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Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Volume 759: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2015


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the House of Commons earlier this afternoon. The Statement is as follows:

“As the House will know, the Government established this inquiry so 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 my last Statement to the House about the inquiry in November, I said that in appointing two chairmen who had failed to win the trust of survivors, we had got things wrong. I said that as we worked out how to move forward, we would listen to survivors and their representatives, and I said that if we stay patient and work together, we will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to find out what has happened in the past and is still happening now, and stop it happening in the future.

Since my last Statement, I have held meetings with young survivors, with adult survivors and with 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 took place decades ago can feel as if it took place yesterday, and how they have had to live with the consequences of that abuse their whole 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 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 or 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. While there is no single point of view from the many thousands who have suffered—and that means 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 all witnesses give evidence. They have said that we need to revise the inquiry’s terms of reference. They have raised the importance of help and support as the inquiry triggers memories that cause great pain. 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 last Statement, the Home Office received more than 150 nominations from survivors, their representatives, MPs, Peers and members of the public. In addition, the Home Office 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. These included appropriate skills to carry out a complex task; experience of the subject matter; and the absence of any direct links to any individual about whom they may have concerns or any institution, or organisation, that might fall under the scope of the inquiry. A copy of these criteria will be placed today in the House Library, and published in full on GOV.UK.

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. This list was narrowed down to a shortlist of those who matched the set of criteria and were most suited to taking on this undoubtedly challenging role. I then took the views of a small group of survivors, who are all members of larger groups and who represent more than 100,000 individual survivors in total. As the House may recall, in responding to an Urgent Question 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 and is a highly respected member of the judiciary who has been at the forefront of criminal law and procedure. As chairman of the Independent Police Conduct Authority of New Zealand, 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 the prevention of torture. She will bring a wealth of expertise to the role of chairman and, crucially, she 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 honourable lady for her constructive comments and bipartisan approach. The House will also recall that I agreed with the right honourable Member for Leicester East, Keith Vaz, that the nominated panel chairman would attend a pre-appointment hearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee. This will bring further transparency to the appointment process and I can confirm that the chairman of the committee has agreed that this confirmation hearing will take place on 11 February. I have asked the committee to publish its report as soon as possible.

I would now like to turn to the form of the inquiry. As I said at the Home Affairs Select 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 this: 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, to set up a new statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Having taken in-depth legal advice and having discussed the option 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 on the third option of establishing a new statutory inquiry with a panel.

I want to make clear that this 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 record my gratitude to them for the work that 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 the criteria by which each new member will be selected in the House Library and in full 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 these criteria if they so wish. I can also confirm that Ben Emmerson QC will remain as counsel to the inquiry. I will 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 also 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 underway, 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 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 will ask the Cabinet Secretary to write to all departments and agencies—and public sector organisations, including local authorities—setting out the need for full transparency and co-operation with the inquiry.

I turn to the important issue of support. Survivors have fought hard for this inquiry, knowing the intense emotional toll that 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 bid for them. Going forward, further support will be needed for those who wish to give evidence to the inquiry and for 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 that 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 confirm that there will be a co-ordinated national policing response that will link directly into the inquiry and will be able to follow up any lead that the inquiry uncovers which 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 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 from 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 the original search of the Wanless and Whittam review, and whether it was a duplicate of a file that was held by 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. The additional Cabinet Office material falls within in the scope of the Wanless and Whittam review. My officials have spoken to Peter Wanless and summarised the additional information that it contains, and he has confirmed that it would not have changed the conclusions of his review.

None the less, this 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 honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office will today lay a Written Ministerial Statement explaining that as a result of the discovery of this 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 the Hart inquiry, should they wish to see them; and with the police, which my right honourable friend has agreed to. 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 the Government, to be made available to the inquiry so that it leaves no stone unturned in its bid to get to the truth.

This 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 and Greater Manchester and elsewhere is only the tip of the iceberg. This afternoon, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will give a Statement on Louise Casey’s report into 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 and we have learnt, and that 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 would like to end by thanking survivors for their patience, their determination and their willingness to help us to get this right.

