House of Commons
Wednesday 4 February 2015
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of a Paper, entitled ‘Report of Inspection of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council’, dated 4 February 2015.—(Mr Evennett.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
We are supporting the temporary Gaza reconstruction mechanism to facilitate the import of construction materials into Gaza. Almost 40,000 people have now been able to buy materials to repair their homes. There is still a lot more to do, but the mechanism is a step in the right direction.
The right hon. Lady is quite right to raise that as an issue to be considered. There is no evidence at the moment to suggest that what she is worried about is happening. In addition, part of our support for the reconstruction mechanism has been to fund a monitoring process so that the right checks can be made to avoid such things happening.
There is a mechanism to check and control the materials as they come into Gaza. My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the very difficult issues involved in reconstruction. Even with the mechanism in place, we expect reconstruction to take two to three years. Ultimately, the alternative to not using this sensible mechanism is for Gazans who have been forced out of their homes and have lost their homes simply to have nowhere to live. That situation is clearly not sustainable—it would certainly not be good for the many children who live in Gaza—and we are therefore right to be taking action to address it.
Has the right hon. Lady seen early-day motion 746, standing in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House? It salutes the Big Ride from Edinburgh to London by 1,000 cyclists, which will take place later this year to provide funds for the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping deprived children who are war victims in Gaza. The right hon. Lady has an admirable record on this issue. Is she willing to give her support to the Big Ride?
I was not aware of the early-day motion that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. I will certainly take a look at it. It sounds as if it is a very valuable fundraising effort. As I have set out, we are absolutely determined to play our part in supporting the Palestinian Authority to enable it steadily to rebuild after the conflict in Gaza.
Many of my constituents, including a group called Knighton Action for Peace and Justice, have grave concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. How are the Government using their influence to encourage Israel and Palestine to reach a more satisfactory agreement about water resources in the occupied territories?
A significant amount of infrastructure was damaged during the crisis over the summer. Part of the £20 million we committed at the reconstruction conference attended by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is to help to replace the infrastructure that has been lost. All the discussion and debate we can have today is simply palliative while a long-term political settlement is being reached, which is the only thing that can in the end improve the long-term prospects of people living in that part of the world.
Some 100,000 homes were destroyed or damaged in the most recent crisis in Gaza, and flooding, heavy snow and plummeting temperatures have now intensified the terrible conditions faced by Palestinian men, women and children. While I was in the Occupied Palestinian Territories last month people were literally freezing to death because they struggled to get hold of the materials they need to rebuild. Will the Secretary of State explain why her Government pledged £20 million to help such efforts, but have so far disbursed only a quarter of that figure?
It is important that the hon. Gentleman reflects on the broader assistance that we provide. As he will be aware, over the summer we provided £17 million of emergency assistance. I have talked about the £20 million that we have pledged to the Gaza reconstruction mechanism, which we are in the process of delivering. He will be aware that from 2011 to 2014, we pledged significant resources of about £350 million. We are one of the leading supporters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides key day-to-day services. He is right to draw attention to the conditions in which people are living. That is why we provide so much support, of which I am sure he is supportive.
Commonwealth Multilateral Agencies
Since 2009, DFID has provided £180 million to six Commonwealth organisations. The budget is some £50 million this year and it will remain so in the next financial year.
The diversity of the Commonwealth of nations is part of its strength. Programmes such as the Commonwealth scholarships and the Local Government Forum build on that by supporting education and the exchange of best practice among Commonwealth citizens and Governments. Does the Minister agree that at a time of rising extremism, both political and religious, in a number of Commonwealth countries, the contribution of those programmes should be celebrated and extended to build shared values and understanding?
Developing World (Humanitarian Assistance)
We work with agencies such as UNICEF and Save the Children to meet the immediate needs of children, but our key agenda is to link humanitarian assistance with long-term development.
Getting food and shelter to children is essential, but will the Minister consider the global investment that is necessary in the social and emotional rehabilitation of children? That will make them less traumatised by their experience; enable them to raise good families of their own and to rebuild their cultures; and, perhaps above all, make them more resistant to political and religious fundamentalism.
Yes; absolutely. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work in driving forward that agenda. He is right that people will not achieve their potential while they are traumatised and do not have education and proper support. One third of refugee children are without primary education and some three quarters are without secondary education. It is for that reason that we have more than doubled our budget for education in conflict-affected and fragile states. We are determined to drive forward that agenda internationally.
An outstandingly good charity in my constituency, Alive & Well, ships essential equipment such as water purification equipment to some of the poorest children in the world, particularly in Sierra Leone. The next shipment was due to go on 24 February, but the charity has discovered that the import duties that are being applied by the Government of Sierra Leone, which are up to 100% of the value of the goods, will make it impossible. Will the Minister take up the matter with his opposite number in the Sierra Leonean authorities to reduce the unfair import duties?
The UK has pledged £700 million so far in response to the Syria crisis, providing food, medical care and relief items to some of those most in need, including children. That includes the £50 million that I announced at the UN General Assembly for the No Lost Generation initiative, which will provide education, psycho-social support and protection for Syrian children who are affected by the crisis in Syria and the region.
Children who are displaced by the Syrian crisis not only lose their homes, but are at risk of having their life chances permanently and irreparably damaged. What is my right hon. Friend’s Department doing to help ensure that Syrian refugee children can not only expect adequate primary and secondary education, but have some hope of higher education?
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend about the need to address the lack of education for children affected by this crisis, and the package that I mentioned announcing at the UN covers three new programmes specifically for education for Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan and Lebanon. Those programmes will be about improving the quality of education, particularly for early-grade primary school children in Jordan, and integrating Syrian refugee children into the system. My right hon. Friend is right to say that more needs to be done, and we launched the international No Lost Generation initiative precisely to get more and broader support for the issue.
14. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is simply not possible for some of those children to receive the support and treatment they need in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, and that her Government should be doing more to resettle Syrian children and their families in this country? (907440)
I agree it is important that we play our role in the refugee crisis and provide refuge to people affected by it, which is precisely what we are doing. On helping children where they are—the overwhelming majority of children affected are still in the region—we are working hand in hand with the Lebanese Government to ensure that there is the capacity for children to get education. There is more to be done, but we can be proud of the leading role played by the UK.
On the visit to Jordan and Lebanon by the International Development Committee last year we saw the huge amount of work that those countries are doing to support children affected by the conflicts. What is the Department doing to ensure that the children of Jordan and Lebanon do not suffer because of the huge burdens placed on their public school systems?
We are working directly with both those Governments to ensure that our programmes help not only Syrian refugee children but, particularly in Lebanon, a host of children who were in school but perhaps did not get the textbooks they needed. We have provided a much broader package, and it is important that host communities are helped to cope with the strains that the refugees are putting on them.
Over a year ago, the Government committed to allowing a small number of refugees from Syria into the UK, including children with specific medical needs. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many children from Syria with specific needs have been allowed to come to the UK?
I do not have that precise information but I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. As I said in response to an earlier question, that programme is in place to help Syrian refugees who particularly need to take advantage of it. The most important thing is to get broad international support to help the 3.8 million refugees who are now in the region and need assistance.
The UK has committed £325 million to tackling the Ebola crisis. The UK is leading the international response to the crisis in Sierra Leone by diagnosing and isolating Ebola cases more quickly, trebling the number of treatment beds, supporting burial teams, and assisting in the research for a vaccine.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that at the recent London conference, Britain was able to persuade other Governments to contribute financially? Does she agree that we should be proud of the hugely positive contribution made by Great Britain through DFID’s budget—symbolised by Nurse Cafferkey and others with medical and other expertise—to resolving the Ebola outbreak?
Yes; the international effort has involved not only financial assistance from a host of countries, but assistance in kind from countries such as Australia which is helping to set up Ebola treatment centres. I pay tribute to the work done across the Government, not just in my Department. As my hon. Friend says, vital work has been done by Public Health England, NHS workers and our amazing Ministry of Defence and soldiers who have done an incredible job. Without their efforts none of this would have been possible, and thanks to them we are now turning the corner.
The right hon. Lady’s permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee that one of the key lessons of Ebola was the need for more research and development on vaccines. Between 2008 and 2013, Britain gave £40 million to support the work of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. I understand that IAVI’s research contributed to the science that led to the fast-track Ebola vaccines, yet she has slashed the UK’s support for IAVI from £40 million to just £5 million for 2013 to 2018. Does she regret that 86% cut?
No, I do not. The hon. Lady talks about the science, but we stopped funding the vaccine research because the basic science to support a vaccine was not in place. To have continued putting money into this research, when the early indications were that it was not going to deliver a vaccine, would not only have been a waste of money, but done a disservice to our investment into tackling AIDS. I should also point out that, in 2009-10, the Government invested £249 million in tackling HIV/AIDS, but in 2013-14 we increased that by 50% to £372 million.
I do not know whether the right hon. Lady heard me say that IAVI’s research contributed to some of the science that led to the Ebola vaccine. The point of research is that it builds knowledge.
The world must never again be left so exposed to Ebola. The good news that Ebola infections are falling in Liberia has meant that the trial of Brincidofovir as a drug therapy for Ebola was halted last Friday. Does the right hon. Lady agree that we need urgently to roll out the Ebola vaccine trials from Liberia to Sierra Leone and Guinea to discover which vaccine works?
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is aware, but we have worked hand in hand with the Medical Research Council and GlaxoSmithKline to help those trials to come forward faster. In fact, the Minister for Government Policy and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster , my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Oliver Letwin), has played a pivotal role internationally in ensuring that those trials could progress. It would be more constructive if she asked some relevant questions, rather than scoring pointless political points.
Sustainable Development Goals
The UK plays a leading role internationally at the EU and UN and bilaterally to push for an ambitious and implementable post-2015 framework. As the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) will know, the first session of intergovernmental negotiations on the SDGs has concluded, and the open working group proposal includes 17 goals and 169 targets. We support the breadth and balance of the proposal but will be arguing for a much more concise and workable agenda as negotiations progress.
Millennium development goal 3 was to promote gender equality and empower women. Will the Secretary of State be championing the inclusion in the new SDGs of texts on ending violence against women and girls and supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as statements in the declaration of the commission on the status of women?
Absolutely—yes. The Government play a leading role in raising the issue of violence against women and girls, and I pay tribute to the amazing work done by the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague). I can assure her that we will continue to play that role.
The Secretary of State has already indicated the complexity of the goals under discussion. What steps are being taken to ensure effective integration of the different goals, particularly the proposed target on under-fives mortality and those on water, sanitation and hygiene, given that most diarrhoeal diseases result from a lack of investment in that sector?
I very much agree with the hon. Lady. The key to success in getting a sensible outcome for a new post-2015 framework is to ensure that it is not a shopping list, but that it actually works as an overall strategy to bring change on the ground and lift people out of poverty over the next 15 years.
My Department continues to work closely and effectively with the Sierra Leonean Government to defeat Ebola, and our strategy is working—there are now signs that the infection rate is falling. We are far from complacent, however, because many cases remain, and we will see our mission through to the very end.
