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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and to hear about some of the good work going on in Scotland. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), ably supported by the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), on securing this debate.

I also congratulate the Children’s Society on its “Old enough to know better?” report. As a former Minister with responsibility for this area, I did a lot with the Children’s Society, including meeting the victims of child exploitation whom it was taking care of, as well as runaways. I saw at first hand the excellent work that it did, and which it continues to do.

I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), has taken over the Government’s cross-cutting role on this whole very important area of child sexual exploitation. I am delighted to say that she is very ably shadowed by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). It is good to see the shadow children Minister, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), in the Chamber as well.

This subject is not aired enough in the House, despite the fact that the profile of child sexual exploitation in this country has never been higher, thanks to high-profile celebrity prosecutions and the series of virtually weekly reports of historical sexual abuse coming from the BBC, celebrities, care homes, schools, boarding schools, music schools, churches, church institutions and so on. As my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire said, the trouble is that the vast majority of child sexual exploitation still taking place in this country is done not by celebrities or people in high-profile positions, but by ordinary people and, in many cases, relatives of the victims.

At long last, the Lowell Goddard inquiry, which many of us called for, is taking place. Its work will take a long time, and it will continue to put a lot of pressure on the police investigating historical cases. Putting the historical sexual abuse cases aside, however, we have a problem—here and now—with contemporary child sex abuse, and specifically for those transitioning from childhood to adulthood.

The age at which one becomes an adult has always been a grey area. Through the all-party group on children, we have done some work on the relationship between children and young people and the police. That work has led to a recognition that, in the eyes of the law, and certainly for young people taken into custody, a 17-year-old is a child and must be treated as such. The Home Secretary has reacted very favourably to that work and has made changes. The status of 16 and 17-year-olds has been problematic since the age of consent was raised to 16 back in 1885.

My hon. Friend mentioned the introduction of child abduction warning notices. When there are concerns, they can be used to disrupt contact between a vulnerable child and an adult. Children under 16 are protected, but 16 and 17-year-olds are covered only if they are in the full care of a local authority under an order under section 31 of the 1989 Act. That leaves an awful lot of children who might be exposed. The recent report by the Children’s Commissioner on child sexual abuse in the family network highlighted the extent and complexities of the problem.

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Some 70,000 children are in the care system, and this is still a very big problem, despite the changes to residential children’s homes, through regulations that I instituted some years ago, to prevent children’s homes from being sited in areas where there are a lot of sex offenders as well as other temptations and dangers to young children. Children in care still suffer from huge poverty of achievement, and the Government still need to go a long way towards addressing that.

I have mentioned the Children’s Commissioner’s excellent report, which came out last month. The most shocking finding she came up with is that, between 2012 and 2014, there were between 400,000 and 450,000 victims of child sexual abuse, but only 50,000 of them were known to statutory agencies. That means that only one in eight cases of sexual abuse are actually picked up by the authorities. Some 11.3% of young adults aged between 18 and 24 had experienced contact sexual abuse during their childhood. About two thirds of all child sexual abuse occurs in or around the family—involving relatives or close and trusted family friends—with all the implications that has of cases being swept under the carpet, of victims being afraid of speaking up or bullied into not doing so, and of family discord. It is likely that children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and boys in particular, are under-represented in the data. As my hon. Friend mentioned, children with learning disabilities are particularly vulnerable and are particularly unlikely to be able to report, even if they wish to, or to understand that they have been the victims of a crime.

There is a bigger issue in that, in many cases, children do not really appreciate that they are victims, but feel that they have, in some way, brought it on themselves. A few years ago, disgraceful comments were made about how a 14 or 15-year-old girl in care could in some way bring sexual abuse on herself. That is absolutely outrageous, and anybody who agrees with such comments has no place anywhere near child social care. They are children, and if someone old enough to be a girl’s father or grandfather has sexual relations with her, that is a crime. Such people must be treated as criminals, and prosecuted and persecuted as such.

There is also the issue of how children actually tell someone. The report by the Children’s Commissioner revealed that a failure to listen to children and young people has resulted in a failure to identify abuse. Indeed, child sexual abuse often comes to the attention of statutory and non-statutory agencies as a result of a secondary presenting factor that becomes the focus of intervention.

There is a big role for schools in this whole issue. According to the report, the majority of respondents said that they tried to tell their mother, a friend, a peer or a teacher. There is a problem of parents being in denial about the involvement of close relatives in child sexual abuse, or being ill-equipped to detect it or to know exactly what is going on. In schools, we need to get much smarter about how we pick up or detect it. I remember going to a school in Stafford and having the privilege of sitting in on an interview with a full-time social worker employed by the school. A young girl—a 15-year-old—who had come to see the social worker broke down halfway through the interview and revealed that she was being abused by her stepfather. Nobody had had any clue about that, so there was clearly something wrong. We need to be able to pick such

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things up in schools, and we need better training for teachers and school staff to detect such things.

There is also the hoary old chestnut of sex and relationships education: the Children’s Commissioner’s report showed that not having had any sex education or having had only poor quality sex education undermined the ability of vulnerable youngsters to understand that the abuse was wrong and should be reported. We need to do more to ensure that young girls have the confidence to say no when sex is forced on them, and to understand that they have the right to say no. There is also the issue that about a quarter of cases involve perpetrators who are themselves under the age of 18. There is a real problem of young-on-young sexual abuse.

The Government have a good record in starting to approach this issue. The child sexual exploitation action plan, which I launched back in November 2011, has produced many practical results. The Home Office produced a CSE report earlier this year. Since last year, there have been new sentencing guidelines for courts, enabling courts to give individuals more severe sentences in cases where the victims were particularly vulnerable, such as 16 or 17-year-olds.

Much has happened, but much more needs to happen. The Children’s Commissioner’s report is very relevant to this debate. It highlights the need for the Government to step up their response to this huge problem with a truly cross-Government strategy. In this debate, we have rightly raised serious concerns about 16 or 17-year-olds, but that is only part of a much bigger issue that we are only just beginning to get on top of. However, I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this matter before the House.

1.59 pm

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who did so much excellent work as children’s Minister to tackle child sexual exploitation.

“Old enough to know better?” is, indeed, a thought-provoking report by the Children’s Society, which has long been concerned about the vulnerability of this age group. It should be congratulated on its campaigning work in this area.

The last Parliament saw high-profile child sexual exploitation cases in Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford and Telford, among other places. The public were shocked as the graphic details of the offences were reported, with children and young people being passed around for sex by groups of men, their plight made worse by the attitude of those working in the agencies charged with protecting them, who regarded them as making a lifestyle choice to exchange sex for gifts.

Those cases led to an increasing awareness of grooming and what constitutes consent, and an examination of the wider issues around child sexual exploitation and vulnerability. They also led to a better understanding of online grooming, sexting, peer-on-peer exploitation, the impact of the digital age on how young people communicate and the pressures that that can place upon them.

The last Government introduced a number of measures, such as the new offence of sexual communication with a child and the reduction in the number of occasions on

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which the defendant must initially meet or communicate with the child before a prosecution may be brought to only one.

Because of the high-profile cases, child sexual exploitation has been identified predominantly with the exploitation by Asian men of white girls, so some of the more common kinds of sexual exploitation are not well understood, particularly how vulnerable young people can be groomed one-on-one by much older adults, either online or in person, or both, into performing sexual acts in which they feel complicit. Neither is the extent of peer-on-peer sexual exploitation fully appreciated. It is the ruthless exploitation of vulnerability—arising from a craving for love or acceptance, a dependence on drugs or alcohol, a disability or the inexperience and immaturity of childhood—for sex that needs wider understanding if we are really to protect children and young people by holding their exploiters to account.

That brings me to 16 and 17-year-olds. Sixteen is the age of consent to sex in law. A 16-year-old can marry with permission and at 17 a young person can drive. Although children can leave school at 16, they cannot work full time unless they are in part-time education or training. We recently debated in the Houses of Parliament whether 16-year-olds should be able to vote in the European referendum. Those differences reflect our ambivalence in respect of that age group. It is an age at which young people want the right to be respected for the decisions they make on their pathway to independence, but at which they still need protections. That is reflected in the different levels of protection that are offered by the law, which recognises that they are still immature in terms of life experience.

That vulnerability in respect of immaturity and age was recognised in the passing of the amendments by the last Government that consigned the term “child prostitute”, referring to those under 18, to the history books. Those amendment came into force on 3 May 2015. One important implication of those measures is that a child of 16 or 17 can no longer be seen as contracting to sell sexual services. Section 47 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 clearly recognises in law the vulnerability of this group as a result of their age and makes it clear that alleged consent to specific acts will not be a defence when an offender sexually exploits a child of this age group.

That recognition of the vulnerability of this age group needs to be extended and made explicit elsewhere in the law to make it clear that when a sexual offence of any kind is committed against a 16 or 17-year-old, it will always carry a harsher sentence than if the victim had been an adult. The sentencing guidelines for rape, for instance, list a number of factors that determine the category of the offence for sentencing purposes, one of which is that the

“victim is particularly vulnerable due to personal circumstances”.

Along with mental health issues and disabilities, that has been interpreted to include age, but we need to make its inclusion explicit and unambiguous.

No scope should be left for a 16-year-old to be considered not vulnerable, despite their being a child, when we know that there have been significant problems with professionals and the justice system treating people in this age group as adults or as “resilient” or “asking

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for it”, particularly when the victim is involved or is seen to be involved in criminal activity. The message should go out to perpetrators loud and clear that if they sexually exploit, abuse or rape a 16 or 17-year-old, they will automatically receive a harsher sentence.

Altering the sentencing guidelines in the way I have outlined and in the ways proposed by the report of the Children’s Society, so as to make the vulnerability of this age group clear and consistent across all sexual offences, is an important first step in strengthening their protection in law. I would hope that something could then be done to decrease the disparity in the starting point for sentencing in cases of rape. If the victim is 15, the sentencing range is eight to 13 years, whereas for a child of 16, the range drops to only six to 11 years. There is no reason to make that distinction for offences such as rape, where the age of consent is clearly not relevant, given that rape cannot be consented to. There is every reason to afford 16 and 17-year-olds the same protection we give to children of a slightly younger age.

Last year, I was asked by Tony Lloyd, the Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner, to undertake an independent inquiry into the work that has been done to tackle CSE in Greater Manchester since the shocking Rochdale case. As I said in the report, which was published last October, we cannot prosecute our way out of the problem of CSE. The report highlighted figures for the previous six years in Greater Manchester, which revealed that there were only about 1,000 convictions out of 13,000 reported cases of nine major sexual offences against under-16s.

We know that there is under-reporting of sex crimes against 16 and 17-year-olds because victims are frightened that they will not be believed or because they feel complicit or ashamed. As the “Old enough to know better?” report shows, the police received 4,900 reports of sexual offences against this age group last year, but the crime survey for England and Wales shows that an estimated 50,000 girls alone said that they had been victims. In the last year, Greater Manchester police recorded 311 sexual offence cases against 16 and 17-year-olds, but I believe that there is a much higher level of offending.

Children who are sexually exploited can suffer lifelong harm and everybody agrees that prevention has to be the goal. By the time of prosecution, it is already too late for that particular child, and yet they have to face delays in cases coming to court and challenging and sometimes bullying cross examination, which can add further to their trauma.

Therefore, an important part of the strategy of tackling CSE must be better prevention. To ensure that that happens, we need to listen to children and young people about their experience of the world and support them to inform other young people. We need to build on a new approach to preventing CSE that is spearheaded by young people themselves. One of the things that young people told me again and again was how they valued talking to their peers, because they felt that their peers understood the pressures they faced.

