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Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Volume 774: debated on Tuesday 13 September 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to amending the terms of reference of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

My Lords, the inquiry is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get to the truth, to expose what has gone wrong in the past and to learn lessons for the future. The Home Secretary is clear that the original terms of reference were the right ones, and the new chair has confirmed that she has no intention of asking for them to be revised.

No lessons appear to have been learned from the Chilcot inquiry. One of the problems there was the width of the terms of reference. In her resignation letter, Judge Goddard referred to the,

“inherent problem in the sheer scale and size of the inquiry”.

The Home Secretary has given evidence that she has no expertise of an inquiry of this size. Will the Government think again about the proposal from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, that there should be a permanent body of expertise in the Cabinet Office to assist Ministers? In this instance, it could report to Parliament on the progress of this inquiry in 12 months’ time.

My Lords, on the terms of reference being too wide, the previous chairman and the new chairman agreed that the terms of reference are right. It was not until she left that the former chairman, Justice Goddard, talked about the terms of reference being too broad. The inquiry will report on a regular basis, including a review in 2018.

My Lords, nobody would wish to preclude anybody bringing an action a long time after the event, and there are generous limitation periods, nor to prevent any prosecution for historic sexual or other abuse, but we need to learn lessons. Those of us who have experience of multiparty actions know that by choosing sample cases and sample institutions, there is a much greater possibility of concluding swiftly and enabling lessons to be learned within a reasonable timeframe.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the terms of reference are not only incredibly broad but go back decades? Some of us in this House remain confused about whether the process is about the systems or individuals. Inquiries of this kind need the most precise terms of reference. Could the terms of reference be looked at again to make sure that they are as precise as possible, because some of us still find it difficult to understand the limitations of the inquiry?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié which he undertook so skilfully. The terms of reference have been agreed by the Home Secretary and the chairman, and have the support of the victims’ and survivors’ group.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, is absolutely right. What are the Government going to do to take account of that?

My Lords, in reference to what my noble friend said, the chairman has undertaken to conduct the inquiry with pace and clarity. Making regular reports does keep Parliament updated on progress.

With a new inquiry chair, will the inquiry be able to fulfil the requirements and hopes of the victims and keep to the timetable stated in the terms of reference: an interim report by the end of 2018?

The noble Baroness makes a very important point. The chairman and the whole inquiry have the support of the victims’ and survivors’ group. As I have stated, the aim is to produce an interim report by 2018.

Does the noble Baroness agree that, for the inquiry to make so-called findings of fact about the alleged conduct of the late Lord Janner, and to do so without any intensive process of cross-examination of the witnesses, is grossly unfair to the reputation of someone who is unable to defend himself? Does she recognise that the inquiry is purporting to do more than look at institutional failings? I declare an interest as a friend of the late Lord Janner’s son, Daniel.

My Lords, it is for the inquiry to consider the best way to conduct its investigations and hearings, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment. I understand that counsel to the inquiry set out the inquiry’s position on this issue at the preliminary hearing of the investigation into Lord Janner in July.

Can the Minister confirm a couple of points? In the light of her earlier response, can she confirm that Justice Goddard never suggested to the Government that the terms of reference of the inquiry should be amended or clarified in any way? Secondly, the terms of reference, as has already been mentioned, refer to an interim report by the end of 2018, which suggests there may be a final report at some stage. When is that coming, then?

My Lords, the Government have not sought to put a cap on the time but have made it clear that regular reporting back is quite important in this process, so that we do not go for long periods without hearing anything. The terms of reference were drawn up by the Home Secretary in agreement with the chairman—at the time, that was Justice Goddard. But yes, she did subsequently talk about her dissatisfaction with the terms of reference.