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Mark Williams MP writes: Finally Reforming Child Neglect laws

June 4, 2014 5:19 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Today finally, after months of wrangling and patient but determined campaigning, the proposals set out in my Child Maltreatment Bill have been announced in the Queen's Speech, as part of a Serious Crime Bill which the Government will be taking forward.

They've seen sense in the fact that you can't have a Victorian law governing the way we define criminal child neglect in 21st Century Britain. You also can't claim emotional abuse is criminal for over-16s in cases of domestic abuse, as is currently the case according to Ministry of Justice guidance, but not for children. As far as I am concerned, the case is self-evident, and it's been brought about thanks to Liberal Democrats being in Government.

The international evidence for this change was compelling and the need so clear. Some of the stories I heard when first joining the campaign were truly horrific. All agreed that something had to be done, the question was what. To my mind, there was never any suitable alternative to reforming Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, and I am overjoyed that after a lot of hard work and persuasion the Government now agrees with our position.

It's been a long, hard slog and our thanks must go to so many at Action for Children who have worked tirelessly to make this reform a reality. Their dedication to the cause and the amount of work they had already put into proving the necessity of this reform is so evident. It's that dedication and the sheer burden of proof amassed by Action for Children and their Expert Panel, which is what convinced me to support the campaign by introducing my Private Members' Bill. It's that same proof which has finally brought Government round to the idea of reforming the criminal law on child neglect.

This is not the end of the campaign. Of course we have to ensure that the reforms are put in place in the coming months, and that the Government's proposals in the Queen's Speech do become reality. We need proper safeguards, to ensure that this is only ever used as a last resort, when all remedial attempts have failed, but we also need to recognise that emotional abuse leading to significant harm for the children involved is a criminal act. I know that is a principle the Government supports, and I am confident that by the spring of next year these proposals will have become law.

This is a major step towards helping to properly safeguard some of the most vulnerable children in our society. As Liberal Democrats, we have a responsibility to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. To me it is inherently liberal to ensure that every child is given the same opportunity to fulfil their potential. We still have so much more work to do before we can say that we have finally succeeded in the fight to end child neglect in this country, but I for one will keep campaigning alongside Action for Children to make that dream a reality. For as long as it takes.