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Child Abuse Allegations (North Wales)

Volume 552: debated on Tuesday 6 November 2012

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on historic allegations of child abuse in the North Wales police force area.

In 1991, North Wales police conducted an investigation into allegations that, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, children in homes that were managed and supervised by Clwyd county council were sexually and physically abused. The result of the police investigation was eight prosecutions and seven convictions of former care workers.

Despite the investigation and convictions, it was widely believed that the abuse was in fact on a far greater scale, but a report produced by Clwyd council’s own inquiry was never published, because so much of its content was considered by lawyers to be defamatory.

In 1995, the then Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), appointed a QC to examine all the relevant documents and recommend whether there should be a public inquiry. The recommendation was that there should be not a public inquiry but an examination of the work of private care homes and the social services departments in Gwynedd and Clwyd councils. This work revealed not only shortcomings in the protection of vulnerable children, but that the shortcomings had persisted even after the police investigation and subsequent prosecutions.

In 1996, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), the then new Secretary of State for Wales, invited Sir Ronald Waterhouse to lead an inquiry into the abuse of children in care in the Gwynedd and Clwyd council areas. The Waterhouse inquiry sat for 203 days and heard evidence from more than 650 people. Statements made to the inquiry named more than 80 people as child abusers, many of whom were care workers or teachers. In 2000, the inquiry’s report “Lost in Care” made 72 recommendations for changes to the way in which children in care were protected by councils, social services and the police. Following the report’s publications, 140 compensation claims were settled on behalf of the victims

The report found no evidence of a paedophile ring beyond the care system, which was the basis of the rumours that followed the original police investigation and, indeed, one of the allegations made in the past week. Last Friday, a victim of sexual abuse at one of the homes named in the report—Mr Steve Messham—alleged that the inquiry did not look at abuse outside care homes, and he renewed allegations against the police and several individuals. The Government are treating those allegations with the utmost seriousness. Child abuse is a hateful, abhorrent and disgusting crime, and we must not allow these allegations to go unanswered. I therefore urge anybody who has information relating to the allegations to go to the police.

I can tell the House that Mark Polin, the chief constable of North Wales police, has invited Keith Bristow, the director general of the National Crime Agency, to assess the allegations recently received, review the historic police investigations and investigate any fresh allegations reported to the police into the alleged historic abuse in north Wales care homes. He will lead a team of officers from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and other investigative assets as necessary, and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will act as the single point of contact for fresh referrals relating to historic abuse in north Wales care homes. He will produce an initial report reviewing the historic investigations and any fresh allegations by April 2013. I have made it clear to Mark Polin and Keith Bristow that the Home Office is ready to assist with the additional costs of that work.

In addition, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, the Government will ask a senior independent figure to lead an urgent investigation into whether the Waterhouse inquiry was properly constituted and did its job. Given the seriousness of the allegations, we will make sure that that work is completed urgently.

Given that there have also been serious allegations about other historic child sex offences, I should also inform the House of the work being conducted by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. This will establish a full picture of all forces that have received allegations in relation to Jimmy Savile, examine whether these allegations were investigated properly, and identify wider lessons from the response of the police forces involved. I have been assured by HMIC that its work will also take into account any lessons that emerge from these latest allegations.

Before I conclude, I would like to warn hon. Members that if they plan to use parliamentary privilege to name any suspects, they risk jeopardising any future trial and, therefore, the possibility of justice for the victims, which I believe the whole House wants to see.

I believe that the whole House will also be united in sending this message to victims of child abuse: “If you have suffered and you go to the police about what you have been through, those of us in positions of authority and responsibility will not shirk our duty to support you. We must do everything in our power to do everything we can to help you, and everything we can to get to the bottom of these terrible allegations.”

I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. She is right that these are deeply disturbing allegations. Child abuse and sexual abuse of children and young people are among the most despicable of crimes. When adults who should be trusted to care for children abuse their power and position of trust by committing violent crimes, it can haunt those young people for the rest of their lives. That is made worse if society and the institutions charged with protecting children, including in the criminal justice system, fail to step in to provide greater protection or hold the perpetrators to account. The Home Secretary is therefore right to act on the latest concerns.

