggested that cross-examination of children should be admissible by video. We still have much to do in the area of children and the courts.

This entire issue raises not alone questions of child protection but also the methods of rehabilitation of offenders and of civil liberties. In relation to offenders, more attention needs to be given to their readmission to society. While, sadly, the rates of re-offending are high, is it not possible for greater emphasis to be given to the supervision and care for that readmission?

The safety of offenders and of those who have contact with them must be of paramount importance. Greater co-operation is needed even now between the housing authorities and social services in that regard. Perhaps I may say also—I have heard the same thought expressed in conversations elsewhere in this building—that the proposed publication and distribution within the United Kingdom of a book containing photographs and descriptions of offenders will do little to address the problem. I am not alone in viewing that development with alarm.

I draw the attention of the House also to the role of pornographic material in the abuse of children. The Internet, as we all know, opened the door to material which is easily accessible to paedophile rings. The onus for the control of such material lies squarely on the providers. We must surely welcome the action by Her Majesty's Government to prosecute British citizens who procure children for sex in other countries.

What concerns me most is the need to remind the nation of the moral imperative to do all we can to safeguard the nurture of our children in safety. What should surely concern us this evening is the encouragement of those agencies in our community—there are many of them—which exist to safeguard children; of parents to understand and fulfil their responsibilities; and of the efforts being made to bring before the nation what constitutes the healthy, worthwhile and sacred strands of childhood.

In a debate like this it is easy to get things out of proportion. Normality, thank God, remains. We must acknowledge the invaluable work of organisations such as the NSPCC, the Children's Society, the Mothers' Union and the agencies of social concern such as the Salvation Army, the Church Army and many Church-based organisations. Such work is invaluable. Such work is essential. If we wish our country to live up truly to the label of a "caring society", then such work surely cannot be allowed to be dependent on only the occasional interest of Parliament. I suggest that there is now a pressing need for a Royal Commission which will take a new look at this entire question and report to Parliament as a matter of urgency. I believe that public opinion is demanding it and public conscience deserves it.

Children are not only the future adults of our society. They are a part of our society now. They are part of our responsibility now. Britain has long prided itself on the health and welfare of its young people. Thankfully, it is a claim which in the vast majority of cases can be justified. But such a fact is surely its own reason for concentrating on those instances when for various reasons there are those young people and children in our society who do not enjoy the full benefits of a safe and healthy upbringing. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.41 p.m.

Lord Wise

My Lords, we must all thank the noble Lord, Lord Eames, for initiating this very topical debate. He has vividly described the problems of paedophilia and the abuse of young children.

The issues of paedophilia are as wide as they are long. Paedophiles have in the past been thought to abuse only within the family. This may well be true and the child is frightened into silence by all manner of means. I need not go into all these now. The child is so threatened into silence that he is absolutely afraid to seek help. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Eames, has described, the abuse is widening. Children are now being used by their abusers for money or gain. They are used for pornography and prostitution. Paedophilia involves networking. This can be as extensive as from the corner shop, worldwide magazines to the Internet. Due to the rapid growth of technology, we need to be aware of the problems ahead and be working now to deal with them.

One of the issues to be addressed is how perpetrators find and entice their victims: how they target the victims they abuse; how they recruit victims with some form of baiting, using drugs, money and even alcohol or the child's need to feel wanted and loved and not recognising the abuse that follows. Abusers do not look any different from anyone else. Therefore, it is essential that documented information is kept and used to protect our children.

I understand that the social services and police register of children at risk has around 10,000 names. It follows that there must be several thousand paedophiles, the vast majority of whom are unconvicted. Mr. David Niven, director of Action Against Child Exploitation, estimates that only about 5 per cent. of the paedophile population are convicted. That is a frightening thought. We have to acknowledge that paedophilia is a world problem and we must work internationally to combat it.

However, perhaps I may spend a few moments concentrating on problems closer to hand. I am especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Eames, for this debate gives me an opportunity to inform your Lordships of a charity that some friends and I are in the process of starting up in Wales. The name of the charity is The Welsh Trust for Prevention of Abuse and we have now just become officially registered. The objects are: to protect children from paedophiles, and the aged and mentally handicapped from sexual and physical abuse. That is our main priority. We also hope to educate carers and employers of those who work in this field and to give counselling and help to those who have been abused.

We would hope to protect children from paedophiles, and the aged and handicapped from abuse by detecting the potential offender before the abuse takes place, rather than after conviction. That would be done by improving recruiting procedures, advising local authorities on that and, where necessary, making in-depth assessments of the suitability of applicants to work in this field. Some authorities are satisfied that the present arrangements for checking potential employees through the police are entirely satisfactory. However, the police have records only of convictions and it follows that a conviction is far too late for goodness only knows how many unfortunate youngsters. As the noble Lord said, nearly every week cases of sexual abuse by people who care for children are reported in the national press.

We have been fortunate that Mr. Jack Jones, late of the obscene publications department of Scotland Yard and one of the small band of highly specialised officers dealing solely with paedophilia, is helping us. He is an expert at this type of assessment and will be involved in all the assessments for the time being. But of course we shall need qualified people to assist him as our workload increases, and we have other highly qualified people in mind. We shall offer our assessments to the Churches, to the authorities in the public sector and to persons starting up such projects as nursery schools, children's homes and so on.

The education of employers and carers is a high priority of the project. Lectures are to be given by Mr. Jones, who is, as I said, an authority on the subject of paedophilia. Lectures and seminars will also be given by leading psychologists and psychiatrists who specialise in the field of abuse. It is to be hoped that as the trust grows we shall operate on a larger scale lecturing to children in schools as to what to do if they are approached and also to their parents. We shall need to recruit employees and volunteers and train them where necessary.

The counselling of victims is of vital importance. The healing for a victim can take a lifetime. The repercussions of their traumatic experience may show in many different ways, affecting their family and intimate relationships, the misuse of drugs and alcohol, eating disorders and self-harming, to name but a few. I understand that one of the misconceptions of the past has been that those who have been abused go on to abuse. We know that there are a small proportion who do, but the majority do not. These survivors instead become protective of others around them, especially children. If they have children of their own, they are very protective and supportive. Early help and counselling for them in the initial stages is a vital necessity. And that is what we hope to be able to give them.

We would hope to give assistance to abused persons to alleviate their distress and perhaps provide holidays for abused children, provide a mini-bus and a volunteer driver to take them on outings, to Christmas pantomimes and the like. For the abused elderly and handicapped we should try rehabilitation by counselling, putting them in touch with others with similar disabilities in order that they have an opportunity of making friends, helping each other and, it is to be hoped, learning certain skills. For the abused elderly, we would visit them, organise outings, provide for them in some ways if necessary, and generally watch over them. For all this we obviously need employees and volunteers whom we can train accordingly.

Many of the unitary authorities are showing a great deal of interest in our proposals and we are arranging a number of meetings with officers and leading members of these authorities. The chief constables of all the police authorities are also interested and we are arranging discussions with their relevant officers.

The Churches of all denominations are most supportive. We are indeed honoured that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Wales has become a vice-patron, as has the Reverend Dr. Peter Graves, the Methodist Central Minister, and I might add that among other notable vice-patrons are the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, and the noble Lord, Lord Blyth. I am not certain whether I am strictly in order in speaking as I have regarding the charity, but I make no apology and thank your Lordships for your indulgence. It is a good project and even if it only saves a few youngsters or other vulnerable people from abuse, then it will all have been well worth while.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, in the 1970s people found it hard to believe that adults would batter children. In the 1980s allegations of widespread sexual abuse of children were met with disbelief and often with mistrust of the children making such accusations. In the 1990s the police and other professionals working in the field have increasingly encountered a form of abuse which almost challenges our existing beliefs—children and young people sexually abusing other children. I want to concentrate on this issue and also on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, about what happens to the victims of sexual abuse after the court has reached a verdict.

We tend to think of a child abuser as a furtive, middle-aged male paedophile, but often that is not so. Accurate figures are obviously hard to come by in this field, particularly those involving a child or a young person as the abuser. Denial and minimisation of abuse perpetrated by children and young people is common among parents, police officers and other professionals. Even so, a variety of research studies suggests, with a striking degree of consistency, that as many as one in three sexual abusers is under the age of 18 years—often brothers, sisters, baby-sitters or fellow pupils.

Childcare agencies over recent years have become increasingly concerned about children and young people who sexually abuse other children. So much so that the National Children's Home's Action for Children, in which I declare an interest, set up an independent committee of inquiry, with members from all the relevant professions and from the police and with observers from the Department of Health and the Home Office, to look into it. Its report, which to some extent overlaps that of the commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn on behalf of the NSPCC, spells out the need for a comprehensive strategy for dealing with such cases within the child protection system and, like that commission, it emphasises the need to integrate the health, police, probation, education and social services, as the noble Lord, Lord Eames, to whom we are most indebted for this afternoon's debate, has emphasised. The commission emphasises that the role of the police is crucial and critical and urges that the police should never take "NFA"—no further action—in the case of a young person who is believed to have sexually abused another child.

