Today’s House of Commons debates – Thursday 27 November 2014 
Historical Child Sex Abuse
[Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming: follow-up, HC 203; Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 21 October and 11 November 2014, on historic child abuse, HC 710; Written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, on historic child abuse, reported to the House on 21 October, 28 October and 11 November 2014, HC 710; Third Report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2014-15, on Child sexual exploitation in Rotherham: some issues for local government, HC 648.]
Before we move on to the next debate, let me say to the House that this is an important debate dealing with matters that have horrified Members in all parts of the House and people across the country. No doubt Members will wish to express those concerns in strong terms, but I must remind the House of two points. First, Members need to avoid reference to cases that are active before the courts. The sub judice resolution agreed by the House is designed to ensure that what is said in the House does not prejudice fair trials and, where merited, successful prosecutions. It is important that we respect that. In cases of doubt about the status of a case, I would advise Members to err on the side of caution.
Secondly, even if the matters are not active before the courts, I would caution Members to think carefully about the impact of their words before making critical references to individuals. Freedom of speech is essential for the work of this House and to allow us to represent our constituents without fear of outside interference, but it is an obligation on all Members to exercise that privilege responsibly. I am sure that all Members taking part are fully aware of those two points, but I think that as we start this very important debate, we do well to remind ourselves of its context.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered progress of the historic child sex abuse inquiry.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving the subject of the historical child abuse inquiry so much prominence and time.
I would like to celebrate the campaign of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, which has, first, given a voice to the voiceless; secondly, stimulated the media to act; thirdly, engaged many hon. Members in this place; fourthly, shone a light on a dirty secret and made child abuse more unacceptable than ever before; and fifthly, and probably most importantly, is now resulting in many perpetrators being arrested and dead perpetrators rightly being shamed.
I think we can all agree that this subject is both diverse and full of detail, and it would not be difficult to speak for quite a long time. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me, because although I do not usually take up too much time in this place, on this occasion I would like some time to develop some important points. First and not least, I want to set out how we have got to where we are today; secondly, I want to talk about—
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman, who is quite right about the time he usually takes, that the normal expectation for opening speeches in all Back-Bench debates is 15 to 20 minutes. That is a much longer than he usually speaks for, so I am sure he will be able to put his points very eloquently within that time.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Let me start with William’s story. I have changed his name to protect his identity. He is in his late 50s and his wife does not know that he was abused. He believes it would ruin his relationship if she found out. You could not wish to meet a more polite, intelligent and endearing gentleman. He does not look like a gentleman: he has tattoos, his face and skin are weathered, and he is quite dishevelled. William came to see me four months ago to tell me what had happened to him as a child. In 1970, he had been placed in Knowl View residential school in Rochdale, a place for youngsters with behavioural problems. The initial ethos was caring and supportive: the hitting of children was frowned upon and children were to be listened to.
As William pointed out to me, that ethos did not last very long. Within weeks of him arriving, he was being abused, both by teachers and by fellow pupils. Physical and sexual abuse was meted out on a daily basis. From the age of 13, he was bullied and abused, both physically and sexually. Sobbing, he explained to me how he was pleased when a younger boy who was more attractive was placed in the school, because that child became the focus of attention. One day, Cyril Smith tried it on with him, but one of the good teachers saved him. Obviously, at the time, William did not know that Smith was part of a paedophile network operating at the school. It was just one of the networks to which Smith would belong in his long paedophilic career.
William eventually escaped by running away and he has spent the rest of his life working on fairgrounds, an articulate, smart lad whose life chances were limited by his abusers. Needless to say, he is sad and wants justice. Only time will tell whether Greater Manchester Police will deliver that for him.
Let me turn to John, who came to my office a few months ago. He suffered a similar fate at Knowl View school. He attacked one of his abusers and ended up going to prison. Years later, he sat in my office seeking help to find accommodation because he was homeless. Abuse had destroyed John’s life.
It is for those people—William and John—that we are here today. They are the survivors. As children, they suffered horrendous abuse. Now, as adults, they are determined to share their stories and bring the abusers to justice.
That desire to get to the truth about child abuse, however, has not been universally shared. We now know that from at least the 1970s up to the present day, there have been not only people in positions of power who have sexually abused children, but powerful people willing to cover up that abuse and obstruct justice. People were more concerned about their own careers and protecting the system than they were about the lives that were being shattered. From the systematic abuse by Jimmy Savile, which has been well documented, to the continual abuse committed by Cyril Smith, which Matt Baker and I have detailed, it is clear that there was a culture of acceptance of child sex abuse by the powerful and well-connected.
Amazingly, that attitude seems to have been well known at the time. Indeed, I was recently shown an episode of “Spitting Image” that was produced and aired in June 1987. The sketch mocks Conservative youth unemployment policy by joking that the Government had been very good at
“getting to grips with youngsters”
through their “rent boy scheme” The joke was on the Conservative policy, but it was also on the boys who were raped and abused by politicians.
In addition, we have seen the shocking spectacle of a former Whip, Tim Fortescue, openly telling the BBC that the Whips in the 1970s would help MPs to cover up scandals, including incidents with small boys. It seems that the culture of child abuse around politics was an open secret, yet nothing was done and children continued to be abused.
This problem was not confined just to politics and broadcasters. There are many instances, which I and others have documented, of the police ignoring child sex abuse. Let us not forget that this is the agency charged with keeping children safe, yet there was systematic ignorance by the police of the abuse that was going on.
During my own investigation, Cyril Smith was found to be the subject of multiple police investigations, all of which were dropped. There are many examples of retired police officers offering powerful testimony to me and my staff about past investigations of child abuse. They were shut down once it was apparent that high-profile politicians and other establishment figures were involved. They include Operation Circus, which focused on what was known as the Piccadilly Circus “meat rack”, where men would pick up adolescent boys for sex. Cyril Smith was among the powerful politicians spotted here taking boys back to a flat in north London. Questions must be asked about why those investigations did not continue.
Last Sunday, events took an even more sinister turn and there were allegations that sexually abused children had been murdered and that they involved people with a connection to this House. As shocking as those claims are, I am wholly convinced that we should take them seriously. When responding to the Wanless and Whittam review of missing files at the Home Office, the Prime Minister described those who believed in child abuse cover-ups as “conspiracy theorists”. My view is that those comments were extremely insensitive and I think he will regret them in the months and years ahead. I have to admit that some of the claims that sometimes surround child abuse in that period can seem extreme, but from what I have seen and heard it is not hard to conclude that there was a paedophile network at Westminster during that period. The network organised child abuse and conspired to protect each of its members from exposure. Cyril Smith was certainly a part of it.
Earlier this year, I told the Home Affairs Committee that a dossier containing allegations about child abuse by politicians had been handed by Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens to the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan. That revelation helped lead to the Wanless and Whittam review and to the establishment of the overarching inquiry, but not everybody was pleased with the idea that I might challenge Lord Brittan. The night before my appearance before the Committee, I had an encounter with the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier). After the 10 pm vote, he drew me to one side outside the Chamber and warned me to think very carefully about what I was going to say the following day. He told me that challenging Lord Brittan on child abuse would not be a wise move and that I might even be responsible for his death, as he was unwell.
I understand that people are cautious about naming parliamentarians, but I think that people who might know about child abuse allegations should answer questions, whatever their position. We should not shy away from that.
I move on to the inquiry itself. It is fair to say that we are in a bit of a mess. First of all, I want to make it clear that I do not necessarily blame the Government or, indeed, the Home Office, but it is clear that mistakes have been made. What the Home Office permanent secretary told the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday is quite revealing. He said that the Home Office had not appreciated the emotional nature of the inquiry when setting it up and appointing the chair. I was pleased to hear the permanent secretary say that this is now one of the top three priorities for the Home Office.
I do not want to dwell too long on false starts and the progress that still needs to be made. Too much time has been lost already. On the chair, however, I understand that the Home Office is now considering 100 names. Clearly, the process will not be quick and I do not think it should be rushed, but we need to get the right person in place. To do that, it is clear that we need more scrutiny and transparency of the appointment process. I am still confused and disturbed by the role of the Home Office in drafting the letter from Fiona Woolf to the Home Secretary. On the new chairperson, it is important for the Home Office not to have any involvement in any letter to or agreement with the Home Secretary—it should stay well out of it.
It is now clear that we cannot have another chair with significant links to people who might be investigated in the course of this inquiry. I am pleased that the permanent secretary has said that they are looking “further afield” and considering people from outside a narrow Westminster circle.
The other thing that is clear is that there needs to be a much greater role for survivors. I started my speech with two stories about survivors, to remind the House that this inquiry should always be focused on them. I am sure that meeting groups and representatives will redouble the Home Secretary’s efforts to make sure that the inquiry gets to the truth. It is not enough, however, simply to meet survivors—the Home Office needs to listen to them, too. For example, I understand that at a recent meeting with the Home Secretary, there was a vote on whether the inquiry should be a statutory one. I am given to understand that the vote was unanimously in favour. May I ask the Minister whether these views are really being taken on board?
On the question of having a statutory inquiry, I take it that the hon. Gentleman means an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. We had considerable experience of trying to get such an inquiry on Mid Staffordshire: I had to campaign almost unimaginably hard to get one under the 2005 Act. The reason for having one is simply that evidence can be given on oath and there can be a proper inquiry; anything less would simply not be adequate. Indeed, the Attorney-General will need in some way to be brought in to ensure that the very important people who might be involved in all the investigations are aware that the inquiry is being undertaken at that level.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his valuable intervention, which should inform the inquiry and its work.
I know that the new chair of the inquiry, when eventually appointed, will have some scope to alter the terms of reference. It is especially important to concentrate on the geographical scope. If I have learned one thing from studying child abuse networks, it is that there are lots of connections that are difficult to spot or to understand. I am worried that drawing arbitrary boundaries that stop us from looking at Scotland and Northern Ireland might prevent some connections from being made and some lessons from being learned. In Northern Ireland, I am particularly thinking of Kincora boys’ home and the alleged involvement of the security services. I want the new chair to consider the geography of the terms of reference.