There are three major issues, each of which needs to be addressed. First, where crimes have been committed or suspected, we need a proper criminal investigation, led by the police in the pursuit of justice. Secondly, we need to know whether there has been an institutional failure to deal with the issue before, be it turning a blind eye, covering things up or simply failing to get to the bottom of what happened. Thirdly, we need to know what further changes are needed to our current framework for safeguarding children and investigating abuse. However, we cannot look at the allegations around north Wales in isolation. The same three questions—about criminal allegations, potential institutional failure and the lessons for today—are just as significant when it comes to the abuse by Jimmy Savile, as well as more current problems, such as the events in Rochdale or the work that the Children’s Commissioner is doing on child sexual exploitation. I am concerned that the Home Secretary’s response will not be wide enough to cover all those issues. Let me take each in turn.

I welcome the points that the Home Secretary has made today about the new criminal investigation into the allegations in north Wales, and in particular the involvement of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which has considerable expertise. Clearly the investigation must go more widely than north Wales if that is where the evidence takes it. I hope that she can provide that assurance to the House. On the historic reviews, I welcome her decision to look again at the Waterhouse inquiry, which I assume will involve looking at whether child abuse that might have taken place outside the care system was sufficiently considered.

However, we have a whole series of inquiries under way into similar problems, in addition to important police and criminal investigations. As I understand it, there are three BBC inquiries into what happened with Jimmy Savile, a Department of Health inquiry—as well as several separate hospital inquiries—a Crown Prosecution Service inquiry, a new north Wales inquiry and an inquiry by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary into other forces that may have received allegations about Jimmy Savile. The Home Secretary will know that we have already raised our concern that the Savile investigations should be brought under a single inquiry. We remain concerned that these multiple inquiries have no way to draw together the common themes, the problems or the lessons that need to be learned. Of course we need to get to the bottom of what is happening in each case, but at the moment the framework that the Government have set out risks being confused.

The reason this is important is that we have to have a proper way to learn the right lessons for the current framework for safeguarding children, because there are clearly current lessons to be learned. Obviously a series of child protection policies have been introduced since many of the events took place. Big changes include the Children’s Commissioners, strengthening the law repeatedly, new measures and policies on safeguarding in schools and social services, and the creation of CEOP. However, we all remain concerned that victims of sexual abuse, particularly children, are too often simply not believed or taken seriously enough—abuse that was ignored for too long against girls and young women in Rochdale very recently, as well as concerns that have been raised in Rotherham. We have also seen the forthcoming Children’s Commissioner’s report, which will raise concerns about wider child exploitation. We have raised concerns too about some of the policy changes that the Government have introduced, such as changes to vetting and barring arrangements and changes to the way in which CEOP will operate. Primary care trusts have also raised concerns about the way in which child safeguarding will be treated in the NHS as a result of the reforms.

There are wider concerns, and lessons for today that need to be learned alongside the detailed historic investigations that rightly must take place. I know that the Home Secretary is deeply concerned by these crimes, and that she takes them extremely seriously. I therefore urge her to look again at the framework for these inquiries and at the possibility of a single overarching inquiry or review that would draw all the evidence together and consider what needs to be done to protect children now.

It is extremely hard for the victims of child abuse and of sexual abuse against young people to speak out and to talk about crimes that are so intimate and so deeply disturbing, and they show great bravery when they do so. We need to show them that they will be listened to, that we will give them the support that they need and that everything possible will be done to protect children in the future as well.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for the approach that she has taken to these serious issues. It is right that we should work together across the House to find the best solution, not only to get to the bottom of anything that we have failed to uncover so far, but to support the victims—which, as she and I have said, is so important.

In looking at these issues, it is right that we should first look into the police investigations to see whether any avenues that should have been followed were not pursued, and whether any issues have been uncovered as a result of the allegations that are now coming forward that should be dealt with. We must also pursue any criminality that comes forward, so that the victims can see that justice is being done.

That is why I have put an emphasis on the police investigation, and on the NCA working with the North Wales police to look into the historic allegations and ensure that everything necessary was done. If there are any avenues to be pursued in any criminal investigations, I am absolutely clear that the police should take them wherever they go. It is important that the NCA’s director general should bring in various assets, including, crucially, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and CEOP. CEOP is renowned for dealing with these issues, and it is right that it should be the single point of contact for any fresh allegations that come forward.

If, at the end of the processes that we have set in train, it appears necessary to move forward to a wider investigation, of course we will look at that. At this stage, we need to get the police investigations into any criminality under way, and to ensure that the Waterhouse inquiry did as it was intended to do, and did it properly. As I have said, however, if there is a case to be made for a wider inquiry at some stage in the future, we will of course look at the issue.