My central proposal was for a multimedia digital network led by young people to spearhead the fightback against CSE, including a high-profile weekly radio show on CSE-related issues produced and hosted by young people. It is a peer mentoring session, writ large. We now have a very successful weekly radio show on CSE

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on Unity Radio. For two hours on a Thursday evening, this dance and urban music radio station is taken over by 11 to 16-year-olds for the “Next Gen Youths” show, which has serious but accessible discussions on child sexual exploitation, led by young people. The strapline of the NGY show is

“helping young people lead safer and happier lives”.

Its aim is to spread awareness of CSE so that young listeners are better able to understand what a healthy relationship is. The shows have included discussions on what grooming is, how fashion is part of CSE and how pop stars influence the way in which young people dress. Greater Manchester is also developing an app, funded by a Home Office grant, called CTZN, which is a mobile-based digital platform created by and for young people.

Educating young people and effecting a sea change in culture is the only way forward. I believe that all those initiatives show that Greater Manchester is one of the leaders in the fightback against CSE. Public attitudes are fundamental to the protection of children and young people, but the criminal justice system is key in reflecting our attitudes to children and young people. We know that 16 and 17-year-olds are a difficult and challenging age group, but we must understand that during those two years, they often inhabit a dangerous twilight world between childhood and adulthood. Their vulnerability needs to be recognised and the clear message needs to go out to sexual predators that if they commit sexual crimes against people of this age group, they will receive a tougher sentence. That is not the solution, but it is an essential part of a wider strategy to tackle the child sexual exploitation of 16 and 17-year-olds.

2.9 pm

Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) for securing this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire on his speech, which he made with great passion.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds sometimes believe that they are adults, but they are one of our most vulnerable groups. We all remember what those years were like. We were thinking about our futures, making decisions about what to study or where to go on to work, and we all experienced a range of emotions in that period of our lives. Many young people of that age are worrying not only about those decisions, but they may also be in a chaotic home environment. Some may not be able to be at home at all for a number of different reasons, including domestic, emotional or physical abuse, or because of their own behaviour. In particular, looked-after children may have had very traumatic pasts and been exposed to situations that we would never want a young person to experience. The experiences that some of our looked-after children go through, coupled with the feelings and challenges that come with being 16 or 17, make those people an extremely vulnerable group.

In the UK, approximately 8,400 teenagers aged between 16 and 17 are placed in supported accommodation to prepare them for their independence or for a whole host of reasons. Supported accommodation for young people can take many forms, and it is run by a number of different providers, including charities and private businesses.

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In many settings, 16 and 17-year-olds can be placed in the same building as people who might be up to nine years older than them. They could be placed with ex- offenders, or with individuals who have other vulnerabilities such as mental health issues, or those suffering from substance misuse.

Supported accommodation is not subject to the same standards and regulations as other settings such as foster placements or children’s homes. Foster carers receive rigorous training and are supported by supervising social workers, as well as the social workers of the children who may be placed with them. There is also a stringent process to get through, prior to being given the green light to become a foster carer. However, the Children’s Society has found that half of providers employ staff with no qualifications.

I have had the privilege over the past eight years to get a small insight into the lives of some of our looked-after children, and to see at first hand some of the challenges that those wonderful young people have had to overcome in their young lives. For example, a young person could have been in care from a young age because of emotional or physical abuse, or because of neglect. That child might have been moved from foster carer to foster carer, and they could also have gone through an adoption failure, or had a period in a children’s home with a number of different social workers over that time. They may have no strong positive relationship with an adult who has been there through all their challenging circumstances. Given the nature of those formative experiences, those young people will often be extremely emotionally vulnerable and will have had few long-term, positive and meaningful relationships with adults, and few—if any—clear role models or mentors.

The Children’s Society found that half of supported accommodation providers are not consulted by children’s services when they plan how a young person’s care package will change as they approach independence. I have seen at first hand how vulnerable that group of young people are and, as we have seen recently in south Yorkshire, they are extremely susceptible to being targeted by predatory individuals who are looking to exploit and abuse our youngsters. I believe that individuals who seek to exploit that age group should be subjected to aggravated offences and harsher sentences. At any age, people can be at risk of abuse and exploitation, but 16 and 17-year-olds are legally still considered to be children. It is naive to believe that because a young girl or boy has reached the age of consent, they will automatically understand if they are being targeted or groomed.

Predatory individuals seek out vulnerable youngsters and pose as people who can be trusted and relied on. Often those individuals were once vulnerable young people themselves. The damage that can be done to young people subjected to those offences has a long-lasting impact on their individual future and on our society as a whole. I therefore call on the Minister to take forward the recommendations in the Children’s Society, “Old enough to know better?” report. I would also welcome particular focus and consideration on the risks of safeguarding children in supported accommodation, to ensure that those settings can effectively protect vulnerable children from harm.

We are about to break for what can be a happy time for many, but one group of young people will be alone

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and experiencing some of the abuse that we have spoken about today. We must do all we can to ensure that, whatever their circumstances, our young people are supported to thrive and go on to enjoy the best possible future that any young person should expect.

2.15 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I declare an interest as the founder of the Early Intervention Foundation. It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) who made an eloquent speech. Those who see Members of Parliament from the end of 140 characters on Twitter would do well to follow colleagues such as my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), and for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood)—unfortunately she is not with us today. They are exemplars of what Members of Parliament can do when they get their teeth into an issue that they care about, and refuse to let go until something is done. I hope that this debate will be another demonstration of how Members of Parliament from across the House can be effective when we work together as parliamentarians, pushing Governments of all colours in the right direction.

I am not going to talk about 16 to 18-year-olds, because we will help those people by intervening much earlier. If we only help a 16 to 18-year-old, we are firefighting. That has to be done and fires have to be fought, but if we are to get a strategic grip on this issue we must eliminate the causes of child exploitation, as well as tackling the consequences. That, in essence, is the definition of early intervention, and it is important to consider this as an intergenerational problem.

This problem is so big and deep rooted that we must have not merely a set of tactics, but a set of strategies to take us forward. One of the best ways to do that is to consider the example of What Works centres in this country, where people collect together best practice and evidence to discover what kinds of programme work most effectively to help victims, and indeed to help perpetrators from re-offending. We have that all in one place, so that instead of reinventing the wheel, whether in the police, the health service or as a Member of Parliament, there is a place to go where we can rely on other people’s experience and practice that has accumulated over many years. Every instinct in a normal human being to the awful sexual abuse of children and 16 to 18-year-olds is an emotional response, but this is about evidence and science.

I first called for a national institute to consider how to reduce the perpetration of sexual abuse 26 years ago, together with the then right hon. Member for Finchley—the Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher. I say that only to bring us up to date and to urge us to ensure that our successors are not sitting here in 26 years’ time demanding exactly the same thing. It is now time for us to help the next generation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): In the interests of time, let me put on the record that the Department for

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Education has recently announced a new What Works centre for child protection. That will build an evidence base to show us the best practice available to help social workers, health workers, the police and other practitioners, and give better support to children and families—something I know that the hon. Gentleman has been calling for.

Mr Allen: I was just about to make that point and the Minister has made it very eloquently for me. I have served in the House with Governments of all political complexions. Ministers are concerned and empathetic. We are fortunate to have her as a Home Office Minister as well as having colleague, the Minister for Children and Families; the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who has responsibility for public health, and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara). All of them have been involved in pulling together the idea that there should finally be a national institute or centre of excellence to look at the sexual abuse of children and how to help them and perpetrators.

I raised that with her colleague the Minister for Children and Families in an Adjournment debate in June—I did it as fast as I could after the general election. The Minister has already said as much, but in that debate, the Minister said that there would be a centre of expertise to identify and share high-quality evidence to tackle child sexual abuse. That must include 16 to 18-year-olds.

I am conscious of the announcement, but I will tee this up for the Minister as the willing smasher of volleys over the net that I know she can be: will she tell the House how that is going and when we can expect it to be established? I hope the centre can be productive before the next general election, producing reports on best practice in particular situations and in the field, and producing reports for the agencies—the police and the health service—Members of Parliament and everyone who has an interest. Above all, I hope it can give Justice Goddard a head start by doing an interim report that calls for and supports the institution, so that, before what could be a Chilcotian length of time before he reports, he can influence the necessary political developments and changes.

I hope the Minister will inform the House that, as well as doing valuable work pulling together departmental interests, such an institution will listen to the voluntary sector, which does so much work in the field, and those out in the individual local authorities. There is a great body of work, but it is all over the place and it is never quite there when we need it. I suspect that many colleagues who have been through the awful experience of raising constituency cases are powerless and frustrated for a fair period because they cannot quite lay their hands on what somebody did earlier that would save them a lot of time and victims a lot of grief.

I should highlight the work of the Early Intervention Foundation. It is working closely with the Home Office, as the Minister knows, and has commissioned a review of the evidence on the indicators that suggest that a child under the age of 18 is at heightened risk of becoming a victim, or even a perpetrator, of sexual abuse or exploitation and many other things. The foundation will undoubtedly do a first-class job on that commission but, in the long term, the answer for us all is to get

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behind what the Government are doing, which I applaud from the rooftops, in putting together a What Works institution. We should ensure that its work is spread far and wide and that there is a connection with local authorities. From the top of my head, I suggest to the Minister that perhaps there should be 30 champion local authorities—they could be health authorities or police services—that can take forward the best measures that are pulled together in that central place.

The House can have an impact, working closely with the Government. The Government have been very receptive to representations made to them and will do something that will resonate and help children—it will also help perpetrators not to offend—in a way that could last several generations. That is an incredibly worth while thing to do. I congratulate all Members of the House who have led us to the conclusions that the Children’s Society has put before us today, and who have led to the Government introducing a national institute for the study and prevention of the sexual abuse of children, including 16 to 18-year-olds.

2.24 pm

Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friends who have been involved in securing the debate on this excellent topic.

I want to lend a little of my experience as someone who has been involved in thinking about how to do things better in Somerset. Somerset has had its challenges recently and has tried to improve the standards of care that it provides to children in its care and to children in the county generally. It is right that the Government have raised the Ofsted standards with which councils must comply to ensure that that improvement happens correctly. Although we know of no serious cases in Somerset, the Ofsted inspection found that because of some of the structural arrangements and the way things were happening there, some of what had been happening in other parts of the country could in theory happen somewhere like Somerset.

I am interested in the issue both as the father of young daughters and as a Somerset councillor who has that corporate duty of care to children in care—the council is the corporate parent to them. I have talked to children in that age group about some of the challenges they face and some they could face as they move out of care at that vulnerable age. The risk comes in different ways. In a rural area such as Somerset, young people are very dependent on friends and family for lifts in cars—I am not talking about children in care because there are stricter rules. The problem is hidden in all sorts of ways.

It is right that we are trying to raise standards and to do some of the things that hon. Members have mentioned. In Somerset, there is a potential devolution deal. One aspect proposed in the draft devolution bid is more local control of mental health budgets and services. Somerset is currently under-served by child and adolescent mental health services. The thought is that, if we can control those budgets better and apply them in the local environment, we might be able to help children who currently do not have as much help as we might like.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): My hon. Friend refers to the devolution deal that will cover both Devon and

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Somerset, including Torbay. One bonus of such a deal would be that it allowed more co-ordinated work across different areas. However, there is still a need to ensure that those budgets are well monitored and accounted for to local people.

Marcus Fysh: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is one of the things that I am keen to work on with him through the devolution process—ensuring that there are clear lines of accountability and that the governance aspects work well. As MPs, we can be involved in those things in future.

