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Inquiries Act 2005: Child Sexual Abuse

Volume 794: debated on Thursday 22 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to reform the Inquiries Act 2005 so as to make special provision for the conduct of inquiries into child sexual abuse.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I add that I have given the Minister notice of the supplementary that I intend to ask.

And that she intends to answer. The Inquiries Act 2005 and the Inquiry Rules 2006 that underpin it provide a robust and effective framework for the conduct of public inquiries. We do not see a need to make special provision for conducting inquiries into specific matters such as child sex abuse.

My Lords, IICSA has selected the late Greville Janner as the only named individual strand in its inquiry into child sexual abuse, despite the fact that wholly exculpatory evidence vital to Janner’s defence was never considered by IICSA when it took its decision. In that light, will the Minister support the proposition that the only way that justice can be done in this case is if all social services reports and criminal records relating to complainants, particularly reports on the main complainant who was named in the Beck trial in 1991, are considered by the inquiry before it proceeds any further?

My Lords, the House and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, well know that it is not the role of government to interfere in statutory inquiries. Their independence would be undermined if the Government were seen to interfere in their conduct. The noble Lord may wish to note that the inquiry published on its website in April and May 2017 notices of determination regarding this investigative strand. These summarise submissions received by the chair and decisions subsequently taken, and they confirm the inquiry’s position on this strand as being kept under review. The noble Lord is of course free to raise his concerns directly with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. It would be a matter for the inquiry chair and panel to decide how to proceed.

My Lords, what will the Government do to protect whistleblowers who expose child abuse and abuse in other areas but are subsequently hounded out of their jobs, lose their careers and often go into a lot of legal debt protecting themselves? Does she agree that instead of such treatment, these people deserve a medal for service to their country?

My Lords, I entirely agree that it is very important to protect whistleblowers. They can be sources of very valid and important information where crimes have been committed. The context of this Question does not allow me to provide any further information, so I hope the noble Baroness will agree that I can write to her.

My Lords, it is one thing having inquiries and another implementing the recommendations. Is the Minister aware that the Hart inquiry into historical sexual abuse in Northern Ireland reported some years ago, recommended compensation and has unanimous political support in Northern Ireland, but that nothing has been done to help those victims, who are being re-victimised because of the political instability? I ask her to ensure that her right honourable friend in the other place does something to implement the Hart proposals so that the victims can be compensated before they die off.

I recognise the noble Lord’s comments and will certainly take the matter back to my colleagues in the department and follow it up with a letter.

Does the Minister accept that in sensitive cases of this nature, the interests of the child should always be paramount?

I do not think there is a Member of your Lordships’ House who would disagree with that. It is fair to say that the IICSA inquiry under way at the moment has set up the Truth Project, under which it has so far been possible for 1,500 victims and sufferers to come forward to give their accounts of what has happened to them, and we expect that many more will join them.

What is paramount, surely, is that justice should be honoured in all cases. Although I accept what my noble friend said about not interfering in inquiries already established, what is really behind the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is the real concern throughout the country, and particularly in this House, about reputations that have been trashed without adequate evidence. I put it to my noble friend that it is therefore incumbent on the Government to have a separate inquiry into how those who have been accused of historical abuse and are now dead can have their reputations defended.

My Lords, we have discussed this topic many times over recent months, and I entirely understand where my noble friend is coming from. Of course, we recognise and have every sympathy in circumstances where people have been unable to clear their name, but at the moment, there are no grounds to justify a further review.