I shall return to the point on which the right hon. Lady and I ended our statements today. She was right to say that other police investigations had taken place in which there were issues over whether the victims were believed. We need to be able to reassure victims that, when they come forward, they will be listened to and taken seriously. It is incumbent on all of us in the House, in the positions of authority and responsibility that we hold, to ensure that that is the case.

The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on the urgency with which he has responded to this matter, and the Home Secretary is to be congratulated on the speed with which she has come to the House today. Many weeks ago, when the Savile affair first reared its ugly head, I said that it was just the tip of the iceberg. We should not be surprised that child abuse has now raised its head in the political spectrum as well.

As the shadow Home Secretary has said, we now have a multiplicity of inquiries, and the Home Secretary has just announced an inquiry about an inquiry. Rather than waking up to find a new institution involved in this mire every week, is it not now time to have an overarching and robust public inquiry into all the failings in child protection in various institutions—the BBC, the health service, the police, the Church and so on—during the latter part of the 20th century? All institutions involved with children and young people should be made to have a robust child protection policy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. All perpetrators should be exposed and brought to book, and all victims should be given credence and closure at last.

I commend my hon. Friend, who has championed the interests of children and child protection throughout his time in this House. He has a worthy record of bringing these issues before the House and the public.

My hon. Friend talked about bringing perpetrators to book, but as I said in my response to the shadow Home Secretary, what matters at this stage is that we are able to let the police do the job of identifying the allegations brought forward, pursuing the investigations and bringing perpetrators to book where possible. He has rightly said that this is not just an issue that has hit the care homes in north Wales, as the allegations of child abuse and actions of child abuse go wider in respect of the number of institutions involved in various ways over the years. As I said to the shadow Home Secretary, let us see the criminal investigation routes pursued, and if there is a case to go wider, of course the Government will look at that.

In February 2000, I was the Secretary of State for Wales and reported Sir Ronald Waterhouse’s report to this House of Commons. Does the Secretary of State agree that, although the report exposed monumental wickedness and came up with superb recommendations, including the creation of a Children’s Commissioner for Wales, and that however important it is to look at Sir Ronald’s inquiry, it is much more important to deal with the investigations into fresh allegations that are now before us? Secondly, will the Home Secretary assure the House that she is in close contact with Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, who is obviously also dealing with this issue, as social services are devolved?

I recognise that when the Waterhouse inquiry was set up and when it reported, it was generally welcomed in the House for the work it had done. Given the fresh allegations, however, I think it is important to ask somebody to look again at that work. Alongside it, what is of course important, as the right hon. Gentleman said, are the police investigations, looking into any fresh allegations that have been made and, as I say, looking at the historic allegations and investigations, too, to ensure that those were indeed conducted properly and went as widely as they needed to. As for the First Minister for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has spoken to him. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, policing is not a devolved matter, but there will be further discussions with the First Minister on a number of these matters, including the review of the Waterhouse review.

My right hon. Friend has just announced a number of inquiries, but I agree with the right hon. Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)and for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) and with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) in that there is a real imperative and priority for the police to get on with their job now, which is to investigate fresh allegations of criminality—and they must be left unhindered to do that, without being inhibited by other forms of inquiries into inquiries. I urge my right hon. Friend to allow the police to get on with that and, if necessary, to delay any inquiries into the inquiries so that the suspects can be prosecuted and, if necessary, found guilty, and the innocent can be relieved of the suspicion that is current in the media.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his comments. It is absolutely right that the police should be unhindered in their work of investigating any fresh allegations and, as I say, any historic allegations as well. If any charges are to be brought, the individuals need to be identified and criminal prosecutions pursued. The review into the Waterhouse inquiry will not, I think, get in the way of the police investigations, as it is a review into how that inquiry was conducted. It is right that the police are allowed and able to get on with the job. If people have committed horrendous crimes, we all want to see them brought to justice on the basis of the evidence and we want the criminality to be pursued.

I commend the Home Secretary for the speed with which she has acted on this issue. I remind her that when the Children’s commissioner gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in its inquiry into Rochdale, she said that child abuse was happening in every town and city in this country. At the end of the day, I think the right hon. Lady is going to have to have a public inquiry—an overarching inquiry that brings all the strands together. In the meantime, will she assure us that the National Crime Agency will have this co-ordinating function with all the other inquiries that are going on? Will she please involve the Director of Public Prosecutions at the earliest opportunity. In the end, the victims want to see people prosecuted.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. He has reminded us of the remarks made by the Children’s Commissioner when she came before the Home Affairs Committee. The director general of the NCA, Keith Bristow, working with SOCA, CEOP and any other assets he feels necessary to bring to bear at the invitation of the chief constable of North Wales, will primarily be looking into those allegations. If it is the case that other allegations surface in another context, which it would be appropriate to wind into the investigation, the director general of the NCA would, of course, be able to do that.