One of my concerns is that I am confused about the relationship between the new inquiry that my hon. Friend is speaking about and the inquiries currently under way, such as the Macur review of the Waterhouse inquiry. Can my hon. Friend enlighten me about that relationship?
The short answer is no, because the terms of reference are very brief and not very detailed. We need to be given more of an understanding about that relationship. The idea is for the inquiry to bring all such investigations together, but we still need to be told how that will work in practice.
On the issue raised by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), surely the point is that we are talking about an overarching inquiry—it is not a prosecution, or an investigation into criminal activities to bring somebody to justice now—whereas the other inquiries, reviews and investigations that are going on might just deliver that, but will do so in parallel to this inquiry. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which has shone some light on the questions that need to be answered.
For every person who commits child abuse, very many people are complicit in that abuse or know information that could help, and it is absolutely vital that those people—they could be civil servants, cab drivers or even neighbours—come forward. More significantly, a large number of police officers, both retired and serving, have information to give. We simply need to get the full picture, and to get those people to speak at the inquiry. The Home Secretary must ensure that there is a full amnesty for any officer, so that they are not worried about the Official Secrets Act or their pensions.
We must make sure that we create the best possible conditions in which survivors can come forward and speak to the inquiry. I know how hard that will be for many of them. I have spoken to many survivors who have been silent for decades, and they are struggling to come to terms with what happened to them. That can be a hugely painful and traumatic experience. We need to provide full support and access to therapies that might be required by those people. We have failed them once, and we must not do so again.
I apologise for not being in the Chamber for the start of the hon. Gentleman’s speech.
On the issue of support, what is the hon. Gentleman’s view of the financial implications of what he is saying? It seems to me that there is a need for money to support counselling services across this whole area. Will he say what money might be needed for the survivors in relation to the inquiry?
I have made no calculation of what the cost might be of therapies or support for the survivors, but it is minuscule in comparison with the damage done to them. I have no doubt that the Home Office will consider the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.
Another group of people should come forward to the inquiry—the perpetrators of child abuse. To those people, I would say: “I urge you to think about the people you have abused, and to think about your victims. Damaged as children, they continue to suffer now, well into their adult lives. You have inflicted untold misery on them and their families. In many cases, what you did has made it impossible for them to live normal lives. Now they must suffer again by coming forward and speaking about what you did to them. They will have tried desperately to bury the memories of abuse, but they will now have to drag them back into the light. They will have to relive that trauma. But you can spare them some of that suffering. You can come forward and admit you guilt. If you admit what you have done, some of that pain can be saved, and some people can begin to rebuild their lives. So I say again: as a perpetrator of these crimes, you must come forward to the inquiry and take responsibility for what you have done. You can never undo the wrong, but you can at least prevent further agony.”
So far, my speech has focused on the historical aspects of child abuse, but the grim reality is that child abuse is a fact of life for hundreds of children in modern Britain. In places such as Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford and Telford, children are still being abused. This is not a thing of the past; this is happening to our children in our towns now.
We know from the Jay report on Rotherham that there were more than 1,400 victims over a six-year period in just one town. The Communities and Local Government Committee, on which I sit, conducted an inquiry into Rotherham, and our findings were worrying. The same failures and bad practices that allowed children to be abused in Rotherham are common across local government areas. Rotherham is simply the tip of the iceberg. We are yet to discover the true horrific extent of child abuse in this country. When it is revealed, nobody will be in any doubt that this is one of the most appalling crimes of our times.
In these circumstances, it is vital that the police get to grips with the issue and that resources are made available to solve abuse cases and catch the abusers. I am not convinced that that is happening. I have spoken to serving Met police officers, and they have described in graphic detail abuse crimes that are being committed, but are being ignored. I have the same concerns with regard to Greater Manchester police, my local force.
Victims have been ignored by the police because they were poor, white, working-class kids. Police and social workers have insulted them and left them to be abused. The survivors—often as young as 11—were accused of making lifestyle choices. The attitude in one agency was so warped that when an abuser got a young victim pregnant for the second time, the social worker insisted that the rapist, who was married with a family of his own, should attend the antenatal classes. I am still struggling to believe that such a culture could exist in our public services. As a result of that culture, the police failed to arrest rapists, who moved on to new victims year in, year out, and the perpetrators’ confidence was bolstered so that they thought they were untouchable.
My own town of Rochdale has also suffered from this crime. Not only did Cyril Smith and others abuse children in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but we had the Rochdale grooming scandal just a few years ago. It does not stop there. Yesterday, eight men were arrested across Rochdale, Oldham and Manchester, accused of grooming three children—one was 15, and two were just 13—in our town. I am glad that the police are acting and making arrests, but it is shocking that after all the town has been through, people are still out there trying to sexually abuse children on our streets. In this case, the abuse is alleged to have occurred between September and October this year, so the accusation is that at the very time we were all learning about the horrendous abuse in Rotherham, these men were still brazenly continuing their abuse. It is just sickening.
Before I bring my remarks to a close, I want to reflect for a moment on the consequences of child abuse. It is a difficult and distressing subject. I know that it is all too easy to turn away from the distasteful headlines and harrowing stories, and to think that it is something that will never touch us. We think that this kind of abuse could never happen in our town or to anyone we know, but it affects all of us. Child abuse ruins lives, strips people of their dignity and is creating a growing underclass of people who have been abused.
We must think about the consequences of child rape: it sets people back in school and damages their life chances; it pushes people to the margins of society, where they often end up involved in crime and drugs, putting pressure on the police and other agencies; and it leaves people with terrible physical problems, often preventing them from having children of their own. It is a crime that stores up all sorts of problems that are felt across society. Like all violent, senseless crimes, its consequences are felt long after the crime is committed. The psychological damage that it causes to survivors is impossible to overestimate.
With that in mind, and considering the hurdles that we must cross to get the inquiry moving, I am hopeful that the whole House will unite and renew its efforts to bring justice to the victims of child abuse. The survivors are crying out to be heard. It is time we started listening.
I am delighted that we are having this debate. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) for helping to bring it about. He was one of the gang of seven who went to see the Home Secretary initially to impress upon her the need to have an overarching inquiry, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), who are in the Chamber today.
This is a hugely important subject. As the hon. Member for Rochdale said, the permanent secretary at the Home Office agreed at the Home Affairs Committee this week that it is one of the top three priorities of the Home Office. All of us in this Chamber and our colleagues beyond have constituents who have been the victims and who are the survivors of child sexual abuse that goes back many years. People from my patch have certainly contacted me. Those of us who were at the vanguard of the call for the inquiry have received many harrowing tales from survivors up and down the country.
It is useful briefly to remind ourselves of why the inquiry is so essential. Over the past two and a quarter years, since that extraordinary ITV programme in October 2012 that started to unpeel the horrific, systematic, serial child abuse by one Jimmy Savile, the whole situation has changed and the floodgates have opened. A string of celebrities followed on from Jimmy Savile, including Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris. Investigations have been renewed, reviewed and re-uncovered with Operation Pallial on care homes, Operation Fairbank and Operation Fernbridge. There have been inquiries involving schools, such as Operation Flamborough, which is investigating alleged assaults on girls with learning difficulties at a Hampshire boarding school, and the investigations into Fort Augustus Abbey school, Carlkemp school, Kesgrave Hall school and Chetham’s school of music, where there were a series of abuses by music tutors who had the opportunity, when teaching on a one-to-one basis, to take advantage of vulnerable children.
Of course, there was the tragic suicide of Frances Andrade when all that was uncovered. We have heard about the historical abuse in our religious institutions. There have been criminal investigations into the Catholic Church, including in my diocese of Chichester, where people have ended up in jail and where other investigations are ongoing. There has been Operation Retriever and the more recent child sexual exploitation by Asian gangs and others in Rochdale and Rotherham. We have had Operation Bullfinch and Operation Chalice. It goes on and on.
We must remember that this matter has more recently, not least through the hard work of the hon. Member for Rochdale, started knocking on the door of politics and Westminster. We must not be afraid of that.
My hon. Friend might be coming to this point, but does he agree that it is vital that we leave no stone unturned in getting to the bottom of what has happened in this place? It has to be an absolute priority for the inquiry to find out what has happened and, potentially, what is happening in the corridors of power.
That is entirely the point that the hon. Member for Rochdale made. It is not in the interests of any one of us who is in politics or in Parliament to stand by while suspicions and allegations of child sexual abuse involving politicians, dead or alive, are ignored. We need to root out this cancer. A child sexual abuser who happens to have been a politician is no less of a vile criminal than Jimmy Savile, a rogue priest or any other subject of the overarching inquiry. Those who think that we would want to cover up the involvement of other politicians in this abuse need to understand that this cancer tarnishes all of us and needs to be cut out. We have more incentive than many to ensure that we leave no stone unturned, however uncomfortable the findings may be.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) for their persistence in this matter. It is a remarkable example of how results can come from determination. He might be interested to know that it was Jim Callaghan who, as Prime Minister, insisted that the Protection of Children Bill reached its Report stage, against the background of considerable covert opposition. I was involved in that Bill in 1977 on behalf of the former Member of Parliament, the late Cyril Townsend. Jim Callaghan told me that his wife had said that if he did not get the Bill through as Prime Minister, she would not speak to him for six months.
My hon. Friend makes a good point and one that I have heard him make before. He is a veteran of taking an interest in this issue and ensuring that a spotlight is placed on these horrendous crimes. That was more difficult back in the ’70s and ’80s, when there was what I call the “Oh, it’s only Jimmy” mentality. What we now recognise as vile crimes against vulnerable children were swept under the carpet. It was assumed that that was just what went on and people did not want to rock the boat, for all sorts of reasons. It was harder for people to stand up and point the finger in the ’70s and ’80s than it is now. We should pay tribute to those people who, under whatever duress, brought such matters into the open.