Sexually abusive acts by children or young people are too often ignored, or put down to child experimentation, or to "boys will be boys". The reality is that young sexual offenders are likely to continue to sexually abuse into adulthood. While most juvenile offenders grow out of offending behaviour, there is strong evidence that abusing adolescents grow into a pattern of sexual abuse. The NCH report refers to one reputable research study which found that nearly three-fifths—nearly 60 per cent.—of adult sex offenders started during adolescence.

It is also clear that a cycle of abusive behaviour is common. A child or young person is very likely to abuse another young person as a consequence of being abused—not that all abusers have been sexually abused themselves. The committee of inquiry found that the ease with which pornographic material can be obtained is also implicated in the development of sexually abusive behaviour by young people.

An overall, systematic approach to dealing with a child or a young person who has sexually abused another child is essential. It should be based on the provision of a continuum of care, offering a range of services, from child guidance clinics at one end to secure accommodation at the other, and bringing together all the relevant agencies—social services, police, probation, education and health. It is critically important that intensive treatment must be provided for all young sexual offenders serving custodial sentences—as indeed for all adults. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Wise, said about the need for education and training.

Finally, we should ask what happens to the children who have been abused, whether by other children or by adults. Their trauma and suffering, so graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Eames, do not come to an end when the perpetrator has been identified and dealt with. That process itself is invariably deeply traumatic for the victim, as the noble Lord has emphasised. Where the perpetrator was an older sibling or a parent who as a result of the victim's accusation or evidence has been punished, removed from the family or taken into custody, the victim is likely to be accused by other members of the family of causing the breakdown of the family. In this fraught situation both the victim and the rest of the family need counselling and support.

Recognition of this largely unmet need has led NCH Action for Children to set aside £4 million from its reserves to open an innovatory system of treatment centres for sexually abused children. The centres will provide counselling and treatment for child victims and for non-abusing parents and brothers and sisters to help them to face and come to terms with the feelings of profound anger, guilt and confusion that the disclosure of abuse causes and to help the abused child to recover. It parallels the initiative, which I very much welcome, being taken in Wales by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, and his friends.

Some 15 such centres have been established. For example, one such centre in Glasgow, which has been funded out of the initiative, together with support from the Scottish Office, has in the past two years helped over 70 children and young people aged from two years to 20 years from 30 families. I hope that, as experience grows and new models of care and support are developed, based on our own initiatives and those such as the one developed in Wales by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, and his friends, and in the light of the lessons that are learnt, local authorities and government departments will take further initiatives in this field themselves.

Responding to the cries for help from what the noble Lord has described as physically and mentally tormented children involves preventive measures, actions to deal with the offenders and support for victims and their families. The report of the NSPCC commission, chaired by my noble friend, has chartered the way forward and, to the same end, NCH Action for Children is helping to demonstrate that the tragic cycle of abuse that leads to ruined lives, to prison and to suicide can and must be broken.

6 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Eames, for initiating this debate. It concerns a vital area of social policy and I hope that we shall continue to accumulate a useful consensus of knowledge and ideas about how the welfare of children can be better secured.

I should like to concentrate on the more everyday welfare of children. Today, it is popular to record an increasing lawlessness among children and adolescents. This is easily observable and every noble Lord can give examples from his own experience. What interest me are the causes of that lawlessness. I define it as being a state of being brought up without reference to the law and hence in ignorance of the law. I need to broaden the concept of the law into being an accepted body of wisdom and convention about social living and living in the community. Therefore, I now assert that children are frequently being brought up without adequate training in community living or citizenship or communitarianism, to give it its political name.

I have now identified my first evidence of low-grade but significant child abuse. The failure of parents to bring up their children in a community-minded way (or sometimes in any way at all), both individually and collectively, needs analysis, starting with its origins.

Perhaps I may quickly dispose of a political point. I refer to the "Sermon on the Mound" given in Edinburgh by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who said that there is no such thing as society. I shall excuse the noble Baroness on the grounds that she believed that to be the case and because she may have been reflecting a view which may be popular in her home area. I hope that in soft, social democrat Scotland we do not recognise the merit of the approach taken by the noble Baroness towards communal living. Many people reject it with the rhetorical question, "Where does it get us?" It suggests that individuals should be regulated by laws about living in close proximity to others, rather than being brought up with beneficial and benevolent attitudes towards everyone else. That individualistic, "Look after No. 1 only" approach is tempting and has been adopted by many—to our long-term detriment. I recognise that that position has been reached by many not by desire, but out of exasperation. It is easier to be self-oriented than to be community-minded—therein lies the challenge—and, when surrounded by evidence of self-centredness, it is easy to give up trying.

This is a problem for adults today, and it is being inherited by today's children. The difference may be that today's adults have some experience of living in more communitarian times; today's children do not. They are starting out at the nadir, whereas I think I started on the descent from the zenith.

I want now to move on to another origin in my search for the causes of today's lawlessness—more evidence of low-grade child abuse—and that is poor quality upbringing. As a teenager in the late 1960s and as someone involved subsequently in a career in social work, I recognise how weak moral teaching has become. That is a problem to be recognised by today's grandparents and their children, today's parents.

That breakdown or reluctance to give strong, definite, moral guidance (in the broadest sense of the word "moral"), I attribute to the welcome ending of a highly structured society after the immediate post-war era. Despite the unfairness and inefficiency of that class system, I believe that there was more knowledge and confidence among adults, and hence parents, about acceptable behaviour, albeit along class lines. That confidence collapsed, along with the structured society, and has yet to be regained. Attempts to remedy it have faltered because teaching in "citizenship" (or whatever else it might be called) seemed to be too culture-laden or critical of the many subcultures in our society. To this day, teachers are careful to avoid saying anything that might be seen as critical of the way in which a parent conducts his or her family life. I lay that malaise at the feet of my generation—and our ideas of social policy.

At that time, I was very aware of how dangerous it was to put forward ideas that stemmed from my own very extreme family background and personal experience. For years, I was averse to imposing what I saw as class values on others. Now, among many others, I am reaping the harvest of that reluctance to allow distinct moral teaching. At college, we were taught to be non-directive. We were so wishy-washy that nobody knew we were even suggesting anything. I hereby repent!

So, how do we proceed from here? Now that we are reaching the bottom of the trough of social control—there is hardly any left or any that is recognisable as such—the time is now ripe for a campaign to empower parents and all those involved with children. That empowerment involves the public discussion of what is right and wrong with society, the selection of stronger and more definite attitudes and the development of greater confidence in the distinctive way that families are run. Parental confidence has to be boosted. Okay, it is easy to say that, but I rarely find adults to be disinterested in heavy conversations. Many complain about the lack of opportunity in their lives to discuss real issues and to form opinions and attitudes about them.

I conclude by reviewing some of the common low-level forms of child abuse—that is, behaviour that is likely to be unhelpful to the child's upbringing and life in society. I mention first a lack of parental time and energy. Children need at least one parent who is there for them. Secondly, I refer to a lack of consistency in standards in the home. Inconsistent parenting confuses the child and usually teaches him or her that the same behaviour can be acceptable or unacceptable depending on the mood of the parent.

Thirdly, I refer to the lack of a fixed bed-time. Tiredness and persistent lack of sleep definitely affect the performance of our children. Fourthly, I mention the failure to regulate the consumption of television programmes and videos and to monitor their contents. Despite what the producers say about only mirroring what is going on somewhere—heaven knows where sometimes—far too many ideas about destructive and unhelpful behaviour are broadcast into our homes.

Fifthly, I refer to parental selfishness—of time, of personal priorities and of financial resources. In its worst form, in spite of our social security system, there are children who grow up in primary poverty due to the parents spending all the money on themselves. At the same time, I am not bashing parents for both working to provide a better house in which to live with their family. What I am enthusiastic for them to do is to find pleasure in family-centred activities after the necessities of life have been met.

I have not yet mentioned the appalling issues of heavy child abuse and the effects of paedophilia. I am sure that others will do so with greater wisdom.

6.9 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, the Archbishop of Armagh, for opening this debate on a subject which I know causes us all great pain. The reality of child abuse and the effects of paedophilia are becoming more widely known and acknowledged, but I believe that I am not alone in continuing to be shocked as reports emerge revealing the extent of this sort of crime in society.