These allegations are indeed very distressing. In the original Waterhouse inquiry, 28 people were named but their names were not publicly reported because the judge reasonably assumed that it would prejudice any future trial—a trial that never happened. Does the Home Secretary agree that whenever there is an inquiry into what happened historically, as opposed to the recent allegations, it must get to the bottom of why there was no follow-up police investigation after Waterhouse concluded?

My hon. Friend is right. One point of bringing extra resource in to support the North Wales police on this issue is to look at the historic allegations and to investigate whether everything was done that needed to be done in respect of following up criminal prosecutions as well as ensuring that all the evidence was taken.

I commend the Home Secretary for her statement today and the urgent action she has taken. I am very pleased that CEOP will be involved and that every extra resource will be there, if necessary. Some of these allegations, however, are not fresh; they were made during the proceedings of the Waterhouse inquiry. I believe that the right hon. Lady is right that a two-strand approach is vital and that the police should get on with it immediately. As to the inquiry itself, if the individual looking into it says, as others have said here today, that we need a further, overarching public inquiry, will the Home Secretary agree to it?

We will of course listen to any comments, remarks or proposals that come from the individual who looks into the Waterhouse inquiry, and we will treat them with the seriousness with which they should be treated.

I welcome the fact that, following these serious allegations, the Home Secretary has acted very quickly indeed to investigate the specific problems in north Wales. Will she reaffirm that if anybody is found to have been involved in this, they can expect absolutely no mercy and that the full force of the law will be pursued in the courts?

I am sure that what we all want, especially for the victims, is that justice is done and seen to be done. As I said, it is for the police to follow any avenue of inquiry that they believe they should follow and to follow it without fear or favour.

The lesson of Hillsborough and hacking is that a narrowed down investigation is the basic building-block of a cover-up. To limit this inquiry to north Wales and Savile would, in my view, be a dereliction of the Home Secretary’s duty. It would guarantee that many sickening crimes will remain uninvestigated, and some of the most despicable paedophiles will remain protected by the establishment that has shielded them for 30 years. Will the right hon. Lady please guarantee that the SOCA inquiry has licence to follow any lead it finds in what will be, after all, a serious criminal investigation. There should be no historic sexual abuse of children which is off limits to this investigation, and the police should be supported by a dedicated team of child protection specialists, many of whom have been raising their concerns for years. Whether someone was raped and tortured as a child in Wales or in Whitehall, they are entitled to be heard.

The media may be transfixed by the spectre of a paedophile Cabinet Minister abusing children, but what actually matters are the thousands and thousands of children whose lives have been ground into nothing, who prefer to kill themselves than carry on, who have nowhere to turn, to whom nobody listens and whom nobody helps. Does the right hon. Lady sincerely want to start making amends, or can she live with being what she has just announced—the next stage of a cover-up?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to take that tone. I know that he is keen to see the large-scale inquiry to which a number of Members have referred. I have explained why I think it important for the criminal investigation to run its course, and to be pursued without fear or favour. I assure him that what I, and the Government, want to do is ensure that we establish investigations, and that, if there are people who should be pursued for the purpose of prosecution, such a process then takes place. I have made that absolutely clear.

It is entirely true that there have been a number of instances, over the years and across the country, of different forms of child sexual abuse. We now see the online and on-street grooming of children, and a number of other variations of child abuse. What is so horrific is the extent to which that abuse has been taking place in our country and throughout our communities over the years.

There are various ways in which the police are investigating these matters and inquiries are taking place. In relation to the issue in north Wales, it is important for the police to be able to pursue any criminal investigations without fear or favour, taking those investigations, absolutely clearly, where the evidence leads them. That is what they should be doing, that is what they will be doing, and that is I believe the best way to bring justice to the victims.

Today’s statement concerned some of the most shocking incidents that I can remember occurring during my political life in Wales. Like others, I greatly commend the Prime Minister for the speed with which he established the urgent investigation.

It may well be true that we must have the wide-ranging inquiry to which several Members have referred. However, we do not want to lose sight of the fact that there is an issue in north Wales that must be dealt with comprehensively. We must ensure that those responsible are brought to book quickly, and that we do not lose this particular shocking issue in a wider investigation that will take a long, long time.

