On 19th July 2019 the House of Lords debated at Second Reading the Victims of Crime (Rights, Entitlements, and Notification of Child Sexual Abuse) Bill, a private member’s bill introduced by Baroness Brinton. The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd James Langstaff, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for bringing forward this Bill and applaud the intention to give a stronger statutory position for victims of crime, especially in relation to the code and the role of the commissioner. The noble Baroness spoke of the “dignity and respect” with which we should treat the victims of crime. In my capacity as Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons, I often find myself in conversations about treating with dignity and respect the perpetrators of crime. It seems obvious that we should accord at least the same to victims of crime. In the context of this debate, I am proud that my diocese has become the first English diocese formally to sign a partnership arrangement with the White Ribbon campaign in relation to male violence against women and recruiting of champions.
However, as already trailed by the noble Baroness, my main comments relate to Clause 11, concerning the duty to be placed on certain people, occupations and professions to report to the police where a child discloses abuse, or the person concerned reasonably suspects that such abuse may have occurred. As the noble Baroness pointed out, in the context of the current IICSA hearings, the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have both indicated a shift in their thinking towards the principle of mandatory reporting. The Bill does not specifically include the clergy or other church workers by occupation—youth workers in particular come to mind—but they could come within its scope in so far as their work might relate to regulated activities.
Following the IICSA hearings and when their reports are produced, it is likely that the Church of England—I cannot speak for other churches or faith communities—will seek to strengthen what is already provided for in its various measures and provisions around these matters. In particular, Section 5 of Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure could be revised in line with the direction of travel. I am given to understand that there is an intention to explore ways in which the kind of disciplinary provision already in place in for clergy might be extended to others engaged in regulated activities in a church setting.
There are details that are not simple. Certainly, if we step outside named professions and begin to talk about people in voluntary activities, we enter a different world, but, none the less, those matters need to be taken seriously. For some church traditions and communities, the whole business of information received in the context of sacramental confession is an issue. It is being looked at at the moment by the Church of England; those discussions have not yet concluded, but they are actively under way. While Clause 11 might not directly or explicitly encompass the clergy and others in churches in all respects, my view is that it would none the less offer the churches, and potentially other faith communities, helpful support as we go about strengthening our own procedures and practices in this regard.
As for the rest of the Bill, I simply say that it sounds obvious; it sounds like good practice; it ought to be there. It has my support.
Baroness Brinton: [extract] … I am pleased that Mandate Now has provided a very detailed briefing updating us since the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has been taking evidence on mandatory reporting. My noble friend welcomes the clause, but she is particularly delighted that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse last week that he now believes that we need mandatory reporting and that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York agrees. I hope the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester will be able to add some comments to that.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD): [extract] My noble friend talked about the support she had received from the right reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and looked forward to the contribution that we have now heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. No one in this House could have disagreed with a word he said. His summary was important, when he said that everything in the Bill was obviously good practice and ought to be there as a matter of law. I hope that the Government found that speech and that sentiment persuasive. .
Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op): [extract] … The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and his diocese must be congratulated on the work they do with the white ribbon campaign. It is a great campaign to end male violence against women; I know one or two of the people involved. …
Baroness Barran (Con): [extract] … The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, focused on Clause 11, which deals with the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. She gave some deeply troubling examples and shared her difficult expertise, if I can phrase it like that, about issues of online sexual abuse. Obviously, online abuse goes a lot wider than children and, as she is aware, the Government aim to address some of these issues through the online harms White Paper. …