The recommendations in the excellent report—I congratulate the Children’s Society on it—do a good job of making it clear that the fact that children are aged 16 to 18 and have some element of personal responsibility does not absolve the authorities of their responsibility to look after them. One key problem we have seen in what has gone wrong in other parts of the country is that agencies did not talk to one another—the police, healthcare and social services did not always talk to one another—and it will be good to put the onus on them to do so.

We should always be mindful of the people involved—the children. We do not want them to feel like they are young offenders. Given the scale of the problem, it is obvious that young people are victims as often as they are young offenders. We need to be much more sensitive to the realities of the life that some of those young people face and the circumstances they unfortunately find themselves in.

2.29 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): In the light of the restriction on time and a desire to allow everybody to make a contribution, I would like to concentrate my remarks on this very sad subject on the incredible work done by the WISH Centre in helping the victims of sexual exploitation. I was delighted to open its new centre in Merton just a few weeks ago, extending its pre-existing site in Harrow. The centre is already having a wonderful impact on my local community. The centre’s work is made possible by funding from Comic Relief and is supported by its excellent director, Rowena Jaber. I am indebted to my friend Michael Foster for making me aware of the work of the centre and allowing me to work on bringing it to my area.

Having the courage to speak out after sexual abuse is the beginning of a long journey, but there is a terrible shortfall in therapeutic support for children who are victims. We need at least another 55,000 clinical therapeutic support places to make sure that all children who have displayed suicidal or self-harming behaviour receive this vital support. The provision of non-clinical early support is inadequate, even though such early intervention has been proven to be cost-effective, particularly when a child enters the criminal justice system.

That is why institutions like the WISH Centre are so important. The centre has been supporting those who have suffered from sexual abuse on the road to recovery for over 10 years. It specialises in support for those who self-harm, but it works extensively with young people who have experienced sexual abuse. This is because self-harm is a key indicator of sexual violence and abuse, as young victims struggle to cope with the trauma of their experience.

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The centre has a tremendous history of success. In the past year, the centre supported over 220 young people on a long-term basis—mainly female and mainly from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities—recording an 89% increase in safety from sexual exploitation and abuse. The emphasis on BAME communities is particularly welcome, given the different problems around the reporting of child sexual abuse in some communities. There are a number of commendable ways in which the WISH Centre supports young people. It has an independent sexual violence advocacy service for young people who have experienced current or historical sexual violence, including rape, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, gang-related sexual violence and child sexual abuse. This confidential, emotional and practical support helps young people to understand how the criminal justice process works and explains what will happen if they report crimes to the police.

The centre also works very closely with schools, so they are immediately notified on anything they need to act on regarding a vulnerable young person. It builds connections between schools, social services and the police to raise awareness. This is very important because a staggering proportion of young people still believe that if a teenager is too drunk or high to give sexual consent to sex, the sexual act is not rape, according to them.

Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con): Will the hon. Friend give way?

Siobhain McDonagh: I will not, just because I want to get on.

The centre’s response strategy is focused on three main points: prevention, identifying early and responding appropriately. An excellent example of this work is its Shield campaign in Harrow. A shocking 44% of teenagers in Harrow know someone who has been stalked, sexually harassed or attacked. Funded by the Mayor’s office of police and crime, the campaign has been raising awareness of the rights of young people and where they can go for help or confidential support in a crisis.

Other fantastic programmes specifically help those who self-harm with their recovery. Safe2Speak and the award-winning Girls Xpress! provide out-of-hours support, mentoring and creative therapies to help young women express themselves in productive and positive ways. The girls can take part in self-defence courses and healthy relationship workshops to discuss concerns surrounding young people, power, choice and safety. Guidance with regard to healthy relationships is particularly important, given that the most serious sexual assaults are usually committed by someone known to the victim, most often a partner or ex-partner.

The girls who attend these groups will have experienced self-harm, but are likely to have also faced issues such as exposure to domestic violence, sexual assault, depression, bullying, rape, neglect and low self-esteem. They are often at risk of sexual exploitation. Furthermore, by assessing and reviewing how well these services are supporting young people, the centre is constantly improving its techniques and provision in the light of the responses of service users. I am sure that this House will want to join me in commending the tremendous work of the

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WISH Centre, and I invite the Minister to visit the centre in Merton and see for herself the excellent work it does.

Despite the hard work of groups such as the WISH Centre, however, there are still gaps in the provisions and protections available to 16 and 17-year-olds. Older teenagers, as we have heard, are at the highest risk of being victims of sexual crime. It is clear that they desperately need to receive better protection. I hope this protection will be delivered when the policing and criminal justice Bill is considered in the new year. Sexual offences against children at the age of 16 and 17 should always be treated seriously.

I fully agree that child abduction warning notices should be amended so that they can be used to protect vulnerable children of this age. We also desperately need the law to recognise that 16 and 17-year-olds can be groomed for sexual abuse through coercive and controlling behaviour, such as through the use of drugs and alcohol, and the fear of intimidation. Furthermore, the need for additional safeguards for children with learning disabilities of this age is clear.

I sincerely hope we will hear in due course how the Government plan to develop, revise and implement the legislation, policy and guidance for all children and young people who experience, or are at risk of, child sexual exploitation. It is high time that these victims received our full support and proper protection under the law.

2.36 pm

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): I would like to begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for approving this debate, and by expressing my gratitude to the hon. Members for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and for Stockport (Ann Coffey) for bringing it forward. We are all indebted to the Children’s Society, which is to be commended for its work that seeks to prevent children suffering heinous abuse and neglect. Child sexual exploitation is a truly reprehensible crime and one that has a lifelong impact on the lives of victims. I am sure Members on all sides of the House can find common cause today and unite behind this important issue.

Child sexual exploitation regrettably remains a problem, one that must be tackled collectively. A report released just this week from the National Crime Agency entitled, “Strategic Assessment of the Nature and Scale of Human Trafficking in 2014” lays bare a persistent problem. Of all the types of exploitation, child potential victims of trafficking aged 16 to 17 most commonly experienced sexual exploitation, with almost 100 cases reported in 2014. One child suffering in this manner is one too many; 100 is a failure that needs to be urgently addressed. That is two young people aged 16 or 17 every week falling through the cracks in the system and being preyed upon by some of the most despicable criminals in the UK. This only scratches the surface: countless more will doubtlessly have gone unreported.

Today’s debate focuses on legislation and research covering England and Wales, but child sexual abuse is not a crime that stops at borders. It is important, imperative even, for jurisdictions to look at one another to share practices. The vast majority of children in Scotland live safe, healthy and happy lives, but child

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sexual exploitation is as much a reality there as it is in the rest of the UK. The Scottish Government have introduced Scotland’s national action plan to tackle child exploitation, a far-reaching and ambitious strategy to tackle the problem. Embracing the kind of joined-up approach required, the plan was developed with a working group that included Police Scotland, the Care Inspectorate, Barnardo’s, the Crown Office and others. Real progress has been made in implementing the plan in Scotland.

A national summit, which brought together key service providers to share best practice, was held in February. Another such summit is due to be held in a couple of months. Police Scotland’s national child abuse investigation unit is now fully operational, and a programme of work will be developed across child protection to be agreed by February 2016 and presented to the Scottish Parliament. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) mentioned, the Scottish Government will also be launching a campaign to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation week. That campaign will involve television and poster campaigns aimed primarily at parents, carers and children. The plan forms part of a wider strategy and legislation aiming to get it right for every child.

Getting it right for most, but not all, children simply is not good enough. No child, at any age, should be able to slip through the net in society. Children who have reached the age of consent are still children, and today’s debate importantly highlights the disparity in how authorities deal with older victims. We have a moral duty to ensure that every child is protected from exploitation. Article 34 of the UN convention on the rights of the child lays clear our responsibilities. We must undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and to take all appropriate measures to prevent the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity, the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices and the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.

Older children cannot be excluded or forgotten. It is arguable that older children are more at risk of grooming. The motion notes the role drugs and alcohol, mental health problems, being in care and learning disabilities can play in adding to the vulnerability of the age group. A true understanding of these complex issues is required in order accurately to target those who prey on vulnerable young people and to protect all those at risk. These issues span social work, policing, justice, the health service and the third sector. That should emphasise the need and importance of a collective and joined-up approach. Interworking between agencies, authorities and stakeholders is vital. It is also crucial that police be able to do their job properly and protect all children, including those who are older. One of the most impactful pages in the Children’s Society’s report is that which contains a single statement in large print:

“The police currently lack the tools they need to intervene early to disrupt sexual exploitation of older teenagers”.

The report contains several recommendations on how police can be better equipped to deal with child sexual exploitation, and I ask that the Government give them serious consideration. Resourcing authorities should be of paramount importance, and I hope the Government will reflect on this debate and the report and come forward with proposals.

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The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) made a good point about this being part of a much wider issue. We hear that the Goddard inquiry could take up to 10 years. Does that mean that victims of child sex abuse have to wait 10 years for justice? No one, no matter what their standing in society, should be shielded from prosecution for sexual abuse crimes. Victims deserve justice. Now is the time to act, and I ask that the Government do not delay. If even one more child is saved through expedient action, it will have been worth while.

2.43 pm

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): Thank you for your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, and a very happy Christmas to you too. I also thank hon. Members for securing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it to happen today.

Many Members have mentioned the excellent Children’s Society report, “Old enough to know better?” They have rightly described the situation for already vulnerable children—those in care, suffering mental health difficulties or dangerously exploiting drugs and alcohol, for example—but I shall focus on mobile and online sexual exploitation, to which all young people with smartphones are vulnerable. By not tackling that effectively, we risk setting another set of young people on the path to vulnerability, serious mental health problems and drink and drugs exploitation. We also have to recognise that many young people, while being victims, could also, if we are not careful, be defined as perpetrators. The law has to be right and work in tandem with other approaches.

I thank Kevin Prunty, an experienced headteacher in Hounslow and executive head of the successful Cranford schools partnership, for helping me to prepare for this debate. He has direct experience of this situation and has some solutions I know he wants to share with the Minister.

The Children’s Society report recommendations apply to child sex abuse wherever and however it occurs, but there is justification for further consideration of mobile and online culture and the ways of helping to prevent the abuse, and to reduce the vulnerability to abuse, of 16 and 17-year-olds. In particular, the report does not address aspects of proactive prevention crucial to success in this field. Some important aspects of child online and mobile safety and of the equalities agenda are totally ignored, not just in the report, but seemingly by all the agencies and initiatives that Mr Prunty has come across.

We need to work in key areas, with cross-political support, to help schools and parents to safeguard children much more effectively than is possible merely by amending the law. The guidance says that child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition. The definition of child sexual exploitation in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 includes merely the recording of an indecent image of a young person. The key findings of “Old enough to know better?” focus on strengthening the law. This age group is particularly vulnerable and inadvertently more vulnerable because of the potential for clumsy, inappropriate or disproportionate use of regulation and legislation.

It is right to strengthen the law to afford these children the same protections as younger children, but it is the continuum with the circumstances prior to the age of 16

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that makes them so vulnerable as they mature, particularly online. Tackling offenders and strengthening the law, while important, are only a small part of what needs to be done and are not, on their own, the real solution. Merely strengthening the law will do little good for the majority and will not address those who could become victims. We need to protect children earlier, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said, and proactively to prevent abuse.

