With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the sexual abuse of children, allegations that evidence of the sexual abuse of children was suppressed by people in positions of power, and the Government’s intended response.
I want to address two important public concerns: first, that in the 1980s the Home Office failed to act on allegations of child sex abuse; and, secondly, that public bodies and other important institutions have failed to take seriously their duty of care towards children. I also want to set out three important principles. First, we will do everything we can to allow the full investigation of child abuse and the prosecution of its perpetrators, and we will do nothing to jeopardise those aims. Secondly, where possible the Government will adopt a presumption of maximum transparency. Thirdly, we will make sure that wherever individuals and institutions have failed to protect children from harm, we will expose those failures and learn the lessons.
Concern that the Home Office failed to act on allegations of child abuse in the 1980s relates mainly to information provided to the Department by the late Geoffrey Dickens, who was a Member of this House between 1979 and 1995. As the House will be aware, in February 2013, in response to a parliamentary question from the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), the permanent secretary at the Home Office, Mark Sedwill, commissioned an investigation by an independent expert into information that the Home Office received in relation to child abuse allegations, including information provided by Mr Dickens. In order to be confident that all relevant information was included, the investigation reviewed all relevant papers available relating to child abuse between 1979 and 1999.
The investigation reported last year, and its executive summary was published on 1 August 2013. It concluded that there was no single “Dickens dossier”, but that there had been letters from Mr Dickens to several Home Secretaries over several years that contained allegations of sexual offences against children. Copies of the letters had not been kept, but the investigator found evidence that the information Mr Dickens had provided had been considered and matters requiring investigation had been referred to the police. In total, the investigator found 13 items of information about alleged child abuse. The police already knew about nine of those items, and the remaining four were passed by the Home Office to the police immediately. The investigation found that 114 potentially relevant files were not available. Those are presumed by the Home Office and the investigator to be destroyed, missing or not found, although the investigator made clear that he found no evidence to suggest that the files had been removed or destroyed inappropriately.
The investigation found no record of specific allegations by Mr Dickens of child sex abuse by prominent public figures. On completion of the investigation, the Home Office passed the full text of its interim report and final report, along with accompanying information and material, to the police for them to consider as part of their ongoing criminal investigations.
As Mark Sedwill has said, the investigator recorded that he had unrestricted access to Home Office records and he received full co-operation from Home Office officials. The investigator was satisfied that the Home Office passed all credible information about child abuse in the time period, from Mr Dickens and elsewhere, to the police so it could be investigated properly.
I believe that the permanent secretary, in listening to the allegations made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East and ordering an independent investigation, did all the right things. I am confident that the work he commissioned was carried out in good faith, but with such serious allegations the public need to have complete confidence in the integrity of the investigation’s findings. I have, therefore, today appointed Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, to lead a review not just of the investigation commissioned by Mark Sedwill, but of how the police and prosecutors handled any related information that was handed to them. Peter Wanless will be supported in this work by an appropriate senior legal figure, who will be appointed by the permanent secretary. Where the findings of the review relate to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it will report to the Attorney-General, as well as to me.
I will ask the review team to advise my officials on what redactions to the full investigation report might be needed in order that, in the interests of transparency, it can be published without jeopardising any future criminal investigations or trials. I expect the review to conclude within eight to 10 weeks, and I will place a copy of its terms of reference in the House Library today.
In addition to the allegations made by Geoffrey Dickens, there have also been allegations relating to an organisation called the Paedophile Information Exchange, a paedophile campaign group that was disbanded in 1984. In response to another query from the hon. Member for West Bromwich East, the permanent secretary commissioned another independent investigation in January this year into whether the Home Office had ever directly or indirectly funded PIE. That investigation concluded that the Home Office had not done so, and I will place a copy of the investigation’s findings in the House Library today. To ensure complete public confidence in the work, however, I have also asked Peter Wanless to look at that investigation as part of his review.
I now turn to public concern that a variety of public bodies and other important institutions have failed to take seriously their duty of care towards children. In recent years, we have seen appalling cases of organised and persistent child sex abuse, including abuse by celebrities such as Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, as well as the systematic abuse of vulnerable girls in Derby, Rochdale, Oxford and other towns and cities. Some of those cases have exposed a failure by public bodies to take their duty of care seriously, and some have shown that the organisations responsible for protecting children from abuse—including the police, social services and schools—have failed to work together properly.
That is why, in April 2013, the Government established the national group to tackle sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, which is led by my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention. That cross-Government group was established to learn the lessons from some of the cases I have mentioned and the resulting reviews and inquiries. As a result of its work, we now have better guidance for the police and prosecutors, new powers for the police to get information from hotels that are used for child sexual exploitation, and better identification of children at risk of exploitation through the use of local multi-agency safeguarding hubs. In the normal course of its work the group will publish further proposals to protect children from abuse.
I know that in recent months many Members of the House from all parties have campaigned for an independent, overarching inquiry into historical allegations of child abuse. In my correspondence with the seven Members of Parliament who wrote to me about the campaign—the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), and the hon. Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), for Wells (Tessa Munt), and for West Bromwich East—I made it clear that the Government did not rule out such an inquiry.
I can now tell the House that the Government will establish an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. The inquiry panel will be chaired by an appropriately senior and experienced figure. It will begin its work as soon as possible after the appointment of the chairman and other members of the panel. Given the scope of its work, it is not likely to report before the general election, but I will make sure that it provides an update on its progress to Parliament before May next year. I will report back to the House when the inquiry panel chairman has been appointed and the full terms of reference have been agreed.
The inquiry will, like the inquiries into Hillsborough and the murder of Daniel Morgan, be a non-statutory panel inquiry. That means that it can begin its work sooner and, because the basis of its early work will be a review of documentary evidence rather than interviews with witnesses who might themselves still be subject to criminal investigations, it will be less likely to prejudice those investigations. I want to be clear, however, that the inquiry panel will have access to all the Government papers, reviews and reports that it needs. Subject to the constraints imposed by any criminal investigations, it will be free to call witnesses from organisations in the public and private sectors, and in wider civil society. I want to make it clear that if the inquiry panel chairman deems it necessary, the Government are prepared to convert it into a full public inquiry, in line with the Inquiries Act 2005.
