“a bright, beautiful and funny girl with her whole life ahead of her. Her epilepsy was totally under control and she lived a perfectly normal life.”

Indeed, I had no idea she was epileptic. She went on to get four good A-levels and then started at Leeds university, but she never graduated.

On 4 December 2012, Emily was found dead in her bed by her university housemates. Her mum says:

“Neither she nor I were ever told about the possibility of dying and had never heard of SUDEP”—

sudden unexpected death in epilepsy. The explanation was tragically simple: Emily’s university GP practice prescribed the wrong dosage of her medication when she moved from her home GP, which meant that when she missed one day of her tablets, she did not have enough in her bloodstream to prevent her from having a seizure. That one and only seizure, after almost two years, killed her. Rachel says:

“Knowledge is power and maybe if Emily or I had known about SUDEP then we could have taken additional steps to minimise her risk. This totally avoidable death has had devastating effects on a huge number of people. The ripple effect of Emily’s death has been enormous.”

SUDEP Action, the charity which looks into sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, states that being

“open and honest with patients about their level of risk, allows them to make educated choices as to their ongoing care and management”,

but that GPs in primary care lack confidence with epilepsy, and that even specialist services “do not routinely discuss” with patients the level of risk and much more serious risks of which some of them may not be aware. One of the families who contacted SUDEP Action said:

“There is nothing worse than losing a child but to feel that [our son] did not have all the information he needed to make informed decisions makes it especially cruel.”

There is also an issue about information for bereaved families after death has, tragically, occurred. NICE guidelines state:

“Where families and/or carers have been affected by SUDEP, healthcare professionals should contact families and/or carers to offer their condolences, invite them to discuss the death, and offer referral to bereavement counselling and a SUDEP support group.”

Yet SUDEP Action says that that is not happening. It is aware of many people bereaved by epilepsy who find no specialist support and who are often left struggling to understand what has happened to them and why.

In 2013, SUDEP Action launched—with, I am pleased to say, Government support—the epilepsy deaths register. It is not only an amazing research resource, but of enormous value to families, which the Government

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should be congratulated on supporting. It offers a means for bereaved families to express what has happened to them. SUDEP Action says:

“The bereaved families are robbed of the chance of saying goodbye; of saying the things that they always wanted to, and didn’t. They are robbed of opportunities, future hopes and dreams.”

The register is therefore an important outlet for the families:

“It is somewhere to leave their story; a way to feel that the information they give will be used for the benefit of others for years to come. The impact of these deaths is not yet fully understood, but in our experience is captured by one of the families reporting to SUDEP Action’s Epilepsy Deaths Register: ‘The physical pain and guilt are overwhelming, and we are only just becoming able to talk about him to each other after 16 months has passed. The impact is total and devastating, and has affected both the physical and mental health of the whole family.’”

SUDEP Action and families such as Emily’s are calling for better information. That means better information at primary care level. I know that this is a constant theme with GPs and that they cannot be experts in everything, but it is particularly important in the case of epilepsy because people do not understand the potential seriousness of the condition. There must also be better communication about risk that is communicated properly by specialist services and better information after death for bereaved families.

We as policy makers have little power to offer much comfort to families such as Emily’s, but if we can take action that saves even one more life from sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, it would matter a great deal to Emily’s family and friends, among whom I feel proud to have briefly counted myself.

4.41 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on securing this debate. I pay tribute to her outstanding work to advance the cause of those who suffer from epilepsy. She will certainly be missed from this place.

There have been 11 Back-Bench contributions to this debate. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) and for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth), my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and the hon. Members for Wycombe (Steve Baker), for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) for their considered contributions.

Advocates such as the hon. Member for South Thanet and the others who have spoken today are crucial because of the stigma around epilepsy, which is almost unique. Epilepsy is portrayed on television as somebody falling to the ground and foaming at the mouth, as we have heard in this debate, with the treatment invariably involving an ambulance with flashing blue lights. Somebody with epilepsy may suffer a seizure only once or twice a year, if that, but will live with the stigma of epilepsy all year round. Sufferers would probably prefer to focus on talking and on tackling the stigma.

I find appalling and completely discriminatory the case that was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall and for Easington of the Transport for

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London employee who was sacked. I hope that action can be taken to rectify that situation.