The law in this area is designed primarily to tackle the serious offences committed particularly by adults against young people. The Children’s Society report and the work of most agencies and organisations tasked with online safety, although extremely valuable, focus too narrowly on already vulnerable children and fail to address the context of young people’s lives more widely. The recommendations in the report focus on reaction rather than prevention. I want more resourcing, more strategies and action to provide an appropriate adult presence—not necessarily the police—in the mobile and cyber world, in which many young children spend huge amounts of their time growing up without us.

In this respect, the law must not be used where young people are engaging in unwise activities, which many do, that relate to the expectation and culture of a mobile and cyber environment in which appropriate adults have virtually no presence and where we too often leave the young people abandoned to fend for themselves. Here is a quote from Mr Prunty on the issue:

“In running schools and elsewhere, I always contend that a strong positive culture must dominate any community, including online and mobile, because in its absence there will never be a vacuum and instead street culture will fill the void.”

In strengthening the law for 16 and 17-year-olds, steps must be taken to ensure the system does not end up targeting and criminalising young people who are in fact victims themselves. It will also require significant training and support for the police and others whose response to such crimes appears already to be under-confident and variable. Mr Prunty’s schools subscribe to a restorative justice approach, and this may be appropriate in cases where mitigating factors are considered.

Naïve online activity by 16 and 17-year-olds, which would also be subject to any strengthening of the law, such as online and mobile communication between peers, will be most frequent, is perhaps more detectable and could be easier to prosecute. It is important to remember, however, that in most cases 16 and 17-year-olds will actually remain victims even when they break such laws in the context and environment of the school and the world they occupy.

The vast majority of our young people are already mobile and already online victims in a largely unsupervised cyber world. Although the internet gets considerable attention from safeguarding organisations and in training, mobile activity and mobile-based abuse are, in fact, even more rife yet also more neglected by adults. Parents, teachers and other adults responsible for the routine safety of children are often best placed to supervise and guide young people, but they are largely absent from this dangerous environment. We tend to operate in Facebook, but young people are not on Facebook so much nowadays. The mobile world, and to some extent the dark web, get less attention, yet these are really part of most young people’s experiences—day and night.

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I believe that the figures quoted in the Children’s Society report are actually a huge under-representation of the scale of the underlying problem. It is the underlying problem that contributes to a culture and environment that make identified sexual offences more probable and possible. In effect, it normalises them in the minds of young people, especially girls. I contest that a much larger proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds—boys and girls to differing degrees—experiences sexual and other harassment, abuse and pressure, and for many this is regular and unrelenting. Sometimes they take part in it, too. This normalisation, with no appropriate adult presence to challenge it, is what leads to the lack of reporting of sexual and other mobile, online and cyber abuse. I support all the recommendations in the report, but feel that they are insufficient and incomplete without recommendations aimed at establishing a different online, mobile and cyber culture and skilling up children, parents and other adults.

I am short of time, so in conclusion I welcome the Minister’s announcement of the What Works review and hope that she will consider the specific issues of mobile and online sexual exploitation. I hope she will look not only at the already vulnerable children, but at the policies of all those who work with all our children, so that consistent, deliverable and effective solutions can be achieved rather than just punishment under the law.

2.52 pm

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): Let me first congratulate the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) on securing this important debate. I would also like to thank everyone who has spoken because they have done so with passion, on the basis of many years of experience and out of a real commitment to using the opportunity we have as parliamentarians to make a difference for the most vulnerable people. I am always most proud when we have debates such as this one.

The clear driver for this debate is improving the lives of the most vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds. Too often, young people of this age are treated like adults and not afforded the additional protections given in law to younger children. However, teenagers of this age are more predisposed towards risk-taking behaviour. For the most vulnerable—for example, those with earlier experiences of abuse, trauma and neglect—this risk taking can have serious consequences.

Yes, 16 and 17-year-olds can give consent to sexual acts, but is it always informed consent? The law does not recognise that in many cases where children aged 16 and 17 become victims of sexual offences, they are coerced into submission by perpetrators who supply them with drugs and alcohol or of whom the young people are scared. The capacity to consent is impaired through an imbalance of power between a child and a perpetrator, and by the young person’s use and/or dependency on drugs or alcohol prior to the offence.

As far as under-18s are concerned, the law is clear that the sale and consumption of alcohol from licensed premises and from licensed vendors is prohibited, but the law does not specifically address the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds, particularly vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds,

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can be coerced to submit to their own sexual abuse through adults supplying them with alcohol on private premises.

It is welcome that the Serious Crime Act 2015 has created an offence of coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate and family relationships, which protects vulnerable individuals, including 16 and 17-year-olds, in cases of domestic abuse. However, similar changes are needed to recognise the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds can be coerced and controlled—either through drugs or alcohol, or through fear—for the purpose of sexual abuse in more transient relationships.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines sex offences against adults and children. In the case of a number of sexual crimes, the Act views young people aged 16 and 17 differently from those under the age of 16, and differently again from adults. For example, young people aged 16 and 17 are recognised as children if they are victims of sexual exploitation. A person who is found guilty of such an offence will incur a shorter prison sentence—up to seven years—than a person whose victim is under 13. That person will be sentenced to life imprisonment, while a person whose victim is between the ages of 13 and 16 will be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.

Despite the age-related gradation in the length of sentences for sexual exploitation, the sentences for offences of rape and sexual assaults do not reflect the age of the victim in the same way. They do not recognise that young people aged 16 and 17 are children, and are therefore more vulnerable than adults aged over 18. The current legislation provides no guarantee that a sexual assault against a 16 or 17-year-old will incur a more severe sentence than an attack on an adult aged over 18.

Child abduction warning notices are used by the police to disrupt contact between a vulnerable child and an adult when it is feared that the child may be at risk of sexual exploitation or harm. They are primarily used to protect children under the age of 16, with the consent of their parents or guardians. Currently, the law also affords protection to the tiny proportion of vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds who are in local authority care under section 31 of the Children Act 1989. Police protocols specify that only that group can be protected by child abduction warning notices.

Last year 4,510 teenagers aged 16 or 17 became looked-after children, but only 190 were taken into care formally under section 31. The other 4,320 became looked-after children voluntarily, under section 20. As only those who are formally taken into care under section 31 are protected by child abduction warning notices, the vast majority of 16 and 17-year-olds in care are not protected. That denies the police a critical tool to keep them safe from sexual exploitation. For example, when two children are living in the same supported accommodation and facing the same risks of exploitation, and one is looked after under section 31 while the other is looked after under section 20, the police can protect only the first child; the second is left unprotected. As the Minister knows, there is clear evidence that children in care are more vulnerable to grooming and sexual exploitation. I ask her to look at the position again to see whether that highly vulnerable group of 16 and 17-year-olds could be protected by child abduction warning notices.

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We must bear in mind that there are other vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds who are not looked after by local authorities. They include “children in need” under section 17 of the Children Act, who could be disabled or young carers. Those aged 16 or 17 who are assessed as homeless under the Housing Act 1996 are not eligible either. Both groups are at significant risk, and would benefit from the increased protection provided by child abduction warning notices.

In Rotherham there are 2,360 young people aged 16 and 17, and analysis of Department for Education statistics shows that 160 of them have been assessed as “children in need”. I want those 160 to have the protection of child abduction warning notices, so that if they are being sexually exploited—even if the process of sexual exploitation is just beginning—the police can disrupt the perpetrators rather than sitting on their hands until the abuse happens. The Minister has the perfect opportunity to make amends in the upcoming Policing and Criminal Justice Bill. It is an opportunity to send a strong message that 16 and 17-year-olds are children, and that sexual offences against children will always be treated seriously.

Let me end by asking the Minister some questions. Does she agree that the law should make it very clear that a young person who consents to drink alcohol or take drugs should never be seen as also consenting to a sexual act? Does she also agree that the sexual offences legislation could be strengthened with the introduction of a new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour for the purposes of sexual activity with vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds?

The definitive sentencing guidelines on sexual offences, specifically on offences of rape or sexual assaults, do not include vulnerability due to the victim being under the age of 18 as the harm factor, the culpability factor, or even the aggravating factor. This means that those convicted of these horrible crimes against children aged 16 and 17 may not get a sentence reflecting the seriousness of their crime due to a victim being a child. Does the Minister agree that the sentencing guidelines on sexual offences should be amended to include a victim aged under 18 being listed as a category 2 harm factor? This would strengthen the message that targeting children for sexual crimes will not be tolerated and raise awareness of the vulnerability of children of this age.

3 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): It seems incongruous to do this during this debate, but I would like to start by wishing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all hon. Members a very happy Christmas. May I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) on securing this important debate and all hon. Members on their very thoughtful contributions? It is clear from the genuine concern expressed that this is an important and challenging issue which deserves our careful consideration.

May I start by reassuring all hon. Members that, as the Minister for preventing abuse and exploitation, I can say that I and this Government share their desire to protect everyone, particularly vulnerable young people, from violence and sexual exploitation? Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham

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(Tim Loughton), who did such an enormous amount in this field when he was a Minister in the Department for Education, I have met victims and survivors, as, I am sure, others have. As the hon. Member for Stockport said, it is vital that we listen to those children—that we listen to the victims and survivors—and that we hear what they say.

Social media was mentioned. Children feel that they cannot escape from social media. They do not feel they can turn off from it. If somebody is trolling them online, they do not feel they can escape from it. These are important points and we need to listen and to understand so that we can take the right action.

Nusrat Ghani: On the need to take young people seriously, has the Minister come across the Barnardo’s service report, which highlighted that when young vulnerable people go to authority figures, they must always be taken seriously, because they may also be engaged in antisocial behaviour? Can we do all we can to ensure that people in authority take our young people seriously?

Karen Bradley: My hon. Friend, who serves on the Select Committee, makes an incredibly important point. Barnardo’s has just completed a trial of child trafficking advocates for the Government—I have placed a written ministerial statement on that in the Library today—and it does incredible work to make sure children are listened to. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need to change the culture and change attitudes. A point was made earlier—by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), I think—about victims being perpetrators. It is too often the case that a victim becomes a perpetrator and is seen as a perpetrator, and is not seen for the child that they are. We need to change attitudes. This debate, and the contributions today, will go a long way to doing that, but there is still more to do.

Preventing abuse and exploitation and protecting the vulnerable present complex challenges, particularly when dealing with young people. We know that children are being deliberately targeted, manipulated and coerced, and consequently sexually exploited. In this context, the Government welcome the research and findings presented in the Children’s Society report “Old enough to know better?” The report rightly highlights a number of important areas, including prevention, identification, protection, support and prosecution—areas which absolutely require the co-ordinated focus of Departments across Government, and beyond.

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): Survivors (Hull and East Riding), which serves victims of CSE with mental health support services in my constituency, has seen a 20% rise in clients over the last three years and its waiting list is now six months. Does the Minister agree that delays in providing mental health services for survivors are unacceptable and increase the risk of suicide and self-harm among CSE victims?

Karen Bradley: I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the work of that organisation. I will talk about mental health services later, if she will bear with me. I am absolutely sure that the organisation does incredibly important work. The length of its waiting list clearly demonstrates the demand for its services and the fact that it is tackling the issue in an effective way.

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We need to work across Government, which is why we have established a cross-Government response to child sexual exploitation. I want to assure all hon. Members that this is a top priority for this Government. The Home Secretary launched the report “Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation” in March this year. It sets out a national response to the failures that we saw in Rotherham, which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) described, as well as in Manchester, Oxford and elsewhere, where children were let down by the very people who were responsible for protecting them. It sets out how we will continue the urgent work of overhauling the work of our police, social services and other agencies together to protect vulnerable children.