I began my statement by saying that I wanted to address dual concerns: the concern that, in the past, the Home Office failed to act on information it received, and more broadly the concern that public bodies and other institutions have failed to protect children from sexual abuse. I believe that the measures that I have announced today address those concerns. I also said that I wanted the work that we are doing to reflect three principles. First, our priority must be the prosecution of the people behind these disgusting crimes. Secondly, wherever possible and consistent with the need to prosecute, we will adopt a presumption of maximum transparency. Thirdly, where there has been a failure to protect children from abuse, we will expose it and learn from it. I believe that the measures announced today reflect those important principles, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for sight of her statement. Child abuse is a terrible, devastating crime that traumatises children when they are at their most vulnerable and ruins lives. Perpetrators need to be stopped and brought to justice. Too often, the system has failed young victims, not hearing or believing them when they cried out for help, and failing to protect them from those who sought to harm them. There have been particularly troubling cases of abuse involving powerful people and celebrities, and the failure of institutions to act. As Members in all parts of the House and from all parties have made clear, when allegations go to the heart of Whitehall or Westminster, it is even more important to demonstrate that strong action will be taken to find out the truth and get justice for the victims.
The Home Secretary is right to announce today that she has changed her position on and response to child abuse, but I want to press her on the detail. We need three things: justice and support for victims; the truth about what happened and how the Home Office and others responded; and stronger child protection and reforms for the future. First, any allegation that a child was abused, even decades ago, must be thoroughly investigated by the police. Will she tell us whether all the allegations uncovered or put forward in any of these investigations will be covered by Operation Fernbridge? Will the files that she said had been passed to the police go to Operation Fernbridge? We understand that it has only seven full-time officers working on it. Does she think that they have the resources and investigators they need? She referred to the importance of prosecutions when there have been child sexual offences. She will know that prosecutions have dropped in recent years. Does she believe that that is cause for concern, when recorded offences have increased?
Secondly, we need to know what happened when the allegations were first made decades ago. The Home Secretary will know that former Cabinet Ministers have said that there may have been a cover-up. The previous response from the Home Office was not adequate; the 2013 review to which she referred was not announced to Parliament, did not reveal that more than 100 files had gone missing, and has never been published. Will she tell the House whether she or other Ministers saw that review, and whether they were told about the missing files?
I welcome the involvement of Peter Wanless, who is well respected, but will the Home Secretary clarify whether this is simply a review of a review, or whether it will look again at the original material? Will this review have the power to call for further information, range more widely, and interview witnesses if necessary? She talked about publication of the review; does she mean the original 2013 review, the new review, or both? It would be very helpful to have transparency.
Thirdly, as the Home Secretary will know, I raised the issue of the need for an overarching inquiry directly with her in Parliament 18 months ago, when she made a statement about abuse in care homes in north Wales. She and the Prime Minister rejected the need for such an inquiry at the time, but I welcome her agreement to it now. There is currently a range of reviews and investigations in care homes, the BBC, the NHS and now in the Home Office. Also, more recently, there is an inquiry into events in Rochdale and Rotherham. At their heart, they all have a similar problem: child victims were not listened to, heard or protected, and too many institutions let children down. Reform of those individual institutions must not be delayed, but isolated reforms are not enough. An inquiry needs to draw together the full picture to look at the institutional failures of the past and to examine the child protection systems that we have in place that may continue to fail children today. An inquiry must also be able to take evidence from the public, in public, as the Hillsborough review was able to do. I welcome her comments on that and her decision to keep under review whether an inquiry has the powers it needs and whether a public inquiry is needed.
An inquiry must also cover the child protection system in operation today. The Home Secretary’s answer in Question Time to my question on the 75% drop in the number of criminals barred from working with children suggests that the Home Office is still too complacent in that area. I urge her to include the vetting and barring system and the current child protection system in the overarching review. It is important that we do not have systems in place that store up future child protection problems.
The cases that have emerged involving child abuse and sexual assaults by high-profile, powerful people and celebrities have been deeply disturbing, as has the failure of the system to stop them and to protect children and young people today. Previously, the Home Office had not done enough to respond, but I welcome the further steps that the Home Secretary has announced today. She will understand that that is why we seek assurances that the investigations will now be strong enough. She and I will agree that we need justice for victims, the truth about what happened and a stronger system of child protection for the future. People need to have confidence that the process will deliver justice for past victims and protect children in the future.
The right hon. Lady shares my concern to ensure that we have proper safeguards and protection for children in the future and that not only are lessons learned but that action is taken as a result of those lessons being learned following the various reviews into both historical and more recent cases of child sexual exploitation.
The right hon. Lady asked whether all the matters that are felt to be for the police to investigate will be matters for Operation Fernbridge. Actually, a number of investigations are taking place across the country into historical cases of child abuse; it is not appropriate that all those investigations will be in relation to Operation Fernbridge. The National Crime Agency, for example, is leading on Operation Pallial, which is the investigation into potential sexual abuse in children’s care homes in north Wales, and other investigations are taking place elsewhere. All allegations do not necessarily go to a single force; they go to whichever force is the most appropriate to deal with the particular cases and to ensure that people can be brought to justice.
The right hon. Lady asked about the number of prosecutions and offences, which is a matter that is most properly for my right hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-General, but she will have noticed that he is on the Treasury Bench and has noted her comments.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims answered a parliamentary question in 2013—in October 2013, I think—in which reference was made to the missing 114 files.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) asked what I had seen as Home Secretary. I saw the executive summary of both the interim report and the final report commissioned by Mark Sedwill. I did not see the full report for very good reason: the matters that lay behind the report were allegations that senior Members of Parliament—and, in particular, senior Conservative Members of Parliament —may have been involved in those activities. I therefore thought that it was absolutely right and proper that the commissioning of the investigation and the work that was done should be led by the permanent secretary at the Home Office, not by a Conservative politician.