It would have been better and easier if the overarching inquiry had started two years ago. Some of us wrote to the Prime Minister soon after the Savile revelations broke to say, “This is going to be really important. This is going to lead to a serious undermining of confidence in the child protection system in this country, and all sorts of allegations about cover-ups will start to come out.” The floodgates had been opened. The only compensation of the Savile case is that it raised the profile of child sexual abuse and emboldened victims to come forward who for years and decades had been told to go away and forget about it, and had been treated almost as the perpetrators, as the hon. Member for Rochdale said, rather than the victims that they were or the survivors that they are. If the inquiry had got under way before the floodgates opened, I think there would be more trust that the Government and politicians were taking a lead and wanted to uncover it all, but alas that did not happen.
I pay tribute to the Home Secretary who stuck her head above the parapet and agreed to hold the overarching inquiry that we called for in July, appreciating—almost uniquely—just how important and necessary it was. No less than any of the gang of seven and the rest of us who are interested in this issue, she wants to get to the truth and leave no stone unturned. She wants justice to be done for the survivors and to ensure a child protection system that is fit for purpose in 2014.
However, there has been an unfortunate train of events. Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf were both excellent candidates to chair such a high-profile inquiry, but circumstances conspired for them to lose credibility in the eyes of survivors. In many respects, one could not win. Elizabeth Butler-Sloss has huge experience in child abuse inquiries and the family courts. She had a connection with a Government Minister—her brother—back in the 1980s, and decided that that would overshadow the great experience that she could have brought to the inquiry. I think that was unfortunate. Fiona Woolf had no connections with the family courts and seemed to have no baggage or agenda, but, alas, she too was not able to carry the inquiry forward. We should not see that as a deliberate intention to try to undermine or rig the inquiry; they were two, honourable heavyweight candidates, but unfortunately, because of the delicacy and sensitivity of this issue, they were not able to continue.
It is vital to get on with the inquiry and, as the Home Secretary announced, in the absence of a chair the panel must get the work under way. We heard from the permanent secretary at the Home Office that a new candidate is unlikely to come forward until the new year, and the Home Affairs Committee, on which I serve, will be asked to give them a confirmatory hearing. That person—or perhaps persons, as we may need dual chairs—must be allowed to get on with the job. If they cannot, the inquiry will never happen, and we must hold this inquiry.
This overarching inquiry is important for three reasons. First, we must put into historical context exactly how such things were allowed to happen, and learn when things changed and improved. Children are much safer in 2014 than they were in 1964, ’74 or ’84. Did the advent of the Children Act 1989 or the shocking high-profile revelations about the north Wales care homes in the 1990s make society take child abuse more seriously? We must put into context all those different things, which are confusing people with almost weekly revelations of new historical child sex abuse inquiries.
Secondly, the inquiry is necessary to give the survivors a voice at last, ensure that they are listened to, and discover whether the perpetrators are still out there—we know that abuse is still going on, hopefully in a lesser form than it was previously. After decades of not being listened to, people still feel raw. I have met many survivors, and the Home Affairs Committee held a private meeting with survivors who are palpably still traumatised by experiences many decades ago. Survivors must be listened to and feel that they are being listened to, and they must be able to achieve some sort of closure at long last.
The third reason the inquiry must get on with its work is that we must consider whether all major institutions in this country that have significant dealings with children and young people have instituted child protection policies and practices that are fit for purpose in 2014 to deal with modern-day perpetrators of abuse. Rotherham was the tip of the iceberg; there will be more Rotherhams I am afraid, and unless we have assurances and can restore confidence in the public that child protection systems in this country are fit for purpose, people will continue to be worried on behalf of their own children and friends. The inquiry will be vast. Its nature means that it will have to go anywhere and everywhere it needs to go, and it may take many years. That is the nature of the beast that we are dealing with, and it is a beast indeed.
May I add a fourth reason? There is now confidence among many victims who want to come out and talk about their experiences but not to the inquiry—they have gone to the police. The Met police, particularly the Sapphire unit, is working closely with victims who would not have come forward if it were not for this inquiry.
That is right. We must recognise the enormous pressure that the police services are under to look into historical cases of abuse. Many victims, quite rightly, have bravely been emboldened to come forward, having sat on the issue and been repulsed over many years. I realise that a huge amount of distrust and scepticism from survivors surrounds the inquiry, and I agree with the hon. Member for Rochdale that it is not helpful simply to write them off as conspiracy theories. During my time as children’s Minister, and subsequently, I met many survivors. They are very raw and there are great sensitivities. It is also difficult to determine who speaks for what is inevitably a disparate group. Some say they would like a judge to head the inquiry. Some say that a judge is the last person they would want. Some say they would prefer to wait a further two, three or six years to get the inquiry right before we start it. Others say we need it now because we need closure now. We must also not forget that there are current victims who need to be helped by the implications of an overarching inquiry.
There are conspiracy theories coming from a very different direction. I received a letter—I should think other hon. Members received it as well:
“I am not one of your constituents. Until last Friday I was only very dimly aware of your existence as an MP, but last Friday evening you appeared on ‘The World Tonight’ and ‘Newsnight’ to discuss the resignation of Fiona Woolf. In both programmes, you repeated allegations about the late Jimmy Savile which you appear not to have verified or investigated in any way.”
There are people standing up for Jimmy Savile, saying that he has been misrepresented in some way. There are extraordinary theories going around, which is why we need an inquiry to get to the truth.
In conclusion, what action should be taken going forward? The whole inquiry could have been handled better. The survivors should have been consulted earlier, before the processes and structures were set up, but we are where we are and we need to move forward and get the inquiry going.
First, we need to get on with appointing a chair, or possibly dual chairs. There will be circumstances where certain people being investigated as part of the overarching inquiry will be known to a chair. It is impossible, frankly, to get somebody with the calibre to chair such an inquiry who has no knowledge of all sorts of people who may have been on the periphery. If that does happen, perhaps they could step aside temporarily and an alternative chair could come in for the part of the investigation which involved somebody with whom they may have had a connection. We must remember, however, that these are not trials of criminals now. This is an overarching inquiry and it is for other police investigations to nail down perpetrators and bring charges.
Secondly, I have got to the stage where I believe the inquiry needs to be chaired by a judge, or judges. Many judges have turned down the invitation, which is not surprising. It is a poisoned chalice. We may have to go overseas to find somebody who does not have connections and baggage. It will perhaps be difficult to find somebody with the knowledge of the way the systems have worked in this country to lead the inquiry, but this is not the Oscar Pistorius trial. This is not a one man or one woman show; it is a panel of experts which includes, at the behest of many of us who went to see the Home Secretary, the survivors. The survivors should be represented at the heart of the panel to ensure that their perspective is included.
Thirdly, it is possible that the inquiry will have to become statutory. The Home Secretary has, perfectly reasonably, cited the Hillsborough inquiry as a very good example of an inquiry where everybody—bar one, I think—came forward with the information required of them. She has promised full co-operation from all Government agencies and Departments including, I would hope, the intelligence services, but we have got to the stage where the inquiry may need to be put on a statutory basis.
The Hillsborough inquiry was about a dreadful event. This is much more widespread: it goes deeper and involves criminal issues. I entirely agree with the direction my hon. Friend is taking. I am absolutely certain, from all my experience as shadow Attorney-General and in my previous incarnation as a lawyer in these fields, that it is absolutely essential not only to have an Inquiries Act 2005 inquiry but to have it led by a judge who can evaluate all the circumstances.
I feared my hon. Friend was about to say that Hillsborough was a terrible inquiry. No, it was a good inquiry about a terrible event and I think he is probably right. This is a huge, many-headed hydra that will go into many Departments and include documents and information from the intelligence services and others.
Fourthly, we must recognise that we have a good panel of experts. Questions have been asked about the way certain members of the panel were appointed. That was up to the Home Secretary, with advice from her officials. The gang of seven and others were invited to make any suggestions helpfully. I made some suggestions. Some of the people I suggested had been recommended by other institutions. Some of the people I suggested have not made it on to the panel. Some people think that, because they have been suggested by MPs, they must therefore be tainted. Please recognise that we have a good panel of experts from a wide variety of disciplines who bring great skills to the panel. To think that any one of them, let alone the eventual chair or chairs, could in any way, in such a high-profile inquiry with such a spotlight shining on them, sweep something under the carpet or try to divert the inquiry’s deliberations is just not realistic.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the panel members, but it would have been better had survivors, representatives and groups at least been consulted on the members before they were announced. That they were not has caused undue suspicion among some survivors. I am sure he thinks it would have been a better way of putting the panel together.
I actually said that just now. It should have been handled better, but we are where we are.
I agree with the hon. Member for Rochdale that the terms of reference, particularly for whistleblowers, need to be reviewed. We do not want people, be they police officers or others, not coming forward to help uncover the truth because of a fear of procedures. I am not a supporter of mandatory reporting, but we need a system of whistleblowing that is fit for purpose and does not get in the way of the truth in this inquiry.
The chair and the panel need to be completely transparent, accountable and accessible. I recommend we have a sounding board panel of survivors who are consulted not just at the beginning—it should have happened earlier—but as the inquiry progresses so they can give their input on whether the inquiry is getting under the right stones, going in the right direction and being rigorous enough. They need to be part of that process all the way through.
As I said earlier, Parliament should have no fear if the inquiry encroaches on our own sort, and it does not help any party or politician to be party to a cover-up. We need to ensure, and all the survivors need to trust, that we have a shared agenda and aim to which many of us are wedded: to root out criminals; to uncover the truth, however unpalatable; to give survivors a voice; and to ensure that the system in 2014 is working to keep our children and young people safe.
Survivors need help and counselling. I have met survivors who have had to set up charities to give counselling and advice to other survivors and who are doing it on a shoestring. Organisations such as the National Association for People Abused in Childhood have done excellent work but are now being overwhelmed. There is a huge demand for counselling services from survivors having to relive a trauma they thought had gone away, and there have even been suicides by former survivors since this was uncovered. We have to do more on that score.
