With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse.
As the House knows, the Government established this inquiry so that 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 November, in my last statement to the House about the inquiry, I said that in appointing two chairmen who had failed to win the trust of survivors, we had got things wrong. I said, as we worked out how to move forward, that we would listen to survivors and their representatives, and that if we stay patient and work together we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to find out what has happened in the past and what is still happening now, and to stop it happening in the future.
Since my last statement, I have held meetings with young survivors, adult survivors and 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 has taken place decades ago can feel like it took place yesterday, and how they have had to live with the consequences of that abuse for the whole of their 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 that 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 and that 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. Although there is no single point of view for the many thousands who have suffered—and that means that 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 sure all witnesses give evidence, and that we need to revise the inquiry’s terms of reference. They have raised the importance of help and support as this inquiry triggers memories that cause great pain, and, 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 previous statement, the Home Office received more than 150 nominations from survivors, their representatives, MPs and members of the public. The Home Office also 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. The criteria included: the appropriate skills to carry out this complex task; experience of the subject matter; and the absence of any direct links to any individual about whom people might have concerns, or any institution or organisation that might fall under the scope of the inquiry. A copy of the criteria will today be placed in the House Library and published in full on the gov.uk website.
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. The list was narrowed down to a shortlist of those who matched the set of criteria and were most suited to taking on the undoubtedly challenging role. I then took the views of a small group of survivors, all members of larger groups, who represent more than 100,000 individual survivors.
As the House will remember, during the debate 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. She is a highly respected member of the judiciary who has been at the forefront of criminal law and procedure. As chairman of New Zealand’s Independent Police Conduct Authority, 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 prevention of torture. She will bring a wealth of expertise to the role of chairman and, crucially, 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 hon. Lady for her constructive comments and bipartisan approach. The House will also remember that I agreed with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) that the nominated panel chairman would attend a pre-appointment hearing before the Home Affairs Committee, which will bring further transparency to the appointment process. I can confirm that the right hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Committee, has agreed that this will take place on 11 February. I have asked the Committee to publish its report as soon as possible.
I will now turn to the form of the inquiry. As I told the Home Affairs 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 that: 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, by setting up a new statutory inquiry under the 2005 Act.
Having taken in-depth legal advice and discussed the options 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 upon the third option of establishing a new statutory inquiry with a panel.
I want to make it clear that that 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 the record my gratitude to them for the work 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 in full the criteria by which each new member will be selected and place a copy in the House Library and 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 those criteria if they so wish. I can confirm that Ben Emmerson QC will remain as counsel to the inquiry. I will wish to 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 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 under way, 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 that 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 I will ask the Cabinet Secretary to write to all Departments and agencies, and to public sector organisations, including local authorities, setting out the need for full transparency and co-operation with the inquiry.
I should now like to turn to the important issue of support. Survivors have fought hard for this inquiry, and they have done so knowing the intense emotional toll 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 now bid for them. Going forward, further support will be needed for those who wish to give evidence to the inquiry and 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 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 can confirm that a co-ordinated national policing response will link directly into the inquiry and will be able to follow up any lead the inquiry uncovers that 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 can 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 of 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 its original search for the Wanless and Whittam review, and whether it was a duplicate of a file that was held at 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. Some of this additional Cabinet Office material falls within in the scope of the Wanless and Whittam review. My officials have since spoken to Peter Wanless and summarised the additional information it contains, and he has confirmed that it would not have changed the conclusions of his review.
None the less, the 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 hon. Friend Minister for the Cabinet Office will today table a written ministerial statement explaining that as a result of the discovery of the 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 Hart inquiry, should they wish to see them, and with the police. My right hon. Friend has agreed.
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 Government, to be made available to the inquiry so that it leaves no stone unturned in its bid to get the truth.