I, too, looked online at Epilepsy Action’s very useful tool. I found that my local clinical commissioning groups, Tameside and Glossop CCG and Stockport CCG, had not produced a written needs assessment for people with epilepsy, or appointed a clinical lead for epilepsy to take charge. That point was made eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South, the hon. Member for Southend West and others. I ask the Minister to consider how we can ensure that CCGs undertake adequate needs assessments of people with epilepsy. It is increasingly important that local plans are drawn up for local provision.

It is important to recognise that epilepsy care has moved from predominantly secondary care to being based more and more in primary care. That has positives and negatives. Clearly primary care is more accessible, and therefore easier to access on a regular basis, but on the other hand it is less specialist. Some professionals operating in primary care might not have the expertise needed to recognise things that would be significant to a specialist. Some things can be done only in secondary care, as we heard from the hon. Member for Wycombe.

I particularly want to press the Minister on the issue of brain surgery. It is estimated that about 5,000 adults could and should benefit from brain surgery, which is the only cure for epilepsy. To put that in context, only about 3,000 adults have that life-changing surgery each year, so there is clearly more that can be done. Are there any plans to direct NHS England to increase the number of operations undertaken, to produce an adult epilepsy service similar to the one that, to be fair, has been created for children’s epilepsy?

According to Epilepsy Action, there are about 30,000 accident and emergency attendances due to epilepsy each year. According to the national audit of seizure management in hospitals in 2014, 18,000 of those could be prevented by the implementation of a better care pathway for people with epilepsy. What is being done to ensure that all A and E departments have a clear referral pathway for patients presenting with a suspected seizure?

There is clearly a welcome focus on research and development in policy terms. The 100,000 Genomes Project is a good example of the potential for genetics research to change lives. It would be nice to see the project encompass more specialist research into epilepsy, because genetics research could have an untold impact on epilepsy treatment.

A number of Members, most recently the hon. Member for Cheltenham, mentioned SUDEP. This week I, too, heard from the family of Emily Sumaria, who are in Westminster today. As we have heard, Emily died in her sleep while at university. She was bright and funny, with a lifetime ahead of her. Her epilepsy was to all intents and purposes under control, and she lived a relatively normal life. Emily was never told of the risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, which primarily affects young people. The worst that she feared would happen if she had a seizure was that she would have her driving licence removed. Her mother is certain that if she had been told of the risk, she could have taken the necessary precautions and made the necessary adjustments to her lifestyle.

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Emily was simply given a regular prescription, and basic mistakes in the moving of her medical records from her home GP practice to her new one at university resulted in her new doctor halving her dose without her knowledge. In preparing for the debate, I found that some medical schools do not include SUDEP in their curriculum in any great detail. It is asking a bit much for young people to research the risks of SUDEP and precautions against it, given that their doctors will themselves often not be fully aware of the details. I suspect that the inclusion of SUDEP, epilepsy deaths and epilepsy risks in the programme at medical schools would help to change that. Perhaps the Minister will give his thoughts on whether that could be brought to the attention of medical schools.

The Opposition have said that we will give every patient full ownership of their medical data; they would be able to share the data with whichever organisations they saw fit. We hope that with more people taking control of their data, we will be able to establish more data-driven research projects. I doubt that a patient suffering from epilepsy would object to their data being used to develop a cure, but the point is that they would have to give consent for the data to be used in that manner. Data would be more free and research would be immeasurably improved, but the final say would go to the patient.

Let me finish on a positive note, because I am optimistic about the future. Epilepsy research is going from strength to strength, and we are making improvements in treatment, with pharmaceuticals and surgery providing hopeful prospects of a cure. I looked at the NHS Choices website before this debate, and 17 clinical trials are recruiting now in the UK with the aim of advancing our knowledge about the condition. I thank hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, especially the hon. Member for South Thanet whom I wish well for the future.

4.50 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Norman Lamb): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) who has worked with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). Together they present a powerful case, and I join everyone in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet for everything she has done in this Parliament. She will be very much missed, and her case today was all the more powerful because she has epilepsy and can speak with authenticity. What she said about stigma is right—I see it often in mental health, and it is exactly the same issue in this debate. The fact that not long ago someone with epilepsy could not marry is an extraordinary reminder of what we have been up against. This debate is timely and gives everyone the chance to focus on the condition and on how we can improve the lives of those who have epilepsy. I am pleased that the baton will be passed to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), who I am sure will ably continue to articulate the case for people who suffer from epilepsy.

