The speech made by Robbie Moore, the Conservative MP for Keighley, in the House of Commons on 26 October 2021.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you and Mr Speaker for granting this urgent debate on child sexual exploitation in Keighley and across the Bradford district.
Child sexual exploitation is abhorrent, but I am afraid that the issue is being swept under the carpet. Local government leaders and people in positions of influence have a duty of care to protect the most vulnerable in society—our young children, women and girls. People need to open their eyes to this issue. We know that young children remain at risk. It is about time that we tackled these horrific, vile and criminal activities once and for all.
In my mind, in order to move forward, it is vital that we call this issue out for what it is, hold those authorities that have failed our communities for far too long to account, grasp the scale of the problem, understand its complexities—the hierarchy, the methodology and the chain of command that sits behind these darkest and most vile acts—and get to grips with how and why communities such as the one that I proudly represent in Keighley have been allowed, under the watch of so many, to be haunted by gang-related child sexual exploitation for far too long. If we do not address these issues properly, openly and with a real willingness to deal with them, those at the centre of all this—our young children—will continue to be let down, to be targeted, and to be exploited and sexually abused by the worst individuals our society knows.
It has now been more than 20 years since the former Member of Parliament for Keighley, Ann Cryer, first very publicly raised her concerns about grooming gangs and child sexual exploitation in the Pakistani community in my constituency. Ann deserves enormous credit for her work talking about this very difficult subject, but I am afraid that in that time, nothing has really changed. No real progress has been made in dealing with this issue across Keighley and the wider Bradford district.
I am incredibly conscious of just how delicate this subject is, but we should not be frightened of talking about it. My view is that unless we talk openly, we are failing. So let us call this problem out for what it is: predominantly a small minority of largely Pakistani Muslim men in West Yorkshire—including, I am sad to say, in Keighley and across the Bradford district—who have been sexually exploiting young children for far too long. The Pakistani community are quite rightly outraged that the entire community is being branded with the same accusation. That is not fair and it is deeply offensive.
Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech and rightly shining a light on, frankly, an absolute abdication of responsibility by the authorities in his constituency. Does he agree that if the Government are serious about tackling male sexual violence against women and girls, it is absolutely imperative that we tackle cultural practices where we find them?
I absolutely agree with the points my hon. Friend makes so eloquently. Let us be absolutely clear: I have had to bring this debate to the Chamber because, as a representative of Keighley in the Bradford district, I am experiencing those points: failure by our local council and failure by our new West Yorkshire Mayor —who is lucky enough to be in a new position, in charge of West Yorkshire police—to tackle these issues head on.
Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
This issue was first brought to light in Rotherham. At that time, many organisations such as the police and the council felt that they were maybe being racist by tackling it because it involved one particular community. Is that still a problem, or has that been cleared up?
This is a very delicate subject and I am acutely conscious of that. I must admit that I am nervous talking about it, but we have to address these issues. Every community across the country is different, including mine, but we have to look at the common denominator. I want to be very clear that this is not about race or pitching communities against each other. It is about looking at the facts, so we can address them head on and move forward.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for giving way. I commend him for bringing forward this debate and for all the work he is doing locally to shine a light on this issue. Does he agree that this is about the victims and ensuring they get the justice they deserve, and ensuring there are no future victims of this terrible crime? Does he agree that if Bradford Council and the authorities there will not bring forward a much needed inquiry—partly because, presumably, it will expose huge amounts of wrongdoing on their part—the Government should make sure that we have an inquiry, so that we can get to the bottom of what has gone wrong and make sure it never, ever happens again?
I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for making those points. We must never forget who is at the centre of this debate and who is experiencing these horrific, vile acts. I will come on to some of the alarming and horrific cases experienced by many young girls across my constituency and the wider Bradford district. We need to be absolutely clear that local leaders, Bradford Council and our new West Yorkshire Mayor should be using their position to call this issue out for what it is; be clear about taking these issues forward; and be wanting to get behind resolving these issues. My view is very clear: we need a Rotherham-style inquiry to address these issues. Finally, on his point about influence from a national level going down to local leaders, I very much hope to use this opportunity to encourage the Government to use their weight to put pressure on Bradford Council and our new West Yorkshire Mayor to do the right thing.
Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this subject to the Chamber. It is very, very important. Does he agree that the only way we will know the full scale of these vile crimes in Bradford is for a full Rotherham-type investigation? Does he also agree that certain local politicians on the council and the West Yorkshire Mayor should hang their heads in shame?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We need to understand the scale of the problem across the Bradford district, and I will come on to that later in my speech. Only this summer, in July, a light, limited, 50-page review was released, and Bradford Council and our new West Yorkshire Mayor feel that that is acceptable. We need a full Rotherham-style inquiry to look at this, so that we can get real learnings and provide reassurance for victims.
Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being brave enough to bring this matter forward with such passion and such force. May I suggest that he works closely with the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who has been a huge support to me in tackling these issues? Local councils do not want to have inquiries. My local council vigorously opposed an inquiry, and when we eventually succeeded in getting one, with great help from the then Home Secretary, it ambushed the inquiry by deluging it with 1 million documents. Four years on, the victims in my constituency who came to me for a solution have not had their inquiry. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to go for a Rotherham-style inquiry, which was effective and delivered what it needed to—justice for victims.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I wholeheartedly agree with the points she makes. She kindly made reference to my hon. Friend—if I may say so—the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). This is one of the most important debates that we must have in this House, but when I look at the Opposition Benches, I see that she is the only hon. Member who has turned up to the debate. That speaks volumes. I thank her for coming along; it is exceptionally kind. I agree that yes, we must have a full Rotherham-style inquiry to get to grips with the issue, because I certainly do not want it to continue to be swept under the carpet.
I want to make the point that this is not about race or pitting communities against each other; it is about looking at the facts so that we can address them and move forward. Of course it is about looking at that common denominator, but it is no different from identifying other common denominators when looking at child sexual exploitation, such as we have seen in inquiries on similar subjects—regarding the Catholic church, for example. The reality is that we must understand the complexities that relate to a community so that we can move forward.
The consequences of not acting are extremely serious. If we tiptoe around the edges or fail to talk openly about these challenges, we fail both the victims and the Pakistani community. Those victims, mainly young girls, are having their lives ruined at a young age by vile and disgusting sexual abuse, and it is all being done while authorities, including Bradford Council and West Yorkshire police, turn a blind eye and fail to take action year after year.
Is it not the case that many of those girls will either be in the care of the local authorities, as looked-after children, or come from families that social workers are closely engaging with?
My right hon. Friend makes a worrying and accurate intervention, because that is absolutely the case. Most of the young girls we are talking about, as I will come on to later in my speech, are the very girls who are in protective care of the authorities that should be looking after them.
Sarah Atherton (Wrexham) (Con)
A mark of a good society is how we protect our most vulnerable. I trained as a social worker in Liverpool in 2000, and anecdotally we knew that institutional cover-ups were going on because people were too afraid to do anything. I urge my hon. Friend to go forth and continue with this campaign; I know he will see personal repercussions for it, but I am fully behind him.
I thank my hon. Friend for her kind intervention. As representatives, we are all elected to do the very best for our community and call out the difference between what is right and what is wrong. This is not a political issue; it is about doing the right thing to stand up for our communities.
This summer, a limited review, which focused on just five children who had been sexually abused over the past 20 years in the Bradford district, was published. It makes horrifying reading. Let me tell the House about Anna—not her real name—who is mentioned in the review. She was repeatedly sexually abused by gangs of men while she was in care. The review says that when she was 15, she had an Islamic marriage with her abuser, and her social worker attended the ceremony.
Ruby—not her real name—had a disrupted childhood, which included the death of her mother when Ruby was a very young child. At the age of 13, Ruby was identified as being at risk of child sexual abuse. Throughout her childhood, she experienced 14 different placements in looked-after care. She was sexually abused, and the report identifies that childcare services in Bradford
“did not keep her safe.”
The limited review published in the summer is only a 50-page document. To my mind, it reflects only the tip of the iceberg of what has been going on across the Bradford district. In 2016, a group of 12 men who committed serious sexual offences against two young girls from Keighley and Bradford were jailed for a collective 132 years. One of those girls was raped by five men in succession. Live cases involving grooming gangs are still working their way through the courts. Only last October, 21 men from Keighley and Bradford were arrested after being linked to offences that allegedly occurred against a young girl between 2001 and 2009.
Decisive action is needed if we are to deal with the issue. That is why we need a full, independent Rotherham-style inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Keighley and the wider Bradford district.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; I commend him for everything he says. Is it not shocking that the leader of Bradford Council, Susan Hinchcliffe, has said that we should not have a Rotherham-style inquiry in Bradford because it “won’t find anything new”? Is that not shocking complacency on the part of the leader of Bradford Council? If the council has nothing to hide, it would have nothing to fear from such an inquiry; we could all know once and for all exactly what has happened, satisfy ourselves that there is nothing to hide, and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. Is her attitude not terrible and complacent? Does it not show complete disregard for the victims?
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for his kind intervention. He eloquently makes a crucial point: the leader of Bradford Council is in a unique position to trigger a Rotherham-style inquiry. I do not understand what the council, or others such as our new West Yorkshire Mayor, should have to fear from being more open and transparent or from wanting to move things forward in the best interests of victims across our constituencies and the wider Bradford district.
How do we get there? How do we instigate a full Rotherham-style inquiry? As happened in Rotherham, Bradford Council can and should appoint an independent chair such as Professor Alexis Jay to conduct an independent inquiry into its handling, and associated agencies’ handling, of child sexual exploitation over the past 20 years.
