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Wanless Review

Volume 757: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2014


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“On 7 July I told the House that the Home Office Permanent Secretary had commissioned Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC to conduct a review of two existing independent reviews into how the Home Office had acted—or failed to act—on information it had received in the 1980s about child abuse. The full report by Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC has been published today. A copy has been placed in the House Library. I want to place on record my gratitude to them for their thorough work.

In terms of the first review considered by Wanless and Whittam—which was about the extent to which the Home Office acted on the ‘Dickens dossier’—they say,

‘we found nothing to support the concerns that files had been deliberately or systematically removed or destroyed to cover up organised child abuse’.

In terms of the second review considered by Wanless and Whittam—which was about whether the Paedophile Information Exchange ever received any funding from the Home Office—they say,

‘we have seen no evidence to suggest that the Paedophile Information Exchange was ever funded by the Home Office because of sympathy for its aims’.

Wanless and Whittam have made three sets of recommendations for the Home Office, all of which relate to the way the department deals with sensitive allegations, how officials pass such information on to police, and how the details are properly recorded. The Permanent Secretary has accepted all three sets of recommendations.

I want to make sure that we leave no stone unturned when it comes to the work Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam have undertaken. So I have written to them today to seek further reassurance that the police and prosecutors acted appropriately upon receiving information relating to the Dickens dossier or related matters from the Home Office. I have also asked them for similar assurance about any such information that was passed to the security services and if any such information was passed to them.

I should also make clear that the Wanless and Whittam work is about how the Home Office responded to information relating to the Dickens dossier, how the police and prosecutors acted on any information passed their way, and—because of concerns expressed by many people including Members of this House—how the security services also responded to that information. Their work does not relate to wider allegations about child abuse or the failure of institutions—including police, prosecutors, security and intelligence agencies and government departments—because those are matters for the panel inquiry which I have established and whose work is now under way.

Many people who have made allegations relating to child abuse and the failure of the authorities to prevent abuse have been ignored for too long. Some have even been written off and traduced as conspiracy theorists. I want to be absolutely clear that nobody with any information about child abuse should be ignored, nobody should be written off or dismissed, and nobody should be left to themselves. If we want to get to the bottom of what has been going on in our country for far too long, we need to come together, to work together and to listen to what survivors and witnesses have to say. That goes for all of us in positions of responsibility—the police, prosecutors, government officials, Members of Parliament, public servants in a whole range of institutions and beyond.

The Home Office Permanent Secretary commissioned Wanless and Whittam to establish what the department did and did not know and does not know. Their work shows that the original reviews did not cover anything up, but neither do they prove or disprove that the Home Office acted appropriately in the 1980s. Likewise, they do not prove or disprove that public money ever found its way to the Paedophile Information Exchange. This is no fault of Peter Wanless or Richard Whittam, who have been investigating all files, many of which seem no longer to exist. I know that this is a cause of frustration for everybody, but this is not the only aspect of this case. As several honourable Members have said, there are other allegations, other lines of inquiry and other possible evidence that needs to be considered.

The right place for the consideration of these matters—apart from the live criminal allegations which should be dealt with by the police—is the panel inquiry into child abuse that I have established. That inquiry will be comprehensive in looking at institutions in this country, accessing all relevant paperwork and taking evidence from survivors and witnesses, so we can expose what has been going on. It may take time, and I know we have slipped twice in our attempts to get this right, but I am determined that we will succeed in doing so—and I know the whole House shares with me that determination”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating that Statement but I am sorry that the Government did not choose to make a Statement to Parliament today. We had to request one in the other place through an Urgent Question.

These are very serious matters. We do not know how many children and young people’s lives have been damaged through sexual abuse—damage that was then compounded either because their accounts were not believed or, worse, because of a failure to investigate followed by a cover up. That makes openness, honesty and transparency all the more essential. I hope that the noble Lord will take this message back to the Home Secretary and that he can assure us that, as this matter progresses, any Statements will be made orally to your Lordships’ House to give noble Lords the opportunity to question and to clarify points on which they may seek assistance.

It was appropriate that the Home Secretary added her thanks to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC. Clearly, they answered their responsibilities with great care and dililgence. I note their comments about not having been involved in the drawing up of their terms of reference and about public confusion around the inquiries. We need to make the distinction that the reviews we are talking about are reviews of evidence previously examined and not a full inquiry, although they did seek further information and were clear that they were not hampered in doing so.

Has the Home Secretary had further discussions with Mr Whittam QC and with Mr Wanless about whether there were areas outside their terms of reference that they now feel should be examined further? I am curious about paragraph 5 of the Statement that the noble Lord repeated. Although it is welcome, I seek some clarification. The Home Secretary said that she has written to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam,

“to seek further reassurance that the police and prosecutors acted appropriately upon receiving information relating to the Dickens dossier or related matters from the Home Office”.