The right hon. Lady asked a number of questions about lessons learnt. Some of those lessons are already being acted on. As I mentioned, the national group that my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention is leading has already brought forward proposals on how the police and prosecutors could better handle these matters, and it will continue with its work. That will of course feed into the work of the wider inquiry panel that I am setting up. I want it to look widely at the question of the protection of children. I want it to ensure that we can be confident that in future people will not look back to today and say, “If only they had introduced this measure or that measure.” We must ensure that the lessons that come out of the various reviews that are taking place are not only properly learned, but acted on.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and her setting up of the independent inquiry panel. She set out three clear principles. The most important of those principles is that the panel should do nothing that prevents these heinous crimes from being properly investigated and those who are guilty of them from being prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Although it is right that we look at the lessons that need to be learned, I am sure that the view shared across the whole House is that it is absolutely essential that we do nothing that could get in the way of prosecuting the perpetrators of these appalling crimes. That is why it is right to set this review up as an inquiry panel so that it can begin its work without jeopardising the criminal investigations taking place.
Frightened survivors of child abuse deserve the truth. I hope and think that they will welcome today’s statement, particularly the announcement that they will have access to all documentation. Will the inquiry team be able to see the files of the special branch, the intelligence services and any submissions made to previous Prime Ministers on people such as Sir Peter Hayman and others?
May I first commend the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done over a number of years on these issues? He and a number of other hon. Members and hon. Friends have been relentless in their pursuit of these issues and their determination to bring truth and justice for the victims. As I said in my statement, my intention is that the fullest possible access should be made to Government papers in relation to these matters. As I am sure he and others will recognise, where there are issues relating to who can have access to some files, we will need to have an appropriate means of ensuring that the information is available to the inquiry panel. However, as I have said, I am looking to appoint a very senior figure to chair the panel, so I expect it to be possible to ensure that all Government papers are available.
I thank the Home Secretary for her swift and decisive action in this case. Having seen my constituent Mr Tom Perry suffer for years to bring his abusers at Caldicott school to justice, resulting in an eight-year custodial sentence at the beginning of this year for its former headmaster, Peter Wright, may I urge her to ensure that these investigations are expedited? As there is still no duty to report suspected abuse, will she ask the inquiries to look again at mandatory reporting of suspected abuse in regulated activities? I have already discussed that with the Secretary of State for Education and hope that the Home Secretary will take it up as well.
I commend my right hon. Friend for her comments. Obviously she has seen a very specific case and knows how long it has taken her constituent to find justice for the treatment that he received. I will indeed raise the specific issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, but it is exactly those sorts of issues that I expect the inquiry panel to look at: namely, are there any gaps in what we currently do that mean we are not properly protecting children and, if there are, what appropriate mechanisms could be put in place to ensure that those gaps are filled?
While welcoming today’s announcements by the Home Secretary and the observations by her shadow, may I press her on the issue of record keeping? When I became Home Secretary, it became very clear to me—I was asking for information in a quite unrelated area—that there had been a downgrading of the archiving and record-keeping functions of the Home Office. I say that in a non-partisan way, because this issue has continued and is made more complicated in the so-called digital age. Will the Home Secretary ensure that both panels look very carefully—taking advice, if necessary, from the head of the National Archives—at the adequacy or, I am sure, inadequacy of existing mechanisms and resources for ensuring that proper records are kept, particularly in areas such as this?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course the keeping of proper records is very important. Over the years that we are dealing with, there have been a number of approaches to record keeping within the Home Office and, indeed, within other Government Departments. In the 1980s, the system was changed to the so-called Grigg system. Subsequently, the National Archives has issued guidance to Government Departments on the approach that they should take to the keeping of records. Of course, that is exactly the sort of issue that I expect could be part of the inquiry’s work.
I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Whatever disagreements we may have, she has always been outspoken in confronting complacency and corruption wherever she finds it. When former public servants give evidence to the inquiry panel, will they be released from any obligations they may have under gagging clauses in severance agreements or, where necessary, the Official Secrets Act?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. It is my intention that people should have the ability to speak openly in giving evidence to the inquiry panel if they are called as witnesses, or in giving written evidence if they so wish. I will have to look at the legal issues around the Official Secrets Act, but it is intended that everybody should have the ability to speak openly. Only if people can speak openly will we get to the bottom of these matters.
I, too, welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to set up the various inquiries. Will she pass on my thanks to Mark Sedwill for the very full letter that he sent to me and the Home Affairs Committee? It is the first time that a Home Office letter has arrived before the deadline. As she knows, we will be examining Mr Sedwill tomorrow. In his letter, he said that the head of the inquiry would be an independent legal figure. The Home Secretary has just announced that it will be Mr Wanless, assisted by a legal figure. Is that correct? Has there been a change, then, since Saturday night? What steps did the Home Secretary take when she discovered that the 114 files were missing?
On the way in which the review is being set up, yes, we have decided on a slightly different approach. The permanent secretary will be appointing a senior legal figure, as he has said. I felt that it was appropriate to ask for somebody to lead the inquiry who was involved in child protection matters and who was independent in a different way, working with the senior legal figure. Peter Wanless will be leading it, but a senior legal figure will be appointed, and the permanent secretary will make the announcement in due course.
On the 114 files that have not been found, that figure was first given in a parliamentary answer last October, and it was repeated in the very full letter that Mark Sedwill gave to the right hon. Gentleman. The investigator was unable to say what had happened to those files—that is precisely one of the problems. There is no evidence as to whether the files were destroyed or have been mislaid. Obviously, the new review will be able to go back over the work that the investigator did to see whether any further evidence can be adduced.