One of the clear benefits of the opening up of the discussion of child abuse is that children themselves have now been given the opportunity to speak up and to be taken seriously. We are indebted to organisations such as ChildLine which provide a safe and confidential means by which children can begin the painful but necessary process of disclosure by which the horror of their abuse can be brought into the open. I therefore welcome the opportunity of taking part in this debate. This subject, although painful, distressing and distasteful, must be kept on the nation's agenda.

There are many aspects to this question that I hope will be raised during the course of the debate, including the tragic problem in our country of children who are involved in prostitution, criminalised by the system, and hence are locked into a devastating way of life. I support bodies like The Children's Society that call for central and local government to provide resources to help children out of this dreadful situation and for the police and Crown Prosecution Service to track down and prosecute adults who keep children trapped in this lifestyle.

Revelations in recent years have shown that large institutions in which the care of children is undertaken are places to which those who seek paedophile opportunities endeavour to gain entry. The Church has not been immune to this tendency. Throughout Christian history the Church has taken seriously the nurture and care of children. This continues to be so in parishes throughout the land in social, spiritual and educational settings. Yet the Church enters the debate in great humility knowing of the shame and pain in its own history and that of other denominations.

In 1995 the Church of England, through the House of Bishops, looked at the whole issue of how best to protect children placed in our care, be it during Sunday School, the church choir, the youth club or many other varied activities that make up parish life. Guidelines were issued to all dioceses to enable churches to put in place procedures to help identify those people who should not be given unsupervised access to children and to eliminate the possibility of others being given such access.

In line with this policy, the diocese of Southwark, of which I am Bishop, has introduced procedures for child protection which are currently being implemented. Our procedures are in line with recognised good practice in agencies outside the Church which work with children, and local social services departments have welcomed and approved them. All clergy and lay people who hold my licence are now required to complete a declaration form concerning all prior convictions. This declaration is checked against the index of the Department of Health Consultancy Service. Those already in post have gone through a similar process. In addition I have asked each parish to take simple steps to protect children which are designed to minimise the possibility of harm occurring and ensure that volunteers and paid workers who have regular direct contact with children are appropriately screened.

I am delighted to be able to say that in most parishes the procedures have been welcomed as necessary for ensuring the safety of children. Clergy and lay people have been very co-operative. In practice, the vast majority of activities undertaken in churches for children, both within our worship and in the community, will continue and churches' significant contribution to work with children will not be reduced. It will, however, be improved by systematic procedures which safeguard both children and workers.

This has been our experience. I wish to encourage all voluntary organisations to take seriously the duty of care which is theirs in relation to children and to grasp this particular nettle. Any procedure will not guarantee the protection of a child from abuse but it does make life for the potential offender that much more difficult.

I have spoken of our responsibility towards children, but I hope that in this debate we do not forget our responsibility towards those who offend against children. As a parent and grandparent I am filled with revulsion at the crimes that are committed against children. Yet as a Christian leader I have to believe in the possibility of restitution and reconciliation. Those guilty of paedophile crimes must be brought to justice and punished for their crimes but they have to be given the chance to live again and to learn from their past errors. If I did not believe that I would be betraying my faith, which teaches universal reconciliation of fallen humanity with a just yet gracious God. We have a duty to protect our children but a duty also to protect every individual in our society; and that includes the offender as much as the offended against. The popular perception, often fuelled by exaggerated and alarmist media reporting, is that all sex offenders pose a threat and if not locked up should be publicly identified.

The Government issued a consultative document in June 1996 proposing enhanced measures for the monitoring and supervision of all convicted sex offenders. Though such measures are a positive indication of a need to grapple with this emotive issue, there is a danger that they can provide a false sense of security to parents. Certainly any persistent offender would have little difficulty in circumventing many of the proposals. My concern is that more attention should be given to the long-term treatment of offenders and an adequate risk assessment should be undertaken prior to their return to the community.

In the Church we would not wish to allow an ex-offender of this nature to have unsupervised access to children, and in the diocese of Southwark this would not now be possible. I stand fully behind that policy. Yet I would want to work with ex-offenders to help them back into the Church—even, with all due caution, into appropriate positions of responsibility.

As the noble Lord who initiated the debate said, children are not just the future; they are equal members of the society of which we are all a part. They have every right to be protected to live lives free from the trauma of abuse and to look to a future that does not bear the scars caused by the wickedness of others. We must all continue to work with energy and vigilance to create a safe environment in which our children can grow to reach their potential and in which the offender finds a real opportunity to change. I support the call of the noble Lord, Lord Eames, for a Royal Commission.

6.18 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Eames, for instigating this debate on a most important, difficult and disturbing subject. It must be discussed to try to find ways to help alleviate the terrible burdens with which some children have to contend. When I learned that a debate had been tabled on the subject of the welfare of children, the problems of child abuse and the effects of paedophilia I thought of the late Lady Faithfull. Were she still alive she would have taken part in this debate. Lady Faithfull did so much in dealing with the problems of child abuse and sex offenders. She has a centre named after her for the rehabilitation of sex offenders, many of whom have been involved in paedophilia.

One day at a reception in the Cholmondeley Room Lady Faithfull and other noble Baronesses from your Lordships' House were discussing the problems of children who had been abused. It came to light that several noble Baronesses had themselves suffered some form of child abuse when young, very often perpetrated by a relative or friend of the family.

Child abuse in various degrees seems to be more common across the social structure than one might think. But it is hidden behind a bank of silence because both the child and the abuser often feel guilt as they know they are doing something wrong. On the other hand, there may be some children who are abused by their fathers, step-fathers, uncles or family friends and who grow up thinking that it is a normal situation.

For well over 20 years I served on the board of visitors of a young offenders' institution. During that time I heard harrowing accounts from some of the young people, especially when interviewed in the evening. I give two true examples which I am sure could be repeated a thousand times over. One young man, the father of a baby, told me that he was desperately worried because when he came back from the pub and the baby was crying he became so irritated that he would pick the baby up and shake it. The other example is still as vivid today as when the young 17 year-old told me about it. His family had moved from one part of the country to another to be near the grandparents, but, unfortunately, the mother had died. He said that his sister had been taken into care because his father had abused her. He then said to me, "What's more, he's now doing it with my two young brothers aged 10 and 12." The young man was classified as homeless because he refused to go anywhere near his father. He was full of resentment.

For years I have been saying it is very important that good skills for life—including childcare and good parenting, the problems of drug and alcohol abuse and all the other important issues which make up health promotion—are taught to these very vulnerable young people, many of whom have not had good examples, or any examples, to follow. It is patchy throughout the prison system. Sometimes some of those skills are taught, but many of the young people are drop-outs from school who have missed out on all educational benefits.

The age of people in prison is becoming younger, and there are going to be child gaols. It is vital that people receive good, clear messages of good practice. We must try hard to break the very real cycle of deprivation.

I was disappointed when some years ago I moved an amendment to an education Bill with all-party support that life skills should be part of the core curriculum. The Government would not support it. I still believe that it is of vital importance that all children have a good grounding in what is right and wrong. Too many children have been torn apart by parents breaking up. Often those who have been abused as children grow up to do the same thing to the next generation.

Last week the Daily Express highlighted the case of a young girl of 11 who had been on heroin since she was eight. Drug addiction has become a slur on society, as has the horrific problem of child prostitution. The problem of children of drug addicts has to be handled very carefully. If the family believe that the children will be taken away they may well not come forward for treatment and help. The children may suffer in terrible conditions behind closed doors. Can the Minister say how much research is being done into the problem of children and drug abuse?

I know that for some years Phoenix House has had a property at Hove which helps families with drug rehabilitation. But its work is only a drop in the ocean. It is most disturbing to hear of children who may have been abused by their families being taken into care and placed in foster homes or children's homes and then being abused again. It is a double insult. Not being listened to must be one of the hardest things to accept in later life. ChildLine must sometimes seem like a lifeline.

Does the Minister agree with me that there should be more safeguards and better screening of staff in children's homes? Would it not be possible to have a friendly body of responsible people who would go into homes and befriend the children and keep a watching eye? Surely, such a body could be organised by local magistrates and the NSPCC near to where the homes are situated.

We hear with horror about children in Thailand who have been used as child prostitutes by the sex industry, often promoted by the drinks industry, which targets European groups. But should we not put our house in order? I quote from the Guardian of 21st August 1996: The charity, Barnardo's, went public yesterday on the extent of child abuse, child rape and assaults based on case studies of girls aged 12 to 17 forced to work as prostitutes in Bradford. Save The Children warned of a world-wide expansion of the child sex industry, be it Bradford, Leeds, Manchester or Birmingham". If that is free enterprise and deregulation I hope very much that there will be some strict regulations to curb this debasing trade in which young girls are brutally treated while the pimps swan around in smart cars.