I share my hon. Friend’s concern. As a number of other Members have pointed out, we need to ensure that the police are able to investigate, to do that speedily, and to ensure that anyone who should be brought to justice is indeed brought to justice.

Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the fundamental flaws in the Waterhouse inquiry lay in its terms of reference? That is why we need a far more widespread inquiry.

The review of the Waterhouse inquiry will examine, among other issues, the way in which that inquiry was constituted. However, I believe that at the time when the terms of reference were set, the entire House was comfortable with them.

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend’s swift action, in relation to both the independently led review of the Waterhouse inquiry and the involvement of the National Crime Agency, which I think is very important. Does she agree that all the evidence collected by “Newsnight”, by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and by others should be placed in the hands of the police immediately? That is absolutely essential if justice is to be delivered not only to the victims, but to those who have been unfairly libelled on the internet in recent days.

That is a very valid point. I would encourage all who have any evidence or any allegations of child abuse to put that evidence or those allegations before the police. It is for the police to investigate, and to take evidence where it leads.

There has clearly been institutional blindness to abuse, whether it has taken place in Rochdale council, at the BBC or even within political parties. We now need a Government framework that encourages all victims to come forward, whatever cases are involved. Does the Home Secretary not agree with that?

I am happy to repeat what I said in my statement, and also a minute or so ago. I think that anyone who has been a victim and who feels that there are allegations to be made should make those allegations, but I also think that such people should go to the police, who should be investigating the allegations and ensuring that we can, where possible, bring the perpetrators to justice.

Tomorrow, after a year-long inquiry, the Education Committee will produce its report on child protection in England. There has understandably been a great deal of focus on the perpetrators in recent weeks, but we focused unapologetically on the victims. May I ask the Home Secretary to look at the report carefully? What is most important—even more important than bringing people to justice—is ensuring that no child suffers as children suffered in past years when, overall, the system let them down.

I will, of course, look at the Committee’s report carefully. As my hon. Friend says, we often concentrate on the perpetrators. We hope that part of that involves giving the victims an opportunity for justice, but concern for the victims must also drive what we are doing.

I thank the Home Secretary for coming to the House so promptly, but the problem with what she has said today is that the victims have heard what she has said in the past. They gave evidence to the Waterhouse inquiry, but that evidence was not listened to and did not become public, and no prosecutions—or not enough prosecutions—followed. What can the Home Secretary do to assuage the feelings of those victims, and to make them understand that this inquiry will actually lead to the taking of some responsibility? Is it not about time that we had openness, after all these years, about the evidence that was given to the Waterhouse inquiry?

I would say to anyone who has been a victim and is concerned about what has happened in the past that the whole point of setting up a police investigation under the director general of the National Crime Agency is to enable a body of police to look into the investigations and inquiries that took place previously, and to establish whether they were properly conducted or whether avenues of inquiry or allegations that should have been pursued were not pursued, in order to identify instances in which it will be possible to bring perpetrators to justice. This is not just an inquiry into what has happened; it is a police investigation, and it will focus on precisely that issue.

On 26 October, the Government voted down proposals to make cover-ups harder and to protect children in care. What measures do they propose to ensure, in particular, that people have a right to complain to someone independent?

The hon. Gentleman has led me on to territory that is not fully within my remit, but I can say that one of the messages we hope will be conveyed by the action we are taking today is that people who make serious allegations will be listened to and taken seriously, because that issue has arisen in many areas. We want to ensure that people do not feel that they cannot come forward because they will not be taken seriously or because action will be taken against them, and that when child abuse has taken place, it is uncovered and dealt with properly.

Is the Home Secretary asking the security services to review and, where appropriate, share any intelligence that they have relating to cases and places of abuse and to the persons, networks and patterns involved, not just in north Wales but—as other Members have suggested—more widely, including, but not only, in respect of Kincora?

The National Crime Agency, whose investigation will take place at the request of the chief constable of North Wales police, will pursue whatever avenues they need to pursue to ensure that they can take an appropriate approach to bringing perpetrators to justice.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many fresh allegations could come from individuals who have hidden the appalling attacks made on them so many years ago, and who will be reluctant to come forward because that would disturb the life that they have built since? Do such people not need the reassurance and protection that can be provided by CEOP, the police and others if they do come forward?

That is an important point. For many victims who wish to come forward, it will not be an easy process but a very painful process, which, as my hon. Friend says, could disrupt the lives that they have been able to build subsequently. However, I assure him that CEOP is well able to deal, and well used to dealing, with people who are in difficult circumstances and who may find it difficult to come forward. That is why I think it so important for CEOP’s ability and specialism to be brought to bear on the investigation.