Since the last session of DFID questions, I have attended the Gavi replenishment conference in Berlin, at which Gavi surpassed its replenishment target of $7.5 billion from donors, which will help to immunise 300 million additional children and save more than 5 million lives. The Government have confirmed an additional commitment to Gavi of £1 billion in funding from 2016 to 2020.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. On Syria, along with many colleagues I visited the Nizip 2 camp on the Turkish border last year and met the 17,000 refugees based there, half of whom were children. What the children particularly need is books in Arabic, so they can learn and then become the doctors and engineers they want to be. What steps are the Secretary of State and her Department taking to ensure that these children get the Arabic books they need?
I too have had the chance to visit one of the refugee camps on the Syrian/Turkish border. The Turkish Government have put an immense amount of investment into supporting those people, and indeed providing some of the best quality refugee facilities that I have seen. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that textbooks are an important part of that. We have provided textbooks in Lebanon; I would be happy to look further at the point that he has raised.
T2. I will take my moment, Mr Speaker. Over 30 years ago, this country was very generous in response to the Ethiopian famine, but now, over the last three years, we have given £1 billion in aid—despite the fact that the security forces in Ethiopia are raping, torturing and killing. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterpart in Ethiopia on these matters? (907403)
The right hon. Lady is right to raise her concerns about the behaviour of the police and security services. We raise our concerns, too. That should not overshadow the rest of the important work we are doing to help people in Ethiopia steadily to lift themselves out of poverty. If we consider development over the last 30 years, we can really see that Ethiopia has come on a tremendous way since it first appeared on our TV screens when it was facing the famine of 1984.
My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of economic development. In respect of our bilateral programme, we work on three key areas, and one of those, of course, is indeed wealth creation. We are promoting private sector development that can contribute to state and peace building by increasing fiscal sustainability and reducing unemployment and poverty.
Yes, I do. We have been more clear-cut about the outcomes we are trying to achieve. As for the facility the hon. Gentleman mentions, it has pulled in £6.8 billion-worth of investment in infrastructure in some of the poorest countries in the world, which will help them steadily to make their way out of poverty. Surely creating the markets of the future is one of the smartest things we can do if we want to stay prosperous ourselves.
T5. More cowardly and unforgiveable executions have again reminded us of the depths of ISIL’s depravity. As temperatures plummet in northern Iraq, will the Secretary of State update us on progress in providing humanitarian assistance to the 5.2 million Iraqis affected by this brutal conflict? (907406)
On Iraq in particular, we work extremely hard on the so-called winterisation approach, ensuring that tents are warm, that people have blankets and that appropriate shelter, food and sanitation are in place. That has been done, but the challenge in the region is now immense. The Syrian crisis alone has seen 3.8 million refugees.
T6. Many people who live and work in the United Kingdom, including people in my constituency, wish to send money back to their families in other parts of the world. Initiatives from companies such as Xendpay are starting to challenge some of the costs of money transfer. What is the Secretary of State doing to address the charging of exorbitant fees of up to 20% for money transfer services such as those provided by Western Union? (907407)
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the role played by remittances, which are a key part of the grand sweep of cash flow into developing countries. As she will know, we are working very hard in countries such as Somalia to ensure that families can continue to send money back to their relatives. I agree with her that one of the most important things we can do is introduce competition to the market, as well as helping to develop banking services so that people have more choice.
So-called social mobilisation has been key to bearing down on transmission rates. We understand that they are now well under 1%, which is great news. If we are to combat local outbreaks, however, it is vital that people understand how to stay safe, and DFID has played a major role in bringing together a consortium of different organisations to help to ensure that that happens.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the sickening murders in Syria of the Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and the Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasbeh, and I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with their families at this very difficult time. We should also think of our own pilots and their families, and of all those who serve. I can assure the House that we will not stop until the murderous ISIL extremists who are behind this, and their poisonous ideology, are eradicated.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I associate myself with the comments that the Prime Minister has just made?
A constituent of mine, an agency worker, told me that he pays income tax only if he works overtime. Part of his wages is paid in expenses, even when he is on holiday, which affects his national insurance contributions and therefore his benefit and pension entitlement. The sum of £16 a week is deducted from his wages to administer his payroll, and he even has to pay for his own pay slip. Is that any way in which to treat our working people?
We are looking into abuse by the so-called umbrella companies that can sometimes bring such things about, but the broader point is that I want to help people like that by cutting their taxes and taking them out of income tax altogether. We have already taken 3 million of the lowest-paid people out of income tax altogether, and we plan to enable people to earn £12,500 before they start to pay income tax, which will take another 1 million out of it altogether.
Will the Prime Minister welcome the increase in the number of students—especially those from the poorest backgrounds—who are applying for university places? Will he confirm that both universities and students would lose as a result of the reduction in funding that would be caused by a cut in fees? How could a policy that helped only rich graduates possibly be called progressive?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The coalition’s university policy was a long-term policy which has resulted in a record number of students going to university, as well as an increase in the number of university students from the poorest backgrounds. That is good for our country, good for students, and good for universities. What a contrast with Labour Members, who told us four years ago that they were going to get rid of tuition fees and who, four years later, have absolutely nothing to say about it. When will they make up their minds?
I join the Prime Minister in condemning the appalling murders of the Jordanian pilot and the Japanese hostages by ISIL. These were sickening and despicable acts, and simply reinforce our determination to defeat that evil organisation.
Everyone pays stamp duty on stock market transactions except those involved in hedge funds, who are allowed to avoid it. That is costing many hundreds of millions of pounds. Why is the Prime Minister refusing to act?
I have to say that for 13 years, during many of which the right hon. Gentleman was in the Treasury, they did absolutely nothing about this. What this Government have done is more than any previous Government to make sure that individuals and companies pay their taxes properly. I have to say I am delighted that he has raised the economy on the morning after his shadow Chancellor could not name one single business leader who backed Labour.
This is Prime Minister’s questions and the Prime Minister should try to answer the question. I asked him a very specific question about why hedge funds are not paying stamp duty on stock market transactions. It is costing hundreds of millions of pounds. He is being funded to the tune of £47 million by the hedge funds. Everyone knows that is why he is refusing to act, but what is his explanation?
Let me just remind the right hon. Gentleman that when we came into office foreigners did not pay stamp duty on the properties they bought, foreigners did not pay capital gains tax on the properties they bought, and because of his tax rates City hedge fund managers were paying lower tax rates than the people who cleaned their offices. That is what we had to sort out. But let me put it to him again: the day after his shadow Chancellor was asked on television whether he could think of one single business leader, do you know what he said, Mr Speaker? He said, “Bill Somebody”! Bill Somebody is not a person—Bill Somebody is Labour’s policy.
I will tell the Prime Minister what people on the Opposition Benches are doing: we are standing up for hard-working families and businesses while he is a friend of the tax avoiders. I am going to keep asking him the question until he answers it. It is a very specific question about hedge funds avoiding stamp duty on their share transactions. It is costing hundreds of millions of pounds. He is bankrolled by the hedge funds. He claims he wants to act on tax avoidance. Why will he not act?
If the right hon. Gentleman has a good submission for the Budget, he can talk to the Chancellor about it. He says what they are doing on his side of the House. Let me tell him what he has been doing on his side of the House: two former Labour Health Secretaries completely condemned his health policy; all the leading university vice-chancellors condemned his university policy; and he cannot find one single business leader to back his economic policy. Is it any wonder that the Chuckle Brothers have lodged an official complaint and said they do not want to be compared to the two clowns opposite?
I am afraid I am going to keep asking the question until the Prime Minister has an answer. Let me explain it to him. [Interruption.] You can’t help him George; you’re too far away. Let me explain it to him very simply. Everybody pays stamp duty on their share transactions. [Interruption.]
Let me explain it to the right hon. Gentleman very simply. Everybody pays stamp duty on their share transactions, but the hedge funds are protected. We have been calling for action on this. It could raise hundreds of millions of pounds. Why will he not act?
We have acted on stamp duty. We will continue to act on stamp duty, but the right hon. Gentleman sat for 13 years in the Treasury and never did anything about it. If he wants to make sure that he acts on tax avoidance and evasion, why does he not start with Labour’s biggest donor, Mr John Mills— yes, we all remember this—who gave his donation in shares in order to cut his tax bill? Has he paid back the taxes yet?
I was talking about the Prime Minister’s donors, Mr Speaker: £7 million from Lord Laidlaw, a tax exile living in Monaco; £3 million from Michael Hintze with a company based in Jersey; and Michael Spencer, who gave him £4 million, involved in the LIBOR scandal. Same old Tories.
Now, let us give the Prime Minister a fifth chance. I know he does not do his homework, but this is his fifth chance. The hedge funds are avoiding tax to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. Will he now promise, from that Dispatch Box, to act for the national health service?
We had Labour for 13 years: no action on stamp duty, foreigners not paying stamp duty, foreigners not paying capital gains tax, no bank levy. The right hon. Gentleman talks about tax exiles: Andrew Rosenfeld, the man who raises his money, was for years a tax exile living in Geneva. That is what we get. But is it any wonder the right hon. Gentleman wants to find one particular issue to raise today? He cannot talk about minimum wages because his policy is to cut them, he cannot talk about energy prices because his policy is to keep them up, he cannot talk about universities because his policy is to trash them, and he cannot name a single business leader who supports Labour. No wonder the person who wrote “Things can only get better” says it no longer applies to Labour.
So basically, the right hon. Gentleman has been found out: five chances to answer the question, no answer coming. Let us close that tax loophole so we can have more doctors, more nurses, more care workers and more midwives. This is the difference: this is a Prime Minister who will not tackle tax avoidance for the simple reason that too many of his friends would get caught in the net. They are the party of Mayfair hedge funds and Monaco tax avoiders, and under him you always know that it is one rule for those at the top and another rule for everyone else.
There is only one person who has been found out this week and that is the leader of the Labour party: his economic policy has collapsed; his health policy has collapsed; his universities policy has collapsed. The most vital election in a generation is coming, and people can see the choice: a Labour party that is anti-enterprise, anti-business and that is falling apart under scrutiny, and a Conservative party turning this country around. That is the choice: competence from us, chaos from them.
We will stay the course, because we can now see 1.75 million more people in work, the deficit down by half, the British economy growing faster than any major economy in western Europe, and business and enterprise large and small saying we have the right plan and we should stick to that plan. That is what we will do: it is competence versus chaos.
Q2. They were elected by fewer than 15% of the public and their first elections cost £80 million: why will the Prime Minister not scrap these ridiculous police and crime commissioners and instead put the money into front-line policing that would keep our communities safe? (907413)
The hon. Lady might want to ask why her former colleague Alun Michael stood for one of these posts. I think this is bringing accountability to our police service, because everybody knows there is now one person they have to account to. In the past, people did not know how to access their police authorities; they do now.
Q3. When my right hon. Friend visits Yorkshire tomorrow, he will be spoilt for choice by the number of businesses that are investing in creating jobs in Leeds, bringing unemployment in my Pudsey constituency down 55%, in Leeds West down 39%, and in Morley and Outwood down 51%. Does that not show that all parts of Leeds are contributing to the northern economic powerhouse, thanks to this Government’s economic policies? (907414)
I am very much looking forward to explaining how our long-term economic plan will really benefit and continue to benefit Yorkshire and north-east Lincolnshire. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have got employment up by 114,000 since the election; private sector employment is up by almost 200,000 since the election. [Interruption.]