Finally, however, there are grounds for optimism. Notwithstanding Rotherham and the fact that there will be more Rotherhams, our awareness of child exploitation is higher than ever. The child sexual exploitation action plan, which I launched as children’s Minister in November 2011, is the thing of which I am most proud from my time at the Department. It has brought about a sea change in the way we recognise, intervene on and tackle child sexual exploitation, and has brought together the police and social, education and health workers through local safeguarding children boards—they are not good enough, as the Ofsted recently showed, but we are going in the right direction—and ensured that taxi firms and hotels have a means of sharing information if gang abuse is happening on their premises or in their taxis.
Furthermore, we now have an Archbishop of Canterbury who takes this issue so seriously that he will not consecrate any new bishop until they have gone through a child sexual exploitation training course, and clergy and volunteers throughout the Church of England and—I am sure—other Churches are being brought up to speed. We have also seen changes in court procedures meaning that victims are more confident about coming to court and can give evidence in greater safety, without being intimidated by barristers, and that more perpetrators are going to jail. We owe it to the survivors and to vulnerable children and young people now to get this overarching inquiry under way; to make its investigations robust; and to ensure that its findings stick. We must do that if we are to restore confidence in the child protection system we so desperately need.
We have heard two interesting speeches, one of them particularly emotional, which is understandable. Anyone who has worked, as I have, for some considerable time in this area will have great difficulty not getting emotional about it. One needs only to hear the stories.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) appeared to start from the 1970s, so I would refer him to a period before that. A film appeared on BBC2—it is still available—called “Hunting Britain’s Paedophiles” . ?    . It was produced by a man called Bob Long, who followed the Metropolitan police paedophile unit, tracking a gang that had run its own institution of dance studios and the like since 1959. Members of that gang were finally put away earlier this century. They used manuals and induced the kids, and the number of children involved over 40 or 50 years would have been vast. However, that was the start of a real rethink, resulting in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which brought grooming into the picture. At that stage, and still to a degree, this country was ahead of anywhere else in the world on that particular aspect of dealing with this problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) was involved in that as a Minister, and many of us worked in the background. He talked about the high-profile cases. I am bothered that in concentrating on those cases, we may be missing thousands—and there will be thousands—of children elsewhere who have been abused over many years by gangs. We have got to be broad, and the advantage of dealing with the high-profile cases is that it makes it absolutely sure that it will appear in the media and in people’s minds, which has a positive effect.
Coming right back to the title of today’s debate, I find it interesting that so soon after the commencement of this historic child sex abuse inquiry, today’s debate is looking at progress. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary bravely anticipates an initial report before Christmas. In addition, the Home Office says that it does not expect a full report before the next election.
It is worth looking at the Northern Ireland Assembly, which set up a similar inquiry into child sexual abuse in Northern Ireland institutions. The population of Northern Ireland is much less than here, the number of institutions is much smaller and the terms of reference much narrower—perhaps, after recent accusations, too narrow. The inquiry commenced in January 2012. I have not followed its progress carefully but I understand that the first part, interviewing witnesses behind closed doors, will be complete by Christmas. Educated guesses are that the report for this much smaller inquiry will come out in 2016, 2017 or later.
We need to decide whether we want a speedy inquiry that comes forward with possibly predictable things that we already have and with no depth, or exactly the opposite, in which case the inquiry will go on for years. Our inquiry is much broader, potentially involving vast numbers of institutions and others. Many of these will wish to hide, and are capable of hiding, past sexual abuse. We will not catch them all; we will not get to the bottom of it all; but we might get enough from those we look at to bring about some dramatic changes to build on what has already happened.
I first became interested in legislation relating to protecting children from abuse and enabling the better prosecution of abusers, particularly child sex abusers, many years ago. My interest resulted from the shock of a day spent with the Metropolitan police paedophile unit, which would completely shake anyone, unless they had the tendencies. At that time, it was the leading unit in the country and probably still is, alongside the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. CEOP and the Met unit work in the same area of protection, but act differently: one can arrest, the other cannot.
At the time, the head of the Met unit was DCI Bob McLachlan—a very tough character. His unit was small, especially in comparison with the current Met unit, but it had a much broader geographical link, look and vista, including overseas, than one would expect for a Met unit.
Years ago, I asked Bob McLachlan how many active paedophiles he and his team thought there were in this country. He said that, in about the year 2000, he and his team had undertaken an exercise on just that subject, and had estimated that there were 230,000 active paedophiles—enough, he said, for there to be one in every street in the country. He also said that 20% of those paedophiles were women, and that half of them—that is, 10%—were women who actively took part in the abuse, sometimes of their own accord rather than being goaded. In those days it was hard to prosecute female abusers because juries would not believe that females were capable of abuse, but cases that have arisen over the last few years have proved that they are. Predominantly, they seem to act in institutions, but we should be very aware that that is not always the case. Given the huge progress of the internet and the “dark web”, there must have been a large increase in the number of paedophiles since 2000. Bob’s figure of 230,000 was a guesstimate.
My hon. Friend is making a fascinating but also very depressing speech. Does he share my concern about sentencing? A high-profile figure in my community was found in possession of 50,000 of the most extreme images imaginable. He went to jail, but came out after nine months, and received no rehabilitation of any sort. It is inconceivable that he does not now pose a threat to children in my community, and there are probably 200 or 300 people like him on my patch alone.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Law Officers in the present Government have chased many of these individuals, and they have a list. However, what we need is an inquiry—conducted by the Attorney-General rather than the Home Office—into the sentences imposed, compared with those that are available.
My hon. Friend spoke of 50,000 indecent images. Judging by many cases that I have looked into, 50,000 is a drop in the ocean. Some of these individuals have hundreds of thousands of images, which may run into the millions. What they do with them is beyond me, but they have them, and we have changed the law so that we can now have access to them. They may not be accessible because they have been encrypted, but another recent change in the law, which I initiated, means that these individuals can be sent to jail for failing to allow the encryption to be broken.
I did not ask Bob, the policeman, for a definition of “paedophile”. Perhaps I should have, because there are various definitions. For the purposes of the inquiry, it needs to be recognised that the vast majority of child abuse, and child sex abuse, happens in families—including extended families—and not in institutions. The inquiry should not forget, and we should not forget, that there is more going on outside institutions than inside them. Having said that, however, I should add that, historically as well as today, predatory paedophiles—both male and female—can and do use institutions in which they are in a position of trust as their field of operations.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend saw a Channel 4 documentary entitled “The Paedophile Hunter” earlier this week. It raised some quite concerning issues relating to how we as a country have dealt with paedophiles, and referred to academic research which suggested that we should be doing more of what is being done in Germany—helping paedophiles who want to come forward and be given counselling to do so. What conclusions has my hon. Friend reached about the validity of such work?
There was a similar programme on Channel 4 about paedophiles as neighbours. The individual in the Channel 4 programme went to Germany, but he did not need to do so. The facilities are available in this country, and have been for a considerable time. They are used in the Prison Service, for instance, and in a world-famous organisation called the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. The system works rather like Alcoholics Anonymous, and the success rate is very high. The problem with the success rate is the cherry-picking, but that does not bother me. If such organisations catch these individuals early enough and stop them, they are being proactive, and that is what we really want.
On occasion, Bob McLachlan would catch these individuals before they did anything and say, “Lad, go and get treatment. If you don’t go and get treatment, I’ll take you to court. If I catch you a second time, you’re going to court.” I have drifted a little way from what I was saying.
In debates such as today’s, Members may be tempted—we have had a bit of this—to add to the inquiry. My only addition relates to the members of the team. It does not have, as the Northern Ireland one does, a highly experienced and recently retired police officer expert in this area. No one on that team has actually looked for these people, arrested them, talked to the victims as part of the campaign and the whole programme. I hope that the Home Office will think about that.
The Northern Ireland inquiry was wise enough to take on an expert who served for many years with the Met police. He is a very recently retired Met DCI who is renowned for his success not only in catching and convicting offenders but in caring for and helping victims, introducing new systems—for example, face recognition—at the Met to find victims. The fact that his nickname in the police is Postman Pat indicates how he is able to approach both victims and offenders so successfully. I do not know how he does it. He interviews victims and they warm to him. He interviews the paedophiles and they warm to him until he reaches the point where he has to leave the room because he feels absolutely disgusted. I can say that now because he is no longer doing it.
I hope we recognise that if we have a decent report on the issue it will probably resemble the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” in volume. I also suspect that the inquiry will report in 2016 if we are lucky, 2017 possibly, but probably even later if it is to be of real value. The inquiry team has a vital role in listening to victims and unearthing currently hidden activities in institutions, as set out in the terms of reference. Merely listening to victims will enable help to be provided to them, as well as potential lines of investigation to be passed to the police. As I said earlier, people will be encouraged to go to the police of their own accord. However, we must recognise that over the past 10 to 12 years there have been huge changes in the protection of children. There have been massive changes in legislation, which I am proud to say I have had a subtle, low-profile hand in putting through. There have been massive changes in attitude and public awareness, and the number of officials, especially police, in this field has gone up enormously. CEOP has been set up, and I believe that all police forces now have paedophile units. They did not 20 years ago. The Met and Birmingham units were the only ones. The Met unit is probably more than 10 times the strength it was when I visited it on that first day of shock. In addition, the Met have their Jigsaw team throughout London, actively monitoring those on the offenders list.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) mentioned the individual who came out of prison after nine months. It is not finished for him. He will be being watched by the Jigsaw team. We can guarantee that the moment he steps out of line he will be back there.
It is probable that the inquiry will rehash lessons we have already learnt but, probably more usefully—my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) touched on this—it will show where we have the legislation and experience and we are not using it.
I am sorry to interrupt—I will make a speech shortly—but I have spoken to members of the Jigsaw team in my patch and other areas. My hon. Friend is right to say that there is monitoring afterwards, but talk to any member confidentially and they will say that they are not satisfied with the current regime. They feel that they have an impossible task because of the sheer number of people they have to monitor. There are incidents all the time relating to people who are supposed to be monitored by Jigsaw teams. A tiny number of police officers are monitoring a vast number of very dangerous people. It is not a satisfactory situation at all.