As the debate is being answered by the health Minister, perhaps I may ask how the Portman and Tavistock clinics, which deal with the abused and the abusers, are coping with the new contract culture in the National Health Service. Furthermore, will she comment on the child sexual abuse team which is based at Lewisham Park and used to be the special unit at Guy's Hospital?

Does the Minister believe that training of social workers and probation officers is expert enough to deal with some of the very difficult situations? There have been problems in the Orkney Islands, in rural North Yorkshire where very handicapped children in a special school were abused, and across most parts of the country. Is the co-operation between the Department of Health, the social services, the police, the education service, the Probation Service and voluntary agencies good enough? Are the Churches well informed and able to cope with situations when they arise both in priests and ministers and in members of their flock when dealing with the abused and the abuser?

This is a problem which involves both the body and soul of children. I hope that this debate does something to motivate action to correct this deteriorating situation.

6.28 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Eames, for giving us the opportunity to discuss what is a scar on the whole of our community. It is an issue which shames us all. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, when I was preparing for the debate my mind went to Lady Faithfull—or Lucy, as we all regarded her. She was a stout fighter for children and their rights and I suggest that she left us with a tremendous responsibility to carry on the work to which she dedicated her life.

At the end of last year, after two years' work, the National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse published its report. The commission was set up by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and chaired by my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn. It conducted what must have been the most wide-ranging inquiry that has ever been carried out into this subject. It received submissions from more than 450 organisations and professionals. Nearly 50 hearings took place at which evidence was taken. There were visits and conferences.

The report opens with the statement: Most of today's 13 million children in the UK are brought up healthily and happily. That is what we want for all our children". There is a consensus on that. The majority of our children are happy and healthy, but there is a minority whose treatment causes that dreadful scar on our society.

Unfortunately, as we all know, that happy picture of childhood which most of us in this privileged Chamber probably experienced is to too many of our young children a dream. It is a childhood that they will never enjoy. So often that childhood is stolen from them by those from whom they should expect the most protection. This debate concentrates in particular on child sexual abuse and paedophilia.

One of the basic responsibilities of any society must be to nurture and protect its young. And yet when we read in the press the reports of sexual abuse by individuals or, increasingly, organised groups of paedophiles, I conclude that as a society we have failed abysmally so many of our young children. To read the reports is bad enough but to talk to those in the child protection agencies is horrendous. I suggest that some children in our society are subjected to brutality which is of heinous dimensions. Despite the fact that the press reveals to the public domain much of the abuse that takes place, sometimes it is badly dealt with.

In this country we have many first-class voluntary organisations which have made a major contribution to child protection. ChildLine has already been mentioned. It is so well known and yet it is only 10 years old. In those years over the telephone ChildLine has counselled nearly 78,000 children who have called, with sex abuse as their main problem. The reports of sex abuse are sometimes so distressing that the telephone counsellors themselves need counselling when they finish their shift on the telephone.

In 1986, when ChildLine was set up, 80 per cent. of the children on the telephone said that they had told no one about the abuse that they were suffering. By 1996, that number had reduced to 47 per cent. That is progress and we should recognise that. But there is still a long way to go.

The noble Lord, Lord Eames, was right to talk about the issue of children in court. ChildLine has produced a video for children going to court as witnesses in order to give them support. But more needs to be done. It is an horrific and traumatic experience for an adult but it is even more so for a child.

The National Children's Home does wonderful work in support of children, and its report was referred to by my noble friend Lord Murray. The Children's Society does a very good job, and its work was referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. It published The Game's Up in 1995 which dealt with child prostitution. There are many other national and local support agencies for children. There is Barnardo's, and we must welcome the new organisation being set up in Wales to which the noble Lord, Lord Wise, referred. Therefore, we are not short of research or knowledge on the issue and we are certainly not short of experience and ideas as to what should be done.

I cannot believe that anyone in the community, political barriers apart, would wish to do anything other than the right thing by our young people. So what is lacking? I regret to say that the Government must take responsibility for the inadequacy of their action in protecting the many thousands of vulnerable children in our community. Perhaps the Minister can tell me what action the Government have taken to deal with those who have forced children, boys and girls, into child prostitution here and abroad?

A report was referred to earlier by the Children's Society which called for a change of emphasis to protect young people, as provided under the Children Act. It suggested that there should be a moving away from the criminal law being used to caution and convict young people involved in prostitution. Young people in that situation need protection and support. They do not need to be sentenced and stigmatised for the rest of their lives. It is our responsibility to help them. The measure called for by the Children's Society, which is supported by the national commission, would assist in that.

There is a consensus among the children's protection agencies that there needs to be a general strategy, which has been referred to already in this debate, from central government. It should be applied across all departments, the police and social services. We need child protection with no barriers. That is what is needed to protect the children in our community. I include in that the Department of Health and the Home Office, which must come together to develop that national strategy.

In London, the NSPCC has developed a pilot London protection scheme which goes across all those agencies and has them working together. It crosses the geographical boundaries between local councils, social services departments and police authorities. What support will the government give to extending that pilot as a model throughout the rest of the country?

One of the many legacies which Lady Faithfull left us includes the Faithfull Foundation. I must declare an interest in that I am a trustee of the foundation. The majority of child abuse occurs in the home. Innocent young children know that the implication of telling and seeking support may be the break-up of the family and they do not want that to happen. They want to stay together, despite the nightmare that they have been through. Therapy and counselling have their place in dealing with the problem. They will not work for all but they could work for many. That is one reason why the Faithfull Foundation was set up and needs support. It is not unique. There are other initiatives elsewhere in the country. But it needs ongoing support and I am delighted, as a trustee, to know that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, from the Home Office helped to get some of the initial pump-priming funding for the foundation.

I was interested to read a study, which has not yet been published, conducted at Grendon Prison in Buckinghamshire on therapeutic intervention. It has shown significantly lower reconviction rates among sex offenders who have received treatment. Why should that not be spread further?

Finally, I return to the valuable report from the NSPCC Commission, chaired so ably by my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn. Why do the Government not prepare a considered, in-depth report linked with a national strategy in connection with the 85 recommendations which the commission put forward? The implementation of those 85 recommendations, coupled with the work of the other child protection agencies, would mean that the talking could stop and we could do something about the problem.

6.39 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Eames, for giving us this welcome opportunity for debate. I thank him also for his robust contribution.

As noble Lords have said, children who have suffered abuse in their own families are a category apart. They deserve a very careful response from the community. In the first instance, such children may need a safe haven away from home but, at the same time, they need constant help from wherever possible to rebuild a relationship with the family and society.

One safe haven was St. Francis School at Hooke in Dorset where I was a governor until recently. It was started by Brother Owen in 1945 and was managed by the Society of St. Francis on behalf of the Church of England. Over 45 years, more than 500 boys aged seven to 16 from urban homes all around the West Country received a remarkable blend of professional care, special education and commonsense parenting. It was an acknowledged centre of excellence and for many years was supported by a partnership between the Church, the then DES and the local authorities.

In the 1980s, as local authorities were squeezed for funds, the school gradually lost pupils one by one and in 1992 we were forced to close it. Five special schools of Church, Quaker or Rudolph Steiner origins were closed in one year. Why? Because quality had to be sacrificed in the name of good economic housekeeping. It is unfortunate that this quality in our special schools has been lost in the general criticism of discredited children's homes.

There were some amazing stories at Hooke of children who had suffered. Their case studies were no better and no worse, in my view, than those of children on a Calcutta railway station. One boy, physically and sexually abused by his mother's successive boyfriends, arrived as a tiny, stunted child smoking 35 cigarettes a day as his only way of coping with family life. A few years at Hooke and the child was eventually able to go back home, stand up to his mother and her friends and help to reunite his family. Now aged 23, he works for an automobile company which wants him to represent it in Germany.

Another boy had terrible psychological problems after being abused by his mother. When he came to Hooke he could not go to the toilet and told the teachers that this was because "Every time I went she hit me or interfered with me". He was seen regularly by a psychiatrist and, after a period of regular care and attention, grew up a normal child, able to return to the family. Another boy ran away from home and was brought to Hooke aged 12, unable to read or write because of child abuse. He is now an Army instructor in Wiltshire. There are many similar positive stories. I take the opportunity to congratulate the Society of St. Francis, which has an outstanding record of child care. I asked one of the Franciscans this week what were the qualities which made Hooke special. A secure environment and a regular routine, he said. There had always been a need, he added, for some children to be removed from their family setting. It was amazing how many children were able to open up and feel safe and to grow again in the new surroundings.