The shadow Chancellor says come to Morley and Outwood. Believe me, I will be there, and I am afraid to say I have a plan to increase unemployment in that constituency by one, to give him a bit more time to remember a single business man who supports him.
The Labour party was in power for 13 years and failed to deliver a single additional power to Scotland that was outlined in the vow. The Conservatives and the Lib Dems have been in power for five years and, like Labour, they are not proposing the real home rule that was promised. Do the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party now understand why the voters of Scotland are sick of the Westminster parties, in contrast with the SNP, which will always put Scotland first?
This coalition Government have actually taken part in a massive exercise of devolution to the Scottish Parliament, and have already set out a significant extra increase in powers that will take place whoever is standing at this Dispatch Box after the election. Yes, we have had a Westminster Government here for the last five years. We have an SNP Government in Scotland, and as the new Labour leader in Scotland has pointed out, under the SNP, A and E waiting times in Scotland are now worse than they are in England. So apparently, it is all right to compare Scotland and England, but of course, it is not all right to compare England and Wales. That is interesting, is it not? It is a fascinating political strategy for the Scottish Labour leader to say that life is always better under the Tories, but I agree.
I believe that after seven years of economic growth, which is what we will have had by 2018, we should be starting to pay down the deficit by running a surplus. I think that is something that every business and every family in the country will understand. You need to fix the roof when the sun is shining, and as far as I can see, it is only the Conservative party that will offer that at the next election.
Q5. When the Prime Minister comes to Yorkshire, he might reflect on the promise he made to a Barnsley business to support efforts to secure a major international contract to manufacture solar panels. Billions of pounds of investment depend upon him keeping his word, but delays in Whitehall mean that the deal is now at risk. Will the Prime Minister do what he said he would do: intervene to make sure that we can bring hundreds of good, skilled jobs to this country? (907416)
I understand that UK Trade & Investment, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Foreign Office have all been providing advice and support to Solar Europa, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and have met it on a number of occasions. We want to promote all projects that can create jobs in the UK and benefit relations with international partners. So I will look to see if there is anything that can be done in the Whitehall system that is getting in the way of this company, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman.
My constituent Mr Mohammed Naved Bashir was arrested in December. Despite pointing out on numerous occasions that he had a different name from that of the wanted man, he was held in prison cells in Halifax for three days. It was confirmed that the police had arrested the wrong person only when he was transported and presented to a judge in Glasgow. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Home Secretary to look into this case and perhaps supply the answers that Mr Bashir is not getting to the questions he is putting to the police?
This sounds like a very concerning case. My understanding is that West Yorkshire police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the arrest and detention of Mr Bashir. I cannot give the House the specifics of the case because it involves ongoing legal action, but I will discuss it with the Home Secretary as my hon. Friend asks. Of course, one option would be for Mr Bashir to make a formal complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but let me try to get my hon. Friend some more information about this.
Q6. I know that the Prime Minister has followed closely the recent upheaval in the NHS in north Staffordshire, involving the Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent hospitals merger, the PET-CT scanner and the waiting times at accident and emergency. His Government commissioned KPMG to produce the Staffordshire “distressed economy” report, but it is being withheld. Will he now commit to publishing the full report so that we can all see his real plans for the NHS in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire? (907417)
I will look closely at the specific issue that the hon. Lady has raised. As she knows, the safety of patients in Staffordshire is absolutely our main priority. I know that the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust is working hard with the trust development authority and the other parties involved to manage a safe and timely transition of services, and I think that all parties should work together to do that. I have to say that that is not helped by the Leader of the Opposition going to Stafford and deliberately scaremongering and trying to frighten local people. He has said that Stafford hospital is on “the road to closure”. This is what he means by “weaponising” the NHS. It is an absolutely disgraceful tactic. The hon. Lady knows it is not true, and the Leader of the Opposition knows it is not true but he has not got the gumption to say so.
Q7. I know that the Prime Minister shares the gratitude expressed on both sides of the House for the sacrifices made by our health care professionals and members of our armed forces, including my constituent Lieutenant Marc White, who have risked their lives to help the people of Sierra Leone to combat the scourge of Ebola. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a way should be found to recognise their bravery? (907418)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am sure that everyone would like me to put on record my praise for those incredibly brave people who have worked in very difficult conditions, including over Christmas. They include doctors and nurses from our NHS and people from our armed forces, our civil service and non-governmental organisations. They are helping to save thousands of lives in Africa and protecting the UK from the potentially disastrous consequences of the disease spreading. In recognition of the bravery of those from the UK, I intend to recommend to Her Majesty the Queen the introduction of a new medal to pay tribute to their efforts. Details will be out in due course, and this should be in place by the summer. It is absolutely right to say that those people are incredibly brave and that we owe them an immense debt of gratitude.
Today’s “Green Budget” from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that median wages were still almost 5% lower last year than they were in 2008. Will the Prime Minister now admit that families across the country are indeed facing a cost of living crisis?
What the “Green Budget” today shows—I think we should take this as an important reference work—is that Labour would lead to an extra £170 billion of borrowing. That is the official figure. The shadow Chancellor was busy yesterday. In another of his interventions, he said on Radio 2 that “debt would be higher”. The cat is out of the bag. It is official: Labour would borrow, tax and spend more, and do all the things to put us back into the mess we got out of.
Q8. In recent weeks, Dover and east Kent have suffered gridlock due to problems at the port of Dover and the fire in the channel tunnel. Will the Prime Minister support the finding of a long-term solution to the problem? Will he consider making this a national strategic priority and using lorry levy funds to help to pay for it? (907419)
My hon. Friend is right to raise this question, and I know how hard he works for people in Dover and across east Kent. I understand that he met the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) about this, and as a result we have ordered an urgent review to look at the contingency arrangements for the M20/A20 and for the M2/A2 in the event of severe disruption at Eurotunnel and the channel ports, taking account of the recent congestion. It is important that we learn the lessons from this incident, and if the report comes up with good suggestions, we will look at them very carefully.
In 2010 the Prime Minister said that if he failed to deliver on his promises, voters should kick him out—his promise on pointless reorganisations of the NHS, his promise on immigration in the tens of thousands, his promise to wipe out the deficit in this Parliament. He has broken his contract with the British people. If he is a man of his word, there is a P45 with “Cameron” on it. He should take it, take that lot and go.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman the commitments that I made. I said we would turn the British economy round—we have turned the economy round. I said we would get the country back to work—there are 1.75 million more jobs. I said we would get the deficit down—it is down by a half. I said we would protect the NHS and we have protected the NHS. I said I would look after Britain’s pensioners—we kept our promise to pensioners. I can tell the hon. Gentleman what the competition will be at the next election—competence and a long-term plan from the Government, chaos from Labour.
Q9. On Friday I visited the Cranswick pork facility in my constituency. It now employs 1,500 people at that site alone, hundreds more than in 2010. A lot of that investment came about because Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers opened up the Chinese market and have kept it open. Will the Prime Minister come and visit the facility, see the northern powerhouse in action, and see the effect of a long-term economic plan with exports at its heart? (907420)
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that. One of the largest and most important manufacturing sectors in Britain is the food sector. It is very competitive. We need to do more to promote exports and my right hon. Friend the Agriculture Secretary is doing just that. The Chinese market represents an enormous opportunity. A number of important trade missions have already been carried out there, but we are also pushing within Europe for a free trade agreement with China. Other countries, including New Zealand, have shown the massive amount of benefit that that can bring to their country, and Britain will always be at the forefront of arguing for these trade agreements.
Q10. Does the Prime Minister know of anyone who owns or works for a UK- registered company that uses a Luxembourg-based holding company in order to avoid paying their fair share of tax in the UK? (907421)
I want to see more and more companies headquartered here in the United Kingdom. Under this Government, that is exactly what is happening. We inherited a situation where company after company was leaving our shores. Because we now have competitive tax rates and a business-friendly Government, more and more businesses are coming here, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
Last week six-year-old Sam Brown from my constituency, with 10-year-old Kamal from London, came to see the Prime Minister to deliver personal letters to him about the NHS England failure to come up with a process to allow the NHS to fund the drugs they need for Morquio syndrome, which also apply to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. NHS England is still dragging its heels. Will the Prime Minister, who I know has taken an interest in this, please intervene to come up with an interim solution so that all these children can get the drugs that they need?
I well remember meeting the hon. Gentleman and the young boy with Duchenne muscular dystrophy syndrome. I have looked into this. The consultation is under way and will finish at the end of April. Following this, the NHS will make a decision as quickly as possible whether or not routinely to fund Translarna. I have discussed this with the Health Secretary and we will do everything we can to help.
Q11. In 2010 the Government withdrew £80 million from five schools in my constituency. This destabilised the school in the village of Ryton so much that it is being forced against the will of all concerned to become an academy. The curriculum is constantly being cut, dedicated staff have lost their jobs and there is more of the same to come in the summer. What do I tell my constituent Lauren White, who loves this school, when she has seen her chosen career disappear before her very eyes? (907422)
All the evidence is that schools that have converted to academy status have seen their standards improve at a faster rate than maintained schools. Is it not interesting that the party that started to promote academies has given up on that good reform, as well as the other reforms it has given up on? We have put extra money in for school places, we are seeing improvements in school standards and we have said that any schools that are either inadequate or require improvement will need to be taken over by an academy if they do not have a proper plan for improvement. All parents who want to see their children succeed at school will welcome that.
Q12. My right hon. Friend has been admirably robust at combating anti-Semitism, and this Government have been generous in supporting security measures at state faith schools. However, 120 community buildings are now at risk of a terrorist attack of the type we saw in Paris. Will he commit to looking at creating a counter-terrorism fund to help maintain the security measures at these community buildings? (907423)
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I have met the Jewish Leadership Council and discussed this issue in the light of the Paris attacks. As he knows, the schools security grant, which we introduced, has made available £2.3 million of funding in the current year to protect security at Jewish schools, and it will be maintained next year. The Education Secretary is also going to meet the Community Security Trust to see whether we can do more to help Jewish independent schools. In my view, we need to do everything we can to help this community feel safe and secure in our country. I would hate it for British Jews not to feel that they have a home here in Britain—safe, secure and a vital part of our community.
Q15. It is now two years since a meningitis B vaccine was licensed for use across the EU. To achieve its effect of being able to prevent more than 80% of meningitis B cases here, it needs to be on the routine immunisation schedule for the NHS. The Prime Minister sounded hopeful in the House in November. Can he give us some indication as to when there will be a conclusion to the negotiations between the Government and Novartis? (907426)
I am afraid I cannot give any further update; the discussions are still under way. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this would be a vital step forward, because of the horrors of this disease. But he also knows that there would be huge cost issues if we were to make sure that this was made available. So those discussions with the drug company are vital. They are ongoing, and if I can give him an update in a letter, I will do so.
