The speech made by Tom Hunt, the Conservative MP for Ipswich, in the House of Commons on 3 February 2021.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petitions 300239 and 327566 relating to grooming gangs.
I would like to thank the 131,625 people who signed the first of the e-petitions that we will be debating today, calling for the release of the Home Office review into this issue, which of course has now happened. The second, smaller petition, signed by over 30,000 people, is calling for a public inquiry into the issue of grooming gangs. Clearly, this issue is of huge importance, and it has caused immense distress to a huge number of people across the country—the victims themselves who have been victims of this appalling crime, but also their friends and family, and I would add to that the whole communities that I think have been shocked and appalled by what has happened.
I think there is a sense, though, from this Home Office report that it is not quite what many people were intending. When I talk about “many people”, ahead of this debate, being a member of the Petitions Committee, although I do not represent a constituency where this has been a big issue, I found it incumbent upon myself to speak to other hon. and right hon. Members who have knowledge in this area, but also to some of the victims of this appalling crime, to gain a greater understanding of what their views are and also their views on the report. Many of them do feel that the report does not go far enough; they believe it only touches upon the issues. If it is the start of something far more significant, then okay, but if it is the end of it, they will feel very unsatisfied. I would support them in saying that I do believe further action should be taken.
One of the key problems has been the lack of data, which has made it difficult to go into detail regarding the characteristics of the grooming gangs and those involved. That has been problematic. Some hon. Members have raised the point that if the data is just not available, then surely we can just look at those who have been convicted and gain a pretty accurate picture of the kinds of individuals who have been engaged in the matter. That has been raised before.
Of course, those who are most responsible for this appalling crime are those who have been found guilty—those who have carried out the evil act. They are the principal individuals, but there is also a great sense in many of the communities and in towns such as Rotherham and Rochdale—although the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has done brilliant work on this issue, showing great courage in standing up for and battling for her constituents—that they have been failed over a long period of time by the state, at both local level and national level. They feel like this issue was swept under the carpet because it was seen as being inconvenient and not politically correct to talk about it. That is how they feel; that is the hurt that they feel, and it is incumbent upon all of us in this House to address those concerns and give them a sense that justice has been done, and also that the lessons have been learned, so that we can try to ensure that we do not continue to have these appalling crimes happening within our society.
There is a wider point here, though, about this issue and about whether it was political correctness, for want of a better word, or something else—concern about cultural sensitivities—but does seem in many cases that the majority of those who have engaged in this evil act came from one particular community. Many feel—and I agree with them—that if it is the case that certain crimes are disproportionately committed by members of certain communities, we should be open and honest about that and address it, because actually, by sweeping it under the carpet and not addressing it , it makes tensions and divisions worse down the line.
I would say that, as a society, we have a long way to go when it comes to tackling racism. I do not think we have completed that journey yet, but would it not be great if, as a society, we were mature enough to have these difficult discussions, while never losing sight of the fact that the vast majority in our society stand against racism, and against stigmatising particular communities? This issue does need to be addressed.
We look at the role of racism and how many of the victims of this appalling crime feel as though there is concern from certain individuals that they would be branded a racist or called out for being a racist if they spoke the truths as they know them to be on some of these matters. Actually, the view of a lot of these victims, who more often than not are white working-class girls—our girls—is that they were on occasion specifically targeted because of the fact that they were white, because of their western-ness, and because of the fact that they were not Asian. That is how they feel. I would encourage those who disagree with how they feel to have a discussion with them, because that is how they feel. Therefore, the information and data about the ethnic background of those who have been found guilty of these crimes is necessary if we are to gain a profound understanding of this appalling crime, learn the lessons, and ensure that it never happens again. If we do believe that this kind of racism towards white girls is a driver here—if we do believe that it is the case—and that it is an aggravating factor, then we need to address it, and we need a report that addresses it and gets under the skin of the issue in a way that it has not so far.
I planned not to talk at great length here today. Although I do, as a Member of this place, feel passionately about this issue, as it happens my constituency has not been impacted by it as much as many hon. Members’ constituencies have, so I want to make sure that they have as much time as possible today to talk about some of the stories within their own constituencies, because I think that is very important. I would like to thank the founder of the petition, George MacDonald, and the victims I spoke to as well. I think it is right to say that the abuse of young girls conducted by grooming gangs has shaken society and we should do everything in our power to eradicate it.
I would also like to thank, on behalf of the petitioners, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the actions she has taken. Like her predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), she has been very robust on this issue. I feel that if it had not been for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, there probably would not have been any report all. At the end of day, any report is better than no report, in particular any report that at least promises that in future we will get the right data to be able to look at this issue and come up with solutions. As a member of the Petitions Committee, I support the petitioners in their desire for further action to be taken, so this can be looked at more thoroughly.