What has happened to the children in special schools who became the victims of the new economic disciplines of the 1980s? Where are the boys who, in the name of savings, had to be sent back from Hooke and the other special schools for the educationally and behaviourally disturbed? These are hard questions and I can only begin to provide an answer. My guess is that they went back to the streets of Bristol, Bournemouth, Southampton, Exeter and other urban centres to join their friends and the untold numbers of young offenders who have been before the courts ever since, often for crimes of sexual exploitation, abuse and prostitution. I welcome the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, for making the connection between abused children and young offenders.

I asked a magistrate in Bournemouth this week what was the solution to the apparent rise in juvenile crime and the number of teenagers who come before the courts again and again. Her answer sounded somehow familiar. She said that what was needed in the absence of good parenting was some form of more regular supervision, counselling and follow-up for these young people, especially the younger ones, who desperately needed care and education.

One answer in Bournemouth was found through the Probation Service setting up a pilot bail support scheme three years ago with help from the voluntary organisations whose officers keep in regular contact with the young offenders and their families, reinforcing the over-stretched Probation Service. Research by Southampton University shows that an average of 30 per cent. of reoffending had come down to 8 to 10 per cent. under the scheme. I welcome what the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said on the subject. In the absence of family life or school, or any special education, the scheme is essential. But even that is threatened by a 10 per cent. cut in probation services in the coming financial year. It could mean the end of the whole hail support scheme. An approach is being made to charities and other sources of funds. It seems that even where quality has been proven, the Government, or perhaps society—is it us?—are allowing such schemes to die or be left in the hands of the voluntary sector.

The economics of savings whereby money is wasted on processing the same young offenders time after time while society is penalised by unnecessary crime is either wrong headed or immoral, possibly both. Perhaps it is unfair to blame the Home Office, but it is certainly not good government when the best is ignored and the worst is put in its place at even greater cost to the taxpayer.

I read the Minister's reply to a previous debate on the subject of secure training for persistent young offenders. She said: those juvenile offenders will be those for whom community supervision has failed".—[Official Report. 1/2/95: cols. 1523–24.]. I ask whether the number of offenders since then has been going up precisely because the community has failed them.

The received wisdom today, as we have heard, is that the family must be re-educated to look after their children. Behavioural support, according to current fashion, depends on parents ensuring that their young offenders stay at home. But for persistent offenders who have suffered abuse this may be a prison sentence, even if they receive some form of home tuition which would be for a mere four to five hours a week.

In conclusion, on the subject of paedophiles, which is of great popular concern, I can only repeat what others have said. The abused so often become the abusers, predisposed to crime and vulnerable to paedophilia and prostitution. However, instead of hanging labels around their necks, a practice which only reflects our own fear, distrust and failure, we need to re-examine the complex process which turns young abused children into offenders and try to put back the subtle mix of professional care and parental affection in a secure environment which I believe society can afford.

6.48 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in expressing my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Eames, for introducing this challenging debate on these ugly, difficult issues concerning the welfare of children, the problem of child abuse and the effects of paedophilia. What we have heard today in this debate and seen from the evidence that has been recorded in the press, media and official reports is an awful indictment on the governance of any community or nation. That is especially the case when the issues are evident in countries and communities that extol the virtues of moral values and also pronounce loudly the influence of Christian principles and teaching in childcare and in family love and relationships. Is there not an ever-widening gap between the precept and the practice?

It has a tremendously disillusioning effect on people as a whole that this should happen in a society which attempts to hold up its general welfare to the rest of the world. These issues reveal the depths of human frailty and a lack of vision and commitment in the body politic. The issues require concerted political action, but I hold that the issues and action transcend party political rancour or internal disputes. Indeed, I believe that within Northern Ireland's deeply divided political situation these issues of childcare present a critical moral challenge, especially to all elected public representatives, a challenge to join in constructive democratic action to promote, within the tenets of justice, the welfare and care of all our children. I refer to all our children—the rich, the poor and the 47 different varieties of political and religious elements that we have in Northern Ireland. Should not these issues of childcare be urgent and worthwhile matters for early debate in the Northern Ireland Elected Forum for Political Dialogue which meets weekly in Belfast? I believe that to put children first in those debates would encourage a tremendous healing spirit within the community.

The cornerstone of legislation for the welfare of children in the United Kingdom is the Children Act 1989, together with the Northern Ireland Children Order. This has been described as the most comprehensive and far-reaching reform of child law in these islands. It provides a new legal framework and a new language of child law and practice, and represents a marked change in attitudes towards children and their families. The legislation is about parental responsibility and partnership with the various professionals who are charged with the role of overseeing the education and the overall welfare of children. However, as we know only too well from what we have heard during this debate, there are ever wider gaps in the administrative and regulatory systems—hence the need for this debate. If the legislation had been fully implemented, we might be in a better position today.

We are drawing near to the end of this term of government. We look forward to a new government and we have certain expectations. I feel it is appropriate that this unelected House should indicate our continuing concern for the welfare of children, particularly our concern about child abuse and paedophilia. Of course one would expect that all parents, public representatives, clergy, educationalists, nurses, social workers, and indeed all thinking citizens, would publicly express their concern about those issues.

The truth of the matter is that child sex abuse and paedophilia are not always as we perceive them. We have heard a good deal about that in this debate. There has been a perception—it is perhaps now disappearing—that child abuse and paedophilia are carried out by dirty old men in raincoats standing around public lavatories. The truth is far removed from that. Court cases that come to our attention involve those who often hold positions of support and trust with regard to vulnerable children. As I have said, we have heard much about that already in this debate.

In addition to parliamentary scrutiny of these issues, a number of organisations have expressed concern about them in reports and have created public awareness and understanding of this issue. They have also raised alarm about disturbing events which occur within our communities. The noble Lord, Lord Eames, has already said that there are many organisations which promote a greater awareness of this matter and which promote remedies and efforts to tackle the situation. One of these organisations has already been mentioned; I happen to be a nominal member of the all-party parliamentary group on children. I pay tribute to what has been achieved by that group and in particular to the leadership given by Lady Faithfull. I refer also to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Child Right, Child Care Forum, and the Gulbenkian Foundation, which has also produced a report on this matter.

I wish also to mention the commission of inquiry into the prevention of child abuse. I believe I am not alone in thinking that that body has produced an outstanding report which—it has been mentioned in this House—deserves much more public attention than it has had. Apart from the public attention aspect, I should be happy if I felt that the Government were responding to that report in a constructive way. I understand that report has been sent to the Government. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate whether the Government have had any thoughts or discussion on it, or even whether she has any personal views on the report's recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Eames, and the right reverend Prelate dealt with this matter in an understanding and detailed way. I hope that this kind of debate will never have to be repeated in this House.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, there are times when I feel proud of the Northern Ireland voices which I hear in debates in this House, and today is one of those occasions. The Archbishop of Armagh has brought before the House one of the great tragedies of our time. He has done it in such a way that he has engaged support from all sides of the House, which proves that this issue transcends all political boundaries. One of the most significant points that he made this evening was that it is only through the occasional interest shown in this matter by Parliament that the country becomes aware of the enormous size of the problem of children's welfare and child sex abuse. Today is one of those rare parliamentary occasions when we can all direct our minds to the awful problem of child abuse.

When I first noted the debate introduced by Robert Eames today I realised that I was not aware to any great extent of the problem which exists. Coming from Northern Ireland as I do, and having been a representative of that community for many years, I decided to get in touch with Northern Ireland to find out the extent of the problem in that small community of 1½ million people. Yesterday morning I got in touch with many authorities and in particular with the RUC. The horrifying news which I received made me ashamed to be an Irishman and an Ulsterman and a former resident of the city of Belfast. Today the House has been told of the problem, but as yet are we aware of the extent of the problem which exists among the 55 million people in this United Kingdom? I do not think we are.

The noble Lord, Lord Eames, said we are only made aware of this matter by the occasional interest that is shown in the subject. Yesterday morning was such an occasion when I contacted the RUC in Northern Ireland to be given some horrifying details. I shall refer to some of those details now knowing that the population in Northern Ireland is totally unaware of what has been happening in this area. Everyone throughout the United Kingdom, and indeed further afield, will be aware that the Northern Ireland community has had to deal with the problem of terrorist violence over this past quarter of a century. Perhaps in trying to deal with that problem we have been inclined to deflect our attention away from all the other problems that exist within that community.

When I spoke to the police yesterday morning, they told me that they have a special unit in Northern Ireland to deal with sex abuse and the abuse of women. That child welfare unit has 55 detectives, six inspectors and 11 sergeants who are engaged full time in trying to apprehend and bring before the courts those who are guilty of abuse of children, in particular sex abuse.