The debate has been marked by reference to two tragedies involving young people, and my hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe (Steve Baker) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) spoke incredibly movingly

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about the dreadful cases involving Jessica and Emily. We will all agree that we owe it to those two girls to do everything we can to improve the experience of people with epilepsy, and to avoid tragedies of that sort happening. It is important to raise awareness, not only among the public but among clinicians, of the condition and how best to respond to it.

I pay tribute to the work of organisations involved in campaigning and research into epilepsy. The Epilepsy Society is based in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, and Epilepsy Action in Leeds is close to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland). Young Epilepsy has also been mentioned, as has the important work done by SUDEP Action. I remember meeting its members when they were establishing the register, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made clear, it has the potential to provide incredibly rich data and evidence to help us understand why sudden unexpected deaths occur, and how we can prevent them from occurring in the future. All those organisations are doing incredibly important work.

The hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) mentioned discrimination. They will understand that I cannot comment on an individual case—I am an ex-lawyer and cautious about these things—but the important point about combating disability discrimination, including for epilepsy, cannot be overstated. Where there has been discrimination, it is incredibly important that there are consequences and that lessons are learned to avoid such things happening in the future.

I cannot begin to do justice to all the important points raised in this debate, so I undertake to write to all hon. Members who have taken part and to respond on important points such as co-commissioning laser ablation treatment, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, as well as many other issues.

Kate Hoey: When he leaves the Chamber today, will the Minister or one of his staff at least make a telephone call to get some more information about this young woman and London Underground’s behaviour?

Norman Lamb: I am certainly happy to explore that, although the hon. Lady will understand why I cannot get involved in the case.

The Government are committed to securing high-quality outcomes for people in England living with epilepsy, whose number is currently estimated at more than 450,000. There are many different types of epilepsy seizure, and although some patients have the condition from birth, others become epileptic later in life. For the majority of people with epilepsy, the condition can be well managed—my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West talked about the experience of people in Leeds and the excellent care provided by hospitals there—and they can lead independent and healthy lives. As such, the provision of services for these patients is the responsibility of local commissioners, who are best placed to manage services for local populations. It is critical, however, that those who require more specialised care can access the right services and treatments, which

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is why NHS England commissions such services nationally. That need not be undermined by co-commissioning with local areas.

The Government recognise the importance of ensuring that patients with suspected epilepsy are diagnosed swiftly and accurately. As most people will be aware, seizures are the main symptom of the condition, and it is common practice for anyone who has experienced such seizures to be referred for assessment by a specialist. Neurological conditions such as epilepsy are part of the generalist undergraduate medical curriculum and a component of GP training. As such, GPs should be able to manage, monitor and appropriately refer the epileptic patients in their care. In secondary care, there are nearly 2,000 full-time equivalent neurologists, and for 2015-16 Health Education England has made a commitment to invest in 217 neurological specialty training places. In addition, specialist epilepsy nurses should be a key element of both routine and specialist neurological care, as set out by NICE and NHS England respectively. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) has concerns in his locality, but it ought to be part of the picture in each area.

To support clinicians in the management of this condition, NICE has published a guideline setting out best practice on the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients. The guideline recommends that referrals for patients with suspected epilepsy are urgent, with patients being seen within two weeks, if possible. I think that the hon. Member for Vauxhall mentioned a wait of two months. That is not acceptable and should not happen, and the local organisations responsible for the delays should be held to account. If it is possible in other areas of the country, it ought to be possible everywhere.

In addition, if seizures are not controlled or diagnosis is uncertain, people should be referred to a specialist service within four weeks. Most people with epilepsy can have their condition successfully controlled with anti-epileptic drugs, and there are more than 25 types of drugs with which to achieve seizure control. The NICE guideline makes it clear that treatment should be individualised according to the seizure type, epilepsy syndrome, co-medication and life style. On the point made by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce), women with epilepsy wanting to conceive

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must—absolutely must—be given accurate information and counselling about medication such as sodium valproate. That is critical. I mentioned that the Department was considering the possibility of a red flag system, and I hope it will be possible to achieve that.

For some people with more complex conditions whose epilepsy is more difficult to control, other procedures, such as surgery or vagus nerve stimulation, might be appropriate. Patients whose epilepsy is particularly difficult to treat may be referred to a specialist neurological care provider. In particular, children with epilepsy should be considered for specialised care at an early stage, because of the developmental, behavioural or psychological effects associated with suffering from continuing seizures.

In conclusion, this has been an incredibly important debate, and I will do everything I can to follow up all the important points raised.