I completely agree. I have talked to some of the Jigsaw team, too. It is putting together a programme of suggestions that it will bring to the Home Office. Perhaps my hon. Friend can join me and we can use my subtle-ish methods of sliding legislative changes through, so that the Home Office will agree and we can put them through. That is why we have ten-minute rule Bills and private Members’ Bills. It is possible to put such changes through. It does make one vulnerable to accusations from the BBC—recently I put a piece of legislation through that was on the Floor of the House for just 17 minutes because everybody agreed on it, and I think everybody will on this area, too.
It is probable that the inquiry will rehash lessons already learned, but not always acted upon. The legislation that is in place has also not always been acted upon, partly because many of the non-specialist police officers do not know what is available.
I hope we will relax a little over the inquiry, and let it get on with the job. It is a big job that will take a long time, and we should leave the inquiry team alone for a while to get on with it. Having said that, I want to repeat my small inquiry to the Minister, who is half-listening on the Front Bench: that team is excellent, but it does not include a police officer or ex-police officer, and I can recommend one or two if I am asked—and I am willing to be asked.
I start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) on securing the debate, along with the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), who cannot be here today for good reason. The hon. Gentleman made a powerful case, and I would not want him to be on my case under any circumstances because he is a formidable campaigner.
I do not want to go into too many of the specifics of the abuse allegations, as that would not be appropriate for today, but I do want to emphasise the scale of the allegations. The Westminster paedophile ring, which has now become a murder investigation; Jimmy Savile; children’s homes; the Church; Rochdale; the grooming scandals in Rotherham: it goes on and on and on. There is the Elm Guest House, too, which is in my constituency, and the reason why I am here today—and it is also the reason why I became aware of these horrific events.
I also want to emphasise how important this inquiry is and why its nature, form, structure, remit and credibility matter so very much. We now know that there have been systematic cover-ups. Powerful people have done terrible things and they have been protected, and unsurprisingly many of the victims left behind are struggling today to believe that that same establishment is on their side. Frankly, it has not been for many, many years.
We need only consider the Elm Guest House in Barnes, which was run by Haroon and Carole Kasir. It was raided more than 30 years ago, back in 1982. The couple were fined and given suspended sentences for running a disorderly house, but at the time there were already questions and allegations around the abuse of young children at the house. Allegedly—we are reliably told this—12 boys gave evidence in 1982 that they had been abused, yet all these allegations simply evaporated at the time, some 30 years ago. They are only resurfacing now.
When Mrs Kasir died a few years after the house was raided, in very odd circumstances, a child protection campaigner from the National Association Of Young People In Care called for a criminal investigation into events at Elm Guest House. He said he had been told by Mrs Kasir that boys had been brought in from a local children’s home—Grafton Close, also in Richmond—for sex, and that she had photographs of establishment figures at her hotel. One of them apparently showed a former Cabinet Minister in a sauna with a naked boy. She had logbooks, names, times, dates, pictures of her customers and so on. All that evidence simply disappeared after the raids and no longer exists. That is astonishing.
The Met has since confirmed that Cyril Smith visited the place—the hon. Member for Rochdale has made this point—and at least three other men named in documents as visitors to the Elm Guest House were later convicted of multiple sexual offences against children. It is impossible to believe there wasn’t a cover up. This is not sloppiness; there has to be more to it than that.
Then this week it emerged that a former news editor of one of my local papers, the Surrey Comet, had been prevented from making inquiries into the Elm Guest House in 1984 after he was issued a D notice by the Government. It goes on and on and on.
We all know about the famous Dickens dossier, a long list of names of abusers that was handed into the then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, in 1983. That dossier, too, has vanished. The Wanless review was established to look into its whereabouts. It has been inconclusive on many levels, but it refers to a letter that Leon Brittan, then Home Secretary, wrote in reply to Mr Dickens on 20 March 1984. It states that a dossier of letters provided by Mr Dickens was passed to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and that,
“in the view of the DPP, two”
of these cases
“could form the basis for enquiries by the police and have been passed to the appropriate authorities.”
There is no evidence of those letters now. How is that even possible? How is it possible for those trails to evaporate in that way?
Things have moved on, and today the Met is investigating allegations that at least three young boys were murdered by this depraved network of VIP and MP paedophiles. Operation Midland is the name of the investigation. On the back of that, a retired magistrate, Vishambar Mehrotra, the father of eight-year-old Vishal, who disappeared in 1981 and whose body was found a year later in West Sussex, has come forward to say that at the time of his son’s disappearance he was contacted by a male prostitute who told him that his son had probably been killed by VIP paedophiles linked to Elm Guest House. He recorded that conversation and took it to the police, but nothing happened. Again, the evidence just evaporated.
Linked to that, two former Scotland Yard detectives who had investigated allegations of the murder of young boys more than 30 years ago have recently said on record that they were instructed to stop their investigations at the time. This all sounds unbelievable, but who now among us or outside this place would want to suggest that there have been no conspiracies? Who would just dismiss this stuff as fantasy? A few years ago, we probably all would have done so, but not nowadays.
When the Waterhouse inquiry, a judicial inquiry, took place, allegations were made relating to politicians and paedophile networks in north Wales. Does the hon. Gentleman not find it extraordinary that none of the information to which he is referring appears to have been considered by that inquiry?
I have only the patchiest knowledge of the case that the hon. Gentleman has just described, so I cannot really comment on it, but we could sit here for hours swapping examples of important evidence that has disappeared and of leads that have not been followed up.
When we see some of the stories that we now know to be true, it is not hard to understand why there are pockets of conspiracy. I am not convinced that there is a grand, overarching conspiracy, but there are without a doubt lots of pockets of conspiracy and cover-up, and that has been happening over the past few decades. We know, for example, that a former deputy director of MI6, Sir Peter Hayman, was a member of the Paedophile Information Exchange. That is not disputed. We know that he was investigated in 1978 for having grotesque images in his possession. We also know that absolutely nothing happened with that evidence.
Thanks to the new Operation Cayacos, we also know about the convicted paedophile, Peter Righton, whom the hon. Member for Rochdale has mentioned in many contexts. He was once regarded as a leading child protection specialist in this country, but he ran a sophisticated network of abusers. When he was raided in 1992, 25 years-worth of correspondence between him and other paedophiles was found, but again the leads just dried up. I could provide endless similar examples—I suspect that many other Members could do the same—but I hope that I have already made my point. I will not dwell on the examples any further.
This is why the inquiry is so important, and why we must bend over backwards to ensure that it is credible even to those who are most suspicious of it, particularly the survivors who have direct experience of cover-ups and are unwilling to blanket-trust the establishment and the authorities to be on their side.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Order. The hon. Gentleman has only been in the Chamber for a few minutes. The debate has been going on for some considerable time. The normal convention is that Members should be in the Chamber to hear more of the debate—rather than just a few minutes of the current speech—before they intervene. The hon. Gentleman is returning to the House and he should know the courtesies of the House well. He should not need to be reminded of them.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) is welcome to intervene on me whenever the appropriate time comes.
I want to give the House some specific information relating to the inquiry that we are talking about. I also have some questions and suggestions for the Home Secretary and for the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), who is here in her place. First, we need to know that the Home Office has instructed all Ministries and Government agencies—including the security services, the NHS, police forces, local authorities and schools—not to destroy any documents that are even remotely connected to child sex abuse. I might be wrong, but I believe that if this were a statutory inquiry, that would already have been done. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that important point.
The Home Secretary has been firm about the security services needing to hand over evidence, but she has not explained how that has or will be done. This may not even be necessary, but it is worth considering empowering the inquiry to compel the security services to hand over information in the event that that becomes necessary. The selection of the inquiry chair has been discussed, but it is crucial. I accept that whoever the chair is they will be the chair of a panel and the panel as a whole will have a role to play. I would like to understand better exactly how the chair will be selected, how MPs are going to be consulted on that and how survivors are going to be consulted. I very much hope the panel will have a role in the chair’s selection.
There are fears, some of which have been expressed today, that the police lack adequate resources to carry out the necessary investigations, particularly now that this has moved into a murder inquiry. I know that the police inquiries have already moved up quite a few notches since this inquiry was announced, and I do not think that is a coincidence. I believe that police numbers on Operation Fernbridge and associated investigations have grown from seven to 40 in the past few months, which is very good news. I hope that trend continues and that the police are given all the resources they need to get to the bottom of this, once and for all.
Historically, however, the police have been part of the story, just as MPs, celebrities and everyone else has been, and it is imperative that people coming forward have absolute confidence that they will be heard and that leads will be correctly followed up. So, following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), it must be made clear how the inquiry that will be looking at the processes—the cover-ups—will handle allegations and ensure that they are picked up properly by the appropriate police.
I have had experience in my constituency recently of working with a victim and the police were asking the victim I was trying to help for details of the conversations she had had with me. We still face a major issue with some elements in the police of interference and of a lack of understanding of the relationship between an MP and others, independent of the work that they are doing.
My hon. Friend makes the point well and puts it on the record.
I want to intervene on the intervention, because I have been in the same situation as that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), and it was part of the police process of gathering evidence. I saw it in a positive way because the lady may not have told the police what she told me and I gave a full statement which added to what they already had. I saw it positively, not negatively.
I am going to bring my remarks to a close. We have a chance now to put these appalling wrongs right. That is partially thanks to intervention by people in this House and people outside it. Survivors have played a crucial role, but so, too, did the intervention in this House by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson). That was crucial in shifting this process forward, as was the exposé of Cyril Smith by the hon. Member for Rochdale. Above all, I wish to pay tribute to the extraordinary work by the investigative journalists at Exaro, particularly David Hencke. That organisation has led the campaign on so many fronts. The mainstream press, who have been so slow to pick up on what is really happening in this scandal, have become heavily dependent, and rightly so, on Exaro. I sometimes feel that because it is online and does not have the magazine on people’s desks, it is somehow invisible to people who are not paying attention. But Exaro is crucial; David Hencke has encyclopaedic knowledge of something that I do not ever want to have encyclopaedic knowledge of, and he is an extraordinary figure.
