Summary of the Westminster Debate – Religious Power: Risk and Regulation

On Tuesday 18th November, several interfaith groups hosted a debate in the House of Commons to discuss child sexual abuse and exploitation within religious organisations and communities in the UK.

The meeting took place in Committee Room 12, and guest speakers for the evening were: Baroness Caroline Cox; Danny Sullivan, Chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission for England and Wales; David Greenwood, partner at Switalskis Solicitors; Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini; The Most Reverend Archbishop Jonathan Blake, Bishop of Greater London; Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain and Pt Satish K Sharma, General Secretary for the National Council of Hindu Temples.

Researching Reform’s Natasha Phillips chaired the meeting, which she opened with an explanation of the schedule for the evening and the themes and issues involved. Natasha then introduced the panel members and invited Baroness Cox, the first speaker of the evening, to open the debate.

Baroness Cox began by touching on the current news relating to child sexual abuse and exploitation, including affected vulnerable adults. She spoke about the origins of the independent panel inquiry, and its inception post several publicised cases of celebrities allegedly being involved in child abuse. The Baroness mentioned that the inquiry provided the backdrop for the debate and expressed her deepest sympathy for those affected by abuse, and reiterated her commitment to work towards addressing child sexual exploitation and protecting those vulnerable to this phenomenon.

Baroness Cox then spoke about her professional background, and her work as Chief Executive of HART, which she explained was an organisation which allowed her to work on behalf of victims of oppression and persecution globally, and to be a voice for the voiceless. She explained that her work has led her to feel ever-growing concern about the welfare of women and children in the UK, particularly those suffering from religiously sanctioned gender discrimination. Baroness Cox then talked about her Private Members’ Bill, which focuses on domestic violence, and gender discrimination in religious mediation and arbitration services.

Caroline went on to talk about her religious background as a practicing Christian and the significance of protecting the vulnerable as outlined by the Bible. She went on to explain that she has a wide group of friends, who come from Muslim, Jewish, Christian and non practicing backgrounds and their collective deep desire to stand against injustice and persecution. Baroness Cox went on to detail her concern at what she felt was a rise in unelected self-appointed religious leaders in the UK, who were imposing policies which conflicted with the rule of law and left many women and children at risk of harm. She cited a rise in Sharia courts as an example and the subsequent hardship suffered by women who are unable to seek help outside of their communities when decisions are made which adversely affect their lives, such as child marriage and so-called honour based violence.

Baroness Cox spoke about democracy and the need to rebalance democratic values with freedom of expression, and then went on to look at the terms of the current independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse and exploitation. She spoke of her support for survivors’ organisations who hoped that the inquiry would include vulnerable adults within their remit, and who would like to see a broader panel on the inquiry to include representatives from ethnic and religious minorities. Caroline noted that the inquiry had the potential to not only address safeguarding concerns, but to determine the values that would shape Britain’s future going forward.

Baroness Cox finished her speech by urging the Inquiry to take the testimony of survivors seriously, to focus on the issues surrounding self-appointed religious leaders and to balance freedom of expression with Britain’s secular, democratic laws.

The next speaker was Danny Sullivan, who opened by explaining that the Catholic Church had fared badly in the field of child protection and the way in which victims and survivors had been disbelieved and ignored by the Catholic Church, and that this was a scandal. Danny then went on to talk about the Catholic Church’s structure. He explained that every bishop is autonomous within their own diocese, so that whenever a person came forward with a complaint, the response would differ from diocese to diocese around the world. Acknowledging the prevalence of child abuse, Danny explained that the Bishops of England and Wales went on to ask the government to look at safeguarding issues, which led in 2002 to a review of safeguarding mechanisms within the Catholic Church of England and Wales, led by Lord Nolan.

Danny explained that the review made several recommendations, one of which was to have an established set of national guidelines for dealing with allegations of abuse. These guidelines had been expanded upon to include allegations of historic as well as current abuse, and with a further guideline that the complaint should be reported immediately to a priest or to other statutory agencies. Danny mentioned that the Catholic Church were also committed to mandatory reporting and felt it was an important aspect of safeguarding.

Danny then spoke about another report, commissioned in 2007, by Baroness Cumberlege, to review progress made after the Cumberland Report. He noted that Baroness Cumberlege then went on to make yet more recommendations, one of which included recommending an independent safeguarding commission, chaired by a lay person, and whilst it could include individuals from the clergy the majority of members would have to be laymen, who did not in turn, have to be Catholic.