Having sadly had to deal with a number of historic child sex abuse cases in my time as a Law Officer, may I assure the Home Secretary that the victims of these hideous crimes suffer from them well into their adulthood and often into middle and old age, so the need to bring to justice those who have committed these terrible crimes is surely uncontroversial. Will the Home Secretary make sure that those who have evidence to give or allegations to make can do so in the most convenient form possible—that is, to one central police force which masterminds the national investigation—rather than having a whole host of police forces collecting the information and giving it to the Crown Prosecution Service? At the moment, there seems to be a drip-feed of insinuation, which is causing a lot of distress to innocent people. What we need to see is the guilty prosecuted and brought to justice, rather than the innocent having their reputations trashed.
I take very seriously the point made by my hon. and learned Friend. In a sense, we are dealing with two types of allegations. The first are allegations that may be made in cases relating to the information given to the Home Office in the 1980s. There are also allegations about activities at children’s homes in different parts of the country. I will reflect on my hon. and learned Friend’s comment about the appropriate way in which those allegations can be made and properly investigated. I also echo his other point, because I think we have all seen, in interviews given by people who are well into their middle age or older and who were abused as children, that this is not a matter that goes away. It is not something that can be forgotten. It lasts with people for the rest of their lives and we owe it to them to give them truth and justice.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Survivors of child sex abuse are very brave in dealing with the horrific attacks that they have had to endure. How will the proposed inquiry engage with and thoroughly involve the victims of child sex abuse?
I think it would be most appropriate for the chairman and panel themselves to decide what to do on that matter, rather than Government trying to tell them what to do. Once the name of the chairman is announced, I am sure that Members of this House who have experience of dealing with these matters will wish to make their views known, but I think it is best to leave it to the chairman and panel to identify how they wish to work and take evidence and comments from people. May I commend the hon. Gentleman, who is another Member of this House who has done a great deal of work on this matter in trying to uncover the truth about those who have been victims?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement of the overarching inquiry, which is important because if we wish to empower children to resist and report child sex abuse, we need to demonstrate that as adults we are prepared to talk openly about these things. Will she give her view on whether it is correct that no Government record should be destroyed without a record of its being destroyed being kept? If that is what has happened in these 114 cases, is she confident that it is not still happening, and is she satisfied that the Lord Chancellor’s code of practice on the management of records— to which I think the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) referred—is actually being complied with and, indeed, that it is adequate for the purpose?
As I indicated in response to the right hon. Member for Blackburn, the panel may well look at the question of record keeping. It is right that there are certain processes in place, as I also indicated in my earlier response. One of the issues we are dealing with is that, over the years and the time period we are looking at, a number of different approaches to record keeping were taken by Government Departments. It is, I think, best practice to identify what has happened to particular records when they are identified, but the practice of what is done has varied over time. That is one of the aspects that we will obviously need to consider.
I very much welcome the announcement of the panels of inquiry, but may I ask the right hon. Lady a specific question about a north Wales matter? Some 18 months ago, Mrs Justice Macur was appointed to look at the Waterhouse inquiry, specifically to see whether its remit was too narrow and whether there was evidence of wider sexual abuse. She completed her work in July last year; since then, there has been silence. Will the right hon. Lady look into that matter, and advise the House when the findings will be published?
I am very happy to do that, and to write to the right hon. Gentleman about the outcome of my inquiry. In relation to certain matters in north Wales, I am obviously aware that Operation Pallial, a criminal investigation, is also taking place. That may be affecting the issue, but I will certainly look into it.
I strongly welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement of the inquiry. For too long, survivors of appalling abuse have been denied the transparency and justice they deserve, and in Oxford we know too well the long-term toll that that can take. For that reason, we must not raise false hopes today. Does the Secretary of State agree that, in addition to access to Government and police papers, transparency from local authorities will be essential to achieving a just and effective inquiry? How does she intend to achieve such transparency?
My hon. Friend is also well placed to comment on these matters. She has done a considerable amount of work, particularly following the recent cases of child sexual exploitation and grooming in her constituency and elsewhere in Oxford, under the Thames Valley police. She is right: I intend the terms of reference for the panel of inquiry to be drawn quite widely, and they will therefore relate not just to central Government papers. I will publish the terms of reference in due course, when it has been possible to discuss them with the appointed chairman. She is also right that local authorities, with both their direct responsibilities for child protection and their responsibilities for placing children in care of various sorts, will be an important source of information.
Whatever investigations and inquiries take place in the coming months and possibly years, will the Home Secretary ensure that there is support for victims, including, crucially, counselling, which for many years has been far too difficult for both children and adults to access? Given the way in which child abuse is sometimes discussed publicly, will she work closely with ministerial colleagues to make sure that the child protection system and those working in child protection are not in any way undermined by inquiries into historical abuse?
The hon. Gentleman’s question about counselling support for victims is more appropriate for other Departments to consider, but I will certainly raise it with my colleagues. In relation to the way in which we discuss this issue, he is right that many people are working assiduously to protect and safeguard children, and I in no way wish to undermine the work that they are doing. It is important for us to look at a number of allegations and cases where people have been prosecuted for historical abuse, but we have of course seen more recent cases of abuse—I mentioned a number of areas in my statement—and it is important for us to learn from those cases to ensure that we have the best systems in place to provide the protection for children that we all want.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. Does she not agree that the situation has dramatically improved since, say, 2003? The public attitude has improved, and legal changes have led to improvements; in fact, the authorities are now in a position to be proactive when they get the chance and when information is brought forward. Does she agree that agencies such as the police and social services should have a legal obligation to provide information to the inquiry on request, and to act in a positive manner towards it?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that all agencies should act constructively and positively in relation to the inquiry—I encourage them to do so—because that is how we can get to the truth. We have seen that in similar inquiry panels that have taken place. On his first point, I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he has done over many years in looking at the legislative structure, dealing with the issues and working with the police to ensure that the best possible support is given in relation to the activities of paedophiles. Most recently, we have of course seen the new offence of possessing paedophile manuals in the Serious Crime Bill.