There can no longer be any doubt that powerful people have done terrible things and that they have been protected by the establishment. We know that some of the key figures are alive today, and the measure of success for the police investigations is that those people face justice before they die. This process really needs to happen now. Justice must be done and it must be seen to be done. It is no good waiting years and years for some of these people to fade away and be punished in their absence—that is not good enough. The measure of success for this inquiry is that we and the wider public understand how these conspiracies and cover-ups have been able to happen. Only by understanding how they form will we have any hope of preventing them from forming again.
My hon. Friend has touched on the key point. The key point we have to learn, which we have been learning, using and considering in the changes to legislation, is that we must be proactive. We have to get the individuals before they get the children.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Let me end by putting it on the record that I am grateful to the current Home Secretary for having had the courage to initiate this process. She is often described as having been bullied and hectored by a bunch of MPs, but, as someone who has done a lot of lobbying on the subject in the four and a half years that I have been here, I can say that it was not difficult to get her to act. She gets the importance of the issue. I do not doubt her absolute commitment and believe that she will leave no stone unturned in getting to the bottom of the matter.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) on calling for and securing this debate. Progress has been made; we now have a panel to look at the wider issues relating to child sexual abuse. I am pleased that Ivor Frank, a barrister who has himself been in care, has been appointed to the panel. I did get Michael Mansfield to agree to chair the panel, but I have not yet managed to persuade the Home Secretary to appoint him.
It is worthwhile to look at the issues that the panel will be considering, some of which are not in the terms of reference, which should be widened to include Northern Ireland, the Crown dependencies and possibly the British overseas territories. My speech will range wider than that. I spoke on this subject on 13 November 2012; anyone interested should read column 246 of Hansard of that date. I will not repeat the speech, but I refer again to Mike Stein, who, in his excellent article in Child and Family Social Work in February 2006, explained how widespread the problem was, with a possible one in seven children in care being subject to abuse. Perhaps that bears repeating: one in seven children in care. I accept that care is not the only place in which child sexual abuse occurs, but we need to understand how large a number that is. Obviously, it explains why there are so many survivors who are upset about the cover-up.
When looking at the past, it is important that we learn lessons for the future. One lesson that we should really learn is how easy it is for things to be concealed by agents of the state. Hillsborough is relevant in that sense. It should be noted from the Rotherham report that it is only through media attention that anything happens. The checks and balances operating in the system might as well have been welded together for all the challenge that they provided. I remain concerned about the work of Verita, for example, which has been involved in previous cover-ups of errors by the state. I was shocked to see it at the centre of the Savile inquiries both in the UK and Jersey. The central control over the reports from hospitals enables any links to those people protecting him to be concealed.
Let me turn now to the word “independent”. Someone who is paid by someone else is not “independent” of the payor. We see that in the petition I presented for Shaz Hussain, which demonstrated how the local hospital can commission KPMG to write what suits the hospital management rather than the truth. The word “independent” is massively misused in the child protection system. The independent reviewing officer is just another employee of the local authority, and we can see how ineffectual that role is by looking at A and S (Children) v. Lancashire county council 2012 EWHC 1689 (Family).
England has many more problems than Scotland, although there are cases such as that of Mark and Kerry McDougall, who lived happily with their two children in Ireland, but were on the receiving end of vindictive proceedings that saw their children removed when they returned to Scotland. Sadly, they have had to return to Ireland as mum is pregnant, and we will see where that goes.
The state has many tools at its disposal. Local authorities get injunctions to stop people from complaining to legislatures, which is an appalling situation. When it comes to child sexual exploitation, there have been problems with the attitudes of those responsible for caring for children even if they do not go as far as the one in seven reported by Mike Stein.
In Birmingham, practitioners in the past have argued that children should be permitted to prostitute themselves while not being allowed to make toast for each other. Attitudes are now shifting, but it remains the case that I have reported cases and felt that my reports were not taken seriously. Someone spoke to me this year about a paedophile network operating in Birmingham in the 1990s, which included at least one senior manager in the child protection arm of social services. I reported that to the police and the local authority. I spoke again to my contact this morning who confirmed that the council had said nothing and that the police had failed to give an update, although they did speak initially.
The council has produced a report called “We Need to Get it Right” in which it states that child sexual exploitation was a “hidden issue”. I raised that in Parliament in 2007 and had expressed concern previously to the local authority. Hence, the issue was not so much hidden as ignored. I have recently raised concerns on behalf of a constituent about activities around the canal going into the city centre, but neither my constituent nor I are satisfied with the response of the authorities, which seem to want to sweep the matter under the carpet—or into the canal.
Some of the public have wondered why, if we have parliamentary privilege, we are not naming names. Speaking personally, I am always concerned that there should be evidence. Lots of things are said on the internet, but we need to remember that not everything on the internet is true. Furthermore, we also need to avoid prejudicing any formal inquiries.
What is true is that very recently, in mid-2011, a journalist from the USA, Leah McGrath Goodman, was banned from the common travel area because she told authorities she was investigating child abuse in Jersey. That included Haut de la Garenne, one place where Savile was active; this happened before he died. She could have asked him who was protecting him, but she was banned by the UK Government. Not only that, but she was obstructed in Heathrow later when the ban was reduced to a year from two years and she finally got a visa. It seems clear that there are influential individuals still using the tools of the state to hold back investigations. What is important is that there will still be an audit trail of evidence and if something is missing it will be obvious.
Jersey is an important element of the debate. It is excluded from the terms of reference, but we know that children were sent there from London to be sexually abused. There are also reasonably widespread reports of abuse cruises involving children in Jersey being visited by people from the UK.
We know that with Kincora, which is outside the terms of reference, and with Cyril Smith, the security services were involved in covering up child abuse. Sir Peter Hayman’s role is obviously key in considering that question. Robert Armstrong should have known by the end of October 1978 about Sir Peter Hayman’s involvement in Paedophile Information Exchange because he had access to all the UK’s secrets and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail. The finding of a sealed letter addressed to him in his false name at his secret London flat—a very curious sequence of events—should have been raised with Merlyn Rees and then with James Callaghan. PIE’s membership is, of course, both a threat to and an opportunity for MI5.
What is interesting about the Wanless report is that the Home Office had a set of secret files on about 100 children’s homes that was passed to the Department of Health in 1972. Their purpose is not described and all the files were marked to be retained and not disclosed for 75 or 100 years. That set of files was not disclosed to Wanless, although Wanless does refer to a standard National Archive file called “Home Secretary’s Meetings” that ended in 1984. That file is missing from the National Archives and could not be found by National Archives staff. Furthermore, the security services refused to provide any information to Wanless and there are questions about what has happened with the special branch files.
There are signs of security service involvement in the treatment of Leah McGrath Goodman as well, and that is of course recent. Answers are needed and the events are sufficiently recent for the answers to be there for anyone who looks with their eyes open.
I have been approached by police officers who are concerned that the management within the Metropolitan police—the senior sergeants or whatever—instructed junior police officers to conceal evidence, and there are examples that can be identified. I put to the Home Secretary the suggestion that where there is a command structure and a senior officer instructs a junior officer to break the law, there should be an opportunity for some sort of amnesty for the junior officer if they then reveal that, so they do not end up being prosecuted for revealing how they were forced to commit offences.
I wrote to the Home Secretary in July asking whether that could be done and received a standard response about the inquiry about a week ago. I have written again to suggest action if we wanted to find out the truth of what has gone on in the Met. There is no doubt that there were people in the Met who were involved in the cover-up. I have had people report that to me; a lot of people are willing to speak up, but not if they end up going to jail as a consequence of admitting what they were forced to do. It is a complex issue, of course, because whenever we have amnesties we need to consider their limits, but if things continue to be concealed because people are frightened to tell the truth it will be very difficult to get to the truth. One of the critical points in all this is getting to the truth.
I recently asked a question to find out about reports written about British overseas territories such as St Helena. It appears that people have known for years what is going on in such places but that nothing has been done to make things work any better. I happen to know that a couple of employment tribunals, which I do not think are covered by the sub judice resolution, started today in Kingsway and will be reported in the media tomorrow. They are relevant and if people are interested they should follow the proceedings.
Let me mention again the failure of the Government to modify the SSDA903 return in order to track when children are lost or trafficked out of the care system. It does not appear that the Government are bothered about this given that they refused to even count them. I continue to go on about this. I know that I am a bit of a techie who is really interested in computer systems and things like that, but if children are disappearing from the care system and we do not bother to count them, what does that say? The response from the Minister was:
“The Department has no plans to expand the codes under which local authorities provide statistical returns on children missing from care, as this will lead to an unnecessary increase in reporting requirements.”—[Official Report, 13 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 641W.]
Frankly, that is unacceptable. We should be concerned if children are being trafficked. We should be sufficiently concerned as an absolute minimum to count how many are trafficked and find out which authorities they are lost from and what their ages are. We are lucky in that we have a reasonably good database that tracks what happens to children in care. Every year, a large number disappear for other reasons—not that they have gone back to their parents, or have been adopted. They just disappear from the system. I do not think that that is reasonable. We are happy to send in auditors if we are worried that money has disappeared. We send in local government auditors to check about local government finance. We audit the finances to make sure that money has not been stolen. We do not audit what happens to children to make sure that they have not been stolen. That is a failure of this Government, of whom I happen to be a quasi supporter as a Back Bencher.
The history here is all about abuse of power by employees of the state. The fact that it involves the maltreatment of children for sexual gratification makes this all the worse. For the future, we need to make it harder for state employees to conceal abuses of power. More transparency and accountability are needed, as well as less secrecy. Parliament, which is the voice of the people, has to stand on the side of the powerless. Whitehall mandarins, judges, BBC managers, council bureaucrats and professionals all have their own interests and a desire to hide mistakes. Parliament needs to balance the scales on the side of the weak—those without wealth who are crying out and not being heard.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) on securing this debate, which is on the progress of the historical child abuse inquiry. I pay tribute to him for his doughty campaigning on child abuse since entering the House of Commons, and for telling the real story about Cyril Smith.
