Child sexual exploitation allegations in the Bradford area should be thoroughly reviewed to ensure everything is being done to protect youngsters, according to a justice minister.
Conservative frontbencher James Cartlidge, in response to calls for a “Rotherham-style inquiry” in the area, said local authorities are responsible for commissioning such investigations.
But he said the Government expects Bradford Council to adopt the “most thoroughgoing approach” to ensure all lessons have been learned.
Conservative Robbie Moore (Keighley) has been leading calls for an independent inquiry.
Last month he told the Commons the issue was being “swept under the carpet” and claimed “nothing really has changed” since concerns over grooming gangs linked to Keighley and across the Bradford district were first raised by his Labour predecessor Ann Cryer.
A “small minority of largely Pakistani Muslim men” are responsible for the exploitation, Mr Moore claimed.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Moore said on Tuesday: “The main reason for my call for a Rotherham-style inquiry into child sexual exploitation in the Bradford district is to bring justice to the victims of these offences and help ensure the safety of children across my constituency.
“Will the minister join me in my calls for a Rotherham-style inquiry across the Bradford district so we can tackle this issue once and for all?”
Mr Cartlidge replied: “I absolutely recognise the trauma endured by victims and survivors and their need for answers.
“The Government continues to be clear that it is for local authorities in individual areas which are responsible for delivering services to commission local inquiries.
“However, we expect Bradford Council to take the most thoroughgoing approach to ensure that all lessons have been learned and that local partners are doing everything possible to identify offending and protect children from harm.”
Mr Moore last month labelled a recent review as “light” and “limited”, and argued that a wider inquiry was required to “understand the scale” of the problems.
He has been joined by Tory colleagues in demanding a inquiry similar to the one which took place in Rotherham, which examined child sexual exploitation in the South Yorkshire town, with at least 1,400 young people said to have been abused in a 16-year period.
Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, the leader of Bradford Council, said public services were stretched and the priority must be on frontline protection for children.
She said: “In Bradford, as well as the recent independent review, we’ve commissioned 56 other reports on child sexual exploitation over the last six years.
“Each one of these has been debated in public, for all to see, all the information is out there.”
Ms Hinchcliffe said she wanted to see a “wider debate that highlights this national issue and which has the power to bring additional resources to protect children”.
The Labour councillor added: “The justice minister, in answer to the question, made clear they don’t intend to hold a Government inquiry into Bradford.
“We disagree with the MP for Keighley about a local public inquiry into CSE.
“All public services are stretched and we have to focus on what the minister for safeguarding has highlighted as the absolute priority, which is frontline protection of children now.
“For historic crimes, it doesn’t matter when or who perpetrated the crime, they will be caught and they will be punished.
“Arrests, prosecutions and imprisonments have resulted already and this work continues. We know that in the past agencies let children down. Those children should have been protected but weren’t. This has been a national failing, not just a local one.”
Jane Booth, who chairs the Bradford Partnership, said the recent independent review had assessed whether lessons could be learned from cases.
She added: “The recent debate and questions on CSE in Bradford have been a good first step, but to focus just on Bradford does children from other parts of the country a disservice as this is very much a national issue.
“Recent data shows that nationally only six local authorities in England and Wales did not report CSE cases. Any child from any background can be at risk of child sexual exploitation and the ways in which this happens are changing.
“We are seeing increases in crimes such as online grooming, and tackling this needs a national approach and national resource.”