That 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, Greater Manchester and elsewhere is only the tip of the iceberg. This afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will give a statement on Louise Casey’s report on 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, we have learned and 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 end by thanking survivors for their patience, their determination and their willingness to help us get this right. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. Rotherham, Oxfordshire, Savile, the BBC and the national health service, the north Wales care homes, Rochdale, the Elm guest house and too many others: too many institutions that failed to listen to children, failed to protect them, turned a blind eye while they were abused and, in some cases, even covered up awful crimes. Those who endured abuse need justice. They want the truth, they want answers about what will change for the future and they need support. We all want to know that abusers and criminals are being prosecuted and stopped, that children are being heard and kept safe and that the same mistakes are not being made over and over again. That is why the inquiry is so important, why it must work to get the truth and also why it must set out the reforms we need for the future. It is why we will support it and why we wish Justice Lowell Goddard well in getting it swiftly under way.
It has now been 213 days since the Home Secretary first announced an inquiry and more than two years since we first called for it. It has now had three false starts under the first two chosen chairs, as well as the process of panel hearings that the Home Secretary launched in November and that she has now had to abandon.
We cannot afford for the Home Secretary to fail on this again, so we need to be clear that the previous problems have been resolved. First, the two previous chairs went because the Home Office did not apply due diligence and the Home Secretary did not consult survivors. I welcome the fact that she has now met many groups of survivors. Will she assure us that there has been due diligence? I strongly welcome, too, the additional support for survivors and I hope that she will keep the level of support under review and talk to the Department of Health about the support that it will need to provide. How will she ensure that survivors have an ongoing voice in shaping the inquiry, perhaps learning the lessons from Northern Ireland and other countries?
Secondly, the inquiry was repeatedly not put on a sustainable footing and concern was raised about its independence from the Home Office. Making the inquiry statutory is welcome and is something that we called for. Have the counsel to and staff of the inquiry been appointed by the Home Office or by the chair, and what will their relationship be with the Home Office?
Thirdly, there has been considerable confusion over the role of the panel. Can she assure us that it will continue to include survivors and explain what its role will be? Is this a panel inquiry chaired by Justice Lowell Goddard or a judicial inquiry by Justice Goddard, advised by the panel?
Fourthly, the scope and purpose of the inquiry has not previously been clear. I agree that it must consider the institutional failure and make recommendations for the future. I also agree that individual crimes must be investigated by the police, rather than the panel, and I strongly welcome the greater clarity she has announced today about how criminal investigations will be handled and co-ordinated by the police and prosecution. What about the continued question of whether there was a cover-up in Whitehall or Westminster of very serious crimes over many decades? Extremely serious allegations have been made, but they have not been investigated.
Today, the Home Secretary has had to tell the House that more files were missing from the Wanless review, including files on briefings to the Prime Minister of the day, which came to light only when something was discovered by accident in the National Archives. Have the Foreign Office, MI6, Downing street and other Departments now been asked to look at their files, and why was that not done before, when the Wanless review started?
The Home Secretary will know, too, that no one has looked more widely at allegations that have been made about cover-ups or decisions not to investigate or prosecute in that period. Will she clarify whether she expects the Goddard inquiry to look in detail at those allegations and whether it will have the investigative capacity to do so? For example, will it be able to look at top-secret information held by the security agencies? If that is not its purpose, who will pursue that investigation? It is clear that people will expect us to get the truth of what happened within Government.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the police and social services have the resources to deal with these serious cases right now? The current police investigations are immensely important and she will know that there are grave allegations in the papers only today that must be pursued. The police must have the ability to pursue serious investigations wherever they lead, but forces have said that they are struggling to cope with the cases that are now rightly coming forward, both current and past cases, particularly given the scale of officer cuts that they have experienced. We know that there are long and dangerous delays, too, in the National Crime Agency in dealing with online abuse. The Home Secretary rightly talked about her renewed determination to tackle the problem, and this is the area in which we need to act urgently. What is she doing to respond to the extremely serious concerns that police forces and social services still lack both the capacity and the policies to investigate and keep children safe today?
For too long, this appalling crime has been ignored. Children who called for help were not heard and too many of them are still not being listened to. I know that the whole House will want the inquiry to work, to be thorough and effective and to support the announcements that the Home Secretary made today.