It is right to acknowledge that in his opening speech my hon. Friend set the tone for what has been a good and important debate. He started his speech by describing the experience of survivors. He talked about William and about John and the life chances that had been limited by the people who abused them. I want to use my speech this afternoon to focus on survivors in relation to the inquiry.
We have heard powerful speeches from the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who brings a wealth of experience as a former children’s Minister, and the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who has introduced many changes to the law to protect children over the years. He is another doughty fighter on behalf of children and young people. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) spoke eloquently about what he knew had happened in his constituency and the Elm guest house allegations. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) has spoken on many occasions about these issues.
What is powerful about all the speeches was that they were informed in the main by the stories of survivors of abuse. The House owes a huge debt to the survivors, who have shown enormous courage in coming forward, in the hope that their experience can prevent what happened to them from happening again, and that justice can, wherever possible, be done. This debate and the wider inquiry that we are discussing have to have at their heart the survivors’ voices. I want to thank all those people who have taken the time to speak to me and tell me what they want to see out of this child abuse inquiry, including Peter Saunders of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood and Andrew Kershaw of the Survivors of Forde Park, both of whom have done so much to give a voice to those abused as children.
Having listened to the debate today, the Minister can be in no doubt about the commitment of hon. Members to the success of this child abuse inquiry and to ensuring that it has the confidence of survivors. Hon. Members appreciate the scale of the task facing the inquiry panel and the need for the panel to carry out the inquiry in a timely manner, as we know that many perpetrators are growing older and must be brought to justice wherever possible.
Along with the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), many Members have been calling for the overarching inquiry for about two years, so when the Home Secretary announced that she would set it up, that was welcomed across the House. As we know, however, she appointed a chair without proper vetting or consultation. After that sorry saga, we ended up, unbelievably, in the same position with a second chair. We know that the Home Secretary apologised for that and is trying to make sure that from now on there is proper consultation and vetting of the prospective chair. I listened to what the permanent secretary at the Home Office told this place this week, when he said that the child abuse inquiry would be one of the top three issues for the Home Office. That is encouraging to hear.
In relation to the chair, perhaps the Minister will be able to help the House. I understand that about 100 nominations have been made. With due diligence checks and the pre-appointment consultation and hearings that have been scheduled, a chair is unlikely to be in place before the spring of 2015. Will the Minister comment on that timetable?
Although I have just mentioned how important it is to make sure that a chair is appointed as soon as possible, that is not nearly as important as making sure that the survivors of abuse have a voice in the inquiry and that they are involved in discussions about how the inquiry is to proceed. That has not happened enough, which is a problem. It was a fundamental mistake not to consult survivors about the panel members. Although I accept that all the panel members have a great deal to commend them, survivors tell me that they would like to have been consulted. I noted that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said that MPs were asked for their opinion and for any suggestions. That is welcome, but the Government missed a trick by not making sure that survivors were also consulted about panel members. As all hon. Members will recognise, if the inquiry is to succeed, survivors must have confidence in the panel to which they will give evidence.
A number of hon. Members referred to the terms of reference. Again, I note that there was no consultation with survivors about the terms of reference for the inquiry. One issue that I would like to take up with the Minister is the cut-off date of 1970. The Home Secretary has said that if that cut-off date is a problem, she will listen to any representations in favour of taking it back further which the chair considers appropriate, but I wonder why the date of 1970 was chosen. I was told just this week that approved schools where a number of children and young people were abused closed in 1969, so they would not come within the scope of the terms of reference. The survivors feel that their experience would not automatically be considered by the panel. Will the Minister explain to the House why 1970 was the date chosen? I have heard suggestions from survivors that the terms of reference should set a cut-off date just after the second world war, which would allow any person still living who has suffered abuse to come forward and feel that their experiences could be part of the inquiry.
Most importantly, I want to talk about how survivors’ voices should be heard in the inquiry. The hon. Member for Mole Valley referred to the experience in Northern Ireland. Its historical institutional abuse inquiry commenced, as he said, with an acknowledgement forum, for the purposes of listening to those who were abused as children in those institutions. That process has taken many months and allowed anyone who has been abused in institutions to come forward and be heard. The acknowledgment forum spoke to more than 500 people. That was not the end of its process of listening to survivors, but the start, informing the next stage of the inquiry, but still hearing from survivors directly.
Australia’s child abuse inquiry has been very good about moving around the country. It reached out to survivors, and the response has been overwhelming. It has taken 17,500 telephone calls, received more than 7,800 letters and e-mails and held over 2,500 private sessions. The English and Welsh inquiry, however, seems to have had two sessions in London and plans two more outside London. They appear to be open meetings. I am very unclear about what it is proposed should happen at those events. It feels to me that they are insufficient, and it is very unclear how they will support survivors who come forward. In Australia and Northern Ireland, people were asked to contact the inquiry, and the inquiry team then worked with individuals to enable them to give evidence in the most appropriate way. They were signposted to support and advice.
I do not think there is any point in proceeding with this inquiry until a process for involving and supporting survivors is established. Existing services, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, are stretched to breaking point, including NAPAC, which faces losing its offices early next year, at a time of unprecedented demand for its support.
On the remarks that the hon. Lady has just made about the inquiry, which I am really pleased has started its work—the panel members got started on 12 November—are she and the Labour party recommending that that work should now be paused? Will she clarify her remarks?
The problem is that there seems to be a lack of clarity—probably because there is no chair in place—as to how the inquiry is going forward and what the purposes of the regional meetings are. I have asked a number of people to explain to me how those meetings will be conducted. If survivors are to come forward and give evidence at those meetings—I do not know whether that is their purpose—there is a concern about the lack of clarity and the lack of an agreed process as to how that is to be handled. That is why I wanted to refer to the Northern Ireland example, as it is very clear what it was going to do in that first period: hear from survivors so that it could get to grips with the extent of the problem through the evidence before it, which would then determine how the rest of the inquiry would proceed. My purpose in referring to that inquiry was to highlight the need for clarity on how proceedings should go on.
On the point about the support available to survivors, I think that we need a very clear process—this fits in with what the hon. Gentleman has just asked—for the inquiry, whereby survivors are fully involved and supported and it has their confidence. I think that we are all looking to ensure that survivors are in that position as the inquiry moves forward.
The hon. Lady has still not directly answered my question about the Labour party’s view, given what she has said. Does she agree that it is very problematic to ask Ministers to micro-manage this inquiry? There are some very senior people on the panel, and they must now be able to get on with their work. Has she spoken directly to the panel members about their plans for the next few months?
I am not trying to imply that the Minister or the Home Secretary should micro-manage. I am merely highlighting where the inquiry is not operating in a clear way, such that survivors are saying that they are not sure what the process is or what the purpose of the regional meetings is. I think the problem stems from the fact that no chair is in place directing the inquiry. As I said, the chair may not be appointed for many months. That causes me some concern. I hope that the Minister will be able to assist us on what the Home Office and Ministers may be able to do to support the panel in making the process a bit clearer so that survivors really understand what is happening during this period.
We must make sure that survivors who come forward with their evidence are fully supported afterwards. I worry that the Home Secretary has talked about the NHS being part of providing that support, given that the NHS is under such stress, particularly in terms of counselling services, where there are often long waiting lists. What additional support will be available to survivors, and particularly to third sector groups?
This inquiry must aim to investigate historical child abuse, to try to bring justice to those who have seen justice denied for too long, and to inform current practice in the field of child protection to stop children being abused in future. While it is important to investigate historical allegations, we must never forget that children are still being abused today, as a number of hon. Members said.
I want to make a suggestion to the Minister about the way forward. While the main inquiry establishes a forum for hearing from survivors, in the first instance, the other inquiries that have been set up—such as the north Wales care homes inquiry, the BBC inquiry, and the ongoing NHS inquiries—would have time to conclude and to put forward their recommendations for a response. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) mentioned the potential confusion about how those other inquiries will fit with the overarching inquiry, and that is part of the overall problem of how this is going to work. The main inquiry could then commence in the position of having heard from survivors of abuse and seen the recommendations of the other inquiries and what they have come up with.
On the legal status of the inquiry, there is a particular issue relating to documents. Lawyers have told me that because the inquiry has not been put on a statutory footing, organisations could destroy documents with no legal consequences, whereas if it were to be put on a statutory footing, there would be criminal consequences for that type of behaviour. The Home Secretary has said that the chair can decide whether to make the inquiry statutory, so that suggests that her mind is open to it. However, as we know, the chair is unlikely to be appointed for many months, and lawyers are saying that in the meantime documents could be destroyed. The hon. Member for Richmond Park also raised this point. Will the Minister comment on it?
We need to hear from the Minister how she is going to make this inquiry work with the confidence of survivors, and how she will give survivors the voice that they deserve and that the inquiry has to hear. She needs to give us an overview of how she sees survivors being consulted and to explain how they will be listened to in the inquiry. I hope that she will also address the broader question of how the inquiry will build on the other inquiries already set up and work to inform best practice. The survivors need to know that this Government and this Parliament want the inquiry to succeed. We want to give survivors whatever redress is possible and to learn lessons so that these terrible situations do not arise in future.
May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) on securing this important debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving him the time to address and air the incredibly important issues involved? I welcome the chance to debate them again.
I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), whose experience as a former children’s Minister makes him an expert in this field. I promise my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who also has great experience, that I listened to his speech extraordinarily carefully. I have always appreciated his regular suggestions to me on many topics, particularly those under discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) also has great knowledge of the issue as a result of his constituency experience, and he has been instrumental in making sure that it is taken seriously and given the prominence it deserves in Parliament. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) for his contribution, which shed considerable light on the path we have taken to get to this point.
I want to start by being clear on the title of the inquiry under discussion. It is the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse. It is not, as the title of this debate on the Order Paper says, an inquiry into “historic” child sex abuse. I say that because survivors have been clear with us that, for them, the abuse they have suffered is not historic—it is not done, it is not finished and it is not in the past. It is something the consequences of which they have to deal with every single day of their lives. The hon. Member for Rochdale opened his speech by mentioning William and John—I know those are not their real names—which really brought home how live this issue is for victims. We should treat it not as historic but as a real, current problem.