4.59 pm

Laura Sandys: I want to thank everybody here and to ask the Minister to do something for everybody, not least the two young ladies we have heard about today. Their legacy is worth his doing three things.

The first is to talk to NHS England and work out a pathway to reduce by 400 the unnecessary deaths caused by SUDEP each year. The second is to kick and beat the more than 90% of CCGs that do not have a pathway. That is not acceptable; it is absolutely letting down many people throughout the country. The third is to determine how best to implement the NICE guidelines and ensure that the pathway of long-term chronic care—

5 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Business without Debate

Business of the house


That at the sitting on Wednesday 4 March paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) shall apply to the Motion in the name of Edward Miliband as if the day were an Opposition Day; proceedings on the Motion may continue, though opposed, for three hours and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Mark Lancaster.)

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Child Sexual Exploitation (Rotherham)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mark Lancaster.)

5 pm

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): Exactly six months ago to the day, the report commissioned by Rotherham borough council into child sexual exploitation in the town was published. Professor Alexis Jay’s damning report catalogued failings of both the police and the council over 16 years, which resulted in at least 1,400 victims of child sexual exploitation. Still worse, most of those alleging the crimes received no support, no recognition and in many cases were dismissed, belittled or told that it was basically their fault. There has been only one major prosecution.

I believe that what happened in Rotherham was predominantly the result of a culture that refused to countenance “troublesome” teenagers as victims and one that was prepared to tolerate the existence of sexual abuse—a culture where targets were more important than protecting children. The Jay report stunned me, the country and, to be fair, the world. How could such barbaric abuse occur, let alone go on uninvestigated? I simply do not have the answer to that question, and I doubt that I ever will: it simply should not have happened in a civilised society.

When I managed to get my head around the enormity of the failings, my next thought was to get help from the Government. If there had been a natural disaster in Rotherham that had affected 1,400 people and the council and police had insufficient resources to deal with it, the Government would of course have intervened. I would expect a visit from the Prime Minister, national co-ordination of charities, Government experts to arrive and, as a priority, resources and support for the victims and survivors to be provided. To date, we have had nothing.

In this Chamber on 2 September, I asked the Home Secretary for resources for the victims and survivors. She subsequently met me, and I discussed in detail what was needed nationally and, more specifically, locally—but no cash followed. On the same date, I asked the Chancellor for additional funding, and met a Treasury Minister on 10 September, when I handed over a proposal for emergency funding that I had worked up with my colleagues, the two other MPs representing Rotherham, the police, the council and clinical commissioning groups. To date, I have not had as much as a reply to that request, although after much chasing, I did get a holding letter dated “December”, telling me that the Treasury was looking into it.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case, so I hope the Minister is listening. To be fair, one small step has been taken today, linked to the announcement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government of £250,000 for the commissioners for Rotherham council over two years, to reintroduce an outreach youth work project—a Risky Business-style project. Does she recognise, as I do, that that is merely 0.5% of the budget cut that the council must make in April, so it is simply not enough? Should not the Communities Secretary now release the troubled families and transformation award

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funds that have been withheld from Rotherham, because the council and other agencies need them to deal with the problems highlighted in the Jay and Casey reports?

Sarah Champion: I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend about the situation in which Rotherham finds itself. It is unsustainable. Like him, I welcome this donation—[Interruption.]—or drop in the ocean, as my right hon. Friend says. It does not go anywhere near far enough. I shall come on to discuss what resources we need as I progress.

On 3 September and 19 November, I raised the issue of support for the victims and survivors of Rotherham abuse with the Prime Minister. I met him on 4 February, and he subsequently pledged support on “BBC Look North”, for which I am hugely grateful. I am delighted that, as my right hon. Friend has said, the Communities Secretary announced £125,000 a year for two years to reform Risky Business. Without wanting to sound ungrateful, however, it is indeed a drop in the ocean in comparison with the resources we need to allow the young people of my constituency to rebuild their lives.

I ask the Minister to recognise that Rotherham’s police force must pay for the intervention of the National Crime Agency from Rotherham’s policing budget, and that Rotherham council must pay for the Casey report and the commissioners from Rotherham’s resources. That is taking more money away from a town that needs more resources, not less, at a time when the Government have already reduced the police budget by 20% and the local authority budget by 40%. How, realistically, are we meant to cope? Why are the Government compounding the horror that we already endure?