The Home Secretary concluded by asking for patience, but she will know better than anyone that the inquiry has gone wrong too many times already and that we still need assurance that the measures will be in place to protect children today. She will know that patience is running out and that we need action to support child protection now and to get this inquiry finally and properly under way so that it can get to the truth and provide the justice and reforms we need to keep all our children safe. The whole House will unite behind ensuring that that can happen.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for her commitment to the inquiry. One of the issues raised with me by survivors is that they want to be certain there is cross-party support for the inquiry so they can be confident that it will continue. From what she has said, I think we can give a very clear message that the whole House is of one accord in saying that the inquiry should be able to do what we all want—to get to the truth.
The right hon. Lady asked about the panel hearings. She said that I had set up the listening events. Of course, I did not set them up; they were set up by the independent inquiry panel. The panel decided to stop them in the middle of January, partly in expectation that a decision would be made about how the inquiry was being taken forward. I have been very clear that I have asked the panel to report on the work it has done so far. That will ensure that nothing undertaken by the original inquiry is lost in the process, and that its work can be taken forward, as appropriate, to the new panel inquiry.
I assure the right hon. Lady that greater due diligence has taken place in the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, including lengthy interviews with the individual concerned. On the role and ongoing voice of survivors, I have been very clear that it is important for the panel inquiry to be informed by survivors. They have the experience, understanding and expertise, and their voice will therefore be an important part of the panel inquiry.
The right hon. Lady asked about advisers to the panel. The Inquiries Act 2005 provides the possibility of individuals being advisers—or assessors, as they are called—to a panel. I will explore with Justice Goddard how we can get the greatest breadth of input from survivors to ensure that their voice is truly heard in the inquiry’s work.
The inquiry will be an inquiry panel, with Justice Goddard as its chairman. Appointments of staff to the inquiry will be undertaken in consultation with Justice Goddard. The staff—the secretariat—are and will be independent of the Home Office.
The right hon. Lady referred to the issues around the cover-up in Whitehall and Westminster. I have been clear about the files, and we will renew our efforts to ensure that proper searches are undertaken across Government. When I last made a statement to the House, I was very clear that I could not stand at the Dispatch Box and say that there has been no cover-up. One of the things that the inquiry will look at, and which I expect it to be able to unearth, is whether there was a cover-up in the past. That is important for us all, but particularly for survivors and those involved in the acts that might have been subject to such a cover-up.
Another of the issues relates to investigative capacity. The formal process is that I will discuss the make-up of the panel with Justice Goddard. We have already had some discussions about the investigative experience of panel members to make sure that they can do what is necessary in their work. As I said in my statement, we have clearly told the Security Service and the police that information they have relevant to the inquiry should be brought forward to it.
At one stage the right hon. Lady said that the police do not have the policies to investigate. I have to say to her that the police do have the policies and powers to investigate. One of the issues in the recent Rotherham case, sadly, was that the police had the ability to investigate, but—I am afraid because of what I have already described as dereliction of duty—they did not investigate. We must deal with that attitude as much as anything else. That is why we are working with the national policing lead to put in extra support for investigations across the country to make sure that such investigations can go where they need to go and can identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
May I commend the Home Secretary on her announcement? There can be doubt of the integrity and thoroughness of the approach she has announced. I am sure that, even now, people are searching for unsuitable links to Justice Goddard. Does she agree that, realistically, this is the last chance saloon for this essential inquiry? It is essential for everyone to row in behind the inquiry, which will need robust support. Justice Goddard will need robust support from the Home Secretary, the Government and the Opposition, and everyone who wants to get to the bottom of the truth in this sordid matter.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I commend him and a number of other MPs, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wells (Tessa Munt) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who is not in the Chamber—[Interruption.] He is in a different place from normal. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), and the hon. Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) have all been particularly active in dealing with this issue, and I commend them for their work.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is absolutely right. My intention, hope and expectation is that the inquiry will now be able to get up and running, and to undertake the work it needs to do to bring truth and justice to the people who, sadly, have suffered from these terrible crimes. As I said in my statement, what I am announcing today will not be supported 100% by everybody. I hope, however, that everybody accepts that we need to get the inquiry under way, and that we need to support those involved—Justice Goddard and the panel members, when they are selected—to ensure that they can do the job we all want them to do.