I am happy to take away the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. It is precisely because I want to ensure that we cover all the cases that have come up that I think it is important that the terms of the inquiry panel are drawn quite widely. I will look into the matter that he raises.
The country will welcome the principles behind my right hon. Friend’s reviews and panel. Will she, along with other Departments, make it clear to all children, especially looked-after children, that if they have worries that they cannot communicate to the people who are looking after them, there is an outside place to which they can go with confidence to talk about their worries?
On archives, may I refer my right hon. Friend to the letter that she has received from Dr Richard Stone—I do not expect her to respond to it this afternoon—about the hidden stories of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry? As a member of the inquiry, he did not have access to the papers while trying to implement the recommendations. It seems to me to be important that we learn the lessons from that.
I will obviously look carefully at the letter to which my hon. Friend refers and at examples from other inquiries that have taken place.
It is important that young people who are victims of sexual abuse feel able to go somewhere to report it. As has been said by more than one Member today, I hope the fact that we are talking about this matter and our acknowledgement of what has happened to young people in the past and the importance of dealing with it will give victims greater confidence that if they come forward, they will be listened to and heard.
We have seen recent cases that have been taken forward by police forces. Sadly, I see the list of the operations that the police are taking forward to deal with child sexual exploitation and grooming up and down the country. Frankly, the number of cases is shocking. Again, as young people see those cases being dealt with, hopefully it will give them the confidence to come forward if they have been victims of abuse.
As well as setting off these reviews by the great and the good, the so-called independent experts and the people that are known to the Government, would it not be more convincing if the Home Secretary had said, “I’m going to do something else. I’m going to make sure that all those cuts in the public sector and in local authorities are reversed, and that people who deal with child abuse every single day get a decent pay rise”? That is what the Government ought to do if they really mean it.
This Government have a record of being willing to deal with and address issues of child sexual exploitation. I particularly commend the work that was done by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) as Minister for children on the strategy to deal with child exploitation, which is having an impact. Of course the Government must constantly look at whether we can do more. That is why it is important to have the panel to look at the lessons learned.
May I add my welcome for the measures that the Home Secretary has announced? They will offer great reassurance to the public. It is important that all public institutions, including Parliament and the NHS, are held to account. In that respect, will she confirm that the inquiry will have full access to information from quasi-public bodies, such as the BBC, as well as from institutions where we know significant child abuse has taken place, such as the Church?
As I have said, the terms of reference will be published in due course. It is my intention that it should be a wide inquiry. It should therefore be possible for it to look not just at state institutions but at other bodies to see whether they have been protecting children appropriately or not, as the case may be.
In the mid-1990s, a senior ex-Whip who had served in the 1970s told the BBC that the Whips Office routinely helped MPs with scandals, including those, in his own words, “involving small boys”, and that they did so to exert control over those individuals and prevent problems for the Government. That is just one powerful example of how personal and political interests can conspire to prevent justice from happening. May we have a full commitment that the inquiry will consider not just the police and social services but what happens at the heart of power, and that if those systems are found to exist today, they will be overturned, whether or not it makes life uncomfortable for political parties, Parliament or the Government?
It is not my intention that political parties be outside the scope of the inquiry. It has to be wide-ranging and it has to look at every area where it is possible that people have been guilty of abuse. We need to learn lessons to ensure that the systems we have in place are able to identify that and deal with it appropriately.
I welcome the reviews announced by the Home Secretary today. We want those reviews to be thorough, but we do not want another Chilcot—we do not want them to drag on interminably. May we be assured that there will be some form of time scale by which they will be expected to report? As far as the 114 missing files are concerned, they are either destroyed, missing or not found. It seems to me that somebody believes they may still be there. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that somebody is still looking for the files and that no stone will be left unturned until we know exactly where they are?
On the timetable, as I indicated, I would expect the inquiry panel work to go beyond the general election. It is necessary that it has sufficient time to do its job properly and comprehensively, but I undertake to have a progress update report presented to Parliament before May 2015. The deadline or final timetable is something that needs to be discussed with the chairman of the panel, because it will be partly determined by the way they intend to operate the work of the panel. It will also be determined by the progress of the criminal investigations, because we do not want to jeopardise them.
The investigator certainly did not find any evidence that the files were, in any shape or form, in existence, but I think what I am saying is that there is no categorical evidence that they had been destroyed, because that had not been recorded—hence the issues that have been raised about the recording of matters relating to records.
Sir Jimmy Savile was the honoured invited guest at 11 new year’s eve parties hosted by a Prime Minister. He was given the keys to two hospitals by Health Ministers. He was a trusted friend of royalty. Can we know whether the intelligence services had surveillance on this man? If they did put in reports, why was no action taken on them?
In response to an earlier question, I addressed the issue of my expectation of the panel being able to have as much access to Government papers as possible. On the wider issue the hon. Gentleman raises, this is precisely why we need to look back at these cases and ask why somebody who was serially abusing a large number of people—children and adults—over a period of time was able to do so while continuing to be feted by society at large.
The Home Secretary was right to be cautious about an overarching inquiry. Is she now convinced that an inquiry that covers multiple decades and multiple institutions, in the public sector and outside, will be sufficiently focused and effective? The last thing we want is for the inquiry to fail to draw a line for those who have suffered such horrors in their early years.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. There is often a tension between ensuring that a report or an inquiry can look as widely as is necessary to get to the truth, while at the same time ensuring that it does not continue for so long that it ceases to have relevance when it reports. I will be discussing this matter with the chairman of the inquiry to ensure that it can be conducted in such a manner that lessons can be learned sufficiently swiftly for action to be taken to ensure we are protecting children today.