Let me make some suggestions about the sort of support that we need. There are currently only two child sexual exploitation workers dedicated to the victims in Rotherham. One is employed by me, and I am eternally grateful to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for giving me emergency funding to pay for that worker. However, that funding will run out on 7 May. The other is employed by Barnardo’s. She works only with people under the age of 18, and her work load consists of only 12 people. There are social workers, counsellors and police officers working in the field of child sexual exploitation, but there are only two people who are dedicated to supporting at least 1,400 victims and survivors. It should be borne in mind that 30% of the Rotherham abuse victims covered by the Jay report are over the age of 25, and most are over 18. There is only one worker to deal with the majority, and her role will end in two months.

I want the Government to recognise that Rotherham needs specific intervention to allow us to move forward. We need a fully independent unit whose sole purpose would be to support victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation. It should have charitable status, and a board of trustees that should include representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service, the council, the police, survivors, parents and the voluntary sector. The money that has been pledged today could provide a seed fund.

The unit would work in three ways. First, it would provide early intervention and prevention through a team of youth workers, survivor volunteers, family support workers, parent workers and health workers. They would deliver education and training to professionals and

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parents, carry out early prevention work with young people in educational and community settings, and provide awareness sessions for the community at large. Secondly, it would provide support and intervention for young people who were at risk and involved in grooming and sexual exploitation. That support and intervention would be delivered by a team of youth workers, social workers, police—police constables, and police and young people’s partnership officers—survivor volunteers and trained counsellors. Thirdly, the unit would offer one-to-one support, help with intelligence sharing and gathering, strategy meetings, and section 47 investigations. There would also need to be interpreters, policy writers and crèche workers. I see that as a model that could be replicated across the country.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on making this case and on all the work that she has done in Rotherham, although I am afraid that the problem of the lack of support for survivors who might come forward is not limited to Rotherham. What does she think about the negotiations which, I gather, are currently taking place between Rotherham council and Ofsted? In its “improvement offer”, Ofsted suggests that it should provide advice and support, although it failed to recognise the problem earlier, and something might have been done about it sooner if Ofsted had been rather better at its job.

Sarah Champion: It would take a great deal for me to have faith in Ofsted and trust it to investigate and, indeed, support Rotherham council, given the failings that it has demonstrated not just in Rotherham but throughout the country. Ofsted needs to be much more aware when it is assessing councils and individual organisations in the context of child sexual exploitation and child abuse in general.

In the short term, there also needs to be a Rotherham-specific organisation that is dedicated to co-ordinating the witness statements that victims and survivors are asked to give. We currently have a ludicrous arrangement whereby the same young victim is asked to give evidence to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the National Crime Agency, and South Yorkshire police. That is hugely invasive, logistically demanding, and overwhelming for young people who are still trying to rebuild their lives.

We need a centre that can co-ordinate all of the interviews and questions so the victim needs only to speak to one person in a safe and supportive space. To facilitate this, I ask that the Minister funds a remote video link to enable a victim who is involved in a court hearing to give evidence from a remote location. That would help serve the needs of victims in Rotherham, enabling them to link into court proceedings without the trauma of attending court. This fact was highlighted as an issue for victims in the Jay report. There are challenges associated with delivering the initiative and the provision of defined funding to progress technological solutions would be beneficial.

To state the obvious, if we look after the victims and survivors we will get prosecutions. If we keep being demanding of their time as is happening currently, they will withdraw their good will and the case will be lost.

Another short-term Rotherham specific request is a dedicated Crown Prosecution Service team to provide timely pre-charge advice and progress cases. That would

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be a team of four or five CPS lawyers plus additional admin support to manage current and future cases effectively. Initial discussions have taken place and the suggested team size and cost has been provided by the CPS.

I also recommend that an additional independent sexual violence adviser, or ISVA, should be recruited, to be co-located with the public protection unit in Rotherham to offer support and advocacy for victims as they are identified. Alternatively, the ISVA could be community-based. The ISVA would need to be trained as a child ISVA and therefore be able to support child victims in both current and historical cases.

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a very good case. On her point about the CPS, I dealt with a case in 2003-04 that is still being investigated. It was with the CPS at that time, and they are a distance away from the borough. To echo another point, within the past hour, I spoke to the father of one of the victims who I have been in touch with for many years now who had a meeting this week with the police and crime commissioner, but setting up regular meetings to try to sort something out is hindered by the lack of income because of budget cuts for the PCC and Rotherham borough council. May I tell the Minister that we need help to sort this situation out?

