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Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Volume 804: debated on Monday 22 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what has been the total cost, including the associated costs, to date of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

My Lords, the Government set up the independent inquiry to shine a light on the institutional failings of the past, to give a voice to victims and to learn lessons for the future. The inquiry is operationally independent and responsible for the management of its own budget. Since it was established in 2015, it has made significant progress. The cost of the inquiry to the end of March 2020 was just over £137 million.

Are we not now witnessing in the IICSA inquiry a macabre, quasi-criminal trial of the dead? As the Minister has said, it has already cost over £130 million at a time when the country is spiralling into debt, and its chairman is costing nearly a quarter of a million pounds a year. In the Janner case the accusers are there for the compensation, while the lawyers milk the system. Is not the simple truth that a well-motivated inquiry doing excellent work has now nearly run its course, with little further to add to the sum of human knowledge on institutional child abuse? Its job is done.

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord’s first question as to whether we have embarked upon a macabre criminal trial of the dead, I think that the House would agree that the inquiry is there to learn the lessons of the past so that no more children have to go through what historically some of those children had to. I agree with him that at some point the inquiry will come to an end. It expects its public hearings to conclude by the end of 2020.

My Lords, as a former law officer, I am most anxious to discover the facts of any wrongdoing so that any action can be considered and lessons learned, as we have heard. But has any terminal date been firmly put to this inquiry—a date that cannot be moved—and is there a ceiling on costs, which have shot through the roof?

The noble and learned Lord is right to say that, at some point, this inquiry will end. I have recently been to see the inquiry chair to understand the progress of the inquiry. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, the public hearings are due to conclude by the end of 2020. From there on, the Government will consider the final report and respond in due course.

My Lords, the Crime Survey for England and Wales 2019 calculated that 7.5% of adults between the ages of 18 and 74 have been subject to sexual abuse before the age of 16. That amounts to 3.1 million people. Applying that statistic to this House would suggest that upward of 50 of your Lordships might have been victims. Does the Minister not agree that the scale and cost of IICSA is entirely proportionate?

I most certainly would agree with the noble Lord. If we do not learn from the institutional failings of the past, how will we ever address such statistics in the future? I thank him for that point. It was deference to authority in many ways that allowed these things to go on in the past; we need to learn from that.

My Lords, I associate myself with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell- Savours, said. But how can we justify this expenditure while continuing to refuse to have a proper inquiry into the activities of Wiltshire Police, which maligned and traduced the reputation of a very notable former Prime Minister?

My Lords, there is every justification for looking into some of the institutional failings of the past, which damaged the lives of those children affected. Let us not forget, there have been 4,024 convictions since 2016 for historic allegations of child sexual abuse.

My Lords, I declare an interest: I was briefly the first chairman of this inquiry, I wrote a report for the diocese of Chichester and gave written evidence to the inquiry. My view is that the inquiry is doing a good job, but what progress has been made on the review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which was a recommendation of the interim report?

My Lords, I will have to give the noble and learned Baroness an update on that as I do not, in all honesty, know where it is up to. I agree with her that the inquiry is doing a good job. It is good that the public hearings are due to conclude at the end of this year.

My Lords, the inquiry into child sexual abuse published a report into online-facilitated abuse, which found that law enforcement agencies were struggling to keep up and tech companies seemed unaware of the full scale of the problem on their platforms. Dreadfully, this issue has now become even more prevalent during the lockdown. Why have the Government still not published the interim code of practice on tackling child abuse content, which they promised in February pending legislation? What immediate action, as called for in the independent inquiry report, are the Government taking now to deal with the increasing scourge of this online abuse?

My Lords, the Home Secretary speaks every day to operational partners—the NCA, the police and the NPCC. It is not just that we are aware of the dangers of children being at home with their computers and not at school; significant effort has been undertaken to mitigate some of the potential for harm to children over this period. As for production of the report, that will come in due course.

My Lords, on 10 September 2018, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, promised, in response to my question about an extra seminar on mandatory reporting, that

“the Government are committed to ensuring that legislation can adequately deal with this”—[Official Report, 10/9/18; col. 2093.]

issue, and would scope it fully “during the current Parliament”. Has that scoping taken place and, if so, what was the result?

I cannot answer on behalf of my noble friend Lord Agnew but I will certainly get him to respond to the noble Baroness.

When the Government come to make their promised response to the inquiry’s report on Westminster, published in February, will they ask why it failed to interview Mr Tom Watson about his appalling slurs on innocent people? Will they also ask why the section in that report on Westminster, which dealt with allegations about a paedophile ring said to have been based in Dolphin Square in the mid-1990s—allegations in which I happened to be implicated—failed to mention that the allegations were shown to be a pack of lies and the magazine in which they appeared was closed down? How can we trust fully an inquiry that fails to show proper balance in carrying out its responsibilities?

My noble friend is absolutely right that the Westminster strand did not find evidence of a paedophile ring, but it did find deference by the police, prosecutors and political parties towards public figures. It found differences in treatment accorded to well-connected people, as opposed to those without networks and influence, and a failure by almost every institution to put the needs of children first. They are shocking findings; they should give us all pause for thought.

Can the Minister confirm that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will include children who have been trafficked? Will the findings extrapolate these figures where possible?

The noble Lord mentioned something that is very much a concern at this point in time and has been in recent years as well. It is not for me, or indeed the Government, to tell IICSA what it must look into. In the main, it has been looking into institutional failures and problems in institutional settings. But I am sure that it will look into the appropriate issues at the right time.