It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the chair, since I will be at the pre-appointment hearing next Tuesday. May I say to the Home Secretary that although the inquiry—I hope it will get under way very shortly—should obviously be as thorough as possible, it should not go on endlessly for years and become another Chilcot? The people who have suffered so much, about whom the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary spoke very eloquently, deserve a conclusion. That is why it is so essential for the inquiry to come to a conclusion well within, say, 12 months.
I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman’s last point about the inquiry coming to a conclusion well within 12 months. I think that it will take longer than 12 months, but, as he said, it is important that it does not go on endlessly, seemingly being pushed ever and ever further into the future, with no report. This will of course be for the chairman of the inquiry to determine, but my own view is that it would be helpful to set a date by which a report will be made, even if at that point the inquiry says that it needs to do further work in certain areas. People need to see that there will be a report. Indeed, the inquiry will need to consider how to keep people updated on an ongoing basis during its work so that they do not feel that it is just going on behind closed doors.
I have documentary evidence to substantiate the allegation that the Foreign Office recently turned a blind eye to child abuse in St Helena. We are also aware of the recent banning of the American journalist Leah McGrath Goodman from investigating child abuse in Jersey. In both cases, that was done by UK Government authorities in recent years; I am not arguing that Ministers were involved. Are those cases within the inquiry’s terms of reference?
My hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard on the abuse that may have taken place in both those geographical areas. I am afraid that my answer will disappoint him. Work is of course already being done in relation to Jersey. It would not be appropriate for this inquiry to look at Jersey and St Helena. As I have said, I expect the inquiry to confine itself to England and Wales. I will of course need to discuss that with the chairman, but that is my expectation.
The Home Secretary will know of my interest in this matter, because of my 10 years as Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee. May I repeat the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick)? If this is seen as being kicked into the long grass, a lot of people will be very disappointed.
A major inquiry such as this one has to be based on good policing, for which resources must be provided, as well as good quality research. Some of the evidence from Operation Pallial is causing us to worry about that. I want every person guilty of child abuse to be prosecuted and punished, but such inquiries always include false allegations of abuse that destroy people’s lives, often because such people are put on bail and never charged. In my capacity as Chair of the Select Committee, I saw the lives of social workers, teachers and head teachers destroyed by false allegations. Can we get the balance right in how the criminal justice system works?
It is obviously important that we get the balance right. I am very clear that it is not for the inquiry to investigate individual allegations that could lead to criminal charges being brought. Those are matters for the police. I have indicated that under Operation Hydrant, arrangements will be put in place to look at the quality of the response of police forces across the country to ensure that nobody falls between the various stools of the different inquiries.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about people who find themselves on bail, but who are not charged. The Government intend to deal with that issue through the changes that we have proposed. We are looking at a limit for bail, except in exceptional circumstances, because I recognise the concern for people who are put on bail for many months, but who are not charged. That is the case across a range of crimes and is not confined to child sexual abuse. Such people can be in limbo for a considerable time. That is why the Government are looking at the whole question of how long bail should last.
Many people will warmly welcome the progress that the Home Secretary has brought to the House today. I commend her for the listening process that she undertook before the announcement. My constituent Tom Perry, who has spoken out bravely, met her and came to my surgery last week to give me positive feedback about the meeting.
As the Home Secretary knows, I have raised before the matter of resources for organisations that provide support to the survivors of abuse. I would like to know that, despite the announcement today, she will keep those resources under review, so that if the £4.8 million that has been announced is not enough, more funds will be available.
I know that my right hon. Friend has taken an interest in this issue. I was pleased to meet her constituent, which I have done on more than one occasion. On resources, we are looking ahead to a new spending review. As I said in my statement, I will work with ministerial colleagues across Government to look at the various aspects of this business, including the support that is needed for victims and survivors, and not just at the aspects that relate to the Home Office. We will take that forward into the comprehensive spending review to ensure that funding is available to provide what is necessary for those who will be affected by the very fact of the inquiry and by coming forward. There will be many people for whom the inquiry will raise difficult memories, and support needs to be available.