Sarah Champion: I echo what my right hon. Friend says. In the CPS for South Yorkshire and the Humber, the Sheffield CPS has seven lawyers, each carrying a caseload of at least 100 individuals.

Finally, in Rotherham we have three voluntary counselling services trying to support all our survivors: Apna Haq, GROW and the women’s counselling service. Although it was welcome that Rotherham council gave each organisation £20,000 to fast-track child sexual exploitation cases, that is only until the end of the financial year. What is needed is long-term investment to enable them to work with victims and survivors in an intensive way and at the pace that the victims and survivors want.

In discussions with the police and crime commissioner, he has offered to be the fundholder for all the schemes I have outlined, as I am aware the Prime Minister was nervous about giving additional funding to the police or council.

I would now like to focus on what needs to happen nationally. We know that Rotherham is not an isolated case; it already follows high-profile cases of widespread sexual abuse in other towns and cities. The sexual exploitation of vulnerable teenagers is happening across the country. It is of grave concern that our statutory services are not in a fit position to respond consistently and convincingly. In addition, there is a serious shortfall, and inconsistencies, in the support provided to victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation that must be urgently addressed, from disclosure, through the criminal justice system and into therapeutic support for those who need it.

Research conducted in 2009, currently being updated by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, found there was a shortfall in therapeutic support for victims of sexual abuse of more than 50,000 places a year, a huge gap between need and service provision. Victims are subject to a postcode lottery with

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only one support programme for every 25,000 children in the UK. The 508 services that are available are so overstretched they are now being forced to stop taking on new cases.

On Monday, the shadow Home Secretary committed a Labour Government to creating a dedicated child protection unit. I urge the Government to do the same. This topic should be not about politics but about doing the best for our children. I would like to propose a five-point plan to tackle child sexual exploitation nationally. The first is the establishment of a national taskforce for organised child sexual exploitation, based on a similar model to the forced marriage unit or the modern day slavery commissioner. That would be a small, dedicated team of experts in policing, prosecuting and psychological support that can be used as a resource by police forces, councils and the voluntary sector if they suspect organised child sexual exploitation. If that taskforce had existed when the Jay report came out six months ago, the police and the council could have immediately had specialist support on how to work with the victims; best practice in securing prosecutions; setting up a dedicated investigation team; and how to manage communications.

In reality, the police and the council have been left to flounder for six months, learning by their mistakes rather than being supported through an intensely difficult time. When the Jay report clearly identified failings with the police and the council, why did the Government not offer immediate support? I welcome the intervention of commissioners now, but why could they not have been brought in much earlier, avoiding some of the mistakes that have been allowed to happen?

My second point is that we should introduce mandatory personal, social, health and economic education for key stage 1 children. This is about teaching children not about sex, but about what is, and is not, a healthy relationship. We need to give our children the tools to arm themselves against abuse, not leave them to discover the horrors of the internet and, in the absence of proper education, be forced to consider what they see there to be normal.

I would also like the Government to make it mandatory for anyone employed to work with children to have training in spotting the signs of child abuse and how to report concerns.

Fourthly, I am tired of professionals being more concerned about protecting data than about protecting the child. The Government need to send out a clear signal that there will be penalties if health and education services, local authorities and the police do not share information to prevent child abuse.

Finally, we need a culture where victims of child abuse are believed. In Rotherham, victims were trying to report their abuse for decades. They repeatedly had doors shut in their faces and were branded prostitutes, worthless or complicit. I say to the Minister that that culture has to change. It is slowly changing in cases of rape and domestic violence; it needs to quickly change in the case of child abuse.

5.16 pm

The Minister for Crime Prevention (Lynne Featherstone): I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and

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congratulate her on securing this debate on such an important issue. Her continued dedication to addressing child sexual exploitation, both in Rotherham, alongside the police and local agencies, and nationally, in partnership with Barnardo’s, is to be applauded. As she is aware, I wholeheartedly agree that the failures identified by Professor Jay’s report are grave indeed. What happened in Rotherham was a complete dereliction of duty.

Shockingly, Louise Casey’s report of 4 February shows that, even since the Jay report, the council and its local partners have continued to deny the scale of the problem, highlighting

“past and present failures to accept, understand and combat the issue of Child Sexual Exploitation, resulting in a lack of support for victims and insufficient action against known perpetrators.”

Louise Casey’s report is a disturbing account of “a council in denial”. It concludes that Rotherham council is not fit for purpose and failing to comply with the statutory best value duty, and that it needs a fresh start.