I keep trying to find words to describe the figures that I was given yesterday. I can only repeat that they are horrifying. In Northern Ireland in 1995 there were 229 rapes; in 1996, 264 rapes; in 1995, 20 young males, boys under 14 years of age, and 50 young girls under 14 years of age were raped. In 1996, 45 young girls under the age of 14 years were raped in Northern Ireland. In 1995, 692 women had been abused. Of those 692, 157 were young girls between the ages of six and 10 years. Am I not justified in feeling shame that this could happen in my homeland? In 1996 there were 764 reported cases of abuse, and 199 were committed against young girls between the ages of six and 10 years.

I know that those figures are correct. I know of the dedication and compassion shown by the RUC and the police in their endeavour to find those responsible for that abuse. The RUC is to be congratulated on its endeavours. Those figures relate to a small population of 1.5 million. Think what must be happening throughout all the other regions of the United Kingdom. Has any attempt been made to obtain the information from those various regions? We could then see how many hundreds of thousands of young people have been abused, sometimes by their parents and sometimes by others. One of the other sad figures which the police gave me yesterday relates to 12 incest cases in 1995—fathers and daughters. In 1996 there were again 12 incest cases.

I do not believe that Northern Ireland is an unusual society. I know that it has lived through the terrible trauma of terrorist violence over the past 25 years. Perhaps that has had some effect on the moral and Christian outlook of everyone in Northern Ireland. I hope that the figures I have cited will show that the RUC and the police force in Northern Ireland, while having to deal with terrorist violence, are also committed to detection of a greater type of violence: violence against young, defenceless boys and girls.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, suggested that an attempt should be made by the elected representative to the forum which now exists in Northern Ireland to discuss this problem. There is no more important issue facing the people of Northern Ireland than the problem of child abuse and paedophilia. I hope that the noble Lord's recommendation will be listened to.

I hope that the sentiments, concern and compassion expressed in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, the former Archbishop of Armagh, will be listened to not only by the dozen or so Members sitting in this House, but will be made readily available to all those in authority throughout the United Kingdom, perhaps forcing them in their endeavours to take whatever dramatic steps are necessary to grapple with this awful problem in our society.

7.5 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, the Archbishop of Armagh, for having initiated the debate. I thank him for the breadth of his speech, which provides a sound framework for future action.

I want to emphasise the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, and by the voluntary organisations with a special interest in the child, about child prostitution. That aspect is absolutely relevant to the subject of this evening's debate.

The tables in the report, The Game's Up: Redefining Child Prostitution, recently published by the Children's Society confirms that the problem of child prostitution exists in this country. It is not merely a problem for a foreign land. It indicates that in 1993 there were 296 police cautions in respect of young girls aged under 18, and 105 convictions of such young girls for prostitution-related offences. I note from one table that one 10 year-old girl also received a police caution. Of course one acknowledges that the cautions and convictions could be of the same person. On the other hand, there are no doubt many hidden cases of child prostitution. Therefore, by definition, it is very difficult to measure the size of the problem—a point made by my noble friend Lord Fitt. Nevertheless, there is sufficient evidence to show that action is required.

I have inquired for statistics of sexual offences against children for the years 1994–1996 in order to update the figures in the report from the Children's Society. I am grateful to the Home Office research directorate for the information it sent me this afternoon. I have not had time to digest it fully but I wish to refer later to one of the statistics.

Most of the children and young people under 18 who are the subject of our concern in the debate are especially vulnerable, for the reasons given by almost every previous speaker. They are described in paragraph 11 of the consultation paper, Sex Offenders: A Ban on Working with Children. I shall not repeat the paragraph. I believe that the primary concern should be for the welfare of such young people. If the response of the Government, and our response, is not aimed at their welfare it achieves nothing.

There is growing concern that a young girl on the street accused of a prostitution-related offence should be debased further by being brought before a youth court. The voluntary organisations do not believe that that is appropriate or helpful. The point was made by my noble friend Lady Dean. It has been pointed out that a conviction for a sexual offence goes on the young person's record and that will be damaging when she seeks a job. Again, a fine for the offence can merely lead a young person back on to the street to secure enough money to pay the fine. If all that occurs, what has been achieved?

On the other hand, are the adults, the clients, the customers who sexually abuse children and young people being successfully prosecuted? It is a pretty shameful fact that Home Office statistics that I received this afternoon, if I properly understood them, show that in 1995, by the age of 40, 0.7 per cent. of men had a conviction for a sexual offence that had a child victim. In other words, in 1995 110,000 men had, by the age of 40, been convicted of an offence against a child aged under 16. That is some indication of the size of the problem. But there is concern that the rate of successful convictions for sexual offences against children has declined in recent years. Will the Minister tell the House whether that concern is well-founded?

Noble Lords spoke specifically and thoroughly about paedophiles. I very much welcome the recent consultation paper, Sex Offenders: A Ban on Working with Children, issued by the Home Office and the Scottish Office. I support the proposed new offence. However, I tend to think that there should be a right of appeal, even in such cases.

Clearly, the proposed new offence will not, and cannot, prevent paedophiles from having access to children on the street. On the contrary, it is very obvious that there is a significant risk that more paedophiles will prey on children on the street if they are debarred from the work areas set out in paragraph 15 of the consultation paper. If that risk were to materialise, no doubt the position of which we complain would worsen. It is therefore important that the police should be vigilant and should take whatever action is available to crack down and prosecute the adults involved.

Given the freedom of movement enjoyed by Community citizens, I recognise that there is also an important European Union dimension to this subject. The Local Government International Bureau and the NSPCC recently jointly produced a very helpful document, Child Abuse Prevention in the European Union, identifying developments which they believe are necessary to ensure co-operation between member states in child protection measures. For example, it includes measures such as a European missing children's register, and a European Union child sexual offenders register, and suggests an agreed definition of the term "child abuse". The report was the subject of a one-day conference in Swansea last November.

Have the Government had the opportunity to reach a view about that report? Whatever their position, I very much hope that the incoming Labour government will press for many of these changes. Meanwhile, I trust that this short debate initiated by the former Archbishop of Armagh will help in a small way to focus attention on the need for greater protection for young children who are at risk from paedophiles and pimps and greater support for those who have been sexually abused and assaulted.

7.13 p.m.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies rightly pointed out the breadth of this debate provoked by the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Eames. The whole House will be grateful to him, both for the opportunity to debate very serious matters regarding the welfare of children and the manner in which he introduced the debate. It has been enormously wide-ranging. As the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, showed, it is possible to deal, if not with all human life, certainly with the quality of parenting in our society. I am tempted to follow him along the lines of his speech; however, that could form the subject of a separate debate, so I shall restrain myself. Even within the narrower context of the awful abuse of children within our society, as was pointed out, we are dealing with a whole range of issues.

It was rightly mentioned that most of the abuse of children is not sexual abuse. A great deal of physical and emotional abuse takes place. It is extremely difficult for us to face what is going on, both in terms of physical and emotional abuse and in terms of sexual abuse. That point was made by my noble friend Lord Murray of Epping Forest. The very powerful contribution of my noble friend Lord Fitt also illustrated how shocking is the extent of the misery and, as the noble Lord, Lord Eames, said, the "darkness" that there is in child abuse.

However, it is important that we analyse the problem. It is important to be aware that the majority of child abuse that takes place is, sadly, by those to whom children have the right to look for protection, either within their own family, or, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, when in the care of people in whom they and their parents have trust and that trust has been abused. It is a difficult situation for us to deal with.

There is also the sometimes separate and important problem of organised criminal paedophilia. Although, thankfully, we are dealing with a small number of offenders, the evidence is that they are very serious, recidivist offenders who may affect the lives of many, many children across a range of situations and geographical locations both in this country and internationally. In that context, the report to which my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies referred about how we can tackle some of these problems—particularly that of organised rings of abusers on an international scale and what can be done within the European Union—is highly important. My noble friend Lady Dean talked about the need for a national strategy. She is absolutely right. However, we have to be aware that in this context we are dealing with international problems as well as national ones. In that sense we should be pleased to see the progress that has been made on the Sex Offenders Bill, which gives us an opportunity to deal with the problem of the "exportation" of criminality against children. It is a very important measure.

