14/11/2012 11:22 GMT

Children's Minister Ed Timpson Criticised For Absence From Child Sex Exploitation Debate

Women's groups and MPs have criticised Children's Minister Ed Timpson for failing to attend a key debate on child sexual exploitation, with two charities calling his absence a "failure to prioritise girls' safety."

End Violence Against Women Coalition and Rape Crisis England said they were both disappointed that children's minister Ed Timpson had not taken part in the House of Commons debate on Tuesday.

MPs questioned the absence of the minister during the debate, with Labour's Diana Johnson, a former Schools minister, saying she was "disappointed" not to hear Timpson speak on the matter.

Minister of State for the Home Office Jeremy Browne spoke on behalf of the government, something which Conservative MP Graham Stewart was "extraordinary", questioning why "it is he rather than a Minister from the Department for Education who is on the Front Bench now".

Nicola Blackwood, the Conservative MP who organised the debate, also drew attention to the minister's absence.

"I will not hide the fact that I had expected to be addressing the Children’s Minister, my honourable Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich [Timpson], throughout the debate, but I will not despair," she said.

A spokeswoman for EVAW told The Huffington Post UK they believed the minister was taking part in a Mumsnet chat at the time of the debate - which had not yet been confirmed by the Department of Education.

The group said in a statement: ""We welcome the ongoing public discussion about sexual violence and child sexual abuse that has been instigated by the Jimmy Savile case, and the inquiries that are taking place into the BBC and other institutions.

"However, we are deeply concerned at the silence from the government, in particular the Department for Education, about what long-term action it will take to prevent sexual violence in the first place.

"We commend MPs who took part in the House of Commons debate on child sexual exploitation, but note that the Children's Minister was absent and this was widely commented upon by MPs.

"Unfortunately, this reflects the Department for Education's failure to prioritise girls' safety: it lacks internal expertise on violence against women and girls, having closed its expert group earlier this year, and is scaling back its child protection guidance.

"We think this is entirely the wrong time to be taking such action. Girls and young women are particular targets for sexual violence, as the Jimmy Savile revelations highlight."