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21 Dec 2004 : Column 2162
Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


Electoral Commission





Luton Airport

7 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): It gives me great pleasure to present a petition signed by more than 7,600 of my constituents who are gravely concerned about the prospect of a new Luton airport flight path directly above Leighton Buzzard and Linslade, where they live. This has been a real community petition and it has the support of all local authorities. I am proud to present it tonight.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.
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Adults Abused in Childhood

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kemp.]

7.1 pm

Tom Cox (Tooting) (Lab): I welcome the debate. We all know of the vital importance of safeguarding the welfare and protection of children and young people. Many issues concern youngsters. When I was a councillor in local government, I was the chairman of the children's committee, and as a member of the British delegation to the Council of Europe I was for three years   the Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly's Sub-Committee on Children. The Sub-Committee discussed and reported on a wide range of issues affecting children and young people, just some of which included abuse—both physical and sexual—the trafficking of youngsters, adoption, care in orphanages, street children, the abduction of children by a parent and child soldiers.

Last week, The Sun gave major coverage to the abuses that youngsters face in this country. One word describes that for me: appalling. Today, in 2004, such abuse is still happening. Two children each week are killed by adults who are supposedly caring for them. The paper said that such people are "getting away with murder". As we know, those youngsters cannot speak for themselves and are defenceless. The paper went on to detail the abuses, but sadly many of us know of them.

In recent years, we have become more aware of the abuses that children and young people have faced, often while in care, at school or in the family. They were often abused by the people who were supposed to protect them. Those youngsters are now adults, but the effect of the abuse is still with them. We knew little about that for years because the youngsters were told a variety of things to keep them quiet about the abuses that they suffered. They were told, "No one would believe you", "This is just our secret", "You would be sent away" or "You would break up our family." So, out of fear, youngsters said and did nothing.

In recent years, there have been more and more cases in which the people who did the abusing, often many years ago, are brought before our courts and, if found guilty of such charges, are sent to prison for a long time. Often in such cases, the prosecution case is supported by the youngsters who had been abused and who are now adults. That is what this debate is about: adults abused in childhood.

Hardly a day goes by without hearing about child abuse that took place long ago. The definition of abuse given by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is neglect, physical injury, sexual or emotional abuse inflicted or knowingly not prevented which causes significant harm or death. We know that abuse has that effect on children and young people, often for the whole of their lives. I do not know whether the Minister has spoken to a man or woman who was abused as a child, but whatever events they talk about, it is always a harrowing story. I could relate many experiences of people who have been abused, but I shall give just one.

A woman, now an adult, was sexually abused by her father as a child. First, she was told that it was "our secret." Then it was, "No one would believe you",
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followed by, "Tell anyone and you will break up our family." The girl said and did nothing. It was not until she was a teenager that she stood up to her father and said, "Stop abusing me or I will go to the police." He stopped the abuse. That lady later got married and has a daughter aged six. Her father and mother are alive and still live together. Her mother—her daughter's grandmother—often asks her, "Let our grandchild come and stay with us over the weekend." The mother never does and never will because she fears that her father who abused her—an abuse of which to this day her mother knows nothing—would attempt to abuse his granddaughter. What a horrendous background to have to live with.

Who can a woman with that kind of experience and fear talk to about her deep concerns? Who can she trust? From whom can she seek support? There is a charity—the National Association for People Abused in Childhood—that people who have been abused as a youngster can trust, talk to and seek guidance from, often for the first time in their lives. Those people can be 60, 70 or 80 years of age. The great burden that they have carried for much of their lives is often lifted because they have talked about it. Many have suffered great emotional problems because of that secret, now released for the first time.

We often hear about counselling being offered to people, especially young people, who have been involved in an accident or who know someone who has been killed. That is welcome. The advice and support offered by counselling is obviously a great benefit. No one can dispute that such support and advice is not needed by people, whatever their age may now be, who were abused when younger. It is estimated that more than 20 per cent. of all adults have experienced some kind of physical or sexual abuse in childhood. These are people who, whatever their age, carry the burden of those painful childhood memories every day of their life. The question is what we as a society are to do to help them.

In 1996, the national commission of inquiry into the prevention of child abuse headed by the late Lord Williams of Mostyn recommended the setting up of a national organisation for adult survivors of abuse. The inquiry received more than 1,000 letters from people who had been abused as youngsters. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood has received more than 20,000 phone calls to its helpline in the last two years. All who phone express the relief that they feel in having someone to talk to, to seek advice from and to give them support. What the helpline provides is of enormous value to those people.

I put the question to the Minister: who else could provide such a service? A doctor? Hardly—we know the   pressures that doctors are so often under. Other organisations who work with children and young people have a different role, and they value very much the work of the national association. Often they will refer people to it.

However, and this is the reason for the debate, the valuable work that the association does is now under threat. It has run out of money. The Department of Health grant of £150,000 over three years ends next April, and the helpline, regrettably, closed in October. The funding that the association received was given under the Department's section 64 scheme. I understand
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that the Government's scheme for victims of sexual offending is a possible source of future funding for the association, but there is concern about what will be the   criteria for funding from that source. I should be grateful if the Minister responded to that today.

The association has, to its credit, successfully sought   funding from other sources. I know who has made a financial contribution. Contributors include foundations, trusts, companies and individuals. The donations range from thousands of pounds to smaller amounts. Whatever the sum, all donations have been most welcome and have helped greatly. While the donations have meant a great deal, what also counts is the respect and support given to the association by those organisations and individuals who value its work.

As MPs, the Minister and I know from our own constituencies of groups who seek funding for their work and demonstrate the efforts that they have already made to raise money. We know what it means when other organisations, be it the local council, a charity or indeed a Government Department, are approached for further funding and see the efforts that have already been made by the body to raise money itself. That is what the national association has been doing and it still is, but it cannot continue its valuable work without future Government funding.

I can supply to the Minister moving letters from people who have been helped by the association. They are the reason the work that the helpline provided must be restarted. The national association is established and highly respected—if it were not, it would not have received Government funding in the first place. I put it to my hon. Friend that we cannot—indeed, must not—let the association fade away. I make a clear request that early in the new year she meet me and representatives of NAPAC to discuss the issues more fully. That will give all of us the opportunity that this debate, because of the restriction of time, does not allow us.

I shall await my hon. Friend's reply this evening on the issues that I have spoken about—above all, the future role of the national association and the work in which it is involved. I say again, we must not allow the work of that organisation to fade away for lack of adequate funding from the Government.

7.15 pm

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