On behalf of nationalist Members, I welcome the inquiry and the other investigations that the Home Secretary has mentioned, but will she assure me that, where possible, she will keep the devolved Administrations informed of the progress of the inquests and work with them to ensure that we really get to the heart of the matter?
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we will talk to the devolved Administrations and work with them on the work of this inquiry. Some matters will cover England and Wales, and other matters are of a devolved nature, which makes it particularly important to work with the devolved Administrations.
I read the executive summary of the 2013 review, according to which 114 files were said to have been lost or destroyed. The investigator says, however, that he looked only at what he called the central Home Office database. What about files that might be held by the Security Service or other agencies? Will the Home Secretary confirm that files held by such bodies and those held on other databases will be incorporated in the review?
I certainly think it important for other databases to be interrogated and looked into. As I indicated in response to an earlier question from the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), there are issues around access to certain matters that relate to secret and intelligence material. I am sure, however, that there are ways of ensuring that all appropriate material—whether it be appropriate for the review or for the inquiry panel—will be looked into.
In the 1970s and ’80s, there was a confusion between sexual liberation and sexual exploitation, and that gave cover for the abuse of some children to escape challenge. Much progress has been made, but victims of child abuse are still being blamed for their own exploitation. Does the Home Secretary agree that if we are to make significant progress in protecting our children, the independent inquiry panel needs to look at current attitudes as well as understand historical attitudes?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the atmosphere and attitudes against which these abuses took place. We need to be very clear about what amounts to abuse today. That is why, in a related context, the Home Office has run a “This is Abuse” campaign for teenagers to help them identify when abuse is taking place. Sadly, some might have seen abusive relationships that were portrayed to them as normal. We need to ensure that everybody understands what abuse is, and understands their ability to say no.
The intention of the inquiry panel is to be able to look as widely as possible at these issues. I should perhaps clarify a point: the inquiry panel will not be conducting investigations into specific allegations, which would properly be matters for criminal investigations. It is looking across the board at how these matters have been approached in the past and asking the question—I intend this to be drawn quite widely—whether the proper protections for children were in place, and if not, whether those gaps still exist today, and if so, what we need to do to fill those gaps. I expect as much information as possible to be given to the panel to enable it to achieve that.
In the course of doing constituency casework, every Member will come across vulnerable adults and children. Does the Home Secretary agree that Members of Parliament and caseworkers should undergo Criminal Records Bureau checks? We have legislated for everybody else in similar positions of responsibility to have those checks, so is it not time that we did so here, too?
There is, in a sense, a paradox here, in that a Member of Parliament can go into a school without a CRB check, but the inquiry panel will be considering how we can protect children, whether there are gaps anywhere, and whether we need to fill those gaps. I expect its report to identify areas in which the panel considers it necessary, potentially, to legislate further in order to protect children.
I commend my right hon. Friend for—uniquely, it would seem—understanding the gravity of these never-ending revelations and the need for transparency and urgency in the investigation of them, and gently regretting the rather partisan approach taken by the shadow Home Secretary, which contrasts with the all-party spirit of the 141 Members who called for the inquiry.
Will the panel have the power to summon evidence and subpoena witnesses, will it be able to go where it needs to go, and, crucially, will it be able to trigger criminal investigations of anyone who is found to be responsible for covering up such acts, rather than just the perpetrators?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I also commend him for the work that he has done for many years, and not just as Minister for Children: I remember how assiduous he was during our time in opposition in trying to ensure that children were properly protected, and that issues such as the abuse and exploitation of children. and their lack of safety, were taken into account and dealt with properly.
If the panel found allegations that it believed would be dealt with more appropriately by the police through a criminal investigation, I would expect the allegations to be passed to the police for that purpose. The panel will be able to call witnesses. Its initial structure will not enable it to require witnesses to come before it, and it will have to consider whether calling a witness would in any way jeopardise or prejudice a criminal investigation that was taking place if that individual was involved in the investigation. However, as I have said, if the chairman decides to recommend that the inquiry panel be turned into a full statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005—which would, of course, have the right to require witnesses to come forward—we will make it absolutely clear that we will go down that route.
In the early 1990s, I interviewed seven young men in my constituency, all of whom had been victims of child abuse at Bryn Estyn in north Wales. None of them asked for compensation, but all of them said “We want someone to say sorry.” That was uppermost in their minds: they wanted someone to admit that what he or she had done was wrong.
I had to bring parliamentary business to a halt two nights running on the Floor of the House in order to get the main allegations contained in the then secret Jillings report into the public eye. Shortly afterwards a public inquiry was set up, and all talk of that was shut down for three years. I have given evidence to Operation Pallial, one of the inquiries that have been taking place. Can the Home Secretary give any time frame for when it might report? In my view, this has dragged on for far too long.
The right hon. Lady has raised an important point. I cannot give her a time frame for Operation Pallial, in relation to its termination. Obviously it is ongoing, and is dealing with individuals and matters as it comes across them and is able to deal with them. However, I will write to her about what it has been doing and how long it thinks the process might take.
The police are becoming increasingly successful at breaking up human trafficking rings. Adult victims of human trafficking are looked after in safe homes which are run safely and are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. Unfortunately, however, children are given to local authorities to be looked after, and there is evidence that they are often re-trafficked and abused again. Will the Home Secretary consider installing for children a system similar to the one that we have for adults?
The purpose of the child advocate trials that we are introducing is precisely to find out how we can best ensure that child victims of human trafficking are given the support and help that they need. As my hon. Friend has said—and he recognises this through the work that he has done, particularly when he was chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern day slavery—some youngsters sadly find themselves being trafficked again when in local authority care.
