With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about child abuse.
It has been known for several years now that very serious sexual and physical abuse of children took place in homes managed or supervised by the former Clwyd county council in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1991, North Wales police began an extensive investigation into allegations, and obtained just under 2,600 statements from individuals. Those resulted in eight prosecutions and seven convictions of former care workers. Nevertheless, speculation has continued in north Wales that the actual abuse was on a much greater scale than those convictions suggest.
When I last reported to the House on this issue—in a written answer on 18 April—I expressed my regret that Clwyd county council, which had commissioned its own inquiry into these matters, had apparently failed to ensure that this would be undertaken in a way which would enable its conclusions to be publishable. I explained that I had written to the five successor authorities to Clwyd county council requesting that they seek urgently to produce a version of the report that could safely be published.
The successor authorities have subsequently informed me that they are unable to meet that request. In their view, the report is likely to contain evidence that was given in confidence to the inquiry team, and is in any case so seriously and extensively defamatory that an acceptable version of it cannot be produced.
In the light of my own legal advice, I have considered whether I could make the report as it stands available to the House. I have concluded that, in view of the nature of the defamation it contains, it would not be a proper use of parliamentary privilege to do so.
I find this a deeply unsatisfactory outcome, and one that reflects badly on the former Clwyd county council. It devoted two years and a substantial amount of public money to an inquiry, the report of which cannot safely be published. When public authorities establish investigations, they should do so in a way which, at the very least, permits the principal findings and recommendations to be made public.
One factor in the failure of Clwyd county council to publish the report it commissioned was a concern about the implications of publishing for its insurance cover. This also seems to me to be an unsatisfactory situation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I will be considering, in consultation with the local authority associations, whether there is a need for guidance on this matter.
The Government's main priority remains to do everything necessary to secure the safety and well-being of children in care. It was for that reason that my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), appointed Miss Nicola Davies QC in May 1995 to undertake an examination of relevant documents and to advise whether a public inquiry into the abuse of children in north Wales was required. She recommended not an inquiry but that a detailed examination of the practices and procedures of the social service departments in the former Gwynedd and Clwyd county councils and of the private homes in their areas be undertaken. I appointed Adrianne Jones to carry out this work.
Adrianne Jones has now produced her report. I am grateful to her and to her team for the way in which they have undertaken their task, the thoroughness of their report and the speed with which it has been produced. I am also grateful to all those in north Wales who have co-operated fully in this work. I have arranged for it to be published in full today, and have made copies available in the Libraries of both Houses.
In her report, Adrianne Jones found that, since 1991, when the Children Act 1989 was implemented, the substantial advice, guidance and regulation available to social services authorities had resulted in a progressive tightening of operational, management and personnel procedures in the Gwynedd and Clwyd county councils. There was a framework of policies and procedures in place. However, there were some significant gaps: the authorities were not sufficiently rigorous in developing their own operational guidelines, and did not ensure that these were followed systematically.
The report contains a total of 41 recommendations. Most are directed at the successor local authorities, and are aimed at improving the planning, management and monitoring of children's services. I accept the thrust of Adrianne Jones's conclusions, and mean to ensure that her recommendation for more resources to be devoted to the social services inspectorate for Wales is acted upon as soon as possible. I shall be reporting to the House shortly on how I propose to take all her recommendations forward.
Adrianne Jones's report will make a substantial contribution towards achieving my objective of securing the safety and well-being of children in care in north Wales, but it also reveals that, despite the Children Act, the Warner report and all the other actions that the Government have taken in recent years to protect children, serious shortcomings remained up until the abolition of Clwyd and Gwynedd county councils earlier this year. This is a disturbing conclusion, which has to be coupled with continuing public concern about the full extent of what happened and how it could apparently have continued undetected for so long.
The Government are determined that there should be no cover-up of events in the past, and that every possible step is taken to protect children in care in the future. In the light of these developments, we have decided that further initiatives need to be undertaken.
First, we decided that there should be a judicial inquiry. The terms of reference of this would be: to inquire into the abuse of children in care in the former county council areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974; to examine whether the agencies and authorities responsible for such care, through the placement of the children or through the regulation or management of the facilities, could have prevented the abuse or detected its occurrence at an earlier stage; to examine the response of the relevant authorities and agencies to allegations and complaints of abuse made either by children in care, children formerly in care or any other persons, excluding scrutiny of decisions whether to prosecute named individuals; in the light of this examination, to consider whether the relevant caring and investigative agencies discharged their functions appropriately and, in the case of the caring agencies, whether they are doing so now; and to report its findings and to make recommendations to me.