Q13. The whole of Herefordshire is behind a transformative project to create a new university specialising in engineering and technology, and, in particular, the agri-technology, defence and security sectors. That is possible only because of the Government’s universities policy and their decision to lift the cap on student numbers. Will the Prime Minister look hard, with the Chancellor, at the potential to award some public capital funding to support this enormously worthwhile project? (907424)
My hon. Friend is right to say that uncapping university numbers removes the cap on aspiration. We want to have a country where everyone can have the choice of an apprenticeship or a university place. He is right that some areas of our country, including Herefordshire, have been under-served by university provision, which is why we have got the extra £200 million available in the Higher Education Funding Council for England to support STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—capital investment. I know he is discussing this with the Chancellor to see whether we could make available some of this funding for the scheme he talked about. Let me say how important it is that we maintain a long-term plan for funding our universities. Young people in Britain want to know that we have the best universities in Europe and that they will continue to be that way. That is why what the university vice-chancellors have said this week about how our plans are working and costed, and Labour plans are completely unworking and uncosted, is so important.
Last night, the Prime Minister was on television saying that he would crack down on firms that move abroad to avoid paying their tax. So my question is this: when the Government launched the taxpayer-backed national loan guarantee scheme in 2012, why did the Prime Minister decide to allow companies based offshore in tax havens to apply for this form of state aid?
The national loan guarantee scheme was run by the banks, and it was the banks that chose what companies to fund. Let me say this: we have done more than any previous Government to ensure that companies pay their taxes. We inherited a situation from Labour in which foreigners were not paying stamp duty, companies were leaving Britain, and we were giving knighthoods to bankers who had failed Britain. All of that has changed.
Q14. This week is the anniversary of the great storm that ripped up the railway line at Dawlish in my constituency. I thank the Prime Minister and Network Rail for their very fast action to restore the line. Will he confirm his ongoing commitment to the South West rail link and the future funding for it? (907425)
First, let me join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the orange army that did such a fantastic job at Dawlish in getting that line back on track in such a short time. As she knows, we have also committed a further £30 million towards resilience and protection this year, but, more importantly, we are working with the South West Peninsula rail task force to bring together all the strategic and local transport schemes. I am absolutely determined that the south-west will have strong connections—road, rail and air—with the rest of the country, and those connections are absolutely vital to our long-term plan.
Child Sexual Abuse (Independent Panel Inquiry)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse.
As the House knows, the Government established this inquiry so that we could get to the bottom of whether important institutions—public sector bodies as well as non- state organisations—have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.
In November, in my last statement to the House about the inquiry, I said that in appointing two chairmen who had failed to win the trust of survivors, we had got things wrong. I said, as we worked out how to move forward, that we would listen to survivors and their representatives, and that if we stay patient and work together we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to find out what has happened in the past and what is still happening now, and to stop it happening in the future.
Since my last statement, I have held meetings with young survivors, adult survivors and groups that represent thousands of survivors in total. During those meetings, many people shared their experiences no matter how painful or how difficult it was to speak out. In doing so, the young survivors displayed immense courage, as did the older survivors who showed me how abuse that has taken place decades ago can feel like it took place yesterday, and how they have had to live with the consequences of that abuse for the whole of their adult lives. I am grateful to all of them.
Throughout those meetings, for every person who told their story, there was one common goal: to save others from the abuse that they had suffered. So let me be clear: I am now more determined than ever to expose the people behind these despicable crimes; the people and institutions that knew about the abuse but did not act and that failed to help when it was their duty—sometimes their very purpose—to do so; and the people and institutions that, in some cases, positively covered up evidence of abuse.
Other common themes emerged from those meetings and from the wider feedback that survivors have given me. Although there is no single point of view for the many thousands who have suffered—and that means that not every survivor will agree with everything that I announce today—there is a remarkable degree of consensus on what is needed for this inquiry as it goes about its important work.
Survivors have been clear about the type of chairman who would command their confidence. They have said that they want to see powers of compulsion to make sure all witnesses give evidence, and that we need to revise the inquiry’s terms of reference. They have raised the importance of help and support as this inquiry triggers memories that cause great pain, and, finally, they have emphasised the importance of prosecuting the perpetrators of these terrible crimes where evidence emerges.
I will turn first to the matter of the chairman. After my previous statement, the Home Office received more than 150 nominations from survivors, their representatives, MPs and members of the public. The Home Office also contacted Commonwealth countries, via the Foreign Office, to identify any suitable candidates. Each and every name was assessed against a set of criteria, incorporating the views of survivors on the most important factors. The criteria included: the appropriate skills to carry out this complex task; experience of the subject matter; and the absence of any direct links to any individual about whom people might have concerns, or any institution or organisation that might fall under the scope of the inquiry. A copy of the criteria will today be placed in the House Library and published in full on the gov.uk website.
Following an initial sift, due diligence checks were carried out on all the remaining names, which included academics, social workers, people from the charitable sector and a significant number of judges and members of the legal profession. The list was narrowed down to a shortlist of those who matched the set of criteria and were most suited to taking on the undoubtedly challenging role. I then took the views of a small group of survivors, all members of larger groups, who represent more than 100,000 individual survivors.
As the House will remember, during the debate on 22 January I said that I would reach my decision by the end of January and update the House shortly thereafter. Based on the clear feedback from survivors, and the assessment of the nominations against the agreed criteria, I can tell the House that I plan to appoint Justice Lowell Goddard as the new chairman of the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse.
Justice Goddard is a judge of the High Court of New Zealand. She is a highly respected member of the judiciary who has been at the forefront of criminal law and procedure. As chairman of New Zealand’s Independent Police Conduct Authority, she conducted an inquiry into the policing of child abuse in New Zealand, and she is also a member of the United Nations sub-committee on prevention of torture. She will bring a wealth of expertise to the role of chairman and, crucially, will be as removed as possible from the organisations and institutions that might become the focus of the inquiry.
I can confirm that I have discussed Justice Goddard’s appointment with the shadow Home Secretary, and I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her constructive comments and bipartisan approach. The House will also remember that I agreed with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) that the nominated panel chairman would attend a pre-appointment hearing before the Home Affairs Committee, which will bring further transparency to the appointment process. I can confirm that the right hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Committee, has agreed that this will take place on 11 February. I have asked the Committee to publish its report as soon as possible.
I will now turn to the form of the inquiry. As I told the Home Affairs Committee on 15 December, I am clear that the inquiry should have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence. I also said there were three ways to do that: first, by establishing a royal commission; secondly, by converting the current inquiry into a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, subject to consultation with the chairman once appointed; or, thirdly, by setting up a new statutory inquiry under the 2005 Act.
Having taken in-depth legal advice and discussed the options with survivors, I have concluded that a royal commission would not have the same robustness in law as a statutory inquiry. In particular, it would not have the same clarity over its powers to compel witnesses to give evidence. I have decided not to convert the current inquiry, because doing so would not address the concerns of survivors about the degree of transparency in the original appointments process. I have therefore decided upon the third option of establishing a new statutory inquiry with a panel.
I want to make it clear that that is by no means a criticism of the current panel members, who were selected on the basis of their expertise and commitment to getting to the truth about child abuse in this country. The fact that the panel is being dissolved has nothing to do with their ability or integrity, and I want to place on the record my gratitude to them for the work they have done so far. I have asked the panel to produce a report on their work so far, which I am sure will provide valuable assistance to the incoming chairman.
In order to make sure that the appointment of the new panel is as transparent as possible, I will publish in full the criteria by which each new member will be selected and place a copy in the House Library and on gov.uk. I hope that the original members and the expert adviser to the panel, Professor Alexis Jay, will put themselves forward to be considered against those criteria if they so wish. I can confirm that Ben Emmerson QC will remain as counsel to the inquiry. I will wish to discuss the make-up of the new panel with Justice Goddard, but I am clear that each member must have the right skills and expertise to do the job, satisfy the statutory requirements of impartiality, and command the confidence of survivors.
So the process is being reset, and that means that I will also revisit the terms of reference. In accordance with the Inquiries Act, these will need to be discussed with Justice Goddard, but I want to assure survivors and the House that I have heard the strong call that the inquiry’s remit should go back further than the current time limit of 1970. There are, however, good reasons for confining the inquiry’s scope to England and Wales. The Hart inquiry in Northern Ireland and the Oldham inquiry in Jersey are already under way, while the Scottish Government have announced their own inquiry into child abuse—but I shall discuss this with the new chairman. In the event that the geographical scope remains the same, I propose that a clear protocol is agreed to make sure that no information falls through the cracks and that no people or institutions escape scrutiny, censure or justice.
I wish once more to reassure the House that the Official Secrets Act will not be a bar to giving evidence to this inquiry. I am clear that the inquiry will have the full co-operation of Government and access to all relevant information, including secret information where appropriate. I shall be writing to Secretaries of State to ask for their full co-operation, and I will ask the Cabinet Secretary to write to all Departments and agencies, and to public sector organisations, including local authorities, setting out the need for full transparency and co-operation with the inquiry.
I should now like to turn to the important issue of support. Survivors have fought hard for this inquiry, and they have done so knowing the intense emotional toll it will take. Charities have already reported a huge increase in demand for their services as more and more people come forward, many for the first time. That is why, in December, I announced a £2 million fund available to non-statutory organisations that had seen an increase in demand as a direct result of the announcement of the child abuse inquiry. A further £2.85 million fund for non-statutory organisations providing support across England and Wales was also announced. I am pleased to announce that these funds are now available and organisations can now bid for them. Going forward, further support will be needed for those who wish to give evidence to the inquiry and the many thousands of people who may be affected by its work. It is essential that these people are given the help they need, and I expect appropriate Government funding to be made available at the next spending review.
The final issue survivors have raised with me is the need to do everything we can to ensure that the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are prosecuted wherever possible, and of course I share that aim. I can confirm that a co-ordinated national policing response will link directly into the inquiry and will be able to follow up any lead the inquiry uncovers that requires a policing response. This will be led by Simon Bailey, the national policing lead for child protection and abuse investigations as part of Operation Hydrant, which will co-ordinate all child abuse investigations concerning people of public prominence or those offences that took place in institutional settings. The Hydrant team will be responsible for the recording of all referrals from the inquiry that relate to potentially criminal abuse and failures to act. It will also oversee the quality of responses from police forces to any requests for information from the panel. It is also important that there is a central point of contact within the Crown Prosecution Service for any referrals resulting from the inquiry. I can confirm that the Director of Public Prosecutions has appointed her legal adviser, Neil Moore, to this vital role.
There is one separate but related matter on which I promised to update the House. As part of the review that the Home Office commissioned of Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC last July, we asked a number of other Government Departments, as well as the Security Service and the police, to undertake a careful search of their records. Following reports in the press last month about a Cabinet Office file title listed in the national archives, the Cabinet Office has undertaken urgent work to establish why this file was not identified as part of its original search for the Wanless and Whittam review, and whether it was a duplicate of a file that was held at the Home Office and seen by Wanless and Whittam during their review. This work has established that it was not an exact duplicate; the two files are different, but contain much of the same material. The Cabinet Office file has additional material that the Home Office file does not, and vice versa. Some of this additional Cabinet Office material falls within in the scope of the Wanless and Whittam review. My officials have since spoken to Peter Wanless and summarised the additional information it contains, and he has confirmed that it would not have changed the conclusions of his review.