I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, we welcome the Home Secretary’s Statement, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating it for us today. There can be few things worse for a child than to be sexually and violently abused by adults, but one of those things has to be not to be believed that it ever happened. However, the most shocking thing has to be for someone, somehow, to muster the courage to speak out, and when they are believed, to be ignored because of that belief, and for the crime to be covered up to protect the guilty. That this abuse and lack of justice has involved well known and establishment figures and institutions compounds the pain, horror and disgust.

In her Statement the Home Secretary said that,

“what we have seen so far … is only the tip of the iceberg”.

She added that it was,

“on a scale that we still cannot fully comprehend”.

She is absolutely right. What is emerging is a catalogue of serious, systematic abuse over decades and across the country by those who believed they were above the law. But however distressing, however uncomfortable and however shocking, we have to comprehend it, because only then will we be able to get to the truth, and justice, for the survivors of that abuse, and also for those who have not survived.

However, we need to do far more than just understand the truth. It was quite moving to hear the part of the Home Secretary’s Statement where she reported that the common goal, and one of the factors that motivates and drives survivors to relive the horror of their experiences, is, as she put it, to protect and save others. The challenge for the inquiry is not only to meet the expectations of the needed investigation but to make recommendations for the future.

We called for a full statutory inquiry more than two years ago. The Home Secretary announced an inquiry more than six months ago. The false starts, the confusion and the problems have been hugely damaging. There have been issues around personnel and about the remit and the purpose, and survivors have not felt fully engaged in the process. We want this inquiry to be as effective as possible and to have the confidence of survivors and the public. So we welcome that it will now be a statutory inquiry, and we welcome, as hinted in the Statement, the extension of the remit to cover pre-1970 offences. If the Minister could clarify that further, it would be helpful.

We welcome the discussions that the Home Secretary has now had with survivors prior to appointing Justice Lowell Goddard to chair the panel. We certainly welcome the agreement that the Home Affairs Select Committee should hold a pre-appointment hearing. I have just a few questions for the Minister. Clearly, the confidence of abuse survivors is absolutely essential. Will there be any consultation and engagement with survivors regarding the appointment of the new panel and the ongoing shape and work of the inquiry?

Noble Lords are well aware of the very serious and quite devastating allegations of cover-ups and conspiracies in Whitehall and Westminster regarding the most serious crimes of sexual and violent abuse. Even today, the Home Secretary has had to update Parliament and the Minister for the Cabinet Office on the continuing chaos of missing files, and possibly duplicated files, after a Cabinet Office file was accidentally found by the press in the National Archives. Can the Minister confirm that the files of all government agencies and departments, including Downing Street and the security services, will be searched, and that Justice Goddard will have all the access that she requests?

The Home Secretary was direct and robust when she was asked about a cover-up. What will be the investigative capacity of Justice Goddard’s inquiry? Will she be able to select her own advisers and counsel? I note from the Statement that Ben Emmerson has been reappointed. Was that done with the approval of the new chairman? We all want to see those who are responsible brought to justice wherever possible, but noble Lords will be aware, as it has been raised before, of those who are responsible for online sex abuse not being interviewed by the police quickly enough. I have raised this issue with the Minister before in Questions and debates. If in the past we have had the problem that the police have not acted quickly enough against those who are now abusing children or looking at online images, can he be confident that they have the resources they need fully to investigate and prosecute past crimes while still policing the present and protecting children from abuse today? Can he explain something about the relationship and co-operation with Simon Bailey’s work and that of the National Crime Agency and CEOP?

Finally, the Minister will be aware of the issues that can arise when an inquiry which, of necessity, is thorough and meticulous, takes a long time, even years, to complete its work. What monitoring and progress-reporting arrangements will be in place? Can he confirm that if evidence comes to light before the conclusion of the inquiry that could lead to a prosecution, that evidence will be acted on without delay?

We welcome the Statement, and I hope the noble Lord can clarify some of the points I have raised today.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her characteristic bipartisan approach on this. I know from my right honourable friend the Home Secretary that one of the most important things for survivors, particularly as we approach the end of this Parliament, is confidence that we are acting in a cross-party way so that there will not be disruption thereafter. That will be welcomed by them.

