HL Deb 28 January 2003 vol 643 cc1002-3

2.44 p.m.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a patron of the child's charity, Kidscape.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what priority is given to child protection by the police.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, child protection needs to be a priority. The National Policing Plan makes that clear. It stipulates that chief officers should review their local policing plans to ensure that child protection is given the appropriate priority. The Victoria Climbié inquiry report, published earlier today, highlights the urgency with which we must address that issue.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer. Does he agree that, while the NSPCC has welcomed many of the proposals in the forthcoming Sexual Offences Bill to improve the protection of children, it is right to be concerned that, if the police are not able to dedicate appropriate resources, little impact will be made? Will be therefore confirm that child protection will be made a national priority for the police and the probation services, as recommended in the joint report of the chief inspectors in October, and that it will receive a high priority in the National Policing Plan?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I can confirm that it is a national priority. The National Policing Plan requires chief officers to reflect the fact that it is a national priority in their local policing plans by including child protection strategies from 1st April. More detailed recommendations are contained in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, published today, on which my noble friend Lord Hunt will make a Statement immediately after Questions. The report focuses on precisely what needs to be done. The issue is incredibly important and the Victoria Climbié inquiry indicates its urgency.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, will the Minister confirm today's report from the Met that large numbers of police from the Child Protection Unit are being removed in order to deal with more than 1,200 cases of people identified on the Internet as paedophiles? Effectively, does that mean that there is less protection for children now? Will he enter into discussions with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to see how far it is possible to offer children all the protection that is necessary?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the National Policing Plan makes it clear that child protection must be a priority. The Laming report, which my noble friend will deal with later this afternoon, specifies what that means in practice. The Metropolitan Police have reorganised their child protection arrangements in advance of the publication of the Laming report. Individual police forces must determine where the priorities lie as between operation and individual cases of child protection. But we all agree the importance that must be attached to the protection of children in individual cases.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, in view of what the Minister has just said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, does he further agree that the leaking of a list, apparently from police sources, to the Sunday Times is very serious? Can he assure the House that steps will be taken to investigate the source of that leak?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not know the details of any leak and I should need to make inquiries about it. Plainly, it is inappropriate to leak that type of information to the press. Such steps as need to be taken will be taken. The focus of this Question relates to child protection, which I believe has more to do with the issues raised by the Laming report than with the kind of issue raised by the noble Viscount.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, can the Minister say what correlation he believes exists between the downloading of child pornography from the Internet and active involvement in child abuse?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I believe there is a link in the sense that people who download child pornography may well be connected in some way with activities which are worse than simply downloading pornography. I believe that there are differing views as to the scientific link, but plainly there is a link.

Lord Brookman

My Lords, I also declare an interest as president of the Welsh Trust for the Prevention of Abuse. The work of the trust follows a slightly different tack but I believe that it is significant in the question of child protection. Does my noble friend agree that it is important to ensure awareness among children of the many difficulties or potential dangers that they face? In that respect, is he aware of the much acclaimed video produced by the trust that I mentioned? The video will go into all schools in Wales to make children aware of the potential dangers.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, it is important to make children aware of the dangers. I do not know of the video to which my noble friend refers and I would welcome the opportunity to view it.