I particularly welcome the statutory nature of the inquiry. Will the Home Secretary say a little more about whether there will be a senior police assessor or adviser who can act as a liaison between the ongoing police investigations and the inquiry to ensure that one is not allowed to frustrate the other?
The Home Secretary and all hon. Members have used repeatedly the word “survivor”, which is wonderful. May I make a quick plea to the press and the media who are following this debate and this issue to use the word “survivor” and not the word “victim”, because every time they use that word, it adds to the hurt and the disrespect?
On the first point that the hon. Lady raised, as I said in answer to another question, we will have to look at the investigative capacity that needs to be available to the inquiry panel, but under Operation Hydrant, Chief Constable Simon Bailey will work to ensure that there are appropriate links between the inquiry and the police investigations. What is important is that nothing falls between the various exercises and that information is shared appropriately between the investigations and the inquiry panel.
On the second point, the hon. Lady is absolutely right about language. It is important that we use the language of survivors or, in some cases, of victims and survivors. There is another element in respect of language. Sometimes people refer to “historic” cases of child abuse. Many of these cases took place in the past, but for those who suffered them, they are not historic—they live with them every single day. I say to the House and to all outside who comment on this matter that we should be very careful about the language we use. We should not use inappropriate terms that are hurtful and that could cause harm to individuals.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on arriving at the right solution to the heinous, dangerous and difficult situation that she has been faced with. May I say on behalf of those of us who campaigned for a 2005 Act inquiry to be applied to this matter because of our experience of other 2005 Act inquiries that she has done exactly the right thing? May I also say what a good move it is to ensure that Ben Emmerson stays as counsel to the inquiry? This is a tremendous move in the right direction and I am certain that my right hon. Friend is completely right.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. We received a very clear message that the inquiry needed statutory powers, which is why I have brought them forward. It is important that the inquiry is able to compel people to give evidence and that appropriate sanctions are in place in relation to that. I thank him for his comments, given his experience in this area.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s statement. Very sadly, a constituent of mine was horribly abused throughout his teenage years at Highgate Wood school in the London borough of Haringey. That led to a conviction last summer. There are suggestions that there were other examples of abuse at that school and in the London borough of Haringey. Will that matter fall within the scope of the inquiry?
The inquiry will look at abuse that has taken place in state institutions and non-state institutions. It will look at why it was possible for that abuse to take place. Those who are in authority in a school have a duty to protect the children and not to abuse them. The inquiry will look at whether the duty of care was exercised properly by people in those institutions, and at what lessons we need to learn to ensure that such abuse does not happen in the future.
Mr Speaker will not be surprised to hear that my position as an ethnic minority immigrant from New Zealand adds to my support for the statement. One thing that I have noticed in New Zealand is that it suffers from “tall poppy syndrome”. That came through at the last election in New Zealand, when very unpleasant, anonymous accusations were made. I suspect that someone with the standing and career of Justice Goddard will have been the subject of such false and probably anonymous accusations. If my right hon. Friend is aware of any such accusations, can she kill them dead now?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the appointment of a New Zealand judge. It became apparent during the due diligence process that there is a blog with an accusation against Justice Lowell Goddard relating to a potential cover-up. I have spoken to her and to New Zealand’s Attorney-General about it, and I have been assured that there is absolutely no truth to the allegation. That information was shared with a number of survivors and they were comfortable with the explanation that was given. I am clear not only that Justice Goddard has the necessary experience in this area, but, crucially, that her track record shows—for example, in the work that she did to look at police conduct in these matters—that she is willing to go where the evidence takes her, without fear or favour.
I thank the Home Secretary for the discussion so far. I welcome the widening and deepening of the inquiry, and the renewal of the drive to “expose hard truths”, as she rightly put it. Indeed, some very disturbing truths can be expected.