This is appalling. I am afraid that over the years this country can take no comfort at all from its record on children in local authority care, and we have seen many appalling cases as a result of that. I hope that the child advocate trials will show us where best practice is and how we can best support these children.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s report, and may I suggest that one of the things the inquiry panel might look at is the adequacy, or otherwise, of multiagency activity in pursuing the point she has just made? She has talked twice now about the investigator having determined that files had not been removed deliberately or inappropriately, but she has also said the record of housekeeping on this matter has been varied. Can she tell the House how the investigator determined that these files were not removed deliberately or inappropriately, and if she cannot tell the House that, will the inquiry look specifically into that issue?
The review that will be taking place under the direction of Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, with the support I indicated earlier, will precisely be looking at the investigator’s review to see whether it was conducted properly and whether the information was properly dealt with, and will look at what the Home Office did in relation to the files and so forth. So it is a matter that will be looked at by the review of the review.
I thank the Home Secretary for her important and measured statement. With the apparent loss of in excess of about 100 Home Office documents that are relevant to this statement, current testimonies from past victims take on a greater importance. In view of that, is the Home Secretary satisfied that the police, and in particular the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, have the necessary powers to protect victims from ongoing blackmail? In particular, I gather that there are general concerns around the potential use of photographs and films from the 1970s and ’80s which have now been digitised in order to discourage victims from coming forward.
My hon. Friend makes an important point and, if I may, I will look into the specific issue he has raised about the films or videos from the 1970s which have been digitised. I am satisfied generally that CEOP does have the powers it needs, but he has raised a very specific issue and I will look into it and get back to him.
The three principles of justice for victims, transparency of process and learning the lessons are absolutely right and necessary, but does the Home Secretary not consider that they may not be sufficient unless there is a care package of support attached to the inquiry, because otherwise victims may still feel reluctant in coming forward? She referred earlier to it being for other Departments to look at that; I believe it is for hers.
It is, of course, right that the Home Office is establishing the inquiry panel, and we will be discussing with the inquiry panel what it considers will be necessary for it to be able to ensure it can undertake its investigations and review in the best possible way.
As someone who called for an overarching review, may I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement? Does she agree that one of the possible causes of the seeming culture of impunity that existed in the ’70s and ’80s was the fact that the courts made no adjustment whatsoever for the evidence of children and young people and there was a statutory requirement that juries in England and Wales had to be warned about the absence of corroborative evidence in sexual complaints?
My hon. Friend’s experience of matters relating to the courts is, of course, greater than mine, but I think he is absolutely right that one of the things that has developed over the years has been a willingness of the criminal justice system as a whole to recognise the need to put in place more specific support for those vulnerable witnesses, to ensure they are able to bring their evidence forward. Of course justice requires that the evidence that people give is appropriately challenged, but it is important that over the years—not just in issues relating to child abuse, but in some other matters as well—the courts have recognised the need to make sure that witnesses are not put off coming forward by what is going to be their experience at trial.
I am still a little unclear as to the scope of the Wanless review into the 114 missing files. The Home Secretary described it as a “review of the review”. Will it have the power to go further and take evidence from other people who may know something about the missing files that was not the subject of the original investigation in 2013?
I have put a copy of the terms of reference of the review in the Library, so it will be possible for the hon. Lady and others to see those. She described it as a review of the 114 files, but it is not a review of the 114 files; it is a review of all the work that was done by the investigator to see how the Home Office handled the letters from Geoffrey Dickens and other information that became known to it to ensure that it was handled appropriately. As I indicated, the review will be looking at other matters that relate to the police and prosecuting authorities. It will also look at whether further information is available in relation to the 114 files and whether the original review’s assessment of their significance was reasonable.
Whether in private homes or public institutions, child sex abuse is, sadly, all too prevalent in British society. Therefore, will the Home Secretary look again, for current cases, at the tariff for serious sexual crimes, given that the current tariffs and sentences are clearly not working as a deterrent?
Operation Fernbridge has been given details of the blocked 1988 investigation into child prostitution, sex rings, prominent people and children’s homes in Lambeth. Can we be certain that it has sufficient resources to see whether those files still exist—and if not, where they have gone—and to prosecute if possible? In addition, this year in Bassetlaw six people have come forward and made allegations of historical child abuse, but there have been no prosecutions, Nottinghamshire police have lost files and Nottinghamshire social services have destroyed files. Will that be in the remit of one of these investigations now taking place?
On the resources available to Operation Fernbridge, it is an operational matter for the commissioner to determine what resources are appropriate for the level of investigation that is necessary. I am sure that we all want the same thing: to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. The whole point of the inquiry panel is to look at lessons learned as a result of these various reviews of historical allegations that have taken place. Obviously, I would expect it to be wide ranging in ensuring that it is indeed identifying all the lessons that need to be learned and the actions that need to be taken.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Much of Geoffrey Dickens’s former Huddersfield West seat was incorporated into my constituency, so there is much local interest in this in my part of the world. I very much welcome the announcement of today’s independent inquiry. Will the Home Secretary assure me that it will look into all the evidence and all the allegations, no matter how old?
The point is that the inquiry panel should be able to look at historical allegations and identify what lessons need to be learned. As I indicated in response to an earlier question, I think it is appropriate for me to make it clear again that it will not be for the inquiry panel to determine a particular allegation; if there is an allegation where a criminal investigation is more appropriate, it should be referred to the police for criminal investigation. It will, however, be looking across the board at these historical allegations and at why so many children in so many different environments—in the care of the state and in other areas—found themselves the victims of this abuse and apparently nothing was done to protect them properly.
Further to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), we know that special branch suppressed files alleging criminality in the Cyril Smith case. Allegations have been made that the intelligence services have been involved in the hushing up of police inquiries. Will the Home Secretary accept in terms, and tell the House today that she accepts completely, that without access to those records, including those of the intelligence services, this new inquiry will not be able to establish the truth?
I had hoped that I had made it clear to the House that it is my intention and expectation that all material, or Government papers, will be made available to the inquiry panel. The caveat that I put on that—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members will recognise this—is that if, when we are dealing with this material, intelligence matters are involved, certain care will have to be taken in the way in which that material is dealt with. I intend that, as far as possible, Government papers will be made available to the inquiry so that that inquiry can come to a proper determination.