I shall deal with a number of the points that the noble Baroness raised. In relation to the missing files, as I have said, my right honourable friend has been very clear that we do not know whether there was a cover-up. That is one of the things that we need to get clear. We need to focus on it and get to the bottom of it. The Home Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary have written round, and we expect early and full compliance with that inquiry, as should have been the case with the earlier Wanless and Whittam review.

The noble Baroness asked about Ben Emmerson QC as the counsel. That was discussed with Justice Goddard and she is content with that approach. The noble Baroness also asked about the important issue of timing. We have been hearing evidence lately about the Chilcot review dragging on. That is not something that we want to do. The Home Secretary has said that she is considering—but will first discuss with the chairman of the panel, of course—whether there might be a target date. However, we would certainly expect to get regular updates and for survivors to be kept updated about the progress being made. Any evidence that comes to light must be passed immediately. That is the crucial role which Chief Constable Simon Bailey will play. He will be the link, the conduit, and the link with the Director of Public Prosecution’s office, so that we ensure that any prosecutions and information are dealt with immediately.

I think those were the principal points that the noble Baroness raised. If there are other points, I will come back to them later. I am grateful for her support.

My Lords, before the clerk starts the Clock for Back-Bench contributions, and as there are many noble Lords in the Chamber today for this very important statement, I thought it might be helpful if I reminded the House that Statements are an opportunity for brief questions. We want to ensure that the maximum number of noble Lords who are interested and wish to ask my noble friend Lord Bates a question get an opportunity to do so. If we could ensure that we follow the guidance in the Companion and keep to brief questions, I would be grateful.

My Lords, this is a welcome Statement which makes clear that the Home Secretary has given a great deal of thought to this important matter. We wish Justice Goddard great success. We are particularly pleased that it is going to be a statutory inquiry, which is a great achievement. I notice from the Statement that the Home Secretary intends to revisit the terms of reference. Does the Minister agree that it is very important that great precision is attached to the terms of reference for an inquiry that will perhaps cover more than 50 years? To avoid disappointment and possible legal challenge, the terms of reference are the essential component for the success of this inquiry.

The noble Lord, Lord Laming, speaks with great experience in these areas, and he is absolutely right that the terms of reference are critical. The Inquiries Act 2005 stipulates that the terms of reference must be drawn up with the chairman of the panel. I know that one of the first things that the Home Secretary will turn to is what the scope of the panel should be, so that we can ensure that we get to the truth as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.

My Lords, I am afraid that this is not a question but a brief statement, if I may. On behalf of the Church of England, we welcome—

Thank you very much. Would the Minister agree that we in the Church of England welcome this inquiry hugely as well as the appointment of a new chair? We acknowledge our own failures as a church in the past, and assure the House that we have already instituted our own inquiries well in advance of the establishing of this panel. We will of course co-operate with the panel in absolutely every way we can.

We are grateful for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle’s statement on that. I do not think that any of us can claim to have got it absolutely right. The important thing is that we get it right going forward for the survivors.

My Lords, may we commend the Home Secretary for her persistence, because I think that she has got it right this time? We, too, have been calling for a statutory inquiry and we very much welcome that. I welcome the greater transparency—for example, the confirmation hearings that we are getting now—and I particularly welcome the direct line to the police and the CPS which we have with this structure. However, I have one concern, and that is the terms of reference and the structure of the inquiry. The scope of the inquiry is absolutely enormous. Although the inquiry is not likely to take 50 years, it will go back 50 years and it will take many years. Now, justice delayed is justice denied, and what I am concerned about is whether the Government will liaise with Justice Goddard and try to come up with a structure that will allow periodic reports—of considerable substance—upon which the services across the country can act. If we have to wait until right at the very end, many opportunities for improving what we do will have been missed.

My noble friend is absolutely right that we do need to get it right and the terms of reference are key. When we set up the initial independent panel, she will recall that we planned to have six-monthly statements. I thought that was a good arrangement, but one of the whole points of setting it up under the independent Inquiries Act is that the terms of reference have to be agreed with the new chairman. That will be very important, but the fact that we have a former High Court judge—a member of the judiciary with great experience of getting through complex and difficult situations and getting to the heart of the truth—should help us in that task.