It is also important that our debate centred on the children themselves—on the victims rather than the perpetrators. We have to concentrate on the perpetrators in the sense of trying to prevent a recurrence of offences. But if we focus on the children, and on proposals in terms of whether they will protect children who are at risk of abuse, support the victims of abuse and prevent offenders from re-offending, we are likely to have a more positive attitude. I suggest that our reactions have sometimes come from a feeling of "shrinking from vicarious pain", of "not wanting to know" what is going on. That has led to our looking only at hugely punitive approaches to offenders. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, spoke about schemes that can both help in prevention and support victims. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark talked about what can be done if an organisation in a position of responsibility faces up to the fact that that responsibility has sometimes been abused by people who have been trusted and then coherently attacks the problem. There are measures that can be taken.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about measures that can be taken to protect children and to change their lives. We all recognise that in most situations the interests of the child and those of the family do not diverge. It is important to support the child and its family if we are to help that family, to improve the child's life and to cut the risk of abuse. However, there is a minority of families in which the interests of the child and those of the parents or those who care for the child diverge. It is possible that in such a case a residential setting can break into the cycle of deprivation and change the life of a child. As the noble Earl pointed out, those kinds of measures can be very effective and cost-effective.

It is also important to examine the possibility of intervention with young offenders. My noble friend Lord Murray of Epping Forest pointed out that one of the difficult areas to face up to is the abuse of children by other children and young people. Encouragingly, some of the research into intervention with offenders indicates that it is with young offenders that therapeutic interventions have the greatest chance of success. It is extremely important that we learn from that research, put it into practice and take action to break into the cycle of deprivation. We should not adopt a counsel of despair. Evidence exists that many offenders themselves suffered from abuse, but we should not generalise from that and assume that all those who have been abused will turn into offenders or that their lives will necessarily be blighted.

Reference was made to Lady Faithfull, whom we all miss today. It is perhaps not a phrase that would fall from her lips but I think the sentiment is there: I feel that she would be saying to us, "Don't mourn, organise". Today's debate could have been extremely depressing, but in fact many ways of moving forward have been suggested. It is our responsibility to take those measures forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, referred to two recent reports, one from the NSPCC and one from the Gulbenkian Foundation, about structures of government in connection with support for children within our society.

We should consider what can be done within the court system to improve the experience of justice after abuse has occurred, which is for many victims of abuse an additional source of pain and distress and an unproductive exercise. We all have a responsibility to improve that experience for those children. However, while we consider that matter and the counselling which can be given to the victims of abuse and ensure that the court process does not stand in the way of that counselling, we should also look at the way in which children are represented in our society. They do not have a vote. We have in some ways been talking about them today as victims. Sometimes looking at children in that way and not according them the rights to which they are entitled leads to their welfare not being a priority and their not receiving proper attention.

As my noble friend Lady Dean pointed out, the government departments whose work involves children are numerous and disparate. I believe that we could do better as a society in terms of the political structures in which the interests of children are brought to the top of the agenda. I very much hope that that is something that will gain support from all sides of your Lordships' House.

7.26 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, there can be no more important subject than the welfare of the nation's children. Our children are our future. I know that that is a hackneyed phrase; nevertheless I believe it is so true.

I should therefore like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Eames, on initiating this very broad and thoughtful debate. With his vast knowledge of young people—not only as a select preacher at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh but also from his practical experience as a governor of the Church Army, a school governor and a parent of two sons—there could be no one better suited to know about children.

We know that to grow and develop into healthy and rounded adults, children need large amounts of love, care and attention, ideally from loving families. The primary responsibility for nurturing and bringing up children has always lain with families. Any parent knows that this is one of the most difficult tasks in the world. It requires love, patience, fairness, discipline, teaching by example and long-term commitment. I say long term. Perhaps I should say a lifetime's commitment, for my experience is that children never quite leave home, and I have to say that I rejoice in the fact.

It is the role of government and of public agencies—primarily education, health and social services—to provide support in a way which reinforces rather than undermines the primacy of parental responsibility. But we know that not all families function well. Some families fail to provide the secure and stable environment which children need. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, abuse most frequently occurs within the family. That is one of the very tricky dimensions we have to watch.

We know that in the past child abuse went largely unrecognised. Sexual abuse in particular was a taboo subject and seldom acknowledged. It could not be openly discussed. It is only relatively recently that these taboos have been broken and we are able to recognise the long-term damage that can be caused not only to children's health but also to their long-term development. In the worst, and most tragic cases it can of course even end in death.

The Government's responsibility is to ensure that children at risk are provided with the protection they need. That is why we are committed to combating child abuse and why we constantly strive to improve practice and procedures to minimise the risk to vulnerable children.

If I may add a personal note, just before I was elected to East Sussex County Council the case of Maria Colwell came to light. It was the most tragic affair. The noble Lord referred to the knowledge of neighbours, teachers and others in these cases. The Maria Colwell case was a classic example of that. It was like a jigsaw puzzle: many people had the pieces but nobody put it all together to make the picture. After that case everyone involved was traumatised, but I believe it triggered a range of procedures—area protection committees and so on—which over the years has protected a large number of children from similar horrifying events country-wide. I believe that East Sussex now has policies and procedures which are second to none. But it is unrealistic to hope that professional interventions, however skilled and sensitive, will put an end to child abuse.

All we can do is seek professional involvement, involvement with the right blend of judgment, common sense, intuition, management and training which will ensure hurt to a child or damage to a family is less likely, which spots and remedies problems before they become crises, and which has the rigour to cope with a crisis when it does occur.

When things do go wrong we have in place tried and tested procedures for examining the actions of relevant agencies. I am sure noble Lords will say that it is then too late. But it is necessary that we learn the lessons and improve professional practice.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, told us of the need to re-examine the issue of children who had been abused going on to become abusers. As part of the Department of Health's research programme, a major project is under way looking at the characteristics of young boys, their families and the communities in which they live. It seeks to identify circumstances where boys who have been abused go on to abuse or why they do not and also situations where boys who may not have been abused become abusers. Part one of that project will be completed this year and part two in two years' time. The initial findings suggest that it will be a very significant study, adding to our knowledge in this area.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark asked what more could be done to support the treatment of child abusers. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and other Members of your Lordships' House for reminding us of our friend Lady Faithfull. She is remembered in this House with great respect and affection. She has a lasting memorial through the foundation. The foundation is a child protection agency and is committed to reducing the risk of children being sexually abused by, first, preventing known offenders from reoffending, training police officers, and specialist profiling of offenders; secondly, training child protection workers and colleagues in the criminal justice and penal system; and thirdly, working therapeutically with the victims of sexual abuse and providing a national consultancy service and resource centre. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, is a trustee of the foundation. It is breaking new ground. The department has provided funding for it continually since 1993.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray, asked what was being done for children who had been sexually abused and mentioned the importance of providing treatment for them. We agree that that is a very important point. The Department of Health has funded a number of projects, including research at the Tavistock Clinic. It has given funding, as I said, not only for the Faithfull Foundation but also for St. Christopher's Fellowship.

However, not all children who have been abused will need specific intervention from specialists such as child psychiatrists or clinical child psychologists. For many, the support from trusted adults who can listen and take the child's experience seriously may be sufficient. That is where ChildLine plays such a crucial role. But for other children we know that more specific help is needed: specialist workers with social services and voluntary organisations offer help individually or to small groups of children. If the problems are much more complex, child mental health professionals are involved: child psychiatrists, clinical child psychologists and others from the multidisciplinary specialist services offer assessments, consultation with other agencies or specific treatments such as individual child psychotherapy, group psychotherapy and family therapy.

As the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said—I am very grateful to him—one of the key strengths of our child protection system lies in the Children Act 1989. I remember my friend Lady Faithfull telling me that she felt that the Act was a landmark piece of legislation. It is that legislation which has led to a substantial change in the way in which services are delivered to vulnerable children and their families. In its provisions, the welfare of the child is paramount. Its emphasis on partnership with families, on taking action only where it is likely to produce a better outcome and of avoiding delay are all important and valuable principles. The guidance accompanying the Act provided, for the first time, a coherent and consistent framework for children's services.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned research. That is important. I have mentioned one piece of research. But other research shows that there is much good about our child protection system. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said, children generally are well protected. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about a key part of the Act and the guidance Working Together under the Children Act. That is the Government's guidance on arrangements for inter-agency co-operation which is widely regarded as having been successful in promoting joint working by social services, health, education and the police. All agencies, and I include those in the voluntary sector—I too pay a tribute to them—have a vital role to play in identifying problems and offering support to families, while recognising that further action may sometimes be needed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, asked about the specialist NSPCC and police project on child abuse in London. The department is aware of that project and awaits with interest the results of a research study which is evaluating it. We shall consider its findings as part of the revision of our guidance Working Together planned for 1997–98.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Dean, were deeply concerned about children becoming involved in sexual exploitation for commercial reasons, as was the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. I can assure both the noble Baronesses and the noble Lord that the Government are not in the least complacent about the problems of child prostitution. In the first place, there is a wide range of criminal sanctions to deter and punish those who exploit child prostitutes. The Government are also committed to what they can do to prevent children becoming involved in those harmful activities. Again, the Children Act provides a framework of powers and responsibilities to ensure that children receive the care and protection they deserve. Local authority social services also have a duty to make inquiries where they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. That would include information suggesting that a child may need protection from child prostitution.

