More than 50 alleged child grooming gangs are being investigated in the ongoing police crackdown on sexual abuse, peers were told today.
Labour former attorney general, Lord Morris of Aberavon said at least 27 police forces were investigating 54 alleged child grooming gangs.
At question time, he asked if a "collective amnesia" had prevented speedier prosecutions in the past and urged all the agencies to cooperate more in tackling the problem.
Home Office minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach said 2,409 children and young people had been confirmed as victims of sexual exploitation in gangs or groups between August 2010 and October 2011.
He said this "dramatic" figure spoke for itself on the scale of the problem, which the Government was focusing on.
The exchanges came after seven members of a sex grooming ring were convicted earlier this month of abusing children from Oxford.
An Old Bailey jury heard six girls were drugged and suffered sadistic abuse while aged between 11 and 15.
The court heard victims were plied with alcohol and drugs before being forced to perform sex acts. Some had also been beaten, burnt and threatened.
Lord Taylor told peers today that sexual abuse in whatever shape or form was "abhorrent", adding: "We expect that all agencies learn lessons from the horrendous cases we have seen recently."
He said that nationally a joint inspection programme was being planned by Her Majesty's Inspectorates of the Crown Prosecution Service and the constabulary.
It would look at child sexual abuse and exploitation and how agencies interact to protect children and bring offenders to justice
Lord Morris said: "Is it collective amnesia that has blinded us to the underlying circumstances, whereby at least 27 police forces are investigating 54 alleged child grooming gangs?
"Why has investigating and prosecuting in so many different parts of the country taken so much time?
"Is it the fear of racialism, or is it the fact that many of these vulnerable girls come from care homes?"
Lord Taylor said Lord Morris had made a powerful case for working together across government.
He acknowledged there had been a "failure to recognise the reality that many of these young people have experienced" and been exposed in recent court cases.
"The Government is determined the system should work, the system needs to work, to protect these vulnerable children."
Former deputy high court judge and independent crossbencher Lord Elystan-Morgan warned there could be no real progress in prosecutions until the "law enforcement agencies are prepared to adopt more robust tactics, including infiltration and surveillance".
Otherwise, he said, "we will only be dusting over this disgraceful practice".
Lord Taylor said all agencies were now on the alert. "We are, in effect, looking back and trying to recover a situation which should never have got to this point."
The Government's intention was to ensure this did not happen again.
The minister said there were local safeguarding children boards in every local authority in the country.
"What are they doing if they are not seeking to protect young children that are their responsibility?"