Of the recommendation that the chair should be a layman, Danny went on to talk about the criticisms he faces as a lay chair of that safeguarding commission, criticisms he felt were justified. Danny recalled that people often ask him what the point of the independent safeguarding commission is, if he himself has no authority over any individual bishop. Danny went on to explain that he is in the same position as the Archbishop of Westminster who is often mistaken as the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, but is in fact not, and has the same level of authority as Danny himself does. Danny then explained that the head of the Catholic Church is the papal nuncio, and that he felt the Church’s structure was a maverick and at times frustrating system in which he has to move around.

Danny went on to say that since Cumberland, the Catholic Church had strengthened its safeguarding measures, that in the last six years every diocese has been audited twice to see how they are implementing the guidelines, that steps had been taken to ensure that wherever possible safeguarding experts were brought in to help with action plans and the implementation of the guidelines; that three of the diocese audited were not conforming to the standards set and since inspection are now doing so.

Addressing Baroness Cox, Danny confirmed that the guidelines currently in use incorporated not only children, but vulnerable adults too, though he preferred the term adults at risk, as he felt this was more focused. These measures and reports, Danny explained, reflected the ways in which the Catholic Church in England and Wales set about trying to address the issues surrounding safeguarding.

Danny then spoke about the current weaknesses within the Church and cited poor engagement with child abuse survivors as one such weakness and more specifically how some diocese respond to victims and survivors of historic child abuse. Danny went on to highlight a recent news item which involved twelve men who had been abused as children by clergy and who, unable to get any help on their own had no choice but to join together to bring their complaint forward. Danny felt this was a good example of how the Church still fails to address historic child abuse, and how victims still have to join forces in order to be heard. Danny also highlighted the depressing nature of the response to the claims made by the men, which were published in the news item. He went on to say that as long as face to face contact with survivors remains poor and unhelpful, the Church still has a long way to go in ensuring that victims are looked after properly.

Danny contrasted the reactions to this case of child abuse and child abuse within the Church in general, using the religious order and Pope Francis’s own responses, and noted that whereas the religious order’s response to the men’s experiences was one of disbelief, the Pope’s reaction to survivors who visited him was apologetic and one of deep sorrow and an acknowledgement of the problems.

As a final thought, Danny mentioned that he now has a working group which comes together to try to improve the way the Church responds to survivors of abuse, and of historic abuse, to improve IT and data collection, and to continue to be as open and transparent as the Church can be.

Next to speak was David Greenwood, who explained that he was a member of MACSAS and a lawyer for survivors of clergy abuse, and had represented hundreds of survivors in the last decade.  He explained that there were many more survivors who needed help but most do not come forward as only the strongest and most resilient are able to do so, and that the church also does not make this process easy for such victims.

David went on to speak about the Church of England and the Catholic Church as organisations with the largest denominations in the UK, and noted that churches have a privileged position in society, with unfettered access to society’s most vulnerable and that this privilege has been bolstered by the state, and the good work the church has done throughout the years. However, such privilege came with responsibility David explained, and went on to say that as such these organisations had failed to be responsible and so should no longer have the right to police themselves.

David cited the practice within the Catholic Church of failing to report abusive priests, instead chosing to move them between countries instead and that this practice had been strongly criticised by the United Nations this year. The Church of England, David said, failed to apologise altogether, though an apology was promised in 2013 and also continues to ignore survivors’ proposals for improving safeguarding procedures.

Speaking on the growing number of priests convicted of abuse, David went on to say that the Church was no different to any other organisation and as such required an independent overseeing body to regulate their conduct.

David also spoke about the way survivors felt in relation to coming forward generally. Many are afraid of not being believed, and of the reaction they will encounter should they go to the church. There appeared to be hurdles within the Church which survivors found off-putting and very hard to navigate and which tended to reinforce their pain rather than soothe it. As a result David felt that survivors needed an independent body they could go to.

David then spoke about the independent panel inquiry into historic child abuse and that although he felt it would likely recommend statutory regulation for churches once completed, religious organisations had the power to do something about this now, and could offer the following: the setting up of an independent body survivors could register a complaint with; proper funding and support within this body for survivors of abuse; independent case workers who could provide advice on reports to police and social services; powers within this body to carry out independent investigations into complaints and make findings.