None the less, the file should have been identified when the Home Office first asked the Cabinet Office to conduct searches in connection with the Wanless and Whittam review. My right hon. Friend Minister for the Cabinet Office will today table a written ministerial statement explaining that as a result of the discovery of the file the Cabinet Office has undertaken additional searches of its papers and files. As a result, Cabinet Office officials have identified a small number of additional files that should also have been identified and passed to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam last summer. I have said that they must be shared with Wanless and Whittam immediately, with the Goddard inquiry and Hart inquiry, should they wish to see them, and with the police. My right hon. Friend has agreed.
It is imperative that the whole Government co-operate fully with the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse and provide full access to any information that is requested. I have of course asked for these files, in common with all other relevant documents held by Government, to be made available to the inquiry so that it leaves no stone unturned in its bid to get the truth.
That brings me to my final point. I have said before and I shall say again that what we have seen so far in Rotherham, Oxford, Greater Manchester and elsewhere is only the tip of the iceberg. This afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will give a statement on Louise Casey’s report on Rotherham borough council, which will contain further evidence of its failure to protect vulnerable children. With every passing day and every new revelation, it is clear that the sexual abuse of children has taken place and is still taking place on a scale that we still cannot fully comprehend.
What we do know is that the authorities have in different ways let down too many children and adult survivors. In many cases, people in positions of authority have abused their power. Now, those of us in privileged positions of public service must show that we have listened, we have heard, we have learned and we will come together not to avoid difficult questions but to expose hard truths. Most importantly, we will keep in mind the people on whose behalf we seek justice, the survivors of these appalling crimes.
On that note, I end by thanking survivors for their patience, their determination and their willingness to help us get this right. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. Rotherham, Oxfordshire, Savile, the BBC and the national health service, the north Wales care homes, Rochdale, the Elm guest house and too many others: too many institutions that failed to listen to children, failed to protect them, turned a blind eye while they were abused and, in some cases, even covered up awful crimes. Those who endured abuse need justice. They want the truth, they want answers about what will change for the future and they need support. We all want to know that abusers and criminals are being prosecuted and stopped, that children are being heard and kept safe and that the same mistakes are not being made over and over again. That is why the inquiry is so important, why it must work to get the truth and also why it must set out the reforms we need for the future. It is why we will support it and why we wish Justice Lowell Goddard well in getting it swiftly under way.
It has now been 213 days since the Home Secretary first announced an inquiry and more than two years since we first called for it. It has now had three false starts under the first two chosen chairs, as well as the process of panel hearings that the Home Secretary launched in November and that she has now had to abandon.
We cannot afford for the Home Secretary to fail on this again, so we need to be clear that the previous problems have been resolved. First, the two previous chairs went because the Home Office did not apply due diligence and the Home Secretary did not consult survivors. I welcome the fact that she has now met many groups of survivors. Will she assure us that there has been due diligence? I strongly welcome, too, the additional support for survivors and I hope that she will keep the level of support under review and talk to the Department of Health about the support that it will need to provide. How will she ensure that survivors have an ongoing voice in shaping the inquiry, perhaps learning the lessons from Northern Ireland and other countries?
Secondly, the inquiry was repeatedly not put on a sustainable footing and concern was raised about its independence from the Home Office. Making the inquiry statutory is welcome and is something that we called for. Have the counsel to and staff of the inquiry been appointed by the Home Office or by the chair, and what will their relationship be with the Home Office?
Thirdly, there has been considerable confusion over the role of the panel. Can she assure us that it will continue to include survivors and explain what its role will be? Is this a panel inquiry chaired by Justice Lowell Goddard or a judicial inquiry by Justice Goddard, advised by the panel?
Fourthly, the scope and purpose of the inquiry has not previously been clear. I agree that it must consider the institutional failure and make recommendations for the future. I also agree that individual crimes must be investigated by the police, rather than the panel, and I strongly welcome the greater clarity she has announced today about how criminal investigations will be handled and co-ordinated by the police and prosecution. What about the continued question of whether there was a cover-up in Whitehall or Westminster of very serious crimes over many decades? Extremely serious allegations have been made, but they have not been investigated.
Today, the Home Secretary has had to tell the House that more files were missing from the Wanless review, including files on briefings to the Prime Minister of the day, which came to light only when something was discovered by accident in the National Archives. Have the Foreign Office, MI6, Downing street and other Departments now been asked to look at their files, and why was that not done before, when the Wanless review started?
The Home Secretary will know, too, that no one has looked more widely at allegations that have been made about cover-ups or decisions not to investigate or prosecute in that period. Will she clarify whether she expects the Goddard inquiry to look in detail at those allegations and whether it will have the investigative capacity to do so? For example, will it be able to look at top-secret information held by the security agencies? If that is not its purpose, who will pursue that investigation? It is clear that people will expect us to get the truth of what happened within Government.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the police and social services have the resources to deal with these serious cases right now? The current police investigations are immensely important and she will know that there are grave allegations in the papers only today that must be pursued. The police must have the ability to pursue serious investigations wherever they lead, but forces have said that they are struggling to cope with the cases that are now rightly coming forward, both current and past cases, particularly given the scale of officer cuts that they have experienced. We know that there are long and dangerous delays, too, in the National Crime Agency in dealing with online abuse. The Home Secretary rightly talked about her renewed determination to tackle the problem, and this is the area in which we need to act urgently. What is she doing to respond to the extremely serious concerns that police forces and social services still lack both the capacity and the policies to investigate and keep children safe today?
For too long, this appalling crime has been ignored. Children who called for help were not heard and too many of them are still not being listened to. I know that the whole House will want the inquiry to work, to be thorough and effective and to support the announcements that the Home Secretary made today.
The Home Secretary concluded by asking for patience, but she will know better than anyone that the inquiry has gone wrong too many times already and that we still need assurance that the measures will be in place to protect children today. She will know that patience is running out and that we need action to support child protection now and to get this inquiry finally and properly under way so that it can get to the truth and provide the justice and reforms we need to keep all our children safe. The whole House will unite behind ensuring that that can happen.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for her commitment to the inquiry. One of the issues raised with me by survivors is that they want to be certain there is cross-party support for the inquiry so they can be confident that it will continue. From what she has said, I think we can give a very clear message that the whole House is of one accord in saying that the inquiry should be able to do what we all want—to get to the truth.
The right hon. Lady asked about the panel hearings. She said that I had set up the listening events. Of course, I did not set them up; they were set up by the independent inquiry panel. The panel decided to stop them in the middle of January, partly in expectation that a decision would be made about how the inquiry was being taken forward. I have been very clear that I have asked the panel to report on the work it has done so far. That will ensure that nothing undertaken by the original inquiry is lost in the process, and that its work can be taken forward, as appropriate, to the new panel inquiry.
I assure the right hon. Lady that greater due diligence has taken place in the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, including lengthy interviews with the individual concerned. On the role and ongoing voice of survivors, I have been very clear that it is important for the panel inquiry to be informed by survivors. They have the experience, understanding and expertise, and their voice will therefore be an important part of the panel inquiry.
The right hon. Lady asked about advisers to the panel. The Inquiries Act 2005 provides the possibility of individuals being advisers—or assessors, as they are called—to a panel. I will explore with Justice Goddard how we can get the greatest breadth of input from survivors to ensure that their voice is truly heard in the inquiry’s work.
The inquiry will be an inquiry panel, with Justice Goddard as its chairman. Appointments of staff to the inquiry will be undertaken in consultation with Justice Goddard. The staff—the secretariat—are and will be independent of the Home Office.
The right hon. Lady referred to the issues around the cover-up in Whitehall and Westminster. I have been clear about the files, and we will renew our efforts to ensure that proper searches are undertaken across Government. When I last made a statement to the House, I was very clear that I could not stand at the Dispatch Box and say that there has been no cover-up. One of the things that the inquiry will look at, and which I expect it to be able to unearth, is whether there was a cover-up in the past. That is important for us all, but particularly for survivors and those involved in the acts that might have been subject to such a cover-up.
Another of the issues relates to investigative capacity. The formal process is that I will discuss the make-up of the panel with Justice Goddard. We have already had some discussions about the investigative experience of panel members to make sure that they can do what is necessary in their work. As I said in my statement, we have clearly told the Security Service and the police that information they have relevant to the inquiry should be brought forward to it.
At one stage the right hon. Lady said that the police do not have the policies to investigate. I have to say to her that the police do have the policies and powers to investigate. One of the issues in the recent Rotherham case, sadly, was that the police had the ability to investigate, but—I am afraid because of what I have already described as dereliction of duty—they did not investigate. We must deal with that attitude as much as anything else. That is why we are working with the national policing lead to put in extra support for investigations across the country to make sure that such investigations can go where they need to go and can identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
May I commend the Home Secretary on her announcement? There can be doubt of the integrity and thoroughness of the approach she has announced. I am sure that, even now, people are searching for unsuitable links to Justice Goddard. Does she agree that, realistically, this is the last chance saloon for this essential inquiry? It is essential for everyone to row in behind the inquiry, which will need robust support. Justice Goddard will need robust support from the Home Secretary, the Government and the Opposition, and everyone who wants to get to the bottom of the truth in this sordid matter.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I commend him and a number of other MPs, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wells (Tessa Munt) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who is not in the Chamber—[Interruption.] He is in a different place from normal. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), and the hon. Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) have all been particularly active in dealing with this issue, and I commend them for their work.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is absolutely right. My intention, hope and expectation is that the inquiry will now be able to get up and running, and to undertake the work it needs to do to bring truth and justice to the people who, sadly, have suffered from these terrible crimes. As I said in my statement, what I am announcing today will not be supported 100% by everybody. I hope, however, that everybody accepts that we need to get the inquiry under way, and that we need to support those involved—Justice Goddard and the panel members, when they are selected—to ensure that they can do the job we all want them to do.
It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the chair, since I will be at the pre-appointment hearing next Tuesday. May I say to the Home Secretary that although the inquiry—I hope it will get under way very shortly—should obviously be as thorough as possible, it should not go on endlessly for years and become another Chilcot? The people who have suffered so much, about whom the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary spoke very eloquently, deserve a conclusion. That is why it is so essential for the inquiry to come to a conclusion well within, say, 12 months.
I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman’s last point about the inquiry coming to a conclusion well within 12 months. I think that it will take longer than 12 months, but, as he said, it is important that it does not go on endlessly, seemingly being pushed ever and ever further into the future, with no report. This will of course be for the chairman of the inquiry to determine, but my own view is that it would be helpful to set a date by which a report will be made, even if at that point the inquiry says that it needs to do further work in certain areas. People need to see that there will be a report. Indeed, the inquiry will need to consider how to keep people updated on an ongoing basis during its work so that they do not feel that it is just going on behind closed doors.
I have documentary evidence to substantiate the allegation that the Foreign Office recently turned a blind eye to child abuse in St Helena. We are also aware of the recent banning of the American journalist Leah McGrath Goodman from investigating child abuse in Jersey. In both cases, that was done by UK Government authorities in recent years; I am not arguing that Ministers were involved. Are those cases within the inquiry’s terms of reference?
My hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard on the abuse that may have taken place in both those geographical areas. I am afraid that my answer will disappoint him. Work is of course already being done in relation to Jersey. It would not be appropriate for this inquiry to look at Jersey and St Helena. As I have said, I expect the inquiry to confine itself to England and Wales. I will of course need to discuss that with the chairman, but that is my expectation.
The Home Secretary will know of my interest in this matter, because of my 10 years as Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee. May I repeat the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick)? If this is seen as being kicked into the long grass, a lot of people will be very disappointed.
A major inquiry such as this one has to be based on good policing, for which resources must be provided, as well as good quality research. Some of the evidence from Operation Pallial is causing us to worry about that. I want every person guilty of child abuse to be prosecuted and punished, but such inquiries always include false allegations of abuse that destroy people’s lives, often because such people are put on bail and never charged. In my capacity as Chair of the Select Committee, I saw the lives of social workers, teachers and head teachers destroyed by false allegations. Can we get the balance right in how the criminal justice system works?
It is obviously important that we get the balance right. I am very clear that it is not for the inquiry to investigate individual allegations that could lead to criminal charges being brought. Those are matters for the police. I have indicated that under Operation Hydrant, arrangements will be put in place to look at the quality of the response of police forces across the country to ensure that nobody falls between the various stools of the different inquiries.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about people who find themselves on bail, but who are not charged. The Government intend to deal with that issue through the changes that we have proposed. We are looking at a limit for bail, except in exceptional circumstances, because I recognise the concern for people who are put on bail for many months, but who are not charged. That is the case across a range of crimes and is not confined to child sexual abuse. Such people can be in limbo for a considerable time. That is why the Government are looking at the whole question of how long bail should last.
Many people will warmly welcome the progress that the Home Secretary has brought to the House today. I commend her for the listening process that she undertook before the announcement. My constituent Tom Perry, who has spoken out bravely, met her and came to my surgery last week to give me positive feedback about the meeting.
As the Home Secretary knows, I have raised before the matter of resources for organisations that provide support to the survivors of abuse. I would like to know that, despite the announcement today, she will keep those resources under review, so that if the £4.8 million that has been announced is not enough, more funds will be available.
I know that my right hon. Friend has taken an interest in this issue. I was pleased to meet her constituent, which I have done on more than one occasion. On resources, we are looking ahead to a new spending review. As I said in my statement, I will work with ministerial colleagues across Government to look at the various aspects of this business, including the support that is needed for victims and survivors, and not just at the aspects that relate to the Home Office. We will take that forward into the comprehensive spending review to ensure that funding is available to provide what is necessary for those who will be affected by the very fact of the inquiry and by coming forward. There will be many people for whom the inquiry will raise difficult memories, and support needs to be available.
I particularly welcome the statutory nature of the inquiry. Will the Home Secretary say a little more about whether there will be a senior police assessor or adviser who can act as a liaison between the ongoing police investigations and the inquiry to ensure that one is not allowed to frustrate the other?
The Home Secretary and all hon. Members have used repeatedly the word “survivor”, which is wonderful. May I make a quick plea to the press and the media who are following this debate and this issue to use the word “survivor” and not the word “victim”, because every time they use that word, it adds to the hurt and the disrespect?
On the first point that the hon. Lady raised, as I said in answer to another question, we will have to look at the investigative capacity that needs to be available to the inquiry panel, but under Operation Hydrant, Chief Constable Simon Bailey will work to ensure that there are appropriate links between the inquiry and the police investigations. What is important is that nothing falls between the various exercises and that information is shared appropriately between the investigations and the inquiry panel.
On the second point, the hon. Lady is absolutely right about language. It is important that we use the language of survivors or, in some cases, of victims and survivors. There is another element in respect of language. Sometimes people refer to “historic” cases of child abuse. Many of these cases took place in the past, but for those who suffered them, they are not historic—they live with them every single day. I say to the House and to all outside who comment on this matter that we should be very careful about the language we use. We should not use inappropriate terms that are hurtful and that could cause harm to individuals.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on arriving at the right solution to the heinous, dangerous and difficult situation that she has been faced with. May I say on behalf of those of us who campaigned for a 2005 Act inquiry to be applied to this matter because of our experience of other 2005 Act inquiries that she has done exactly the right thing? May I also say what a good move it is to ensure that Ben Emmerson stays as counsel to the inquiry? This is a tremendous move in the right direction and I am certain that my right hon. Friend is completely right.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. We received a very clear message that the inquiry needed statutory powers, which is why I have brought them forward. It is important that the inquiry is able to compel people to give evidence and that appropriate sanctions are in place in relation to that. I thank him for his comments, given his experience in this area.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s statement. Very sadly, a constituent of mine was horribly abused throughout his teenage years at Highgate Wood school in the London borough of Haringey. That led to a conviction last summer. There are suggestions that there were other examples of abuse at that school and in the London borough of Haringey. Will that matter fall within the scope of the inquiry?
The inquiry will look at abuse that has taken place in state institutions and non-state institutions. It will look at why it was possible for that abuse to take place. Those who are in authority in a school have a duty to protect the children and not to abuse them. The inquiry will look at whether the duty of care was exercised properly by people in those institutions, and at what lessons we need to learn to ensure that such abuse does not happen in the future.
Mr Speaker will not be surprised to hear that my position as an ethnic minority immigrant from New Zealand adds to my support for the statement. One thing that I have noticed in New Zealand is that it suffers from “tall poppy syndrome”. That came through at the last election in New Zealand, when very unpleasant, anonymous accusations were made. I suspect that someone with the standing and career of Justice Goddard will have been the subject of such false and probably anonymous accusations. If my right hon. Friend is aware of any such accusations, can she kill them dead now?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the appointment of a New Zealand judge. It became apparent during the due diligence process that there is a blog with an accusation against Justice Lowell Goddard relating to a potential cover-up. I have spoken to her and to New Zealand’s Attorney-General about it, and I have been assured that there is absolutely no truth to the allegation. That information was shared with a number of survivors and they were comfortable with the explanation that was given. I am clear not only that Justice Goddard has the necessary experience in this area, but, crucially, that her track record shows—for example, in the work that she did to look at police conduct in these matters—that she is willing to go where the evidence takes her, without fear or favour.
I thank the Home Secretary for the discussion so far. I welcome the widening and deepening of the inquiry, and the renewal of the drive to “expose hard truths”, as she rightly put it. Indeed, some very disturbing truths can be expected.
I welcome the fact that the remit will go back further, but I worry about its not being extended beyond England and Wales, because that might not be enough. The Hart inquiry in Northern Ireland is doing some very good work. However, we have a place called Kincora, which has been a running sore for 40 years. Although some of what is said may be rumour, there are deep suspicions that the security services, the Official Secrets Act and all sorts of things were used to cover up some very nasty practices in that place. Indeed, there are suggestions that it was used to compromise loyalist paramilitaries during the troubles in the ’70s and early ’80s. I plead with the Home Secretary to include the Kincora situation, because the outworkings of Kincora extend beyond the shores of Northern Ireland and involve key organisations and parts of the state.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the inquiry, and I have considered whether it should cover Kincora. I came to the view that it is appropriate for that issue to be considered by the Hart inquiry, and that process is up and running. We must ensure that clear protocols are in place so that any information or evidence that comes forward that links the two inquiries or relates to people across them both can be shared properly, and so that full and proper consideration is given to those issues. As I said earlier, all parts of the government, including the Security Service, should make available any information that they hold that is relevant to either the Goddard inquiry or to the Hart inquiry into Kincora.
I commend my right hon. Friend for her statement. Justice Lowell Goddard is an inspired appointment in the best traditions of Commonwealth appointments to major inquiries in this country, so there is historical precedence for that. Some survivors groups have brought up the issue of a royal commission with the power to compel witnesses. Will the panel that the Home Secretary is setting up have that power?
The panel is not being set up under a royal commission, although we did consider that and a number of people pointed to the Australian experience. A royal commission can be similar to a statutory inquiry under the 2005 Act, but in some aspects it does not have quite the same legal certainty. That is why I decided to go down the route of a statutory inquiry under the 2005 Act, and the chairman of the panel will have power to compel witnesses—it is clear that everybody feels that that power is necessary for the inquiry to be conducted properly.
The Home Secretary and I have corresponded on this issue, and I raised it in November in the Chamber although I am still not clear about the answer. In Wales, the Wales Office and North Wales police were suspected of a cover-up. I know that documents went missing in north Wales; there were statements and letters and so on, and we still do not have answers on where those are and who is looking into that. Will the Home Secretary assure me and the people of Wales that somebody in this inquiry will consider what went on in Wales at that time?
The inquiry will cover Wales as well as England, and it will be for the chairman and the panel to determine what issues they wish to consider. I expect that any evidence held by Members of the House, or others, or suggestions for issues that need to be considered by the inquiry, should be forwarded to the inquiry secretariat so that they can be properly considered by the chairman and the panel. It is possible to bring about a prosecution, as we saw in Operation Pallial and as a result of work done by the National Crime Agency when looking into issues in north Wales. The issues in Wales will certainly be covered.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and her determination to see a statutory inquiry set up, as well as her plan to appoint Justice Lowell Goddard and her recognition of the advantages of having such a chair—Justice Goddard is a judge and has a background in inquiring into child abuse, human rights and police complaints. Will the Home Secretary consult the chair—if the appointment is cleared—about how we can strengthen the powers, sanctions and directions issued by the Independent Police Complaints Commission? It is not good enough that our police and the directorate of professional standards can blatantly disregard the IPCC’s rulings and recommendations, and for our police to consider themselves a law unto themselves.
The Government have made a number of changes to the IPCC which mean that fewer investigations of a serious nature will be carried out by the police. Serious and sensitive complaints against the police will be dealt with by the IPCC, and we are looking more generally at the complaints system and disciplinary system within the police. The hon. Lady raises an important point, and I am certainly willing to refer it to the chair of the inquiry for consideration.
I thank the Secretary of State for confirming that the Hart inquiry will take place in Northern Ireland. Will that inquiry have the power to request those living on the UK mainland to attend it? If it is discovered that those involved in the inquiries have been in both Belfast and London, will evidence be exchanged between those inquiries?
It is certainly the intention to establish protocols between the inquiries so that evidence can be exchanged between them where appropriate, and evidence held on the mainland that is relevant to the Hart inquiry should be made available to that inquiry. The hon. Gentleman asked a specific point about the powers of the Hart inquiry in relation to individuals resident on the mainland, and if I may I will check the answer and write to him to ensure that I give him an accurate reply.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and her commitment to getting this right, particularly in committing to support for survivors. She is right to identify the emotional toll that the inquiry will take. When survivors gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee they were worried that financial barriers would prevent some people from giving evidence. Can the Home Secretary reassure the House that child abuse survivors and organisations that help and support them will get the financial support they need to ensure that they are not excluded from giving evidence to the inquiry?
I can give my hon. Friend a degree of assurance about that. As I said, we are making money available to groups that support survivors who are affected by the child abuse inquiry, especially when the number of requests and calls on their time and resources have increased significantly as a result of the announcement of the inquiry. The inquiry panel and chairman will need to consider how to ensure that arrangements are in place, so that those who wish to give evidence are able to do so and do not feel that there is a barrier to that.