As the Home Secretary set out when she spoke to the House on 3 November, the work of the inquiry is hugely important, providing us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to expose what went wrong in the past and prevent it from going wrong in the future. I want to focus on how we go about finding out the truth about these crimes.
I repeat that it is a live issue. If hon. Members had the opportunity to check their phones or smart devices during the course of the debate, they will have seen the report about the conviction yesterday of a Bristol sex gang jailed for grooming girls:
“Thirteen men have been convicted of a string of child sex crimes in Bristol involving the abuse, rape and prostitution of teenage girls.”
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham talked about the awareness we have today and how this crime is now treated differently. We should all be very proud of that. We should also be very pleased that the police are taking such matters seriously and getting successful convictions.
We need, however, to understand what happened in the past. It is important to consider the inquiry’s terms of reference, which are:
“To consider the extent to which State and non-State institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation; to consider the extent to which those failings have since been addressed; to identify further action needed to address any failings identified; and to publish a report with recommendations.”
That is important because, when a specific crime is uncovered as a result of this work, it must be investigated by the police, law enforcement bodies and the relevant bodies in whichever territorial area the crime took place. The inquiry is looking at the way in which state and non-state institutions have approached child abuse in the past. We need to make sure that we get to the bottom of that, but that does not preclude us from looking at the crimes themselves and ensuring that, wherever those crimes took place, they are properly investigated.
For the record, am I right in thinking that the commission of inquiry will, if necessary, investigate outside UK jurisdiction—the Channel Islands, for instance—reports of abuses in children’s homes there?
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will come on to territorial extent shortly.
On the chairing of the inquiry, the House will be aware that the first two chairs resigned. It is important to say that they resigned not because they did not have the right credentials, but because they did not command the confidence of survivors. As the Home Secretary made clear, the priority now is to find someone who is suitably qualified and who can also win that confidence.
The Home Secretary and the whole of the Home Office are committed to working with survivors and their representatives in the process of recruiting a new chair. I can update the House today by saying that the Home Secretary has had a number of meetings with survivors of abuse and their representatives. She has not yet finished that process so I am not in a position to provide an update on the outcome of those discussions, as I am sure all hon. Members will understand. However, I can say that survivors have made it clear that they want the inquiry, that they want the right chair to be in place and that they want to continue working with both the Government and the independent panel. I absolutely agree that all that must happen.
The discussions with survivors and their representatives are helping to form the process for appointing a new chair. The Home Secretary will also speak to the panel and parliamentarians as the process develops. We are clear on what survivors require. I can confirm that whoever the Home Secretary chooses as the new chair will be subject to a pre-confirmation hearing in front of the Home Affairs Committee.
In the meantime, nominations for the chair continue to come in to the Home Office. As has been noted, there are already more than 100 nominees on the list. We are confident that among the nominees we can find a suitable chair, someone who will command the overall confidence of survivors and be able to lead the complex and sensitive work of the inquiry.
What is the panel doing? As the Home Secretary set out in her statement to the House on 3 November, the panel will continue to go about its vital work. It is meeting weekly in the run-up to Christmas. Panel members have already attended two listening meetings with victims and survivors. Two further regional meetings will be held before Christmas, and four regional meetings will be held in the new year. The meetings will provide an early opportunity for survivors to give their views, and they will help to inform the panel on how to go about its work.
I thank the Minister for that very useful information, but I am a little concerned. Are survivors not therefore expected to give evidence to the panel? Obviously, there is no chair and the support—I hope the Minister will come on to that shortly—is not in place at the moment. Will she say a little more about the listening events?
The Home Secretary and I are obviously not instructing the panel on how to go about this exercise. The important point is that this is an early opportunity to make sure that victims and survivors can help to frame how the panel approaches the inquiry.
On the hon. Lady’s point about Government support, victims must be able to come forward to report abuse to the police and to get the support they need. If child abuse takes place, it must be thoroughly and properly investigated, and those responsible must be arrested and brought to justice. As part of a series of meetings that the Home Secretary is chairing in response to Rotherham, the Government are looking at how best to provide urgent support to victims. We are very aware that we need to make sure that there is proper and appropriate support for victims, so that they can have the confidence to come forward and we can support them when they do.
The panel is considering as a priority the best ways in which to engage with victims and survivors, and how to ensure that the right package of support is available to those who take part in the inquiry. Those giving evidence will share and relive some of the most appalling experiences anyone can live through. The panel will endeavour to make the process of giving evidence the most supportive and least traumatic for survivors that it is possible to make it.
Both the secretariat to the inquiry and officials in the Home Office are already in discussion with officials in the Department of Health, and they will work with charitable organisations, all of which have a vital part to play in making sure that the right support and counselling is available. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park asked about whether we are working with other Departments. It is important to say that the permanent secretary has written to all Departments to tell them that they must fully support the inquiry. That information has gone out to all Departments to make sure that they are aware of the inquiry.
The panel is working on the approach it will take and the methodology it will use in the collection and analysis of information and evidence. These fundamentals for the inquiry will be the way in which it ensures that the terms of reference are met, that survivors and victims of sexual abuse are given a voice, and that that voice is heard and makes a difference for future generations. The panel is also seeking to learn lessons from the Australian royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse about what worked well and what did not.
The Home Secretary will be happy to discuss the terms of reference for the inquiry, including its territorial extent, and the composition of the panel with the new chair, when they are appointed. It is important that the inquiry be able to work fully with the devolved Administrations, including with the Hart inquiry in Northern Ireland and the Oldham inquiry in Jersey, to ensure that no information and no institution or individual with a case to answer falls through the cracks.
I wonder whether the Minister can deal with a point that I am puzzled by. I put down a parliamentary question about the Macur review and it was transferred to the Ministry of Justice for an answer. She is detailing the extent to which the Home Office will be involved in the inquiry. Will she confirm that the Home Office will be leading on this matter, because when I asked a question on the Macur review, I received an answer from the Ministry of Justice? I am confused.
Without knowing the specifics of the question, I cannot explain why it was given to the Ministry of Justice. That particular question was clearly within the portfolio of the Ministry of Justice. The Home Office is leading on this inquiry.
The shadow Minister asked about the dates that the inquiry will cover. It is true that the inquiry will consider cases from 1970 to the present. However, the panel might be presented with evidence that leads it to conclude that the time frame should be extended. The important point is that the Home Secretary is open to listening to the panel and its chair, when they are appointed, to ensure that we are covering the right period and looking at all possible avenues. The panel will provide an update on its progress to the Home Secretary before May, which she will share with the House.
The priority, of course, is to find a suitable chair to lead the hugely important work of the inquiry. As I have set out, that process is under way. I cannot give the House the date by which a new chair will be appointed, but I can say that it is a priority for the Home Secretary and the Government. We will appoint a new chair as soon as possible, but we must take the time to get it right. We must ensure that survivors have had their say and have been heard, and that parliamentarians and other interested parties have been appropriately engaged in the process so that we can all be confident that we have the right person in place to lead this once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver justice for those who have suffered and to save other vulnerable young children from the appalling abuse that so many have endured. That is the least we can do.
I thank the Minister for her contribution. Some of the problems that we are encountering are to do with the delay in appointing the chair, which falls fairly and squarely at the door of the Home Office. Many of the questions that hon. Members have posed about the geography and the terms of reference cannot be answered because there is no chair in place. It is therefore important that progress be made on that.
The shadow Minister made some good points and has clearly been listening to survivors of child sexual abuse. She made some constructive criticisms in discussing how we should move forward.
To finish off, I will trot through some of the contributions that have been made and highlight some important points. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) rightly mentioned Jersey. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said how important it was to prevent documents being destroyed. He also spoke about the role of the intelligence services and asked whether they will co-operate fully. It has been alleged that D notices relating to Elm Guest House have been destroyed. That matter is important.
I was very interested to hear from the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford). I was not familiar with the work he had carried out in years gone by. He was right to say that this abuse was going on well before 1970. He was also right that it is not just about high-profile cases. On the contrary, much abuse is not high profile at all.
Finally, I come to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). The question of whether the inquiry should be on a statutory footing is critical. He also spoke about help and support for survivors. He finished on an optimistic point, which we must all concentrate on, about the progress we are making not only in this place, but in getting the inquiry to move forward.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered progress of the historic child sex abuse inquiry.
 Hansard page “historical” child sexual abuse debate House of Commons http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/read/unknown/714/
 Cathy fox A fortnight in the life of the child sexual abuse inquiry (loads more links) https://cathyfox.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/a-fortnight-in-the-life-of-the-overarching-child-sexual-abuse-inquiry-where-now/
 2002 The Hunt for Britains Paedophiles Part 1 http://youtu.be/Vq8zqDPmQxE
 2002 The Hunt for Britains Paedophiles Part 2 http://youtu.be/7JAQQF8TETA
 2002 The Hunt for Britains Paedophiles Part 3 http://youtu.be/KUT1sv-N8Nw
Please note that victims of abuse may be triggered by reading this information. The Sanctuary for the Abused [A] has advice on how to prevent triggers. National Association for People Abused in Childhood [B] has a freephone helpline and has links to local support groups. Other useful sites are One in Four [C] and Havoca [D]. Useful post on triggers [E] from SurvivorsJustice [F] blog.
[A] Sanctuary for the Abused http://abusesanctuary.blogspot.co.uk/2006/07/for-survivors-coping-with-triggers-if.html
[B] NAPAC http://www.napac.org.uk/
[C] One in Four http://www.oneinfour.org.uk/
[D] Havoca http://www.havoca.org/HAVOCA_home.htm
[E] SurvivorsJustice Triggers post http://survivorsjustice.com/2014/02/26/triggers-what-are-they-and-how-do-we-work-through-them/
[F] SurvivorsJustice Blog http://survivorsjustice.com/
This is all written in good faith but if there is anything that needs to be corrected please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
cathyfox the truth will out, the truth will shout, the truth will set us free