We need to learn lessons locally to find out what has been going wrong with institutions such as Bradford Council, West Yorkshire police and Bradford’s child protection services. Believe me, they need addressing. Bradford’s children’s services department is in a state of chaos. In 2018 it was rated by Ofsted as inadequate, needing severe improvement. Only this summer the Government had to step in and put a commissioner in charge of the department to look at it, and only this week a further Ofsted report was released: it was incredibly damning, stating that no improvement was taking place at a sufficient pace.
Is it not telling, given all these failings of children’s services at Bradford Council, that council leaders never take responsibility for those failings? There is a merry-go-round of children’s services directors being fired and hired, while the people at the top of the council never accept responsibility for the failings that occur on their watch.
Leaders of any organisation have a responsibility to do the right thing. It is unfortunate that Bradford’s children’s services department has been on the watch of not only the current council leader, but the same chief executive who has presided over those children’s services since 2015—yet here we are in 2021 with the Government having to step in and do the right thing.
In August, as I have said, a damning report was produced, and that is why Bradford Council needs to stop sweeping this issue under the carpet and launch a full, independent, Rotherham-style inquiry. I will settle for nothing less. As Anna—one of the victims I talked about earlier—said:
“What victims need is a full inquiry, if Rotherham had one, why are we denying it to the thousands of children here in Bradford.”
I have received endless pieces of correspondence asking why so little has been done to tackle child sexual exploitation over the past 20-plus years across the Bradford district. Since I was elected, less than two years ago, I have raised this issue repeatedly, both locally and here in the House. I am raising it again today, and I will continue to raise it. I will not let this issue drop. I was even told that by continuing to raise it I was stoking racial tensions, but that is the nub of this issue. It is not being dealt with. This has nothing to do with stoking racial tensions. It is about the difference between right and wrong, and fundamentally it is about protecting young children.
Those in positions of responsibility need to have the guts to take action. Too many people in positions of responsibility have ducked this issue for decades. Take my predecessor, John Grogan, who said: that an inquiry would not
“be in the best interests of young people.”
Our new West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin, the former Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, is now in charge of policing in West Yorkshire. She is in a perfect position to show leadership and tackle this issue once and for all.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again: he is being very generous with his time. Does he agree that once the inquiry takes place and we get to the bottom of this, and the grooming gangs are put away—in prison, where they rightly belong—the next call will be these lazy politicians? They need locking up too.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I sincerely share his frustration that local leaders are not taking this seriously.
The person that our new West Yorkshire Mayor has put in charge of policing says that this is not a Bradford problem. Let us look across this House. Do most Members represent communities where the local council has missed “clear signs” of child sexual exploitation? Do most Members represent communities where the local children’s services department has just been taken over by the Government, who have stepped in and put a commissioner in charge, and has been the subject of two consecutive very damning Ofsted reports? Do most Members represent communities where children remain unprotected and continue to be sexually exploited? No, they do not. The Bradford district is haunted by these problems and we need to tackle them head on.
This issue has gone on for many years, and of course the administrations at Bradford Council have changed. MPs have changed. However, those who are now in positions of responsibility need to take action. In my view, it is shocking that in responding to calls for a full, independent Rotherham-style inquiry, the leader of Bradford Council, Susan Hinchcliffe, said that an inquiry
“would not be of additional value”
and that she had been “personally hurt” by my comments. This is not personal. This is about calling on those who are in a position of responsibility to do the right thing. If we continue in limbo and fail to take action, the very worst of humanity will exploit this issue for their own gain. Sadly, this happened in my constituency in 2005 when the British National party made Keighley its No. 1 target seat in the parliamentary election. It came into our town, bombarded it with leaflets, held rallies and inflamed racial tensions.
We need to think about the victims in all this: those who have been let down by the very organisations that should have been there to protect them. For Bradford Council, the police and our new West Yorkshire Mayor simply to hang their hat on a limited 50-page review that looked at only five children who had experienced these horrendous events is weak. We must never forget who is at the heart of these conversations. It is the children, the young victims, who have been let down for years by the very organisations that are there to protect them. All of us who are in positions of responsibility have a duty to do the right thing.
In conclusion, here are the facts. Child sexual exploitation is, sadly, a big problem in Keighley and the Bradford district. It has been for many years. It is an abhorrent, disgusting and vile issue, and it needs addressing, especially in the light of the limited review published earlier this year that leaves us with far more questions than answers. Local leaders must stop sweeping this issue under the carpet and tackle it head on. They must open their eyes. I will not let this drop. We need an independent, Rotherham-style inquiry so that we can look at what has gone wrong in the past and ensure that these vile abuses come to an end. We need to reinstall trust in these authorities by the victims, their families and the wider public who have been let down by them. So let us get this done and let us make our community much safer for our children.