Will thought be given to setting up a system where there is ongoing communication between survivors and the inquiry, so that the survivors maintain their confidence in the inquiry and its processes?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. In a sense, this inquiry is like no other before it in terms of the subject matter it is dealing with, and it must obviously maintain the confidence of survivors. Information and communication will be an important issue for the inquiry panel, and I certainly intend that to be addressed by the chairman at an early stage.
I thank the Home Secretary for her obvious commitment to getting this inquiry right. People are concerned that there has not been enough co-ordination between the different police investigations around the country—that comes up time and again. In her statement she mentioned Simon Bailey’s work in charge of Operation Hydrant. As she said, his job is to follow up any lead that the inquiry uncovers, and to be responsible for recording all referrals from the inquiry that relate to criminal abuse. Will she reassure the House that Simon Bailey’s job will involve ensuring proper co-ordination between those inquiries, and that there is not just a liaison with the inquiry but between the various police outfits that are already up and running?
I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. At an earlier stage, Chief Constable Simon Bailey raised with me his concern to ensure that investigations are properly joined up between police forces, and that information that might be helpful to an investigation in one force is not held by another force and not passed on. Part of his work in Operation Hydrant will be to co-ordinate all child sexual abuse investigations that concern people of public prominence or institutional settings, and he will also consider the responses from police forces to the inquiry to ensure that they are of suitable quality.
I welcome the statement and hope it represents a fresh start for victims, whose confidence has been badly shaken in recent months. In particular, I welcome the reassurances given on the Official Secrets Act and the Secretary of State’s letter confirming that those reassurances will also apply to people giving evidence to the Hart inquiry. She is aware of my concerns about Kincora and the allegations that MI5 was involved in a cover-up. When she says she will discuss the inquiry’s jurisdictional limits with the new chairman, can she assure us that she will do so with an open mind? Can she also assure us that those who wish to give evidence who are covered by the Official Secrets Act and require documentation to support their evidence will, along with the inquiry itself, have access to that documentation?
There are arrangements in place to enable former Crown servants to give evidence to such inquiries, notwithstanding the Official Secrets Act. I have been clear with the House about my own view regarding the geographical extent, but of course the chairman will look at this with a fresh mind, so the matter will be discussed with her. I should point out, however, that the Hart inquiry is up and running and that the powers and jurisdictions of the two inquiries—in terms of lessons learned and recommendations—are different.
I welcome the statement and action taken by the Home Secretary. I am sure that the whole House will acknowledge that few crimes are as repugnant as sexual abuse. However, just as we have a responsibility towards victims, so we have a responsibility towards those accused of involvement. Since the process began, there have been two unfounded claims against people, and I have a constituent whose life has been personally and financially ruined because of an unfounded accusation. Will we ensure not only that the guilty are brought to justice but that innocent people named in the inquiry do not experience the same problems as many of the survivors?
It is important that when allegations are made about individuals, they are properly investigated and clarified; that where appropriate, charges and prosecutions are brought; and that it is made clear where individuals named are found not guilty. I absolutely accept my hon. Friend’s point that great care must be taken in dealing with allegations, and we are at pains to put in place appropriate processes, in relation to the inquiry and the police, to ensure that proper investigations take place.
I hope that this proves a fresh start and leads to a satisfactory outcome. What restrictions, if any, will be applied to members of the now dissolved panel talking about their experiences or sharing information obtained through being panel members?
The panel members were subject to a confidentiality agreement when they signed up. I am conscious that in the listening events they held, some people will have given very personal information and, as was pointed out, some of them might not wish that information to go forward to the new inquiry—which is what I have asked the panel to do for the report. We will work with survivors and others to ensure that if anybody has those concerns, their information will not go forward to the new panel.
The secrecy that surrounds child sexual abuse makes it particularly difficult to investigate and prosecute. Does the Home Secretary agree that members of the public could have an important role to play—not just those with personal or direct involvement, but those who might have information—and that such people should come forward to say what they have seen or what they know, to add to the body of evidence and enable this investigation to succeed?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We tend to talk about survivors coming forward to give evidence, but there might be people who are aware of things that took place who are not themselves survivors but who might have seen things happening, perhaps in a children’s home or some other setting. I would encourage all such people to come forward to give evidence, because it will be valuable to the inquiry.
I commend the Home Secretary for taking up the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) some months ago of looking to the Commonwealth for an unquestionably independent chair. In particular, I commend the Home Secretary for the close co-ordination she has outlined between the inquiry and Operation Hydrant.
It has been a difficult journey since the Home Secretary first agreed to hold this inquiry. What lessons has she learned for the benefit of other Ministers needing to commission an inquiry?
I have learned the importance of listening to survivors. In the past, these sorts of inquiries often involved authorities doing something to people—if you like—and making the decisions. With this inquiry, we are seeing the importance of victims and survivors being part of the process. It is important that their voices be heard by, and can input into, the inquiry. It should not just be authorities deciding what happens; those with experience of the issue should be taken along and given a voice, so that their feelings and expertise can be considered.
I have said to the House before that I took the decision to set up the inquiry in the way I did last July because of the very good experience of the Hillsborough panel inquiry, which had done an excellent job and came forward with a hard-hitting report, leading to further action and now inquests into the events at Hillsborough. It was a good model that those involved felt had allowed all the evidence to be taken and appropriate recommendations to be made. In the light of all the discussions and concerns, however, people have said that the inquiry should have statutory powers, and so I took this decision. I could have stood here and carried on with the previous panel inquiry, but I was willing to say, “No, it was wrong to do it that way. I am willing to start again.” That was the right thing to do. I hope all Members agree.
I thank the Home Secretary for coming to the House. She has shown us the great courtesy of keeping the House regularly informed on this matter. The difference between an average Minister and a great Minister is that when a great Minister gets something wrong, they correct their mistake, and that is what she has done.
What will happen if a witness is compelled to give evidence but tries to use the defence that they cannot disclose the information because it would break the Official Secrets Act? What is the situation then?
There are arrangements in place for authorities to enable people to give evidence, notwithstanding that it would break the Official Secrets Act. This issue is regularly raised, however, and I will ensure that the strongest possible arrangements are in place to ensure it can happen.
I welcome the statement and the foundations the Home Secretary has laid for the review. One local issue in north Yorkshire concerns the number of responsible bodies. I have spoken to victims, and they have a problem with the lack of co-ordination and the lack of training of the people dealing with the issue. In looking at funding and money, will she consider what help she can give to local organisations to work better and closer and in a more co-ordinated manner on child abuse and child exploitation?
My hon. Friend raises another important issue about how we deal with incidents currently taking place. I have been considering this matter along with a number of my right hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. We have focused particularly on looking at what we can do in response to the Alexis Jay report on Rotherham, and my right hon. Friend is of course about to make his own statement on the Louise Casey inspection. The Government will come forward with a number of proposals that will hit at the very issues my hon. Friend has raised. He is right that we need to look at issues around training and co-ordination in respect of bodies looking at incidents, or potential incidents, of child sexual abuse today.
I am very clear that this inquiry should go where the evidence takes it and that there should be no hiding place for anybody. We should be very clear that the aim of this inquiry is to get to the truth—to find out what happened, but crucially also to learn the lessons to make sure that this cannot happen again.
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement about Rotherham council.
Last August, Professor Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham described how vulnerable children have been repeatedly failed by a council paralysed by complacency, institutionalised political correctness and blatant failures of political and officer leadership.
With such serious documented failures, I told the House last September that it was clearly in the public interest to order a statutory inspection of Rotherham council. I appointed Louise Casey to undertake a formal best-value inspection of the council. Today, her inspection report has been laid before the House and published. I would like to thank Louise Casey and her inspection team for their hard work in producing this thorough report.
This report presents a disturbing picture of a council failing in its duty to protect vulnerable children and young people from harm. It reveals the council’s failure, both past and present, to accept, understand or combat the crimes of child sexual exploitation. It concludes that this culture of denial is intrinsic and has resulted in a lack of support for victims and insufficient action taken against known perpetrators.
The report also confirms a complete failure of political and officer leadership in Rotherham. Let me outline some of the report’s conclusions. Poor governance is deeply seated throughout the council. There is a pervading culture of bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced political correctness that has cemented the council’s failures. Both members and officers lack the confidence to tackle difficult issues for fear of being seen as racist or of upsetting community cohesion. The council is currently incapable of tackling its weakness without substantial intervention.
The council lacks political leadership. It is also directionless, and it is not clear what kind of organisation it wants to be or how it will get there. It is clear that the political leadership of the council is unable to hold officers to account, and there is an inability of all members properly to represent the interests of local people. Some councillors have not lived up to the high standards expected of those in public life or to their positions of responsibility. For example, the council goes to lengths to cover up and silence whistleblowers. It has created an unhealthy climate where people fear to speak out because they have seen the consequences of doing so.
Management is ineffective; there is no coherent senior leadership team and no permanent chief executive. There is a poorly directed tier of middle managers, some of whom do not demonstrate that they have the skills, drive and ability necessary to turn the organisation around. There is a history of poor performance and a tolerance of failure in children’s services. Strategies and action plans sit on the shelf and do not get translated into change.
In short, the report concludes that Rotherham council has failed its citizens, is failing to comply with the statutory best-value duty and it needs a fresh start. As a consequence of this conclusion, and in terms of statute, I am satisfied that the council is failing to comply with its best-value duty. It is failing in its duty to deliver quality local services for all and value for money to local taxpayers. I therefore need to consider exercising my powers of intervention to secure compliance with the duty. To that end and in line with procedures laid down in the Local Government Act 1999, I am today writing to the council to ask if it wishes to make representations both on Louise Casey’s report and on the intervention package I am proposing.
My proposals are designed to give the council the new start it needs, and to put an immediate end to the council’s ongoing service and governance failings. To provide that new start, I am seeking to make an order under the Local Government Act 2000 to move Rotherham council to holding all-out elections in 2016 and every fourth year thereafter. The 2016 elections will be an opportunity for the people of Rotherham to renew the membership of their council, and to elect those in whom they can have confidence.
In the immediate term, I am minded to appoint commissioners who will provide new leadership, taking over the roles of the current wholly dysfunctional cabinet. I propose that these commissioners will initially exercise all the functions currently exercised by the cabinet—namely all the council’s executive functions. Their responsibilities will thus include children and young people’s services and adult social care. I propose that the commissioners will exercise other functions of the council where there can be no confidence in the present council’s ability to act responsibly.
Louise Casey’s report uncovered serious weaknesses in the council’s taxi licensing. Sufficient steps to ensure that only fit and proper persons are permitted to hold a taxi licence were not, and are not being, undertaken. There can be no confidence in the council’s licensing committee. I am minded that the commissioners should take control of all the council’s licensing functions. I also propose that the commissioners should have the functions of appointing the chief executive, chief finance officer and monitoring officer, and of nominating members to other bodies. I expect them, in exercising all their responsibilities, to have appropriate regard to any views that the council’s members may have on these matters.