David then finished his speech by urging religious organisations to support the creation of an independent body and mandatory reporting of abuse also.

Once David had closed, Dr Al-Hussaini then spoke from the panel. Dr Al-Hussaini introduced himself as a survivor of abuse and a vulnerable adult, and thanked members of the audience who had supported him throughout his own experience. He also explained that like David, he was a committee member of MACSAS.

Dr Al-Hussaini went on to talk about the importance of togetherness expressed in world religion, and those teachings which highlight love and kindness. He noted the need for human beings to seek out friends and confidantes and that this element of human nature is at the heart of the debate, and indeed embodies a human need which has been exploited by perpetrators of abuse.

Muhammad stated that the debate offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to highlight abuse within a faith context and particularly within a Muslim context, and to shine a light on abuse and exploitation which by definition he believed was an affront to God. Dr Al-Hussaini expressed the view that the debate needed to stem around an open and honest discussion about the theological elements which incite the kind of abuse which took place in Rotherham and Rochdale. Dr Al-Hussaini explained that there are certain theological determinants which are used within extremist interpretations of Islam teaching to spread the view that the West is the enemy and a state of war declared, which involve the capture and abuse of Non Muslim women. Dr Al-Hussaini said that the language used in these settings needed to be addressed, and other determinants or factors within theological teachings which incited this kind of behaviour, examined, not just within Islam but within other religious communities as well.

Dr Al-Hussaini also explained that this kind of abuse does not happen in isolation but is part of a wider phenomenon which involves entire groups of individuals and is typically hallmarked by outdated notions of subservience, a sense of entitlement and bullying within religious communities. He also noted that abusers tend to be highly charismatic, charming individuals with persuasive and manipulative tendencies, traits which tend to go un-noticed by those who have not suffered at their hands.

Concerned about religious leaders not being democratically elected, Dr Al-Hussaini also mentioned that with this seemed to come a culture of silencing, which was particularly difficult for survivors. Dr Al-Hussaini mentioned some positive aspects in General Synod, stemming from a meeting which had taken place just prior to this debate, where there was clear support for MACSAS’s concern that collusion amongst certain clergy members to silence victims was noted and was being taken seriously.

Dr Al-Hussaini finished his speech by outlining MACSAS’s call to ensure that victims who spoke out and who were subsequently silenced by the church should have some form of support and protection from this kind of behaviour.

Following on from Dr Al-Hussaini was Archbishop Jonathan Blake, who opened his speech with the sentiment that religion was designed to do nothing more than protect mankind from pain and suffering. He went on to list several crimes committed in the name of religion, by individuals from different religious backgrounds. These acts included genital mutilation, other forms of bodily harm and deception.

Bishop Blake then went on to talk about the problems relating to a lack of regulation within religious organisations and the imposition of superstition over rational thought, which left individuals susceptible to religious leaders’ own whims and indoctrination which could lead to forms of extremism. Bishop Blake mentioned that at present there is no jurisprudence which covers religious activity and that a lack of independent scrutiny and accountability has led to certain abuses taking place.

Bishop Blake spoke about the delicate nature of the relationship between religious leaders and their devotees as a relationship which could easily see the more powerful party take advantage of the weaker. Bishop Blake explained that due to a lack of regulation even individuals who emanate from inappropriate backgrounds to become clergy members, such as those with serious criminal convictions or a lack of understanding of religious material in its entirety can then prey on vulnerable members of their community.

This aspect of regulation, or the lack of it Bishop Blake explained, was why there needed to be an independent body regulating conduct and procedures within religious communities, and thereby protecting children and vulnerable men and women from those who seek to dominate and abuse others.

Bishop Blake then went on to talk about the consequences of allowing religious organisations to remain unchecked, and cited extremism as an example of a consequence in this context. He also spoke about the need for an appraisal of Christian culture, one which embraces rather than alienates and fosters critical thought rather than emotive thinking.

Bishop Blake’s closing remarks focused on what he saw was a solution to the problem of clergy abuse: removing religious observance from public life, implementing an independent regulatory body and using innovative and effective ways to safeguard against abuse.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain spoke next and began by nothing that at its core this debate was about the right to be human and free from abuse, as well as religion’s role as protector, rather than predator.