My Lords, I, too, join others in congratulating the Home Secretary on this appointment. Justice Lowell Goddard is someone known to a number of us in the legal profession, and I am sure our judges know her well. She is highly respected and has a great deal of experience. New Zealand has particular experience in dealing with these very problems—indeed, another judge, Carolyn Henwood, led an inquiry into child abuse in children’s homes—so there is a wealth of experience there.

I want to ask this question, because I heard mention of whether the appointment of Ben Emmerson was something that would be agreed to. Ben Emmerson QC is a fearless counsel. Surely the Minister would agree in appointing him that there is a very important role for there to be someone who understands the British system—the British class system, the nature of the British establishment and matters which might not be as quickly understood by someone from a different jurisdiction.

My second question is about the Official Secrets Act. As I understood it, the Minister said that no one would be able to hide behind the Official Secrets Act so as not to answer questions in relation to the inquiry. I should like reassurance about that, because a number of the victims say that, in having their desire to pursue complaints dismissed, they were at times told that matters of national security or public interest meant that inquiries should not proceed. That would be a detriment to the kind of inquiry which is sought by survivors and all of us to clear these matters up.

I welcome the noble Baroness’s support for Justice Goddard from her personal experience of her, and for Ben Emmerson QC. We have been very clear that the Official Secrets Act should be no bar to anyone coming forward with evidence. There are means under the Inquiries Act whereby, if need be, certain evidence can be supplied to the inquiry with restrictions around it, but the Official Secrets Act cannot be used as a screen to hide behind.

My Lords, the inquiry will have a start date in terms of looking back, but will it have an end date in terms of when it starts now? My concern is that abuse is happening now. I am grateful to the Minister for announcing that there will be funds to help organisations that are working in the field, but during the years when the inquiry is making its judgments, other cases will come forward. How will the inquiry deal with present abuse, because we will not stop it now unless we really make a huge effort?

That is perhaps why other inquiries are there. We have seen the incredible inquiry that has been taking place in Rotherham. There is no reason why action cannot take place. Justice Goddard will appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee on 11 February. We would not want to prejudge that, but assuming that she is cleared, thereafter the terms of reference and the appointment of the panel will be a key part of her initial objectives, and then to just get on with it as quickly as possible.

My Lords, in the 1960s, the 1970s and up to date, many children from BAME backgrounds were placed in care and were sexually abused—that is a known fact—and many have gone on to suffer greatly with mental illness and have never spoken about it. They need to do that with someone whom they can identify with culturally. What representation will there be on the panel with whom those older people will be able to identify, so that they can finally speak out about the horrific abuse that they have had to go through? They need to have someone whom they can identify with before they can come out and say exactly what has happened to them. Will there be BAME representation on the panel?

The panel’s composition has not been agreed yet; that is something on which Justice Goddard will rightly take the lead, but it is also very important that BAME community leaders and other senior figures in those communities urge people to come forward. I know that it is painful, but there is support. The greatest contribution that they can make from the experience that they have been through is to try to do everything they can to ensure that it does not happen to other people.

My Lords, in commending the Government for now coming forward with a statutory inquiry, can I ask the noble Lord whether he agrees that it is a matter of great regret that it has taken so long? There are a number of lessons therefore to be learnt about the issues that any Government should take into account when considering whether to have a statutory inquiry. Particularly on issues pertaining to vulnerable children, does he further agree that now is the time to set out a proper procedure to assist any new holder of an inquiry to know how efficaciously to put in place the preparatory processes which should be in place if anyone is to undertake a job as huge as this one will undoubtedly be?

The noble and learned Baroness is absolutely right, in the sense that we all learnt a huge amount through this process. The Home Secretary has apologised—she apologised in October because she felt that she had got it wrong and let down the victims. That was a key point. When it was initially set up, the model was the Hillsborough inquiry, which had been quick and effective, got to the heart of the issues, identified some issues for the police to follow up and managed to command the confidence of those people who had suffered because of those events. That was the model. It did not work on this occasion, so we now have a statutory inquiry. We are learning as we go, and the sadness is that sometimes you learn through not getting it right.