She has also asked for some reassurances from the security services.

I have had only a brief opportunity to read through some of the first report because it has not been available for long. It states how hard it is to establish the truth because acquiring evidence as to whether information has been destroyed or whether it was filed in the first place is extremely difficult. Is the noble Lord able to tell us whether the Government consider that other sources of information should now be made available to Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam, and have they asked for greater access? I would be interested to know how they can offer further reassurances because they seem to have been thorough with the information which has been made available to them. Is more information being made available or will there be greater access? I am just asking how they can offer a further assurance.

The Government’s inquiry, when it starts properly with a new chair, is to be overarching and wide-ranging. These reviews into the previous reviews seem to highlight a slightly different issue. What is needed are investigations into, first, the cover-ups, and secondly, the destruction of evidence. Is the noble Lord satisfied that these issues will be fully addressed?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for welcoming the Statement. We have had a number of Statements on this issue, which I think is indicative of the fact that, as other noble Lords have put it, we are very much lifting the stone here. We are gradually becoming aware of the scale and scope of what has been going on in our country for far too long. I suggest that there will probably be many other occasions when, sadly, we will have to discuss these matters in our effort to get to the root of them.

On the noble Baroness’s point about cover-ups, it is important to say that Wanless and Whittam did not find any evidence to prove either that there had been or there had not. We are not trying to say that there were no cover-ups, only that thus far there is no evidence to show that there were. We also need to remember that Wanless and Whittam were asked to undertake their work after the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office had conducted his own internal inquiry into suggestions that had been made about the so-called Dickens dossier. The terms of reference were narrowly defined for the specific purposes of speed and to give the public confidence that the investigation by the Permanent Secretary had been carried out thoroughly.

In response to the specific point about other agencies that might have been involved, this has led the Home Secretary to write today to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam to ask them not just to look at what happened within the Home Office but to satisfy themselves about information that was passed to the police and to the then Director of Public Prosecutions. Within that ambit, which relates to the specific point about the security services, there was a suggestion that copies of these documents may have been held by the security services, and that this was simply a follow-up by the Home Secretary who wants to be absolutely sure about all these issues. This is an unfolding story and it will be well within the scope of the independent inquiry to take evidence from any of these people and to pursue any lines of inquiry that may come out of the additional information.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for the Statement and I particularly welcome the assurance that, in future, files in relation to child abuse will be marked with the significance they so richly deserve, because they are about such a horrible crime. In relation to the last paragraph of the Statement, does my noble friend recognise that the inquiry panel is not the only opportunity for the survivors of child abuse to make their views known? Is he able to tell me when the public consultation on mandatory reporting will be launched? If not, I am sure he will write to me. Finally, is the Home Office working with other relevant departments to consider how budgets should be deployed in the future? I ask this because, as we carry out all these inquiries, it is absolutely certain that a whole lot more child abuse that was previously hidden will be exposed through the sanitising effect of daylight. That means an awful lot of survivors will require services, which will cost money in the short term but save it in the long term.

I am grateful to my noble friend, and I shall respond to her with three brief points. The first is on record-keeping. Very specific recommendations were made by Richard Whittam and Peter Wanless, all of which have been accepted. We are looking to improve the system. The second refers to mandatory reporting. We were discussing this with officials just yesterday and we are looking to work with my noble friend on the terms of the inquiry and will seek her expertise on how to set it up. On budgets, the Home Secretary has said that she recognises that, as we lift this stone, additional burdens will be placed on many agencies, chiefly the police in the first instance. She is discussing that with the national policing lead, and by inference she remains open to the statement that the police may need more resources.

Does my noble friend have any information about the criteria that were used in the past to determine which files should be destroyed and which preserved?

I do not have the information to hand, but it is a good question and I shall make sure that we write to my noble friend on that point.

The noble Lord and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State are placing great reliance on the upcoming independent inquiry. I believe that he said in the Statement he has just repeated that the inquiry had already begun its work. Can he give us any up-to-date information on whether it is likely that a chairman for the inquiry will be announced any time soon, and who is chairing it in the mean time?

The panel is working together as a team without a chair at the moment. The members are requesting pieces of information. Effectively, in the research context, they are conducting a literature review and requesting evidence. The Home Secretary set out the process to try to ensure that this time we get the appointment of the chair absolutely right. That involves meeting with victims’ groups, which is happening this week. It also involves going through the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place, and that will be followed up. A long list of names is emerging and I am very grateful to Members of your Lordships’ House for suggesting some very well qualified people.