I want to assure all hon. Members that significant work has been and is taking place across Government, but given the time available today, I will not go through all the points that have been raised. My door is always open, however, and all hon. Members are very welcome to come and see me to discuss their concerns and the work that is being done. I will be happy to share in detail the work we are doing across Government.

I want to touch on the issue of terminology in relation to child sexual exploitation. We know that there is an issue with the terminology, so we are reviewing and reissuing the current definition and the statutory guidance on safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation. We will make it clear what constitutes sexual exploitation as a form of sexual abuse, and we are working with a number of stakeholders including the Children’s Society to sharpen the definition and strengthen the guidance. We will publish a progress report on all actions taken following the “Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation” report early next year.

We recognise that 16 and 17-year-olds are a diverse group and can be particularly vulnerable. They are children, but they are old enough legally to consent to sexual activity where appropriate. We know that that combination can be exploited and lead to abuse. There is a contradiction between the ever-decreasing age of sexual maturity and the age of emotional maturity, which is not going down. The wider that gap becomes, the harder it is for us to deal with these complex issues.

The court process can clearly present a particular challenge to vulnerable victims and witnesses, and everyone involved has a responsibility to manage that impact. In January 2015, toolkits were launched for the police, prosecutors and advocates, addressing the fact that consent is an issue for vulnerable young victims as well as dealing with the context of drugs, alcohol, mental health and learning disabilities. We have also completed the training of all specialist prosecutors, which will include Crown Court cases of child sexual abuse, and in 2016 we are training in-house advocates as well.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) talked about the law that applies to the sexual exploitation of children aged 16 and 17. I want to assure her that the law in England and Wales already specifically protects that age group from abuse. For example, sections 47 to 50 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 criminalise payment for the sexual services of a child aged under 18 and provide for the offences of causing, inciting, controlling, arranging or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a child under 18.

The hon. Member for Stockport has campaigned vigorously on this issue. During the passage of the Serious Crime Act 2015, she was a leader in ensuring

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that the Government removed the terms “child prostitution” and “child pornography” from the law. I know that the guidance has not yet been updated in some areas but we are working incredibly hard to ensure that that happens and to ensure that all agencies with responsibility for that guidance update it as soon as possible. This is the clear message: a child cannot consent to sex. They are forced into sex, they do not consent to it, and there can therefore be no such thing as a child prostitute.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire talked about children in care, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst). Children in care are particularly vulnerable, which is why the Children Act 1989 makes it an offence to take any child in care, including a 16 or 17-year-old, away from the person responsible for them without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. We also know that 16 and 17-year-olds can be vulnerable in a variety of ways, some of which may be directly or indirectly linked to their age. That is also reflected in the sentencing guidelines, in which additional aggravating factors include the use of alcohol or drugs on the victim and the targeting of a particularly vulnerable child.

Sarah Champion: I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but I want to go back to her last point. I do not believe that either the police or people working in care homes are aware of that piece of legislation. If there is anything she can do to make them aware, that would be great. When I speak to these workers, they say, “The child is 16, so I can’t intervene if they want to go off with this person.”

Karen Bradley: I hope they have been listening to the debate, but we will make sure that even those few people who are not watching the House of Commons on a Thursday afternoon are made aware of that piece of legislation. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran talked about a young person’s consent after taking drugs or alcohol. Let us be clear: the law is clear that a young person’s consent to take drugs or alcohol can never be viewed as consent to sexual acts.

I am making sure that I deal with the important points, so let me move on to the issue of mental health. Some children who experience the kind of trauma associated with child sexual exploitation will need support from mental health services. The Minister for Community and Social Care has just joined us on the Front Bench. He is a Health Minister, and I am working closely with him on the crisis care concordat to make sure that mental health services are appropriately delivered. It is crucial that we get this right for children, including 16 to 17-year-olds. That is why we have commenced a major transformation programme, backed by additional investment, which will improve the support provided to vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds who have experienced sexual abuse and are in need of mental health and wellbeing services. The programme will place the emphasis on prevention and early intervention, which I know to be an issue close to the heart of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), building care around the needs of children, young people and their families, including the most vulnerable.

May I thank the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) for bringing the details of the WISH Centre to the Chamber today? I welcome

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the invitation she made and I hope that we can arrange time in my diary for me to visit.

Mr Allen: We are all grateful for the Minister’s mention of a centre of excellence to look at dealing with sexual exploitation. Will she make it clear that this will deal not only with what people traditionally look at as the sexual abuse of children, but with programmes to help prevent perpetrators from reoffending? Can she confirm that all that best practice will be in one place?

Karen Bradley: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the work will be done not just in the What Works centre, but in the Home Office and elsewhere, particularly on the perpetrator programme. He is absolutely right in that the academic evidence is patchy in this field and we need to get the right evidence, because we will not be able to deal with this otherwise. We talk about conviction rates, but actually a conviction is a failure, as it means that a crime has occurred. We want to stop those crimes happening. That means dealing with perpetrators, stopping the perpetrators and protecting young people so that they understand and know what abuse looks like and how to avoid being abused. The work he has done in this area for many years is incredibly valuable and has helped us in Government to form our views on this issue.

The Government recognise the terrible scale and impact of these crimes, particularly on vulnerable victims. I am proud of the progress we are making in tackling all aspects of child sexual abuse and exploitation, but there is still much to do. That is why I commend the Children’s Society for its invaluable work in drawing attention to particular vulnerabilities and recommending actions. I acknowledge the helpful contributions that have been made in this debate; hon. Members from all parts of the House have advocated wonderfully on behalf of the vulnerable in society, and I commend them all for doing so.

3.13 pm

Kit Malthouse: With the leave of the House, I thank all the Members who have taken part in this thoughtful and important debate, and I thank the Children’s Society for the support it has offered to a number of us in compiling our contributions. I also thank the Minister for her offer of an open door, which I took to mean a meeting to talk about perhaps putting together some clauses in the criminal justice Bill which might close some of these loopholes. More than that, I hope that this can be the start of an examination, before that Bill appears, of what more we can do to protect children, because it is obvious that the evidence is available to us.

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, the 2012 report of the children’s commissioners pointed to things that needed to be done. We now have the Children’s Society report with similar evidence. We also have the appalling cases that we see in the newspapers. Obviously, something needs to change. Much of the legislation around the protection of children is quite old, and has not been looked at since the 1980s, when there was a period of rapid change. I know from my own experience that children have just been through another period of enormously rapid change, and that the legislation has lagged behind. I would welcome working with Members,

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the Minister, and, hopefully, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Justice to see what more we can do in the upcoming criminal justice Bill to protect young people.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes the findings of The Children’s Society’s report entitled Old enough to know better? which looked at the sexual exploitation of 16 and 17 year olds; further notes the particular vulnerability of that age group as they transition from childhood to adulthood and the role that aggravated offences and harsher sentences have in deterring crimes against 16 and 17 year olds; calls on the Government to clarify for prosecution and sentencing purposes the role drugs and alcohol, mental health problems, being in care and learning disabilities have in adding to the vulnerability of that age group; and further calls on the Government to give police the same tools to intervene when a 16 or 17 year old is being targeted and groomed for exploitation as they have for younger children.

Mr Allen: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The brilliant way in which you managed the debate meant that every single person who wanted to speak did speak, and they all kept to within 10 minutes. Can you work that magic again?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I genuinely thank the hon. Gentleman very much indeed for his excellent point of order. I am pleased to have it noted that the debate ended precisely at 3.15, which is what I intended. The next debate will end at 5pm whether or not I intend it. I do hope that by the same courteous behaviour from Members—

Mr Allen: Including those on the Front Bench.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Yes, including those on the Front Bench. I hope to accommodate everyone without the need for a formal limit on speeches.

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Conception to Age 2: The First 1001 Days

3.16 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Old Whip’s habits die hard, but we accept the overtures of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen).

I beg to move,

That this House calls on the Government to consider the adoption of the recommendations in the cross-party manifesto entitled The 1001 Critical Days, the importance of the conception to age two period.

In this my seventh contribution of the day, let me wish you a happy Christmas, Madam Deputy Speaker, when it eventually starts. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for giving us this important debate, particularly as it is so close to the launch of this excellent manifesto, which I will also be promoting today. I know that every single Member in this Chamber and beyond has been sent a copy of it. I am also grateful to those Members who have stayed for the final debate on the last day before the Christmas recess.

It is perhaps appropriate that the final debate should be about babies and conception to age two just eight days before we celebrate the birth of one particular baby, albeit the subject of an immaculate conception and in which the confusion over paternity, a somewhat unprepared and astounded mother and inadequate birthing facilities could have given rise in normal circumstances to some attachment dysfunction problems.

It is good to see the Minister for Community and Social Care here.I know that his door is well and truly open to what we have been promoting. It is particularly good to see my old great friend the Minister of State in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). I wish to pay tribute to her. Effectively, she conceived this whole manifesto, gestated it and gave birth to it, and has done so much to champion the cause of early years attachment and perinatal mental health in this House and for many years before she came to this House. She continues to combine her advocacy with her new day job in DECC. She championed “The 1001 Critical Days” manifesto, which is now three years old and which was relaunched this week with more support and recognition than ever before.

On Monday, no fewer than 200 people came to the House of Commons Terrace to support this manifesto. Those present included academics, senior practitioners in paediatric and mental health, commissioners, voluntary organisations and politicians of all parties. It is particularly gratifying that the manifesto has now been sponsored by Members from eight different parties across the House. There really is a genuine cross-party consensus to promote this manifesto.

There has been big progress since the manifesto was launched in 2012 and promoted in the party conferences in 2013. The manifesto is now becoming part of the mainstream. It was supported at its launch and continues to be supported by the WAVE Trust—I pay particular tribute to George Hosking and all the work that he has done well before our time in the House—the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and PIP, the parent and infant partnership charity. I declare an interest as the chairman of the trustees.

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PIP is putting the “The 1001 Critical Days” manifesto into practical action through children’s centres around the country and changing the mindsets of commissioners. Our projects started in Oxford with OxPIP. We now have NorPIP in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire, projects in Enfield and Liverpool, and others in Brighton, Croydon and Newcastle coming online in the near future. We want to spread that network across the whole country.

It is crucial to change mindsets in relation to how we intervene early and reconfigure our health—particularly mental health—services, education and children’s social care services to intervene earlier to prevent the causes of poor mental health for mother and baby from leading to indisputable life disadvantages that become mired in a vicious cycle of intergenerational underachievement. The alternative is that we continue to firefight the symptoms at great cost to our society both financially and, more importantly, socially.

The Government have made good progress, largely through the troubled families programme, in acknowledging that if we recognise the problems of dysfunctional families early and intervene with intensive focus and joined-up support we can often get those families back on track and convert them to balanced, contributing members of society, rather than a huge challenge to it and drain on it. I am proud to have been involved with that work when it was started in the Department for Education in my time as a Minister there.

But we need to go further, with what I have termed a “pre-troubled families programme”. That is, in effect, what the “The 1001 Critical Days” manifesto is about, and this is why. Last year the Maternal Mental Health Alliance so ably led by Dr Alain Gregoire produced a report which estimated that the cost of perinatal mental illness at more than £8 billion for each one-year cohort of births in the United Kingdom. That is equivalent to a cost of almost £10,000 for every single British birth. Nearly three quarters of this cost relates to adverse impacts on the child, rather than the mother. Perinatal mental health problems are very common, affecting up to 20% of women at some point during and after pregnancy, yet about half of all cases of perinatal depression and anxiety go undetected and many of those which are detected fail to receive evidence-based forms of treatment.