Separately, the Independent Police Complaints Commission announced in November that it is investigating the conduct of South Yorkshire police officers in relation to their handling of reported child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. That is in response to Professor Alexis Jay’s review, and I am pleased that South Yorkshire police have committed to fully co-operate with the investigation.

The hon. Lady has raised a number of issues and I undertake to get back to her on any that I am not able to respond to during the course of this debate. I appreciate many of her suggestions and she will understand if they do not automatically become part of the Government’s programme, but I undertake to report all of them back to the Home Secretary, who is committed to this issue.

John Healey: Troubled families?

Lynne Featherstone: In a moment.

The Government have taken immediate action to protect children in Rotherham. We have appointed Malcolm Newsam—one of the country’s most experienced experts in children’s services improvement—to oversee the initial changes needed. In addition, following the publication of Louise Casey’s report, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of Sate for Communities and Local Government announced his intention to appoint a team of commissioners who will exercise functions of the authority and oversee a rigorous programme of improvement to bring about the essential changes in culture and ensure there is effective and accountable political and officer leadership in future. My right hon. Friend has today issued directions in order to exercise those intervention powers in Rotherham.

In parallel, the Secretary of State for Education asked Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children and families, to undertake a swift piece of work drawing out the social work and leadership lessons for local authorities and local safeguarding children boards from the Rotherham report. Isabelle concluded that the social work response in Rotherham was weak.

To address the need for urgent improvements in Rotherham and elsewhere, the Secretary of State for Education has announced a new programme of work focused on practice leadership of child and family social work, and the development of new teaching

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partnership arrangements to improve the quality of initial education and tie initial training into professional practice.

The National Crime Agency has also launched an independent two-stage investigation into child sexual exploitation and abuse in Rotherham—Operation Stovewood —following a request from South Yorkshire’s chief constable. The Ministry of Justice has provided a 50% increase in the funding provided to the three rape support centres that operate in South Yorkshire. There is undoubtedly more to be done for the victims in Rotherham, and more to be done to minimise the risk of such terrible events occurring in Rotherham or anywhere else in the future.

Unfortunately child sexual exploitation of the extent seen in Rotherham is far from unique. We need to confront these failures at national level, and this Government are committed to doing so. I am sure that the next Government will also be committed to doing so.

Tim Loughton: When I was a Minister in the Department for Education—and when I occupied the ministerial role that you have also occupied, Madam Deputy Speaker —we would send in officials to make an intervention, and it was crucial that there were civil servants and Ministers in the Department who understood the nature of the problem and could oversee the data that were being brought back to them. Given that this responsibility now rests with the Home Office and that the chief social worker is accountable to the Department for Education, is the Minister confident that she has the necessary officials and time to ensure that the people overseeing what is going on in Rotherham know what they are looking for and can see the job through properly?

Lynne Featherstone: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We need that kind of hands-on experience in both Departments as well as co-ordination between them, because we do not want anyone falling through the holes or not recognising what needs to be done.

Louise Casey’s report also describes how a small youth project, Risky Business, had developed a ground-breaking approach to reaching out to victims of sexual exploitation and to collecting evidence about perpetrators. Unfortunately, misguided and inappropriate decisions made by the council resulted in the closure of the service. The report concludes:

“The critical work they undertook is now missing from RMBC.”

That situation should not continue, and the victims of historical child sexual exploitation should be given the help they need. Accordingly, subject to being provided with an appropriate business case demonstrating value for money, I am prepared to make available £250,000 over the next two financial years for a Risky Business-style service to be established.

Sarah Champion: As I said in my speech, I am extremely grateful for that, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and I have both pointed out, £125,000 a year is a drop in the ocean. It will pay for four workers and an office. I am really hoping, therefore, that the Minister is about to tell us that she will make available more Government support for the victims and survivors.

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Lynne Featherstone: I understand the hon. Lady’s anxiety and need. When someone knows a situation as closely as she knows this one, they can see all the answers and they want something right now, and a lot of it—[Interruption.] Indeed, it would be for the victims.

The Home Secretary has led a series of meetings with her Secretary of State colleagues to consider what more we as a Government can do to help to prevent these failures from happening again. Those meetings have focused on the issues highlighted in Rotherham: the complete failure of local leadership; the culture of inaction and denial in the police and the council; the failure of local agencies to work together to protect children; and the lack of support for survivors. A report on the action to address each of those issues will be published shortly. A key part of that response will recognise the need for further support for victims from statutory and non-statutory support services, and for their engagement with the criminal justice system.

