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Child Abuse: Waterhouse Inquiry

Volume 740: debated on Wednesday 14 November 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Statement repeated by Lord Taylor of Holbeach on 6 November (HL Deb, col. 893), whether they will reconsider their appointment of a “senior independent figure” to investigate whether “the Waterhouse Inquiry was properly constituted and did its job”.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that in view of Mr Steve Messham’s withdrawal of any allegation against Lord McNally—

I had better start that question again. Does the noble Lord, Lord McNally, agree that in view of Mr Steve Messham’s withdrawal of any allegation against Lord McAlpine, there is no longer any need for another High Court judge to go over the work of Sir Ronald Waterhouse 15 years ago? On the contrary, we should all be grateful for his impeccable conduct of that inquiry and the thoroughness of his report. Will the Minister tell the House what, if any, inquiries the Prime Minister made about Mr Messham’s credibility before announcing another inquiry into the same matters on 5 November?

My Lords, I sincerely hope that that well known twitterer on the Front Bench opposite has not put my name on to this. I can understand where the noble and learned Lord is coming from. When we ask a senior judge to carry out an inquiry and they do so with the thoroughness with which the Waterhouse inquiry was carried out, there is a certain duty to respect the integrity of that work. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will also accept that the situation that we faced was not just that of a single individual coming forward but of a large amount of accusations being bandied around and a great deal of public concern. The Macur review terms of reference have been more widely drawn. Mrs Justice Macur will look at whether any specific allegations of child abuse within the terms of reference of the Waterhouse inquiry were not investigated. Quite frankly, the strength of public feeling justifies us going through with the Macur review.

My Lords, what was the basis for concluding that there was any question of whether the Waterhouse inquiry did its job properly when this announcement was made? I knew Sir Ronald Waterhouse as a very distinguished and conscientious judge. I was in touch with him when he was doing this inquiry, and I know the terrific effect it had on him, from the harrowing nature of his work in that connection. I feel very strongly that it is utterly wrong to cast aspersions on that work unless there is some basis for doing so which one can rely upon.

My Lords, that statement, coming from such a source, reinforces what I said. When we have asked a distinguished judge to carry out an inquiry, we have to be extremely careful as to whether they can be second guessed. I do not think that anything that the Prime Minister or the Government are doing calls into question the integrity of the Waterhouse inquiry. As we always are when distinguished judges take on these difficult tasks, we are in his debt for doing so. However, the review of the Waterhouse inquiry will look at whether any specific allegations of child abuse were not investigated. The serious allegations that have been made merit a further thorough investigation.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, who has tried to bring some clarity to a question that I asked when the Statement was made. I sought to know what was meant by,

“whether the … inquiry was properly constituted and did its job”.—[Official Report, 6/11/12; col. 896.]

He will understand the concern that has been raised about that kind of inquiry. Does that beg the wider question of whether all these separate inquiries that are taking place—I think there are 10 in total now—should be constituted into one overarching inquiry, where we can look at the relationship between the different investigations? Getting to a position where we could deal with all the allegations in one overarching inquiry would bring together the kind of issues that will have to be dealt with to stop this kind of abuse happening again.

It is true that there is now a large number of inquiries. The noble Baroness says 10 and my brief says nine, but I take the point. The Government did not rule out an overarching inquiry, but there is a time to pause on this. Some of the accusations have been put into perspective by rushing to judgment in an overheated way, through Twitter and the new technologies that we live in. Those in authority need to have confidence. We are talking about child abuse; a very serious crime, which people who have evidence of should report to the police. It is not a responsibility of judicial inquiries to find wrongdoers. It is for the police, and if there are people with evidence, they should take it to the police.

There is public concern about whether Waterhouse missed anything. We have asked a distinguished judge to do a specific task in relation to that: to look at whether any specific allegations of child abuse were missed by that investigation and then to make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Justice and the Secretary of State for Wales. That is the right place to be in.

My Lords, I read the report. I was a colleague of Sir Ronald Waterhouse. He produced, as both the noble and learned Lords have said, an impeccable report. If the terms of reference were, “Are there allegations that were not put to Sir Ronald that have now arisen?”, they would be acceptable. However, the Government have—and the Minister really should be taking this on board—cast aspersions on the report suggesting that he did not do a good enough job. If the terms of reference are changed, which I would ask the Minister to do, to say that any allegations not made to Sir Ronald Waterhouse should be investigated, I suspect the House would be a great deal happier.

My Lords, three of our most distinguished judicial Members have spoken out very strongly about Sir Ronald Waterhouse’s integrity. I associate myself completely with them. That was not the situation we faced. We faced growing public concern about whether child abuse allegations had not been investigated. The judge in charge of the new inquiry is taking time to look carefully at what she needs to do the job and will look again to see whether the plethora of allegations that are around need re-examining and whether something was missed in the details of inquiry. I do not accept that that impugns the integrity, processes or findings of the original report. We dealt with a situation of real public concern. I hope the way Mrs Justice Macur now takes it forward will meet that public concern.

I repeat that I associate myself entirely with the comments of senior judicial colleagues about Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his work. It is important to get this on the record. We are indebted to the senior judiciary for so often being willing to take on these very difficult tasks on behalf of society as a whole.