I have been giving careful consideration to the best way to address the allegations, some of which involve security agencies, in connection with abuse at Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast in the 1970s.
The sexual abuse of children, or any tolerance by people in positions of authority of such activity by others, is abhorrent. I urge anyone with information about these matters to come forward to the police.
A number of people have proposed that the independent inquiry panel into institutional failures––“the inquiry panel”––in respect of child sexual abuse to be chaired by Fiona Woolf CBE set up by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, is the most appropriate vehicle to establish the facts concerning Kincora. The remaining appointments to the panel and its terms of reference are being announced today.
There is already in place, however, the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry––“the inquiry”––appointed by the Northern Ireland Executive and chaired by Sir Anthony Hart. I believe that this inquiry is the better forum for the allegations concerning Kincora to be investigated, and we should not seek to take them out of its remit.
The protection of children is a devolved matter and legislation was enacted by the Northern Ireland Assembly to establish the inquiry.
The inquiry has already received a number of reports relating to allegations of abuse that took place at Kincora. It has wide powers of compulsion under section 9 of the Act to require persons and bodies to produce evidence, although, respecting the fact that it is a body established by the devolved authorities, those powers do not extend to the UK Government. The Home Office inquiry panel will have no such powers of compulsion, unless a decision is made to turn it into a statutory inquiry at some point in the future.
In addition, because the protection of children is a devolved matter, it would clearly be less appropriate for the inquiry panel to make recommendations for Northern Ireland concerning the running of the child protection system there.
Because the inquiry’s powers of compulsion do not extend to the UK Government, concern has been expressed as to whether they will be able to deal effectively with the allegations that have been made of misconduct and cover-up regarding the horrific events that occurred at Kincora.
I have discussed these issues with ministerial colleagues and can confirm that there will be the fullest possible degree of co-operation by all of HM Government and their agencies to determine the facts. All Government Departments and agencies which receive a request for information or documents from the inquiry will co-operate to the utmost of their ability in determining what material they hold might be relevant to it, on matters for which they have responsibility in accordance with the terms of reference of the inquiry.
My Department has already started this process by disclosing a list of files to the inquiry held by the NIO which relate to the Kincora Boys’ home. In parallel, the MOD has begun work to establish whether it holds any documents which are relevant to the inquiry and other UK Departments and agencies will do likewise.
It will be important for the inquiry to determine whether either the Security Service or the MOD have documents which are relevant to it. The detailed modalities for achieving this are being worked upon as a matter of urgency.
We will resolve as quickly as possible other issues Sir Anthony has raised as follows. We will ask officials from the relevant Departments who disclose documents to his inquiry to make a witness statement confirming that all the relevant documents and information sought by the inquiry have been produced to it, or, if no longer in existence, accounted for. We will address the question of how the necessary extra resources will be made available to his inquiry in consultation with the Executive. And we will discuss with the Attorney General for England and Wales whether undertakings in the usual form can be given, as appropriate, to give immunity from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act to any person who is requested to give evidence to the inquiry.
With my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I am determined that no stone should be left unturned to investigate such serious allegations of institutional failure. We currently believe that the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry is the best place to do that in respect of Kincora and I, and my officials, will work closely with Sir Anthony to help to achieve that.
We will monitor carefully the extent to which the inquiry is able to make progress in respect of material relevant to Kincora. We will look at the situation again if the inquiry tells us it is unable to determine the facts. In the event that this were to occur, there remains the possibility of seeking agreement to bring the Kincora allegations within the terms of reference of the inquiry panel, along with the option of converting it into a statutory inquiry.