My Lords, I thank the Government for setting aside £2.85 million and other additional funds to meet the therapeutic needs of those touched by this inquiry. However, can the Minister make it quite clear whether the inquiry’s remit includes recommendations on what therapy should be available to adults who experienced sexual abuse and that if, for instance, the recommendation is for long-term talking therapy, either individually or in a group, there can be some expectation that resources will be found to meet those therapeutic needs?

I think there is some very deep expertise among those in the charitable sector who have been working on this. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has had conversations with the Health Secretary about what mental support can be made available to victims and survivors of these crimes. We are learning about that process, but we will provide that additional support as well as the support that we have provided to the voluntary organisations which already do tremendous work in this area.

My Lords, will there be updates to Parliament from time to time on target dates for reporting in order to try to avoid another Chilcot?

That will be very important, and of course your Lordships can routinely hold the Executive to account through the provision of reports. Given that this inquiry is independent of government, it will also be important that systems and processes are in place by which both Houses of Parliament can be regularly informed about progress.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Rotherham report. The report out today finds that Rotherham Borough Council has been involved in covering up information and suppressing whistleblowers, and it concludes that those closely associated with past failures need to let others make a fresh start. Does the Minister agree that any officer or councillor who is implicated in that report, or who stood back and did nothing, should resign immediately from Rotherham Borough Council?

The Statement made in the other place by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was a damning critique, based on Louise Casey’s work. I understand that in fact the entire cabinet of Rotherham Borough Council today resigned en bloc, and commissioners are in the process of being appointed while the position is resolved. In doing so, cabinet members did the right thing in recognising their culpability and their failing of the children of Rotherham.

My Lords, following the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the possibility that there may be some interim reporting as this inquiry progresses, and reflecting on the disappointment that everybody feels about how the Chilcot report has evolved, can the Minister say what effect the so-called Maxwellisation process is likely to have on the progress of this inquiry? I assume—although I may be wrong—that people who give evidence and are subsequently criticised by the report will have to be consulted about how that criticism is made public.

Of course, a lot of the work which will be done by the inquiry will be in the public domain. That is one of the major differences that we will see between the two inquiries. However, it is very important that it does not drag on and that we get to the heart of the issue as quickly as possible, learn the lessons and ensure that those who are responsible for the failures and for the deeds that took place are actually brought to justice.

My Lords, can the Minister clarify, for the avoidance of all doubt, that this inquiry will not be delayed when it is ready for publication by having to consult those who might be named critically, ensuring that they have the opportunity to see what is said about them?

That was the point raised by the noble Baroness. In many ways, this highlights one of the difficulties that we have had to wrestle with. Because of the way in which the independent panel was set up before, the Home Secretary had a degree of control over it, but that was felt not to give confidence to the survivors. Then it was set up under the Inquiries Act 2005, and that degree of control was lost. There are no easy solutions to the problems that we are having. That is why the appointment of the chairman is so critical; she is somebody who is very focused on getting to the heart of the truth and doing so expeditiously.

Is it not the case that delays such as these, particularly in the case of the Chilcot inquiry, are very much to be regretted? Nevertheless, all such inquiries are bound by the rules of natural justice, and Maxwellisation is only a crystallisation and a spelling out of those particular rules, and cannot be avoided.

That natural justice element is there. Also we are very conscious that sometimes people have been wrongly accused and their lives have been destroyed as a result. So it is an onerous responsibility on all of us to make sure that we get this right and do so in a calm and focused but absolutely resolute way so that we learn the lessons of how we can protect our children in future.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that people who are giving evidence to this inquiry may expose things about their earlier lives that are extremely painful for them? Reliving those experiences can be very traumatic and damaging if not handled properly. Would it be the Home Secretary’s intention to make sure that there is proper support for those who are invited to give evidence to the inquiry?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. There are two elements here—one is the emotional price and the other is a financial price which people pay in coming forward. We want them to come forward; we do not want anything to be a barrier, so the Home Secretary believes that it is absolutely critical that we have in place sufficient resource to be able to meet their needs and care for them when they do the courageous thing of coming forward and reliving those horrific experiences.