Given what we now know about the powers of investigation and terms of reference used in the north Wales inquiry, will the Home Secretary have regard to other similar inquiries? I am thinking in particular of the Staffordshire “pindown” inquiry undertaken by Allan Levy. Can the Home Secretary assure the House that if similar questions arise in relation to any other inquiry, they will be encompassed within any further investigations?

If there are similar concerns about any other inquiries, we would look at them on a case-by-case basis and consider the appropriate way of dealing with them.

I was a Clwyd county councillor representing Wrexham at the time of the north Wales children homes inquiry, and I was on the panel that looked at the report that was never published. Let me tell the House that its contents were horrendous. Can the Secretary of State assure me and the House that no stone will be left unturned to make sure that the people who came forward can have closure and that those responsible for these dreadful crimes can be punished?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing her personal experience with the House, and I assure her that no stone will be left unturned. The entire House wants to see that justice is done.

Will the Home Secretary look into whether there was a systemic problem in north Wales whereby those accused of child abuse without conclusive evidence to prove it were redeployed within the wider world of social services? Although they no longer had direct access to children, they were still part of that system. If that is the case, we will need a much wider inquiry.

One issue that has been raised both in the past and more recently is the question of whether the inquiries went sufficiently far outside the care system. As the police look at the historical allegations, they will also consider how far the investigations should go.

One of the major concerns in all this is the number of credible claims of child abuse that were made to the police about Savile and others that never resulted in charges being brought. Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the work done by HMIC will lead to a report that the House will then have a chance to debate?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. I am sure the House will want to return to this issue either in relation to the HMIC report or anything further that comes out of the investigations being set up today. One issue HMIC will be looking at in a number of forces is whether the police respond properly to these sorts of allegations. As a number of Members have said, one of the more general concerns is that victims often find it difficult to be heard, or do not come forward because they do not think they will be listened to.

As a former prosecutor of historical sexual abuse cases in care homes and institutions, as well as within the family, I informed the House in a debate some months ago that sexual abuse of our young people is very common and much more prevalent than we appreciate. We need not only an inquiry into any abuse that has been taking place in care homes or other institutions but to take a proper look at what we should do to protect our young children in the future and what rules we should put in place to make it easier for young victims to come forward and tell us what has happened to them. I repeat that it is not only care homes that have sexual abuse problems; there are also sexual abuse problems in the home and the family.

I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s experience in this area, and she raises an important point about the extent of such abuse and the scenarios in which it takes place. She says we should look at the broad issue of child protection. She will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) informing the House that the Education Committee will publish its report on child protection tomorrow, and I am sure the whole House will want to look at that issue very seriously.

As my right hon. Friend may be aware, rape crisis centres are reporting a considerable increase in activity as victims of historical abuse come forward. While it is welcome that people are responding to how seriously we are all taking these allegations, we do not want to be unable to right the wrong they have suffered by not being in a position to give them adequate support. Will she make sure that the infrastructure we have in place to support rape and abuse victims is satisfactory and supports them to get closure?

I recognise the problem my hon. Friend raises, and only last week I heard directly from representatives of rape crisis centres about the increase in the number of historical victims coming forward. The Government have been able to provide some extra funding for rape crisis centres to put them on a more stable footing and to open some new centres, but I recognise that there are issues in respect of their ability to handle the volume of people coming forward and also the appropriate way to deal with them, as many of the recent therapies have not always satisfied the needs of some of those victims.

One of the boys involved in this case was persuaded to give evidence only to find that, after going through the horror of churning up the memories of the dreadful things he had suffered, there was no justice at the end of it. He later took his life. I know that the hard-bitten reporters who persuaded him to give evidence on the promise that there would be justice have lived with that sense of injustice ever since. I ask the right hon. Lady to look not only at the fresh evidence but at the evidence that was available at the time and that was almost certainly suppressed by powerful people. Will she look at the evidence produced by Paddy French and the Rebecca Television website on an edition of “Wales this Week” that was never broadcast?

The police investigation will look at the evidence that was available at the time in these historical abuse allegations, and at whether the evidence was properly investigated and whether avenues of inquiry were not pursued that should have been followed up and that could have led to prosecutions. I can therefore say to the hon. Gentleman that the police will, indeed, be looking at that historical evidence. That is part of the job they will be doing.