As the Minister well knows, the current provision of services is patchy at best, with significant variations in coverage and quality around the country. Most alarmingly, just 3% of clinical commissioning groups in England have a strategy for commissioning perinatal mental health services and a large majority still have no plans to develop one. I am sure that with the new Minister’s laser-like focus and zeal, and the fact that NHS England has adopted perinatal mental health as a priority, this will start to change soon.

Why does this matter? Apart from the obvious major public health epidemic going largely under-appreciated at its extreme, the statistics are alarming. Just last week a report by the maternal research group MBRRACE, analysing maternal deaths between 2011 and 2013, found that one in four of those between six weeks and one year after giving birth were linked to mental health issues, one in seven were a result of suicide, and mental health problems were instrumental in the deaths of one in 11 new mothers within the first six weeks after giving

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birth. At this extreme the figures are shocking, but they are also largely preventable with better and early detection and intervention, yet 40% of those women who committed suicide in that timescale would not have been able to access any specialist perinatal mental health care in their areas.

For those who lived through pregnancy and the early years of a baby with a mental illness, the impact on that child can be considerable. Another major negative impact might be substance abuse, poor parenting skills—often inherited as a result of a young mum being poorly parented herself—and being exposed to domestic violence. Incredibly, more than a third of domestic violence cases begin in pregnancy. This is a statistic that many of us would find hard to believe. Sadly, these negative influences are all too prevalent among new parents. Those is by no means a problem limited to those from poorer backgrounds. Parents unable to form a strong attachment with a new baby come from all parts of society, and we need a multifaceted approach for detection and intervention at all levels.

Children need nurturing from the earliest age. From birth to age 18 months, it has been calculated that connections in the brain are created at a rate of a million per second. The earliest experiences shape a baby’s brain development, literally, and have a lifelong impact on that baby’s mental and emotional health.

A pregnant mother suffering from stress can sometimes pass on to her unborn baby the message that the world will be dangerous, and the child might struggle with many social and emotional problems as a result; their responses to experiences of fear or tension have been set to danger and high alert. That will also occur at any time during the first 1001 days when a baby is exposed to overwhelming stress from any cause within the family, such as parental mental illness, maltreatment or exposure to domestic violence.

Attachment is the name given to the bond that a baby makes with his or her care givers or parents. There is long-standing evidence that a baby’s social and emotional development is affected by his or her attachment to his or her parents. As the chief medical officer, Sally Davies, puts it in her foreword endorsing “The 1001 Critical Days”:

“The early years of life are a crucial period of change; alongside adolescence this is a key moment for brain development. As our understanding of the science of development improves, it becomes clearer and clearer how the events that happen to children and babies lead to structural changes that have life-long ramifications. Science is helping us to understand how love and nurture by caring adults is hard wired into the brains of children.”

The all-party group for conception to age two—the first 1001 days, which I have the privilege of chairing, produced a report in February called “Building Great Britons”. That, too, was sent to every hon. Member and it complemented “The 1001 Critical Days”. The report calculated the cost of child neglect to be some £15 billion each and every year. When combined with perinatal mental illness, that makes a cost of more than £23 billion every year for getting it wrong for our youngest children and their parents. That is equivalent to two thirds of the annual defence budget.

In concentrating on perinatal mental illness in young mums, it is also important to stress how a child benefits most from forming strong and empathetic attachments with both parents. We should not forget that 39% of

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first-time fathers also experience high levels of distress during a child’s first year. We need a strong whole-family approach, and it is especially important to get that strong attachment with fathers in the second year of a child’s life as well.

Another big problem in this country is that it has been calculated that 1 million children suffer from the type of problems—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder and so on—that are clearly increased by antenatal depression, anxiety and stress. Yet the cost of appropriate and timely intervention and support has been calculated at a fraction of the annual cost of failure. It equates to roughly £1.3 million per annum for an average clinical commissioning group with a budget of around £500 million.

The “Building Great Britons” report calculated that preventing these adverse childhood experiences could reduce hard drug use later in life by 59%, incarceration by 53%, violence by 51%, and unplanned teen pregnancies by 38%. It is not rocket science—technically, it is neuroscience. More and more people are coming to realise that this is an investment that we cannot afford not to make.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He and I have worked on children’s issues for a very long time. This is a brilliant initiative. As we are listening to his brilliant analysis, we have to consider whether we have the right skills in the communities. Are we training people the right way? Are we depending too much on people with PhDs in educational psychology, rather than on trained people based in GP surgeries who can identify problems and support families at an early stage?

Tim Loughton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. He has been working on this stuff for even longer than I have and has great experience. We need to ensure that we are training the people who know about this stuff, appreciate its importance and know how to communicate with other professionals to have a joined-up approach. There is too much silo thinking going on. When Minister and shadow Minister, I saw families who seemed to be having all sorts of different professionals going in and out of the house but no joined-up approach to bring it all together and make the difference that the family needed.

We also need those professionals to be able to work with the parents, and to be able to communicate and empathise with them, because ultimately it is the parents who will have the biggest influence on the children. They need to be guided and supported. The state needs to take over only in extreme circumstances in which children might be at harm. We need to do more to ensure that parents know what good parenting looks like and are able to do it.

That is why “The 1001 Critical Days” manifesto is so important. It is not simply a political wish list; it has been endorsed by a very wide cross-section of children’s organisations, charities, practitioners, and academic and professional bodies, including the royal colleges of paediatrics and child health, midwives, psychiatrists, obstetricians and gynaecologists, and general practitioners; the NSPCC; Bliss; the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships; and the Centre for Social Justice. The Institute of Health Visiting said:

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“As far as health visitors are concerned, the 1001 Critical Days Manifesto may yet prove to be one of the most important developments of the new millennium. It has created a long overdue focus on the essential first days of life when the blue print for an individual’s future health and wellbeing is laid down.”

I will not go into great detail about what the manifesto calls for, because every hon. Member has received a copy. In essence, it is about allowing vulnerable families to access specialist services; working closely together to share vital data between the different agencies I have spoken about; and making sure that every woman with past or present serious mental illness should have access to a consultant perinatal psychiatrist and specialist support in relation to mother-infant interaction, as required and in accordance with existing National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines.

The manifesto has a truly holistic approach involving many Government Departments and agencies at a national level and a local level. In essence, it is about changing mindsets so that that should be the approach we ordinarily have and take for granted, because it is the right one. The aim is that “The 1001 Critical Days” becomes a recognised term with a recognised programme being delivered across every community, focused on children’s centres. I know that the Minister is already on board with this aim, and I urge him to promote and champion its adoption to his colleagues across Government. I commend the motion to the House.

3.31 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): First, I declare an interest as the founder of the Early Intervention Foundation, and take this probably unique opportunity to put on record my thanks to its chief executive, Carey Oppenheim, its director of evidence, Professor Leon Feinstein, its director of policy, Donna Molloy, and all the fantastic staff there.

Secondly, I pay tribute to colleagues who secured this debate. If I may say so, the inspiration behind a lot of this comes from the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). I do not suppose that she is allowed to contribute today, but we are getting thought beams from her as our speeches progress and drawing great inspiration from that.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) may, on this unusual occasion, acknowledge the praise being heaped on her, and rightly so, from around the House.

Mr Allen: I would gladly give way to the hon. Lady if it did not break all sorts of precedents.

I come to this issue as a constituency Member of Parliament representing the fifth most deprived constituency in the United Kingdom who is learning how to resolve some of the intergenerational problems that start with the very youngest in our communities—indeed, as “The 1001 Critical Days” implies, before birth. Trying to break some of these cycles is my own personal learning curve. I share that, surprisingly but very importantly, with the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who has been on a similar journey to mine, in very different circumstances. I hope that those two strange bedfellows, he and I, have demonstrated that we must have an all-party view on

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this. As with the previous debate on the sexual abuse of 16 and 17-year-olds, we will make no progress unless we agree across the House, in all parties, because getting something from one Government only for it to fall under the next is no progress at all. The problems we tackle are intergenerational and long-running. They require us to invest in individuals, whether with love or with money, and take a very long-term approach. We must all unite across the House to make sure that this moves forward.

Mr Sheerman: I absolutely agree. Throughout my time in the House, there has been cross-party support on issues affecting very small children and children before they are born. The one thing that I always stipulated when I chaired the Children, Schools and Families Committee was that we should determine policy on the basis of good evidence and what works in countries such as ours.

Mr Allen: I hope that my own journey has exemplified that approach. The two reports the Prime Minister asked me to do in 2010 and 2011 were signed off, as it were, with very nice pictures of the then leaders of all the main political parties. The reports are still valid and they are still available, albeit not at all good bookshops, but if anybody who is viewing wishes to contact me, I would be very happy to share them. I hope they have been of some help and influence to the excellent “The 1001 Critical Days” campaign.

Whenever I dig out such reports, having not looked at them for a couple years, I look to see whether they are still relevant. In an opening paragraph, I use the term “early intervention” to refer to

“the general approaches, and the specific policies and programmes, which help to give children aged 0–3 the social and emotional bedrock they need to reach their full potential; and to those which help older children become the good parents of tomorrow.”

I hope that is in line with the superb work of my hon. Friend, the influential Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee.

For me, early intervention is a philosophy, not a set of programmes. It is about changing the way we do business, whether as a political party, a family, a community or an individual. That philosophy is essentially about giving the nought-to-threes the social and emotional bedrock to become great people in their own right, and to be able to grow and flourish. It is about applying what we wanted for our own children to as many children as possible, not least those throughout the United Kingdom.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Allen: I will give way, but I hope my virtual time limit will be extended by Madam Deputy Speaker.

Stephen Hammond: I will be extremely brief. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about ensuring that the nought-to-threes become great people in their own right. One of the things that can help is recognition of when in the school year they were born. Does he agree that the Summer Born campaign, which wants local education authorities to properly assess children born in July and August, and the anticipated change to the code of practice, which is welcome, will help those children?

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Mr Allen: That is a classic case—we referred to this earlier—of the need to rely on the evidence and the science. Let us listen to people who know about these things, rather than do something because that is the way we have always done it or because it is a reflex reaction. That is why the Early Intervention Foundation is central. Best practice needs to be collected in and propagated from one place, so that anyone who visits the website or who makes a phone call can learn from the experience of all those who have gone before them.

I agreed with so much of what the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said about how this will save us all not only a lot of grief, but a lot of money. I remember telling the Chancellor of the Exchequer that early intervention is the biggest deficit reduction programme he could possibly have. There are various views of the total amount that could be saved, but the Early Intervention Foundation puts the cost of late intervention at £17 billion a year. People are very quick to jump up and ask, “How much is this programme going to cost?”, but they are very slow to say that what we are currently doing is incredibly costly. If someone said, “I’ve got a budget for you: it’s called the late intervention budget and it’s going to cost you £17 billion a year,” there would be an uproar. People would cry, “We can’t afford that!” Of course we cannot afford it, but that is the cost of the criminal justice system having to deal with dysfunctional young people who could have had a chance earlier in life; of mental and physical ill-health; of the court system; and of educational underachievement.

We are wasting money, which we can ill afford, rather than spending a bit of money to start us off. It is received wisdom to talk about a stitch in time, and we often say that prevention is better than cure. In religious terms, we say, “Give me the boy and I’ll give you the man”. We use such phrases in our daily lives, but somehow we cannot bring them to bear on the political choices we make.

It is essential to support this 1001 days campaign. It is very important to underline that helping a child or a mum-to-be is money in the bank in terms of both the child’s development and financial prudence for us as a community and a society. Brain development was mentioned earlier. Given the plasticity of the brain, it is now absolutely without doubt—the neuroscience is incontrovertible—that if we can influence the development of a child’s brain pathways during the nought-to-three phase, we will be helping them for the rest of their life. It is absolutely essential to do so.