It is because the council is so seriously failing the people of Rotherham—particularly some of the most vulnerable in the borough—that I propose to take the wholly exceptional step of putting all those responsibilities, for a time, in the hands of commissioners who will be appointed by and accountable to me. My aim will be to return the responsibilities to local democratic control as rapidly as possible. From day one, the commissioners will have the role of considering and reporting to me what functions can be rolled back to the council, but only when they are confident that the functions will be exercised properly. I propose that, at the end of every quarter, they should review and report to me on what functions can be rolled back to ensure that there is a phased roll-back of functions throughout the intervention. My hope and expectation is that the roll-back can begin soon, and that after the 2016 elections major services can be returned, with the council resuming full responsibility for its range of services within four years.
As well as having the role of exercising the council’s functions, the commissioners will oversee and drive forward the service and governance improvements that the council will be required to undertake in order to comply with the statutory best-value duty. I propose to appoint a team of five commissioners who will exercise those functions jointly and severally. The team will consist of a lead commissioner to give overall leadership and direction to the intervention; a commissioner with a “managing director” role to lead the oversight of overall service and governance improvement, driving performance; a children’s commissioner, appointed by my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary, who will be responsible for driving improvements in children’s services; and two further commissioners to support the work of the commission. I also propose to end taxpayer-funded reward for failure by requiring the council to stop special responsibility allowances for cabinet members without functions while commissioners are in post.
The council now has 14 days in which to make representations to me on the report and on my proposed intervention package. I will then carefully consider any representations that are made, and decide how to proceed. If I decide to intervene along these lines, I will make the necessary statutory directions under the Local Government Act 1999, and will appoint commissioners. I will also make the order under the 2000 Act. Any directions that I make will be without prejudice to my making further directions if required. I will update the House on my conclusions in due course.
It is with a heavy heart that I am having to resort to such central intervention. The coalition Government are committed to strengthening local democracy and local accountability, but the voice of the victims must be clearly heard. The crimes committed against children are so appalling, and the council’s remedy is so utterly inadequate, that the Government cannot, in good conscience, turn a blind eye. The exceptional circumstances justify the intervention of Whitehall so that we can make the council address its failings and prevent what has happened from ever happening again. I believe that the public, in Rotherham and throughout the country, would expect nothing less.
The intervention package that I am proposing is broad and wide-ranging, and can be justified only in the most exceptional case. Rotherham is, I believe, such a case—a truly rare case, in which the children of Rotherham have been so badly let down by those who were elected to serve them. Councils throughout England have, on the whole, a good record of service, and are looking after their local communities. They are the heart of localism. That is something to protect and to cherish. The purpose of the action that I have proposed today is to restore good local governance to Rotherham, so that people can have confidence in their council again, and can take great pride in their borough.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, and for the way in which he has handled this difficult matter. I also add my thanks to Louise Casey and her inspection team for the work that they have done.
Last September, the Jay report exposed the sheer scale of the sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham. Today, once again, our thoughts are with the victims and the horror to which they were subjected. The report provided evidence that the council, together with other public bodies, had failed in its duty to protect Rotherham’s children. It was therefore right for the Secretary of State to establish the inquiry that has reported today.
Louise Casey’s report is, frankly, damning. It reveals very serious institutional failings, continuing denial of the problem, a damaging culture of sexism, bullying and discomfort about race, a failure to address past weaknesses, a greater interest in protecting the council’s reputation than, apparently, in protecting children, a lack of scrutiny and failure to challenge other agencies, and ineffective leadership. If we are to move forward, everyone involved must accept the truth. It is clear that the council has not yet done so, and, as a result, does not currently have the capacity to heal itself. I agree with the Secretary of State that a fresh start is needed, and I therefore welcome the statement that has been issued by Rotherham council’s cabinet in the last few minutes. It reads as follows:
“As a cabinet…we must take responsibility. We therefore announce our intention to resign our positions as soon as transitional arrangements can be put in place.”
In the light of that, I support the course of action that the Secretary of State has just announced, and, in particular, the sending in of commissioners to take over the functions of the cabinet. As the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, it is a serious step to take, but the circumstances clearly warrant it, and I welcome the assurance he has given that his aim is to return responsibility to local democratic control when it is right to do so.
I have a number of questions to ask. When does the Secretary of State expect to be in a position to announce the names of the five commissioners, especially given the announcement that has just been made by Rotherham council about the current cabinet? What background and experience will he be looking for in appointing them? Does he intend to consult anyone when making the appointments? What progress reports will he and the House receive on the work that the commissioners undertake? What discussions has he had with the Education Secretary about Ofsted and its role in inspecting Rotherham, given the concerns expressed by the Communities and Local Government Committee?
When he commissioned the report, the right hon. Gentleman told the House that he had asked Louise Casey—in addition to her inspection of the council—to explore the links between Rotherham, the police and the justice system. Can he update the House on that part of her work, and when can we expect to see her findings, given that there will undoubtedly be lessons on which all local authorities should act? Sadly, as we know, the problems of child sexual exploitation are not confined to Rotherham.
The people of Rotherham—and all of us—remain angry, above all, with the perpetrators of the shocking abuse that took place over decades, and we are united in our determination both to see justice done and to act to prevent this from ever happening again. In doing so, we must also remain united in the face of those who will seek to use what has happened in Rotherham to divide the community.
Local authorities have great responsibilities, which they have a duty to exercise on behalf of the people they represent. When it comes to our children, there is no greater responsibility than to make sure that they are safe and protected. It is unforgivable that this did not happen here, but our joint task now is to work with the commissioners, the council, other public bodies and the people of Rotherham to put things right.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the tone and the substance of his response. He is bang on the money. By their wilful blindness to address this issue and by their reluctance to tackle issues relating to people of Pakistani heritage, they just made it worse. The problems we are going to face over the next few weeks, with those who will seek to exploit this, were made worse. We want to make it absolutely clear that the House is determined to deal with the question of child sexual exploitation without fear or favour. I very much welcome that.
On looking for commissioners, I consulted the right hon. Gentleman when we faced another situation and I shall be consulting him on this. Of course, we need to make it clear in that consultation that I am not in any way prejudicing the decision on whether to take the necessary action. That has to be clear. The cabinet has now resigned, which I think was the sensible thing to do. I do not think we can take that as the formal response, but I look forward to hearing what Rotherham has to say.
With regard to Ofsted, Louise Casey spoke to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, and arrangements have been made to talk further about the points raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). The right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to look at the report and will know that there are certain references to and worries with regard to the police force. Louise Casey has also spoken to the Home Secretary and we hope to make progress, but the right hon. Gentleman will understand that there are certain matters it would not be seemly to talk about on the Floor of the House.
I am keen to get democratic control back to Rotherham. It is my intention to try to roll those services back. Initially, I looked at taking limited ones, but having looked through the whole process it was clear that it just simply was not possible. I needed to take the whole lot and then roll them back as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.
I have been involved with local government for the best part of 40 years. This is heartbreaking. This is terrible. I used to lead a large council. I can see the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) on the Opposition Benches—he used to lead a very large council. I used to be the chairman of a social services committee. I just cannot understand how people with responsibility, both officers and members, could ever, ever have allowed this to happen.
I share the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State. For any of us who believe in local government, this is a tragedy. It is also, above all, a tragedy for the victims. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the boldness of his measure. Can he, in taking the matter forward, ensure that the commissioners appointed have particular expertise in their ranks in relation not only to the child care issues that are so critical, but to proper corporate governance, proper employment procedures and proper understanding of electoral administration, all of which will be critical in the period going forward?
My hon. Friend’s advice is very sensible. I actually believe that this is now one of the plum jobs in local government. This is a chance to restore good quality local government. We shall be looking right across the piece for people with enormous experience. Rotherham deserves the absolute best. I can assure the House I am determined to get people of immense quality to bring about that necessary change.
The report was very well researched. It is very robust and I accept it in full. I really welcome the intervention package that is being put in place, because Rotherham does deserve better. It has been let down. This is heartbreaking, but it is also disgusting—every page has a new horror on it. My plea is for the Secretary of State to put resources in place so we can move forward. I have been asking for five months for resources specifically to help the young people move on with their lives. We are not getting that and we need it.
I would like the House to recognise that this came about because of the tenacity of the survivors who kept coming forward and kept highlighting, over years and years and years, how they were being let down. They are the champions now, because they have caused the change that we so dearly needed for our town.
I agree with everything the hon. Lady says. It is certainly my intention to involve Members of Parliament from Rotherham to ensure that they are not just fully informed but able to participate in the strengthening. She makes a really good point about the way the report has been put together. It is very clear that this is a report in which the voice of the victim is heard. No one can say that the voice of the victim has been ignored here. We owe it to the victims of Rotherham to put something in place that we can all be very proud of.
The Secretary of State said that the council went to some lengths to cover up and silence whistleblowers. Will he consider some mechanism whereby councils are formally made aware, maybe through declarations similar to those for Members’ interests, to a council’s monitoring officer and to the Secretary of State, whenever a letter before action or any threat of legal action is issued by a councillor, so that threats against staff, ex-employees, opposition councillors and even MPs are out in the open?
My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point, but the real tragedy in terms of governance and dealing with victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation is that it is not as though the safeguards were not there. It is not as though the whistleblower process and the protections were not there. The council had all the policies written down, but they were not there in practice. If someone blew a whistle in Rotherham, they were persecuted and bullied. They had a very bad time. We need to apply the same high standard that exists in just about every local authority in the country to Rotherham.
As I said when the Jay report was released, our whole town was shocked and shamed by its findings. This report is also deeply and comprehensively critical of our council and our police. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has said, Labour accepts Louise Casey’s findings and the actions the Secretary of State now plans to take. Locally, we will all work with the commissioners to put right in full the flaws set out in this report and to put in place in full the recommendations of the Jay report to help victims and bring perpetrators to justice. The Secretary of State has made a welcome promise to play his part. Will he start by releasing £750,000 of troubled families and transformation award funding withheld from Rotherham that the council and its agencies need to help to put right the problems set out in the Casey report?
That, clearly, is one of the first things I will look at. If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I really want to address the elephant in the room. He said that Labour would do this. I do not expect anything less. I do not regard this as political at all. I fully understand that we are in a charged political system, but this is about a failure of local government. I could point to lots of Conservative local government where this would never happen. I have to tell the House that I could point to lots of Labour local government where this would not happen. This is almost a complete parody of what local government should look like.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I think it is true that this awful situation was, to a certain extent, exposed by investigative journalism from The Times, which listened to the victims when the police did not. Today, there is another report, I understand, of two councillors and a police officer in the area who may actually have been personally involved. I know my right hon. Friend is not responsible for the police, but building on what he said to the Labour party spokesman, will he reassure the House that the police will be thoroughly held to account and will now help the victims?
I am sure the chief constable of the force will recognise that there are some difficult questions that need answering, and I am sure that, with the help of the Home Secretary and of commissioners, we can work together to ensure those past misdeeds are investigated and the necessary action is taken. From reading through this report, what is especially necessary is an attitudinal approach. We need to address that attitudinal point in the police, the council and society in general.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me the opportunity to read the report earlier today in his Department. The inspection found that past and present failures to accept, understand and combat child sexual exploitation resulted in a lack of support for victims and insufficient action against known perpetrators. That is wholly unacceptable, and may I tell the Secretary of State that I wholly support the action he is proposing?