Rabbi Romain identified three issues he felt were fundamental to the debate: pinpointing blame so that perpetrators can be identified; analysing institutional fault lines so that lessons can be learned from past mistakes and the instigation of preventative measures. Dr Romain felt that the debate had already helped to achieve resolution of the second issue, as it had instigated a discussion about abuse and its impact not just on one specific religious community, but on all religious communities and therefore the extent of the Jewish community’s own involvement in clergy abuse.

Rabbi Romain talked about the defensive culture surrounding the religious communities, including the Jewish community and how this had manifested in institutional cover ups and mass denial of abuse within a faith context. Rabbi Romain also explored the reasons behind the Haredi community and other groups for pushing aside victims and failing to address their concerns and experiences. He mentioned that naivety may have played a part; that anxiety at causing an entire system to implode may have been a factor and that perhaps the good works of religious communities outweighed the bad and so the bad could be ignored. Dr Romain explained that these were not viable excuses but may help to explain who much work needs to be done to rebalance the culture within religious communities.

Rabbi Romain also talked about the impact that abusers within faith communities have on religious leaders who have not been involved in abuse and who are trying to carry on despite these terrible findings. He spoke of the stigma which so readily attaches to clergy who are not perpetrators of abuse and the challenges which arise from this development, namely trying to foster trust within an environment which continues to abuse it.

Dr Romain’s closing remarks focused on the rabbinic culture to report criminal activity, which contrasted with the Catholic culture which appeared to be less willing to pass on such information when acquired through confession, and this rabbinical duty also extended to all Jews, clergy or no. The problem for the Jewish community, Rabbi Romain believed, was not in a lack of guidance but in the actions of those who put self-interest above principle and which is why debates like these help to serve as an important religious alarm clock which no-one can ignore.

Our final speaker for the evening was Pt Satish K Sharma, who began by talking about the concept of a ‘big lie’. Satish expressed the view that this concept, which involved telling the public a large lie was more effective than promulgating a small one, as it was human nature to readily accept deceit on such a scale and asked the audience to replace the word lie for the word abuse. In so doing, Satish began to illustrate why he felt that abuse within a faith setting was a ‘big abuse’.

Satish explained this concept further by demonstrating the lack of critical thought in religion today which he felt was set aside to make room for irrational and ill-considered dogma, which in turn could facilitate abuse.

Satish then went on to talk about regulation, and the need for religious organisations to submit to the same kind of regulation we have come to expect for corporate organisations and beyond. Satish explained that such regulation would help to rebuild trust and foster good faith, and help prevent further abuse.

Satish also spoke about the way in which perpetrators of abuse work, and how they prey upon the most vulnerable members of society. Satish also explained that the behaviour of government organisations like the police and social services in places like Rotherham and Rochdale created a concerning parallel with the behaviour of those who had taken part in abusing children in those locations. He also reminded Parliament that government had a duty to call upon its traditions of evidence gathering, reasoning, debate and wisdom in order to protect the most vulnerable members of our society and justice as a fundamental founding block of democracy.

Satish went on to urge the government to re-assess religious authority as it stood against a backdrop of human rights legislation, and to ensure that all religious communities implement those rights as part of their own working ethos. He re-iterated the view that abuse was not to be tolerated and that God himself would not condone such behaviour.

Closing the debate, Satish’s final sentiments focused on the need for us all to find the courage within to address the issue of abuse within a faith context, to protect the British way of life in its multi-cultural and human rights embedded philosophy and that religious rights must be subservient to human rights and the rule of reason must prevail.

Throughout the course of the evening, guests asked diverse and thought-provoking questions. Julian Whiting of Nested, asked about the flexibility of priests in relation to  pastoral duties, and Danny Sullivan responded by noting the tension that existed in this context and that part of the problem lay in bishops not sitting down face to face with survivors in the first place. Danny also mentioned that victims often just wanted an apology, but that they had every right to claim for compensation too.

Charlie Klendjian from the Lawyers’ Secular Society asked the panel what they felt about the view that whilst it was possible to talk about abuse within a Catholic or Church of England context, speaking about it within a Muslim context was not possible due to public and government anxiety about addressing clergy abuse within this demographic. Charlie also asked how it might then be possible to address abuse within this community if the public and government bodies felt they could not talk about the problem in this way. Baroness Cox responded by addressing the growing concern by Muslim women in the UK that the current Sharia Law they find themselves under is not in their or their children’s best interests and that many of these women had escaped their home countries only to find that they were still subject to laws which discriminated against them once they settled in England.