We will continue to do all this work together and to have overlapping campaigns, including with Governments of all parties. I must say that that was very difficult when my party was in government. I have to be honest and repeat that we made more progress with a Conservative Prime Minister in a coalition Government than we did with two Labour Prime Ministers.

This is an all-party campaign, and all parties need to use the vocabulary of early intervention. One thing that I and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) did, if I may say so, was to make such vocabulary commonplace in this House. We now talk sensibly about early intervention, rather than about “ASBOs on embryos” or “hugging a hoodie”, and all the other terms of abuse bandied about, to no effect whatever, by both parties 10 years ago.

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We are growing, improving and getting more mature. With the example of hard science and the example of practice—the Early Intervention Foundation has been involved in 20 local areas to prove what works—we are on the verge of breaking the philosophy out of purely children’s policy into something that we should do in every policy area of government.

Does devolution have anything to do with this issue? Of course it does, because if we allow people in our constituencies, boroughs or councils sensitively to develop things that they know will work, we will spend public money better, even when the early intervention grant is being abolished and austerity is striking at every local authority. At such times, we need to spend money more accurately and with more precision.

I would argue that there may be an early intervention aspect to confronting international questions. Some fascinating work has been done on trauma by Suzanne Zeedyk and Robin Grille from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. What greater trauma is there for a growing child than to be involved in a civil war or appalling acts of violence? That is the very breeding ground of religious fundamentalism and terrorism.

Early intervention is a philosophy whose time is about to come. Let us make sure that late intervention as a philosophy is consigned to the dustbin of history. One of the best ways for us to do so is to continue to support early intervention, to back initiatives such as the Early Intervention Foundation and to give this motion on the 1001 most critical days a resounding cheer of support from both sides of the House as it is, I hope, approved unanimously.

3.43 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I must apologise to the Minister. I have a long-standing engagement in my constituency this evening, and I would be grateful to him if he released me to attend it. I will not therefore be able to listen to his winding-up speech.

I want to concentrate on the first part of the 1001 days—the period between conception and birth. A report was published earlier this year by a team from leading UK and US universities who had studied pregnant women in rural Gambia and the children to whom they gave birth. It is clear that the children conceived in the dry season, when there was not an abundance of leafy green vegetables, were seven times more likely to die in young adulthood than those conceived in the wet season, when their mothers’ diet was so much better. The research team said that later in life the impact could be seen in a lack of ability to fight viral infections and in their chances of surviving cancers such as leukaemia and lung cancer. That report shows the clear impact of what the mother ingests on her system and that of the unborn child.

Something that we ought to be much clearer about in this country, but that we sadly are not, is the effect of alcohol consumed by the mother during those first precious days of a child’s life in the womb. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children estimates that about 7,000 babies born in the UK each year suffer the effects of alcohol drunk during pregnancy.

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I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group for foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, of which I am the vice-chair. This week, we published a report on the picture of FASD in the UK today, following an inquiry that ran throughout the autumn. We held a number of hearings with families and young people who have been affected by FASD, as well as with members of the medical professions and other interested organisations. The report is so substantial and so deeply concerning that, although you have been good enough to call me before the chair of the all-party group, Madam Deputy Speaker, it might have been more appropriate if we had been called the other way around. None the less, the report has such a lot of substance that I hope what I say will complement, rather than duplicate, what he will say.

The evidence that we gathered was severely alarming in respect of both the far wider impact of FASD compared with what is understood in this country and the lack of clinical and other support available to families who are affected. We learned that a mother need not consume large amounts of alcohol during her pregnancy to be affected, because individual women’s constitutions respond differently to alcohol consumption.

The impact on the unborn child, which can last for the rest of their life, can be profound. FASD causes organic brain damage in an unborn child. We were told that it causes heart defects, dental issues, eyesight problems, bladder difficulties, walking difficulties, cognitive challenges and memory and behavioural difficulties. Often it means that babies are premature. We heard about the emotional impact on those affected by FASD as they develop into young people and move into adulthood: they can withdraw from society, become unpredictable and even become suicidal. That places great stress on parents and carers, many of whom experience periods of isolation and ill health. The inquiry heard that it is likely that a much higher proportion of children are born with FASD than is currently recognised. Those children will have a variety of difficulties in childhood and in later life.

The tragedy is that, theoretically, FASD is 100% preventable if all pregnant women are given clear advice on the risks of alcohol intake to their unborn child. We were told that the best advice for young women is not to drink if they are considering becoming pregnant, since there are effects even at the earliest stage.

Equally tragic is the fact that in the UK, there have been decades of mixed messages regarding the right level of alcohol intake during pregnancy. I remember that from when I had my children, which is well over 20 years ago. The all-party group was advised that a clear message should be given by Government Departments that, just as smoking during pregnancy affected the unborn child and should be avoided, so too did alcohol and it too should be avoided.

For the UK not to be sending that message is not only tragic for the families concerned; it goes against international best practice, which is to advocate that alcohol be avoided if a woman is pregnant, thinks she might be pregnant or is trying to conceive. In Canada, children as young as primary school age are taught that. Pregnant women in Denmark, France, Israel, Norway, Mexico, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain and the Netherlands are advised to abstain completely from alcohol. Since 1981, the USA has advocated that

“no alcohol is safest for baby and you.”

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Without such a clear message, pregnant women in the UK are left confused and uncertain. I know from my work as the chair of the all-party group on alcohol harm that few people can accurately measure one unit of alcohol. If a message is sent out that one or two units a week is okay, it is probably easy to think, “Well, why not three or even four or more?”

One of the reasons that women are confused stems from the unclear guidelines provided by UK professional and governmental bodies. Although NICE and the Department of Health warn of the potential for alcohol to harm an unborn child, incredibly they do not go on to stipulate that women should abstain from drinking during pregnancy. The Government are currently carrying out an alcohol review, and I hope they will seriously consider that issue. By contrast, the British Medical Association advocates that no alcohol should be drunk during pregnancy. As a result of those mixed messages, not only are women confused but many midwives are uncomfortable about giving advice on alcohol. A study that questioned 200 midwives found that only 60% asked women about their drinking habits, 30% advised against binge-drinking, and only 10% were aware of FASD. As our report says:

“this is astonishing and deeply worrying, and something which must be rectified as a matter of urgency.”

More encouragingly, 93% of midwives said that they would be comfortable advising that no alcohol should be drunk during pregnancy if that was the consistent message from the Government. In the absence of such clarity, however, they are afraid to offer such advice.

Our inquiry also revealed a similar lack of in-depth knowledge about FASD across the medical profession. There is only one specialist FASD clinic in the UK, and it is wholly overstretched. That lack of in-depth knowledge means that children with FASD are often given multiple inaccurate diagnoses, such as ADHD, autism or an attachment disorder. Appropriate support mechanisms are rarely put in place, and families are left frustrated and confused. It is critical that FASD is given a higher priority within the NHS for research, diagnostic, and support services.

Mr Graham Allen: The hon. Lady is making a fascinating contribution. Given that the Minister is in his place, is this a good moment for her to comment on the failure to fund research into the prevalence of foetal alcohol syndrome? I am sure she is coming to that, but given that the Minister is paying great attention, perhaps this is a good moment to get that message sprayed on to the Department’s eyeballs.

Fiona Bruce: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Our report states that because of inadequate research in this country, there is insufficient information to encourage those involved—including, we believe, Government representatives—to take action.

Several of our witnesses testified that there must be more appropriate training on FASD among the medical profession, and national standards must be adhered to. For example, we heard how diagnosis could take place as early as for a one-month-old child, or as late as at 10 years, or not at all. It appears to rely on which professional a child sees. Time and again we heard from families, including parents, grandparents, adoptive parents and foster carers, that they had to explain to medical staff the diagnostic nuances of FASD.

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As I have said, the extent of this condition has been under-recognised by successive Governments. Research now indicates that 30% to 50% of children in foster care could be affected by FASD, and a study mentioned in our report from an audit in Peterborough, published in October 2015, showed that 75% of children referred for adoption had a history of pre-natal alcohol exposure. If those figures are extrapolated across the UK, that should have major implications for Government policy on fostering and adoption. Sadly, there are also impacts on the criminal justice system, and our inquiry heard of vulnerable young people with FASD who move into adulthood where they cannot meet societal expectations and behavioural norms. Those people are being exploited by criminal gangs and sexual predators, which is a result—certainly in part—of a lack of concern, understanding and support for them and their condition.

In conclusion, the seriousness of the problem cannot be overstated. Our report makes a number of recommendations that the hon. Member for Sefton Central may well go into in more detail. The impact on the early stages of a child’s life cannot be overstated. Even the alcohol industry has taken considerable steps to send warnings not to drink during pregnancy. Ninety-one per cent. of alcoholic drinks in bottles and cans now carry a warning.

That is not enough, however. A study by Drinkaware revealed that more than half of pregnant women in the UK receive no advice at all about drinking while pregnant. The original clinical diagnosis of FASD was made in 1973. Our inquiry showed that

“in the four decades since then, the UK as a whole has still barely acknowledged its existence.”

That must change, and the Government must take a lead.

3.55 pm

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who has been an excellent vice-chair of the all-party group on foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I congratulate hon. Members on bringing the debate to the House because it gives us a timely opportunity to talk about the initial findings of our inquiry, of which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) was another valued member.

I want to repeat as forcefully as I can the point that the hon. Lady made about the need for a prevalence study. I have asked the Minister about it previously in questions, and I put it to him that such a study is essential. The evidence we took in our inquiry is backed up by evidence that has come from around the world over many years—the hon. Lady identified a number of those countries. The time has long since passed for us getting that evidence base in this country so that we can understand as well as possible exactly how great a problem it is and what solutions are needed. The Minister can intervene now, but perhaps he will address that point later.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) mentioned brain development and the damage done by alcohol during pregnancy when a mother and baby are susceptible to that damage. They are frightening results.

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Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): One other area we need to consider is malnutrition and micro-malnutrition. Regardless of obesity or weight, we are seeing a more malnourished diet in this country from poor quality food and reliance on food bank food. Work done has shown low levels of iodine, which increases cretinism, and low levels of folate, in girls in their late teens, which means that, as they enter the child-bearing age, they are at high risk of having children who have major disabilities.

Bill Esterson: I am glad the hon. Lady managed to get that point on the record. That is an incredibly important part of the picture of the damage done to brain development. I want to concentrate my remarks on the damage from alcohol and the inquiry report that the all-party group has just published, but I am grateful to her. Her point is very complementary to my remarks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North made a powerful point on the potential of early intervention—he said it could be the biggest deficit reduction scheme of all and mentioned the figure of £17 billion. That is an important point when it comes to foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. In Canada and the US, they use the term “million dollar baby”. It refers to the lifetime costs of the damage done by alcohol during pregnancy. The hon. Member for Congleton and others have mentioned many of those costs, whether it is the inability to engage socially or hold down a job. Many end up in the criminal justice system and many of us care for children and young adults who were damaged by alcohol during pregnancy. All of these things have huge economic and social costs. It is incredibly important that we take those points on board, whether on alcohol harm or other forms of damage and deprivation caused during pregnancy and in the early years.

The all-party group took evidence from a great many experts: Martin Clarke of the Adolescent and Children’s Trust; the consultant psychiatrist and nationally renowned expert on FASD, Dr Raja Mukherjee; Sir Al Ainsley Green, now President of the British Medical Association; SABMiller from the drinks industry; the British Pregnancy Advisory Service; Public Health Research; a midwife; and parents and carers, as well as young adults living with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. We heard heartrending examples of damage done, difficulties faced and the life-limiting effects of alcohol during pregnancy.