I, too, welcome the Home Secretary’s decision today. Does she agree that if there is a single message that must go out from all these inquiries and investigations it is that all victims of child abuse or sexual exploitation who come forward will be believed? Even if there is a successful police investigation and even if the Crown Prosecution Service decides the victim is a credible witness, too often they feel that they are treated like the criminal in court. Will the Home Secretary work with the Director of Public Prosecutions to make sure all special measures are implemented so that that does not happen in any prosecutions that come out of this inquiry?

I am very happy to raise that issue with the Law Officers in relation to what happens in court. We have made considerable progress in dealing with victims of these crimes in court, but I recognise that some still find it very difficult to give evidence, and without that evidence the prosecution is often not possible.

I also welcome the statement and the speed with which the Home Secretary has made it. In recent days she and her officials will have rightly been in close discussion with North Wales police about the work to be done by Keith Bristow, and it is very welcome that the Home Office is offering financial support. When serious issues such as these have to be dealt with in future, what role will police and crime commissioners have in discussions between the Home Office and local police forces? What part will they play in making decisions about future action?

The police and crime commissioner will replace the police authority. There will be certain circumstances in which it is right, as it would have been for the police authority, for the commissioner to be part of initiating a particular piece of work. There will be other circumstances in which it is entirely right for the chief constable to do that.

I welcome the statement. As a Leeds MP, it has been sad to see how the Jimmy Savile allegations have rocked people’s trust. As a councillor in Wrexham at the time of the inquiry, I remember how it sent shockwaves throughout the community. Even after the inquiry, there was considerable angst among people in the area about the appalling things that had happened. My right hon. Friend has rightly encouraged anyone with accusations to come forward, but there were rumours at the time of people who were too frightened and anxious to do that because of the exposure it may have given to their family and the complete lack of trust they had in the authorities who were supposed to be looking after them in the first place. Can she assure me that those who do come forward will be listened to without fear of recrimination and that everything will be done to support them through a very difficult process?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. This is why it is particularly important that the single point of contact for people will be CEOP, which has the experience of and expertise in working with victims of these appalling crimes. CEOP has the ability to work with those who find it difficult to come forward, and it will enable them to do so in a way that allows their story to be heard and listened to.

As a former social worker who worked in child protection in Wales, I welcome the statement, but if this is to be a successful examination, we have to look at why this was able to happen and what the lessons are for today—the lessons will go wider than just the Home Office. May we have an assurance that there will be an examination across Departments as to why we continue to place vulnerable children away from their home areas, and away from their families, their friends and the support networks they trust, where they can have the assurance that if they go back to those networks such revelations will not be buried and hidden? We are failing generations of children by still placing them far away from their families because of cost and because we no longer have local authority children’s homes in which places can be found for vulnerable children.

The hon. Lady raises a wide issue about the way in which we treat children and young people who are in care and are the responsibility of the state. Sadly, this country has an appalling and shameful record on the way in which we have dealt with young people in care, across a range of issues. Obviously, the points that she has made will be noted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, under whose remit this primarily comes.

Will the Home Secretary tell us more about the terms of reference for the appointee who is looking into whether the Waterhouse inquiry did its job? Surely these must be as wide as possible, given this dreadful case.

I am not able to give the terms of reference at this stage. Wide discussions are being held, including, as I understand it, with the Opposition, about what those terms of reference should be.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for coming to the House to make the statement and to my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary for calling for a single overarching inquiry, as I believe there will be a great deal of support for that in north Wales, as well as in other places.

Most of us cannot even begin to imagine the pain that many victims of this dreadful abuse will be going through today. They will be watching and reliving some of their experiences, which, in many cases, may have been buried for decades. The hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), a former Wrexham councillor, raised this point eloquently. My concern is that many people would like to go to the police to say what happened to them but they fear that the perpetrators are much more powerful than they are. They want to know that we will be on their side. If any Member of the House of Lords were found to be guilty and to be a perpetrator, would the Government support stripping them of their peerage and taking them out of the House of Lords for life?

Obviously, what would happen to any individual who was found to be a perpetrator following any potential criminal prosecution is a matter that would need to be determined at the time. I think that the whole House shares a view on the valid point that the hon. Lady makes about those who fear that they will not be heard; we in this House have responsibility, authority and power, and we should make sure that the message that goes out from us clearly today is that victims will be heard. If someone has been a victim and has allegations to make, I ask them please to bring them forward and take them to the police. The purpose of the investigation is to ensure that we follow all avenues of inquiry, and that victims can see that their voice is heard, that they are listened to and that, where possible, perpetrators are brought to justice.