NAPAC CEO Pete Saunders then asked Danny Sullivan whether the Church still has responsibility for a Catholic priest who is laicised or whether the relationship between the Church and that priest then comes to an end. Danny responded by explaining that across the world the response varied.  He explained that in America for example, when a priest has been sent to prison they are given an option upon release: if they wish to re-enter their diocese, they must agree to being closely monitored and controlled.

Questions were also raised in relation to the use of language when discussing abuse within a faith context and Charlie Klendjian commented that how language is used in this kind of debate was very important and that in his view extreme interpretations of Islam should still be viewed as a practice of Islam, rather than a separate notion. Dr Hussaini responded that all of the Abrahamic religions when translated were a combination of peaceful and embracing sentiments juxtaposed with others which endorsed slavery and other negative actions, and that any debate on these issues should be open and unfettered.

Another guest went on to note that many Muslim men and women were aggrieved by the actions of IS and felt that their behaviour was not representative of true Islamic observance and that many within the Muslim community wanted to see a reform of Islam which actively pushed back against extreme practice and re-affirmed the more peaceful aspects within Islam. David Greenwood responded, noting that the Inquiry was the perfect forum from which to discuss these issues and that experts on Islam should come forward and offer their expertise to the Inquiry.

Guest Kapil Dudakia went on to ask the panel whether his perception from the debate that religious authority was being prioritised over human rights was correct and whether it was therefore time to get religious organisations to sign up to a statement which effectively placed human rights above all other rights and regulations. David Greenwood then responded by explaining that he was in Geneva for the UN Committee’s Rights of the Child convention, and that the UN are sympathetic to survivors of abuse and very interested to push the rights of the child above and beyond all other rights and regulations.

David went on to say that the UN were very keen to hold countries and religious organisations to account in relation to child abuse and he urged guests to send the UN their thoughts on the matter. David also explained that in his view religious organisations have historically ignored human rights conventions and have chosen to promote their own internal rules instead, and that it was time one uniform law addressing these matters was implemented by all.

Dr Al-Hussaini also responded, noting that religions without proper regulation are prone to bullying and silencing survivors of abuse and as a result it was imperative that human rights should be the standard all religious bodies must follow.

Guest Kevin Snyman then asked David Greenwood whether he had attempted to approach the Church with a view to getting this body to agree to doing more for victims of abuse. David then explained that he had had three meetings with the Church of England and their safeguarding arm and that they had agreed to look into pilot schemes. David felt that the Church were listening but wanted to see more being done.

John, a serving detective with the police who specialised in child abuse inquiries noted the importance of whistleblowers. He explained that having blown the whistle himself during a previous inquiry he was working on, he then found himself attacked for doing so and was told that he would destroy the police force if he came forward with the evidence he was holding. John also explained that sometimes suppression of evidence by authorities was due to the fact that members within the relevant authority were guilty of committing child abuse themselves and so had an incentive to silence whistleblowers. John also mentioned that whistleblowers, like survivors, find themselves standing alone, as no one will stand with them and so desperately need support to be able to come forward.  Dr Al-Hussaini responded by noting that whilst other bodies must adhere to regulations surrounding things like whistleblowing, religious organisations have continued to opposed implementing such legislation, thereby exempting them from the regulations. Dr Al-Hussaini expressed the view that this surely, could not be right and that it was time these organisations were subject to the same laws as other bodies, companies and corporations.

The next question came from Dot Palmer Fry, a psychotherapist working with sexual abuse victims, who noted that perhaps our debate around sex in this country was part of the problem and asked the panel whether they felt it was a good idea to educate children on the difference between ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’. Dr Al-Hussaini replied by suggesting that some of the responsibility must be borne by those in positions of power like clergymen who should be clear about the boundaries involved and not cross them. Bishop Blake contributed his thoughts too, noting that language about sexually appropriate behaviour was very important and that religious texts too played a part in the way sex was viewed and that this needed to be reviewed too. Satish also answered, focusing on the idea that even those who conceal or fail to address these kinds of problems are victims as well, as they have to a large extent been confined by conflicts of interest and indoctrinated by the culture they operate in.  Satish also felt that Parliament needed to be empowered so that it could look at religious communities and not be afraid to get involved in this debate.