I welcome the fact that the remit will go back further, but I worry about its not being extended beyond England and Wales, because that might not be enough. The Hart inquiry in Northern Ireland is doing some very good work. However, we have a place called Kincora, which has been a running sore for 40 years. Although some of what is said may be rumour, there are deep suspicions that the security services, the Official Secrets Act and all sorts of things were used to cover up some very nasty practices in that place. Indeed, there are suggestions that it was used to compromise loyalist paramilitaries during the troubles in the ’70s and early ’80s. I plead with the Home Secretary to include the Kincora situation, because the outworkings of Kincora extend beyond the shores of Northern Ireland and involve key organisations and parts of the state.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the inquiry, and I have considered whether it should cover Kincora. I came to the view that it is appropriate for that issue to be considered by the Hart inquiry, and that process is up and running. We must ensure that clear protocols are in place so that any information or evidence that comes forward that links the two inquiries or relates to people across them both can be shared properly, and so that full and proper consideration is given to those issues. As I said earlier, all parts of the government, including the Security Service, should make available any information that they hold that is relevant to either the Goddard inquiry or to the Hart inquiry into Kincora.
I commend my right hon. Friend for her statement. Justice Lowell Goddard is an inspired appointment in the best traditions of Commonwealth appointments to major inquiries in this country, so there is historical precedence for that. Some survivors groups have brought up the issue of a royal commission with the power to compel witnesses. Will the panel that the Home Secretary is setting up have that power?
The panel is not being set up under a royal commission, although we did consider that and a number of people pointed to the Australian experience. A royal commission can be similar to a statutory inquiry under the 2005 Act, but in some aspects it does not have quite the same legal certainty. That is why I decided to go down the route of a statutory inquiry under the 2005 Act, and the chairman of the panel will have power to compel witnesses—it is clear that everybody feels that that power is necessary for the inquiry to be conducted properly.
The Home Secretary and I have corresponded on this issue, and I raised it in November in the Chamber although I am still not clear about the answer. In Wales, the Wales Office and North Wales police were suspected of a cover-up. I know that documents went missing in north Wales; there were statements and letters and so on, and we still do not have answers on where those are and who is looking into that. Will the Home Secretary assure me and the people of Wales that somebody in this inquiry will consider what went on in Wales at that time?
The inquiry will cover Wales as well as England, and it will be for the chairman and the panel to determine what issues they wish to consider. I expect that any evidence held by Members of the House, or others, or suggestions for issues that need to be considered by the inquiry, should be forwarded to the inquiry secretariat so that they can be properly considered by the chairman and the panel. It is possible to bring about a prosecution, as we saw in Operation Pallial and as a result of work done by the National Crime Agency when looking into issues in north Wales. The issues in Wales will certainly be covered.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and her determination to see a statutory inquiry set up, as well as her plan to appoint Justice Lowell Goddard and her recognition of the advantages of having such a chair—Justice Goddard is a judge and has a background in inquiring into child abuse, human rights and police complaints. Will the Home Secretary consult the chair—if the appointment is cleared—about how we can strengthen the powers, sanctions and directions issued by the Independent Police Complaints Commission? It is not good enough that our police and the directorate of professional standards can blatantly disregard the IPCC’s rulings and recommendations, and for our police to consider themselves a law unto themselves.
The Government have made a number of changes to the IPCC which mean that fewer investigations of a serious nature will be carried out by the police. Serious and sensitive complaints against the police will be dealt with by the IPCC, and we are looking more generally at the complaints system and disciplinary system within the police. The hon. Lady raises an important point, and I am certainly willing to refer it to the chair of the inquiry for consideration.
I thank the Secretary of State for confirming that the Hart inquiry will take place in Northern Ireland. Will that inquiry have the power to request those living on the UK mainland to attend it? If it is discovered that those involved in the inquiries have been in both Belfast and London, will evidence be exchanged between those inquiries?