The Secretary of State said that she has not had direct contact with the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones. May I suggest she does make contact with him and with the Children’s Commissioner for Wales to ensure that there is full co-operation and the free flow of information across all UK borders—those of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands—in a Welsh inquiry or in an overarching UK inquiry?

As I understand it, a number of conversations are being held with the First Minister of Wales—as I indicated earlier, the Secretary of State for Wales has already been in touch with him. I think there will be discussions about the nature of the review of the Waterhouse inquiry as part of that. Of course, as instances emerge—as allegations are made and victims come forward—it will be necessary to ensure that there is an exchange of information in the investigations. One benefit of being able to bring the director general of the National Crime Agency, along with the assets of SOCA and CEOP, and other force assets, as necessary, into this investigation is to make sure that all the information sharing that is necessary is done.

Keith Bristow is a very highly regarded senior police officer but, as he told the Home Affairs Committee the other week, he is already up to his neck in another serious, high-profile police investigation and he is also trying to establish the National Crime Agency. Is the Home Secretary absolutely confident that he will be able to give this matter the full attention that it obviously demands?

Yes, indeed I am. This investigation provides a good example of the benefits of having a central authority—a central body—that can draw resource from a number of areas, particularly the specialist resource from CEOP and SOCA, and bring that to bear. Before the invitation came from the chief constable of North Wales police we of course discussed with Keith Bristow his ability, and that of the various assets under him, to undertake this, and he is clear that he is able to do so.

I, too, thank the Home Secretary for her statement. There is a wide difference between police forces in not only how they respond to allegations of child sexual exploitation, but how well they currently assess risks to children in their area. What has happened to these children in the past is terrible and we must do all we can to ensure that we safeguard children from sexual abuse. Does she agree that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary should make it a priority to inspect police forces to see how well they safeguard children in their area?

One issue that HMIC will be examining in its work on Savile and on the lessons learned from this north Wales investigation and, if necessary, others, is how the police deal with these matters. One of HMIC’s tasks will be to ensure that forces are taking those lessons seriously and embedding them in what they do. Of course, once the college of policing is up and running, it will also be a body with responsibility for developing standards and good practice in a number of areas, and I would expect this to be one of those areas.

I, too, thank the right hon. Lady for today’s statement and for the speed with which the Government have brought it to the House. As is clear from the Jimmy Savile abuse and the north Wales care home abuse, paedophile groups were prevalent in many parts of the United Kingdom in the 1970s and 1980s. Organisations that give help to abused children are almost being overwhelmed by the phone calls they are receiving—they are reporting a 100% increase in calls for help from young children. What assistance can she give organisations tasked with helping these vulnerable children?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the number of people now coming forward. As more revelations of a historical nature are made, I hope that people will feel better able to come forward to indicate their concerns and the problems they have been dealing with in their lives. As he says, a number of organisations are working with and helping those children. The issue of child protection is one that this House and the Government have taken and will continue to take seriously in terms of ensuring not only that there is child protection in the first place, but that when there are victims they can come forward and are given the support they need.

I served as a member of the inquiry team that looked into and reported on abuse of children in residential care in Edinburgh and it was some of the most harrowing work I have ever done. From that experience, I am very aware of how difficult it is for victims to come forward. I appreciate the importance of CEOP, as well as what the Home Secretary is saying about the police, but many victims will fear that they will not be believed or will worry that they will be let down again. What resources will she put in place for social services departments, the voluntary sector and counselling organisations to enable people to come forward, tell their stories and be supported throughout, whatever action is taken?

It is not for me to put resources into social services departments, as that is obviously another area of responsibility, but we will be considering the issue across Government. I hope that the message that has gone out from this House today to reassure victims that they will be listened to will be heard and that people will have the confidence to come forward. The hon. Lady’s point about wider support for victims has been raised by a number of other Members and I will ensure that it is considered by the responsible Departments.

The Education Committee heard worrying evidence that there is still a big problem with older children not being listened to or believed because of what is regarded as difficult behaviour. That is consistent with what happened in Rochdale and with what a number of other Members have said. Notwithstanding that, does the Home Secretary agree that it is very important for child protection to have greater co-operation between the police and other agencies so that children are put at the centre of all child protection work?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about co-operation at a more local level in responding to cases involving individual children. All the evidence suggests that the best protection and results happen when agencies work together and when not just one single agency considers the protective needs of a child. He makes an interesting point that we will take away and consider.