Effective, timely support for victims of child sexual abuse is a matter of national importance and it is one that this Government have prioritised. We have put rape support centres on a secure financial footing, by providing more than £4.4 million a year to 86 organisations across England and Wales that provide support to women and girl victims of rape and sexual violence. That funding is targeted at women and teenage girls who have been the victim of rape or sexual abuse; whether as a result of a recent attack or of historical abuse. We have funded a further 15 new rape support centres in areas that were lacking specialised support—13 centres were brought into existence by June 2014, and the final two centres, located in Grantham and Crawley, were commissioned by the Ministry of Justice in September 2014 and will be open during 2015.

Sarah Champion: Will the Minister give way on that point?

Lynne Featherstone: I will but I may not get to the end of the list of support we are giving.

Sarah Champion: I hope that the Minister realises that rape is a completely different crime from child sexual exploitation and grooming.

Lynne Featherstone: I do recognise that, but these services all relate to sexual violence. On rape and sexual violence, young women may come to those clinics as a result of what has happened to them, so there is some overlap between child sexual exploitation and sexual violence against teenage girls.

We recognised the gap in services supporting men and boys and, as a result, launched a fund dedicated to supporting male victims of rape and sexual violence of more than £600,000 over two years. We have awarded a further £400,000 over two years to Survivors UK to help it create the first ever national website to provide an online support service for male survivors of rape and sexual abuse. We have funded a network of independent sexual violence advisers at a cost £1.7 million per year to part-fund 87 ISVAs to provide appropriate and independent support for victims. We have funded a network of 13 young people’s advocates, at a cost of £400,000 per year, who provide direct and dedicated

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support to young people who have been victims of, or are at risk of, sexual and domestic violence and/or sexual exploitation.

We do, however, recognise that there is a need for an uplift to these services. In the past two years a 40% increase in child sexual offences has been recorded by the police, leading to significant increases in the demand for support for survivors. The large increase in the number of victims reporting child sexual abuse and exploitation to the police, and other bodies, has resulted in a significant demand. That is why we agreed in December an immediate uplift in non-statutory sector support to victims of child sexual abuse of £7 million. That fund was split between an immediate uplift of £2.15 million to the 84 existing rape support centres; a £2 million fund to non-statutory organisations, which are reporting an increase in demand as a direct result of the announcement of the child sexual abuse inquiry; and a £2.85 million fund for non-statutory organisations providing support across England and Wales to help meet the increased demand on those services. Tragically, this is happening right across the country, although Rotherham’s is the case that we all know best and that was so shocking. We will ensure that this funding is available to organisations supporting victims and survivors in areas where there is a high prevalence of child sexual abuse and exploitation, such as Rotherham. As the hon. Lady will know, the funds are being administered by the police and crime commissioner for Norfolk, because the chief constable there, Simon Bailey, is the national policing lead for child protection and abuse investigation. The Home Office is also supporting that work, and bidding for both funds will close on 2 March. We would expect successful bidders to be notified by the end of next month.

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Let me deal with some of the specific points the hon. Lady raised. On the need for a remote link for vulnerable victims and witnesses to give evidence, the Ministry of Justice has committed to set up at least one remote, non-court video link in each Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service area by the end of next month. Although specific locations cannot yet be confirmed, there will be a site in the north-east region, which covers Rotherham, as well as in other locations in England and Wales. In addition, vulnerable and intimidated witnesses can give evidence using a live link from any other Crown court and most magistrates courts away from the trial court. It is recognised that that has to be available.

I am way off Government message on PSHE, as everyone well knows. I totally agree that it does need to come forward but as we are very near to the ending of this Parliament, I hope that all three parties will come back with a recommendation for that. I have particularly to agree with the hon. Lady on data sharing. Like her, I started with an issue in my area, with baby Peter being the issue in my constituency, and in my experience and in all the serious case reviews I have read since then, the lack of data sharing at every point has allowed a gap for a child to fall through. As I say, I will report all her requests to the Home Secretary.

Child sexual abuse is a despicable crime and this Government are absolutely determined to eradicate it. In the past, all too often these horrific crimes were ignored, but now child sexual abuse is rightly centre stage as an issue and we must work together to tackle it. I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate, and on all the passion and commitment she brings to this issue.

Question put and agreed to.

5.30 pm

House adjourned.