It is certainly the intention to establish protocols between the inquiries so that evidence can be exchanged between them where appropriate, and evidence held on the mainland that is relevant to the Hart inquiry should be made available to that inquiry. The hon. Gentleman asked a specific point about the powers of the Hart inquiry in relation to individuals resident on the mainland, and if I may I will check the answer and write to him to ensure that I give him an accurate reply.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and her commitment to getting this right, particularly in committing to support for survivors. She is right to identify the emotional toll that the inquiry will take. When survivors gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee they were worried that financial barriers would prevent some people from giving evidence. Can the Home Secretary reassure the House that child abuse survivors and organisations that help and support them will get the financial support they need to ensure that they are not excluded from giving evidence to the inquiry?
I can give my hon. Friend a degree of assurance about that. As I said, we are making money available to groups that support survivors who are affected by the child abuse inquiry, especially when the number of requests and calls on their time and resources have increased significantly as a result of the announcement of the inquiry. The inquiry panel and chairman will need to consider how to ensure that arrangements are in place, so that those who wish to give evidence are able to do so and do not feel that there is a barrier to that.
Will thought be given to setting up a system where there is ongoing communication between survivors and the inquiry, so that the survivors maintain their confidence in the inquiry and its processes?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. In a sense, this inquiry is like no other before it in terms of the subject matter it is dealing with, and it must obviously maintain the confidence of survivors. Information and communication will be an important issue for the inquiry panel, and I certainly intend that to be addressed by the chairman at an early stage.
I thank the Home Secretary for her obvious commitment to getting this inquiry right. People are concerned that there has not been enough co-ordination between the different police investigations around the country—that comes up time and again. In her statement she mentioned Simon Bailey’s work in charge of Operation Hydrant. As she said, his job is to follow up any lead that the inquiry uncovers, and to be responsible for recording all referrals from the inquiry that relate to criminal abuse. Will she reassure the House that Simon Bailey’s job will involve ensuring proper co-ordination between those inquiries, and that there is not just a liaison with the inquiry but between the various police outfits that are already up and running?
I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. At an earlier stage, Chief Constable Simon Bailey raised with me his concern to ensure that investigations are properly joined up between police forces, and that information that might be helpful to an investigation in one force is not held by another force and not passed on. Part of his work in Operation Hydrant will be to co-ordinate all child sexual abuse investigations that concern people of public prominence or institutional settings, and he will also consider the responses from police forces to the inquiry to ensure that they are of suitable quality.
I welcome the statement and hope it represents a fresh start for victims, whose confidence has been badly shaken in recent months. In particular, I welcome the reassurances given on the Official Secrets Act and the Secretary of State’s letter confirming that those reassurances will also apply to people giving evidence to the Hart inquiry. She is aware of my concerns about Kincora and the allegations that MI5 was involved in a cover-up. When she says she will discuss the inquiry’s jurisdictional limits with the new chairman, can she assure us that she will do so with an open mind? Can she also assure us that those who wish to give evidence who are covered by the Official Secrets Act and require documentation to support their evidence will, along with the inquiry itself, have access to that documentation?
There are arrangements in place to enable former Crown servants to give evidence to such inquiries, notwithstanding the Official Secrets Act. I have been clear with the House about my own view regarding the geographical extent, but of course the chairman will look at this with a fresh mind, so the matter will be discussed with her. I should point out, however, that the Hart inquiry is up and running and that the powers and jurisdictions of the two inquiries—in terms of lessons learned and recommendations—are different.
I welcome the statement and action taken by the Home Secretary. I am sure that the whole House will acknowledge that few crimes are as repugnant as sexual abuse. However, just as we have a responsibility towards victims, so we have a responsibility towards those accused of involvement. Since the process began, there have been two unfounded claims against people, and I have a constituent whose life has been personally and financially ruined because of an unfounded accusation. Will we ensure not only that the guilty are brought to justice but that innocent people named in the inquiry do not experience the same problems as many of the survivors?
It is important that when allegations are made about individuals, they are properly investigated and clarified; that where appropriate, charges and prosecutions are brought; and that it is made clear where individuals named are found not guilty. I absolutely accept my hon. Friend’s point that great care must be taken in dealing with allegations, and we are at pains to put in place appropriate processes, in relation to the inquiry and the police, to ensure that proper investigations take place.