Perhaps I may return to research. In 1995 the department published Messages from Research, a compilation of 20 studies covering the child protection system. It indicates that results for children and families are generally better and the social work task easier when parents are genuinely involved.

The research has also shown that where there are concerns about the possibility of abuse, the full rigours of the child protection system may not always be appropriate. It found that, for the 160,000 or so children referred each year, inquiries in almost three-quarters of cases went no further than interviewing parents. The research suggests that agencies would be better to avoid concentrating too narrowly on alleged incidents of neglect or abuse. Instead, they should focus on the needs of the most vulnerable children and their families. In the light of these findings, we have been working in partnership with the Association of Directors of Social Services to encourage social services to "refocus" their services in just this way. Even before child protection is an issue, if we can target resources better we can prevent some children ever being victims of child abuse by supporting their families when they need some help.

The Government are committed to underpinning families without undermining parental responsibility. My noble friend Lord Wise mentioned the emerging Welsh Trust. I too wish it great success. We support voluntary organisations. We ourselves have also funded a number of initiatives. Last year, we set up the £700,000 Refocusing Initiative, which is funding 41 projects aimed at supporting families with young children. The Supporting Parents Research Initiative has just started. It will run for five years at a cost of £2.5 million. The Child Care Circles Initiative has been a great success. That shows how small amounts of resource can be used by voluntary organisations in partnership with social services departments. Those circles encourage couples and lone parents in deprived areas to offer reciprocal child care and mutual support.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for his thoughtful and knowledgeable speech. With his distinguished career in social work it is perhaps not surprising that he should have such a practical approach, having dealt with some of these problems on a first-hand basis. I will draw the attention of Sir Herbert Laming and the Social Services Inspectorate to his suggestions, including those in relation to training. I agree with the noble Earl that we must do all we can to help parents rear children satisfactorily in the first place and to bring up children to be law abiding. That is why the Home Secretary set up a new ministerial group to help identify new strategies for early intervention with young children most at risk of offending and their families, to help divert them from crime. The group will be publishing a Green Paper soon.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred to the diocese screening all people—lay people and clergy—who work with children, to ensure that they are safe to do so. I am not sure if the right reverend Prelate is aware, but the Department of Health will be providing funding to the Churches' child protection advisory services for three years starting in 1997–98 for their work in helping leaders of Churches and children's organisations on the issues of child protection and abuse.

A number of noble Lords mentioned abuse in residential care, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. I share the anxiety and indeed horror of the House that in recent years we have seen some tragic examples of systematic abuse of children. Initially, those allegations were met with scepticism and denial; but later they were confirmed through prosecution in the courts.

Clear and robust steps have been taken to prevent abuse in residential care with the introduction of the Children Act, the implementation of the Warner Report—referred to by some noble Lords—and the endeavours of the support force for children's residential care. However, we are not complacent for, sadly, it appears that the scale of abuse and the risk to children living away from home was higher than we appreciated. It is for that reason that Sir William Utting has been asked to undertake a review of the safeguards for children living away from home in residential and foster care. Sir William has started his review. He is consulting with a wide range of organisations in the statutory and independent sectors and, most importantly, with young people themselves. His report is due later in the year.

My noble friend Lord Wise stressed the importance of understanding the way in which paedophiles target and trap the children they are planning to abuse. Our knowledge about the activities of sex offenders and the highly manipulative tactics they use to gain access to children is increasing. As a consequence, we have a strategy for the protection of the public against sex offenders, and particularly those who abuse children.

The noble Lord, Lord Eames, gave a ringing call for effective legislation. It is therefore appropriate that I should detail what is before your Lordships' House or about to come to the House during this parliamentary Session. The Government have introduced two Bills: the Crime (Sentences) Bill, if passed, will provide an automatic life sentence for those convicted a second time of a very serious sex offence—rape, attempted rape or unlawful sex with a girl under 13. Such people will not be released from prison until it is judged safe to do so. The Bill also provides for all sex offenders to receive extended supervision after release from prison—a measure suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Eames.

The Sex Offenders Bill will require all those convicted of a sex offence against children or another serious sex offence, or who accept a caution for one, to notify the police of their name and address and of any subsequent changes. As my noble friend Lord Wise said, abusers do not look any different. He is right, and we hope that that measure will address some of the problems associated with anonymity.

The Bill will make it an offence for UK residents to commit sex acts against children abroad. Other measures supported by the Government include two important Private Member's Bills: the Sexual Offences (Protected Material) Bill will restrict access to victims' statements in sex offence cases and so prevent their being used for pornographic purposes; and the Criminal Evidence (Amendment) Bill will extend the power to take DNA samples to serious sex offenders already in prison.

In addition to those important measures, the Government are also undertaking a review of the penalties for all sex offences and have issued a consultation paper on banning sex offenders from seeking work with children. Parents and young people all need to be aware of the dangers. But we must get the risks in perspective. We do not want to frighten children unnecessarily with nightmarish images of the "world out there." Children are our society's future and it is only right that they feel able to play and take an active part in life, participating to the full in community activities. It is therefore vital that, as part of our response to child abuse, we teach children strategies to protect themselves.

Organisations such as Kidscape, which is funded by the department, have carried out invaluable work campaigning for children's safety. They produce practical and non-sensational advice for parents on what children may need to know to stay safe from a variety of dangers, including the abuser.

The noble Lord, Lord Eames, also mentioned the implementation of the Piggot recommendations on child video evidence. The Government have made huge strides in improving the situation for child witnesses. All but one of Judge Piggot's recommendations on video evidence have been implemented.

Lastly, I should like to address the question of a Royal Commission, which was called for during the debate. Many of your Lordships mentioned the fundamental report that was produced calling for such a commission. We thought a great deal about this. I am grateful to all noble Lords for identifying some of the important and far-reaching concerns which need careful consideration. But I am doubtful that a Royal Commission is the right way forward.

We already have legislation in hand to address many of the concerns about sex offenders; others need practical and urgent action by agencies at local level in line with government guidance. Royal Commissions are notoriously slow; they are extremely cumbersome; they do not always solve problems. This is a subject that cannot wait for all that.

A number of other points were raised by your Lordships. I am aware that I have not answered the barrage of questions that came from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and various other Members of your Lordships' House. I intend to do that in writing. Perhaps I can say finally that I was deeply saddened by the statistics that were reiterated, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. We are horrified at some of the evidence that is coming to light, not only in Northern Ireland, but also in this country.

Perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that the Government are concerned about the low success rate of prosecutions of sex offenders. The Home Office research and statistics department is undertaking a study of rape cases—the most serious sex offence of all—to see why such cases may not come to court and, if they do, why they may not result in a prosecution.

On a positive note, despite all that we have been debating we should not lose sight of the gains that have been made for the welfare of children. Overall our children are healthier; their educational attainment is better; and their horizons are certainly wider. No one seeks to minimise the seriousness of the problems that we face, but I believe that we have a sound framework for tackling them.

7.49 p.m.

Lord Eames

My Lords, it is not my intention to tax the patience of the House by dealing in detail with the various points that have been made, except to express sincere appreciation to all who have taken part in the debate which I introduced some time ago. Perhaps I may mention three points in conclusion.

First, we have indicated in this debate how we can, as a House, address and approach a matter of immense social importance—hurt—with compassion, understanding and with no reliance on purely party political lines. As at least two speakers have said, that is a tribute to the way in which we have faced up to this great social need. I am most grateful for the response I have received from Her Majesty's Government.

Secondly, perhaps I may suggest to the noble Baroness that when she mentions the financial assistance that will be offered to a Church-based attempt in England and, I presume, Wales and Scotland to provide guidelines and research, the Government do not forget that part of the United Kingdom called Northern Ireland.

Thirdly, perhaps I may suggest to the House that over the past few hours we have been looking at a mirror of our society. The images that have been expressed with compassion, with a sense, at times, of injustice but chiefly with a sense of frustration, as was reflected by my noble friend Lord Fitt, urge us to take this whole debate further. It has not ended today. We have not necessarily solved anything today.

Outside this Chamber, even at this moment, little children are being abused, little children are being led into prostitution and families are beginning to see the first signs themselves of the tragedy of the broken home. I believe that underlying the debate, irrespective of detail, irrespective of example and irrespective of emotion—and there has been great emotion this evening—has been the recognition that this problem will not go away. It would be my prayer and my hope that what we have said will be listened to by many outside the House and that the expertise that it has been a privilege to listen to in so many of the speeches will not be lost when we plan a social charter for the way ahead for our children; for they are not just the citizens of tomorrow but a part of this generation. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.