I welcome the inquiry that the Home Secretary has announced. Much of the discussion that we have had today has been around historical cases. Is she confident that if such a bundle of documents were to be handed to her today, it would be treated in a much better manner?
I would hope that, if a similar bundle were handed in to the Home Office today, officials would ensure that those documents went to the police and were properly investigated. In the case of the material that came in to previous Home Secretaries, the evidence of the review was that material that should have been handed to the police was handed to the police, but we will be looking to ensure that that is what actually took place. Obviously, if such material were handed to the Home Office today, I would expect the Home Office to keep appropriate records and ensure that the police were taking those matters on board as appropriate.
I have indicated to the House that I would expect Government papers to be made available to the inquiry. I remind Members of the House that, where information is currently being used in a criminal investigation, we do not want the inquiry’s work in any way to jeopardise or prejudice criminal investigations that are taking place. I used a phrase in my statement about Government “making all papers available” to the inquiry. Obviously, it is for the chairman and the panel to determine how they wish to conduct the inquiry, but the Government will be open to the inquiry.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement today. Does she agree that although Mr Sedwill found no evidence that the 114 files that were not available had been removed or destroyed inappropriately, it does not in any way mean that it is not deeply concerning that those files have gone missing, nor does it in any way provide positive evidence that they were not inappropriately removed? It just means that no evidence was provided one way or the other.
The important point, as I understand it, is—I cannot find the exact phrase in my papers—whether those files were of significance. The reviewer looked at the issues in terms of the files being identified. Obviously, he was not able to look into the files themselves precisely because there does not appear to be a record of whether they had been destroyed, mislaid or simply not found. The purpose of having the review of the review is precisely so that it is possible to go back on those issues and to look at them again and see whether further information is available about those files—that is in the terms of reference of the review of the review—and whether the issue was dealt with properly by the investigator.
On 23 May 2012 at Prime Minister’s questions, I raised the issue of the abuse that took place at Medomsley detention centre. My constituent, John McCabe, was raped every day for nine months by guards and others inside and outside Medomsley. John has waived his anonymity and, because of his courage, 700 victims from the detention centre have come forward, and 70-plus detectives from County Durham police force are going through the evidence. What has always puzzled me is that much of the evidence that was available was already in the hands of the Home Office. Why did the Home Office not instigate the investigation? Does the Home Secretary not accept that the only way to get to the truth about the depths to which paedophile circles have infiltrated state systems is to cut to the chase and announce a public inquiry today?
We are absolutely clear that the way forward is to ensure that work can start soon and that we do not delay this work because of the impact it could have on the criminal investigations. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the fact that a significant number of police officers in the County Durham force were looking into the allegations of the abuse that took place at Medomsley detention centre, and I am sure that he would want to ensure that those criminal investigations could continue and that, where evidence that was suitable for charge and prosecution was found, those charges should be laid and those prosecutions should be taken forward. I want to ensure that the work that is now going to be done does not jeopardise the prosecution of perpetrators. That is why I have set this up today as an inquiry panel. As I made clear in my statement, if the chairman of the panel recommends that it would be preferable to move to a full statutory inquiry, that will be done.
The review looked at the way in which the information that had come in from Geoffrey Dickens—and, indeed, any other information—had been handled, to ensure that it was being handled appropriately. The evidence that it found was that matters that should have been handed over to the police for investigation were indeed handed to the police for investigation. As I have said, four pieces of information have subsequently been passed to the police because it was felt that it was now appropriate to do so. The review will look at the whole question of what the investigator did and what evidence they found. It will ensure that that investigation was done properly and that the handling of those matters was entirely appropriate, in order to give greater confidence precisely because questions have been raised.
In the early 1980s, I was working in child protection in south Wales, and rumours such as those that have been circulating this weekend were also circulating then. Many of the people who were working in child protection in the 1980s have now retired. Will there be a confidential access line to enable such people to come forward and reveal what they saw happening at the time? Such material might not be suitable for a police inquiry, but it might well help to build a picture of what was prevalent then and of what engagement took place between the police and other authorities and those who had concerns about children being picked up at the end of the lane in large cars but found that they could get nowhere with those concerns.
It is precisely in order to learn the lessons that we need to know what was going on, and the inquiry is obviously going to have to look quite widely in order to find that out. It will have to look at the documentary evidence from the reviews that have taken place. I do not want to dictate to the inquiry what it should do or how it should undertake its work, but I am sure that the chairman and the panel will be alive to the fact that, in order to get to the truth, they will need to hear from those who have felt unable to speak out in the past.
I also welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. May I press her on the point about the missing 114 files and ask how the investigator could have concluded, without having had sight of them, that they had not been “removed or destroyed inappropriately”? Did the Home Secretary ask that question herself?
I made it absolutely clear earlier that that review was initiated by the permanent secretary, and that it reported to the permanent secretary. The review itself has been passed to the police, together with any appropriate evidence that it was felt right to pass to the police. Obviously, the review looked at a large number of files and put together evidence as to how these matters were dealt with. The whole question of how it looked at the judgments that were made by the investigator when he undertook the review is one of the issues that will be looked at by the review of the review.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. One consequence of her establishing an inquiry such as the one that she has announced today might be that victims hitherto unknown to the authorities will come forward with new or additional evidence on existing cases. Will she ensure that, as part of the terms of reference for the inquiry, a sensitive and confidential procedure will be put in place to allow victims, including new victims, to come forward and present their evidence in a confidential and sensitive manner and, when necessary, for that information to be shared not just with the inquiry but with criminal investigators?
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), I would expect the inquiry to recognise the need to have appropriate measures in place to enable evidence to come forward from those who might otherwise find it difficult to give evidence or who have been put off from giving it in the past for fear of the consequences.