I want to pay tribute to and thank the Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Trust for the secretariat support, and other organisations such as the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, which has for many years attempted to improve the education of professionals in health, education and other sectors on what is needed to prevent the disorder and to support people who care for children and young adults; and Mencap, which advises GPs.

There have been some puzzling changes over the past 20 or 30 years, something the hon. Lady touched on. In the 1970s, alcohol consumption in the UK was one of the lowest in the western world. From that low base, however, there has been a steady increase. There is a remarkably strong correlation between the increase in alcohol consumption and the increase in the incidence of mental health problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, Asperger’s, and many different kinds of learning and physical disabilities. The remarkably

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close correlation suggests causality. Brain damage is not reversible and is clearly significant. As the hon. Lady said, the World Health Organisation estimates that 1% of people born today are affected by FASD. Even at 1%, that is 7,000 children born every year. That is 7,000 too many.

For anyone new to this subject, there is a widely shared video of the effect of a small drop of alcohol on an embryo, which is compared with an embryo that does not experience the ingestion of a small drop of alcohol. The difference is stark. For two hours, the embryo stops moving altogether. We can only wonder at the damage done at that very early stage of pregnancy. International evidence suggests that the damage is done in the early days and weeks in particular.

As the hon. Lady said, the advice is far from clear. On the one hand, people are told not to drink. That seems clear. From the evidence heard by the all-party group, that is the right advice. However, the advice also says that if a woman chooses to drink, she should drink only one or two units. The advice appears inconsistent and contradictory. We took evidence from health professionals, the vast majority of whom do not appear to be aware of the real level of risk and danger. They do not appear to be passing on advice to women planning to conceive or who are pregnant. That is why our inquiry recommended it be made clear that the best thing for mother and baby is for the mother not to drink at all.

I hope that the Minister—I am sure he will—and all who are interested will read the report and carefully consider its recommendations. It is only an initial report—we plan to continue our work—and I hope that he or one of his colleagues will come to one of our meetings to discuss this matter in greater detail. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North said, early intervention gives us a fantastic opportunity not only to improve the life chances of many people but to save a lot of money. When it comes to the damage done by alcohol during pregnancy, the 7,000 figure, which, from the evidence we received, might well be on the low side, suggests that there is a huge opportunity. I hope that, as a result of the work we have done and the fine work of those Members responsible for today’s report, progress can be made and that the Minister will agree to commission the prevalence study, so that we can start to reduce the number of children damaged every year in this country.

4.6 pm

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), and I completely endorse their points about foetal alcohol syndrome. It feels like we have not caught up with the evidence, and we need to do so urgently, given the awful carnage being done to babies by this dreadful condition, so I congratulate the all-party group on foetal alcohol spectrum disorder on its work.

I also congratulate the right hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton)—

Tim Loughton: Hon. Member.

Norman Lamb: Oh, I do apologise. To me, he is right honourable. He has shown great leadership, both as a Minister and in his work since, and I applaud him for that. I also join others in acknowledging the fantastic

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leadership shown by the hon. Members for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) and for Nottingham North (Mr Allen).

Like the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, I had the one-to-one seminar with George Hosking from the WAVE Trust. I had it many years ago, but I remember it still very clearly: the evidence he showed me, from Australia and the United States, was compelling. He is rightly on a mission and has had a significant influence, which should be acknowledged, so I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking him for his amazing work.

I want to focus on perinatal mental health. Here, we are dealing with two lives: the mother’s and the baby’s. The impact of mental ill health in the first year after birth is profound. As the hon. Gentleman said, it affects up to 20% of women. We often think of it as post-natal depression, but it goes much wider than that. The London School of Economics’ personal social services research unit and the Centre for Mental Health have produced an important piece of work on the economics of this. They refer to anxiety, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions, including obsessive compulsive disorder. The impact of these conditions on the mother, but also on the baby and the wider family, can be very profound.

The cost of failure, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North made clear, is enormous. The report by the LSE and the Centre for Mental Health estimates the cost of perinatal ill health as being £8.1 billion at the very minimum. The basis for calculation was the mothers who suffered depression, anxiety and psychosis, but they recognised that other conditions were relevant, too, which have not been costed, so the overall cost is bigger. We must understand that. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made clear, this amounts to £10,000 for every baby born in this country. The cost of failure is just enormous.

How have we responded to this extraordinary impact? Slowly but surely, things are changing, but if we look at the recently published map on the availability of services around the country—this relates to the UK’s specialist community perinatal mental health teams—we see that in 2015, the map is still horribly red. This does not indicate constituencies held by the Labour party—[Interruption.] Thank goodness! This indicates the parts of the country where no specialist team is available. Let us imagine for one moment that this was the case for stroke care or heart conditions: there would be a national outcry.

No party or Government is responsible for this situation. We are dealing with an emerging understanding, and it is about developing a new service. When I look at the whole of East Anglia, my own region, I see that not a single specialist team is available. That is truly shocking. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, people are dying, and some even take their own lives, yet these are deaths that could be prevented by the application of specialist services around our country. None of us can be comfortable with the fact that so much of our country does not have the ready availability of support for mothers in this situation.

There is an urgency to ensuring that we act to get the whole country covered. I was pleased when in response to the cross-party campaign for equality for mental health, we had the basic simple principle that there

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should be equal access to care and support—irrespective of whether people have a mental or a physical health problem. At the moment, that does not exist, but the campaign that we launched on the run-up to the spending review secured a response from the Chancellor of an extra £600 million for mental health. In his statement to Parliament, the Chancellor specifically mentioned the importance of perinatal mental health services. That money must be used.

I end by urging the Minister to do everything in his power to instil a real sense of urgency, with a programme and a timetable to get every part of the country covered by specialist services. I find it unbelievable in this day and age that the CCGs mentioned by the hon. Gentleman have not even started to think about this yet. These are the people who hold responsibility in our NHS for commissioning services for our populations, but a significant number of them have not yet even started the process of thinking about the problem. The message needs to go out from the Minister, but also from NHS England nationally, that this situation is intolerable and cannot be sustained. We must ensure that this Parliament reaches the point by 2020 when the whole of that map of the United Kingdom is green, so that every mother, when she is in need, following birth, can get access to the specialist services that can help her to recover.

4.13 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who touched strongly on perinatal mental health. That is one of the issues addressed in the work of the all-party parliamentary group on conception to age two—the first 1001 days. In common with others, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) not just for his introduction to the debate, but for the way in which he has chaired that all-party group and the thorough way in which evidence has been drawn and accumulated from so many practitioners, academics and others. He has followed up the pioneering work done by the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) in establishing the group, along with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas).

I have been a member of the all-party parliamentary group since its own conception, and I have been particularly impressed by the way in which so many different organisations, all of which have pledged their support to this manifesto, have engaged with its work with the aim of making us better informed about the policy questions that we raise, the policy priorities that we identify, and the ideas that we present.

It is great that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) has been here to contribute to the debate, because in a number of respects he has been a policy prophet. For many years, people who talked about early years policy tended to mean the year or two before a child went to school, when the child was three or four years old. All too often, early intervention or early years policy has concentrated less on the role of parents as parents than on their role as workers who have parental responsibilities and are therefore in need of childcare, and who, along with their employers, benefit from good childcare support. We need to support parents in their capacity as parents with key responsibilities

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for their children, and that means supporting them when the children are experiencing those first, formative stages of their lives.

We have already heard today about all the scientific evidence relating to the plasticity of the brain and the key development of neurological pathways during the early stages of life. One of the academics who gave evidence to the all-party parliamentary group made the telling point that many of the experiences that affect people over their lifetimes can be traced back to childhood experiences that could have been averted, or prevented, by good early years support, and that means adequate support for parents during the formative years of their children’s lives. For instance, there may be a high correlation between child and adolescent mental health issues in the later stages of people’s lives and some of their experiences during their early years, when they may have faced challenges such as an upbringing in distressed circumstances or the absence of opportunities that could have been afforded if their parents had been given proper support.

That academic used a striking phrase. He was a north American, so perhaps it came from him all the better. He said, “Unlike what happens in Las Vegas, what happens in the early years does not stay in the early years.” For good or bad, what happens in the early years is with us throughout our lives, and many of those experiences may inform our expectations in life and of life. That it is all the more reason for us to invest strongly in the early years, not just in terms of family love but in terms of policy and programme planning, and of actual support in the form of local services.

While I have been hugely impressed by much of the evidence that I have received as a member of the all-party parliamentary group—and, like the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), by the compelling case that has been put forward by George Hosking and others—I am happy to say that I have benefited from the presence in my constituency of the Lifestart Foundation, which was established in Ireland back in the 1980s and which operates active programmes in different parts of that country. Its essential mission is to provide high-quality parental support in order to produce better child development outcomes. It gives parents evidence-based information about the way in which young children learn and develop, and helps them to use the knowledge that they have gained.

The foundation also promotes the delivery of its Growing Child programme. Unfortunately time does not permit me to spell out the details of the programme, but they chime with all the points that Members have made today, and accord very strongly with the main points and principles in the manifesto that we are discussing. The foundation delivers a systematic evidence-based child development programme by means of home visiting, from which, as a parent myself, I benefited in my own area. That goes to parents of children from birth right up to pre-school, and indeed school entry. The outcomes are informed by sound empirical research, and they are designed and reviewed by child development and parenting experts.

There has been a randomised control trial conducted by Queen’s University from 2008 to this year and beyond. It involves 848 parents and children, and it has already

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proved the findings that argue for this manifesto. I encourage the Minister to look up those findings from the centre for effective education at Queen’s University in Belfast, because they prove that the Lifestart programme and the home visiting service work as predicted, with significant positive outcomes for parents and improved outcomes for children. Parents are less stressed, have greater knowledge of child development, demonstrate higher levels of parenting efficacy, are more confident around child discipline and boundary setting, report better parenting mood, have increased feelings of attachment with their children—the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) stressed that earlier—and feel less restricted in their parenting role. Of course, for children there are better cognitive skills, better social and emotional development, improved behaviour, and fewer speech and language referrals, and these positive effects on children will be expected to continue through life. This research team will be following the children’s development through school.

This all goes to show what international research points to: the quality of parenting, the amount of time adults spend interacting with children, and the nature of the whole learning environment are critical to child development and ensuring we avoid many of the social stresses and problems and behavioural issues that affect us all, and inform some of our debates on other subjects in this House.

As well as giving that example of Lifestart and its work in my constituency and elsewhere in the north and south of Ireland, I encourage the Minister not just to look at this manifesto in terms of what he can do in his own departmental responsibilities and in talking to ministerial colleagues here, but to see whether he should have a wider conversation not just with devolved Ministers, but using the British Irish Council model which takes in all eight Administrations on these islands, to talk about how we might roll out truly effective early years and proactive early intervention policies more widely, building on the arguments in this manifesto and drawing on the evidential experiences from elsewhere. What this shows is that all the rendered science chimes with our most tender instincts about what is the best thing to do for children in these early years.

4.23 pm

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and the Backbench Business Committee on bringing this important debate and issue to the House.

“The 1001 Critical Days” document is an extremely important manifesto, attracting support from across the political spectrum as well as from a wide range of professional and third sector organisations. It highlights how vital the early days of childhood are for both parents and children, and the importance of acting early and focusing policies in order to enhance the outcomes for children both over the short term and the long term. This is of benefit for the individual child, their families and society as a whole.