Lucy Duckworth, Chair of MACSAS then spoke about the need for the public to get involved with this debate and to try to engage the Church also, who despite being approached by MACSAS regularly to engage on the issues are not as forthcoming as they should be.  Lucy felt that the only way to bring about cultural change within religious communities in relation to child abuse was to get everyone involved. Lucy then asked Danny Sullivan what the Catholic Church was doing to change the culture surrounding safeguarding. Danny replied that alongside national procedures and guidelines, the Catholic Church also has a safeguarding commission. He explained that the commission was made up of a varied group of people who were not all Catholic and that the requirement to join was based upon expertise in the field of safeguarding and other child protection fields, rather than religious affiliation.  Danny also went on to mention that the vast majority of safeguarding teams within each diocese were manned by non Catholics who were experts within the child protection sector. Danny explained that when an investigation is set in motion, the people brought in to carry out that investigation come from outside the Catholic Church, and that there is no formal requirement for the Chair of the safeguarding commission to be Catholic either. Lucy then asked Danny whether these individuals were still accountable to the Catholic Church, and Danny replied by stating that they are. He also explained that when victims come forward, the first person they usually speak to is the safeguarding officer who then follows set procedures for this kind of complaint, rather than the bishop. David Greenwood added the thought that this was about organisations generally, not just the Catholic Church, and that something needed to be done to ensure that victims felt comfortable coming forward. David then expressed the view that what was needed was a new law which made reporting abuse mandatory, with criminal sanctions for those who failed to report abuse.

Satish went on to comment that he felt religious organisations were simply avoiding the issues in order to protect what in commercial terms would be viewed as a brand and that this needed to be addressed, so that people who genuinely wish to bring about positive change can do so.

Pushpita, a guest in the audience shared her views as a Hindu from Bangladesh, and explained the violence within her country during election time and how extremism has affected the lives of the Hindu Bangladeshi community. She noted how she was bullied into trying not to speak out about the violence in Bangladesh and that no one wanted to help her fundraise, and worse still, she and her children had been subjected to death threats in the UK for her attempts to raise funds to support victims of extremist violence in Bangladesh.  Satish then responded by noting that a change in such attitudes should start with each one of us and demand that changes be made.

Fellow guest Martin then asked the panel what they felt about making human rights education a mandatory part of the school curriculum in the UK. David Greenwood replied by stating that he supported this idea and that teaching should start at an early age, not least of all because of the ease of availability of indecent imagery prevalent in social media and online generally. Bishop Blake introduced the idea that there should also be an internationally accepted uniform code of behaviour which sat side by side with human rights legislation, a notion which had been put forward in the past but rejected by religious organisations who felt threatened by the move. Bishop Blake acknowledged that this may be problematic as it may come into conflict with certain rights such as freedom of expression and enforce a form of homogeneity which would not be healthy, but that a code of some kind needed to be explored, and that this was the next frontier in the history of human evolution.

Rabbi Romain also supported the idea of making human rights education mandatory in schools, and felt that a message needed to also be sent out which stated that not only was abuse wrong, but that it was religiously wrong also and that if you engage in abuse or do not highlight it, then you are not religious, as religion and abuse are incompatible.

Danny Sullivan also supported a call for mandatory human rights education, explaining that he chaired a small trust of schools in disadvantaged areas and every one of those schools teaches the children about human rights and their responsibilities to one another in a language the children understand and can remember. Dr Al-Hussaini commented too, explaining that faith schools are keen to provide education on their terms and that there is an evasive quality still to religious engagement on human rights issues.

The debate then came to a close, after two and half hours of thought-provoking speeches and questions from the panel and the guests. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our panel members for giving their time and expertise to this debate and for their passionate and considered speeches. Thank you to our guests for making the time to come and attend and for engaging so graciously with the panel and amongst themselves. A thank you must also go to the Independent Panel Inquiry’s Ben Emmerson QC  who made time to attend the debate despite an incredibly busy schedule. It was an enormous privilege to be able to hold this debate inside the House of Commons, and I thank both Alok Sharma MP and Bob Blackman MP for so kindly organising the use of the Committee Room for this event.

Finally, I would like to thank the sponsors of this event: The Hindu Muslim Forum, MACSAS, Imams and Rabbis Council of the United Kingdom (Children of Abraham) and City of London Interfaith. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to discuss the many complex and controversial issues surrounding child abuse within a faith context and to be able to use this debate as a platform for engaging parliament, members of the public, religious organisations and child protection agencies with a view to protecting and preserving the welfare of our children.

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