I hope that this proves a fresh start and leads to a satisfactory outcome. What restrictions, if any, will be applied to members of the now dissolved panel talking about their experiences or sharing information obtained through being panel members?
The panel members were subject to a confidentiality agreement when they signed up. I am conscious that in the listening events they held, some people will have given very personal information and, as was pointed out, some of them might not wish that information to go forward to the new inquiry—which is what I have asked the panel to do for the report. We will work with survivors and others to ensure that if anybody has those concerns, their information will not go forward to the new panel.
The secrecy that surrounds child sexual abuse makes it particularly difficult to investigate and prosecute. Does the Home Secretary agree that members of the public could have an important role to play—not just those with personal or direct involvement, but those who might have information—and that such people should come forward to say what they have seen or what they know, to add to the body of evidence and enable this investigation to succeed?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We tend to talk about survivors coming forward to give evidence, but there might be people who are aware of things that took place who are not themselves survivors but who might have seen things happening, perhaps in a children’s home or some other setting. I would encourage all such people to come forward to give evidence, because it will be valuable to the inquiry.
I commend the Home Secretary for taking up the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) some months ago of looking to the Commonwealth for an unquestionably independent chair. In particular, I commend the Home Secretary for the close co-ordination she has outlined between the inquiry and Operation Hydrant.
It has been a difficult journey since the Home Secretary first agreed to hold this inquiry. What lessons has she learned for the benefit of other Ministers needing to commission an inquiry?
I have learned the importance of listening to survivors. In the past, these sorts of inquiries often involved authorities doing something to people—if you like—and making the decisions. With this inquiry, we are seeing the importance of victims and survivors being part of the process. It is important that their voices be heard by, and can input into, the inquiry. It should not just be authorities deciding what happens; those with experience of the issue should be taken along and given a voice, so that their feelings and expertise can be considered.
I have said to the House before that I took the decision to set up the inquiry in the way I did last July because of the very good experience of the Hillsborough panel inquiry, which had done an excellent job and came forward with a hard-hitting report, leading to further action and now inquests into the events at Hillsborough. It was a good model that those involved felt had allowed all the evidence to be taken and appropriate recommendations to be made. In the light of all the discussions and concerns, however, people have said that the inquiry should have statutory powers, and so I took this decision. I could have stood here and carried on with the previous panel inquiry, but I was willing to say, “No, it was wrong to do it that way. I am willing to start again.” That was the right thing to do. I hope all Members agree.
I thank the Home Secretary for coming to the House. She has shown us the great courtesy of keeping the House regularly informed on this matter. The difference between an average Minister and a great Minister is that when a great Minister gets something wrong, they correct their mistake, and that is what she has done.
What will happen if a witness is compelled to give evidence but tries to use the defence that they cannot disclose the information because it would break the Official Secrets Act? What is the situation then?
There are arrangements in place for authorities to enable people to give evidence, notwithstanding that it would break the Official Secrets Act. This issue is regularly raised, however, and I will ensure that the strongest possible arrangements are in place to ensure it can happen.
I welcome the statement and the foundations the Home Secretary has laid for the review. One local issue in north Yorkshire concerns the number of responsible bodies. I have spoken to victims, and they have a problem with the lack of co-ordination and the lack of training of the people dealing with the issue. In looking at funding and money, will she consider what help she can give to local organisations to work better and closer and in a more co-ordinated manner on child abuse and child exploitation?
My hon. Friend raises another important issue about how we deal with incidents currently taking place. I have been considering this matter along with a number of my right hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. We have focused particularly on looking at what we can do in response to the Alexis Jay report on Rotherham, and my right hon. Friend is of course about to make his own statement on the Louise Casey inspection. The Government will come forward with a number of proposals that will hit at the very issues my hon. Friend has raised. He is right that we need to look at issues around training and co-ordination in respect of bodies looking at incidents, or potential incidents, of child sexual abuse today.
I am very clear that this inquiry should go where the evidence takes it and that there should be no hiding place for anybody. We should be very clear that the aim of this inquiry is to get to the truth—to find out what happened, but crucially also to learn the lessons to make sure that this cannot happen again.