The inquiry will be conducted within the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, and both Houses will be asked to approve the necessary resolution when it is moved tomorrow. I intend to invite Sir Ronald Waterhouse to be its chairman. His experience makes him ideal for the task. He has already indicated that he would be prepared to accept such an invitation, and I shall discuss with him a target date for the completion of this work.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who has responsibility for children's issues in England, is also arranging for a further review of the safeguards against the abuse of children living away from home in England and Wales. It will be conducted by Sir William Utting, the former chief social services inspector at the Department of Health. He will be asked to review the safeguards introduced for England and Wales by the Children Act 1989 at its implementation in 1991 and the further measures taken since to protect children living away from home, with particular reference to children's residential homes, foster care and boarding schools; and to assess whether those safeguards are the most effective that can realistically be designed to protect such children from abuse and other harm, and whether they are being satisfactorily enforced. My right hon. Friend is informing the House of the details of that review in a written answer today. Sir William will report to my right hon. Friend and me, and his report will be published.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be keeping in touch with the progress of Sir William Utting's review. Consideration will be given to his recommendations with a view to implementation as appropriate in Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be keeping in touch with the progress of Sir William Utting's review. He will also set up an audit of the arrangements for the care and protection of children in Scotland who are looked after away from home.
Additionally, a White Paper entitled "Crime and Punishment", published today, proposes enhanced monitoring and supervision of all offenders on release from custody in Scotland. Under those arrangements, all high-risk offenders may be subject to an extended period of supervision on release. It is probable that a large majority of sex offenders will be included in that category. Further, a proposed Crown right of appeal against a decision of the court not to impose a supervision order in a particular case provides an additional safeguard.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is also publishing today a consultation paper on sex offenders. It outlines proposals designed to improve the protection of the public from, and to enhance opportunities for the treatment of, such offenders.
There are five main proposals: to strengthen the arrangements for supervising convicted sex offenders; to require sex offenders to notify the police of their address and any subsequent changes to it; to extend the power in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to enable samples to be taken for the purposes of DNA testing from convicted sex offenders who are serving a prison sentence imposed before that power came into place; to introduce provisions to prohibit sex offenders from seeking employment involving access to children; and to limit the access of defendants to victims' statements and photographs in sexual offence cases.
The child abuse that was allowed to occur in north Wales, and the apparent failure of the authorities concerned to deal with it, represents a very sad chapter in the history of public child care. The Adrianne Jones report helps to point the way for the future, but its conclusions will reinforce public concerns about the management of children in care in north Wales. The proposals that the Government are announcing today—a judicial inquiry into the events in north Wales, the review by Sir William Utting and the increased supervision of sex offenders after release from prison—demonstrate the determination of the Government and the House to tackle the evil of child abuse and to secure the safety of all children in care.
I welcome the belated statement from the Secretary of State, and pledge the unqualified support of the Labour party for the fullest possible inquiry into the extent of child abuse in north Wales.
For more than a decade and a half, hundreds of allegations have been made by children that they have been the victims of organised sexual abuse. Dozens of lives have been wrecked, and a least a dozen have been lost. Young people who, by the nature of their circumstances, were at their most vulnerable have been exploited, abused and violated. Those young people were brutalised by the individuals charged with their care, and let down collectively by the agencies charged with their care.
Does the Secretary of State understand that his attempts at the Tory party conference last weekend to score party political points on the issue will be viewed with utter contempt by those courageous individuals who, over the years, have been trying unsuccessfully to prompt his Department into action?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his Department promised a public inquiry nearly four years ago, and will he join me now in commending the campaign of politicians in Wales—prominent among them Malcolm King, the former chair of Clwyd social services committee—senior police officers, the public and the media on finally forcing the Government to honour their promise? Does he understand that his criticism last weekend of Clwyd county council's Jillings inquiry is without a shred of justification? Will he confirm that that inquiry was, as it should have been, independent of the authority? Will he confirm that the terms of reference of that inquiry were agreed with his Department? Will he also confirm that Welsh Office Ministers have over the years consistently refused to meet representatives of Clwyd county council to determine the best way forward?
Given the Secretary of State's criticism today of the Jillings inquiry, why is he only considering that guidelines will be necessary to overcome the difficulty of publishing without insurance cover? Surely that case has been established, and it is his responsibility to ensure not whether but how that new policy should be implemented.
We have not yet had the opportunity to read the Jones report. When we have, we shall support the matters that we believe to be relevant. The great fear must be, however, that the local authorities to which it refers have been abolished. I hope that the Secretary of State will not seek refuge in bolting that stable door after the horse has gone.
Now that our demand for an inquiry has been met, will the Secretary of State clarify the following matters of detail? Will he confirm that the inquiry will be fully independent, that there will be no unnecessary in camera sessions, and that there will be full publication of the report and all supporting documents? Will he explain why Sir Ronald Waterhouse will report to him, whereas the Utting review will be published? Is it the right hon. Gentleman's intention to publish the Utting review but not the Waterhouse report? If that is so, it will be unacceptable. I assure him that we all understand the importance of appropriate confidentiality, but, given the nature of the inquiry, the public interest in disclosure must outweigh the private interest in confidentiality.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the terms of reference will be sufficiently wide to examine the whole question of organised child abuse? The allegations centre on a former local authority children's home network. Does he accept that the nature of the allegations indicates the possible existence of a wider paedophile network, extending throughout society and into its most powerful reaches?
Will the inquiry be empowered to examine the role played by North Wales police, especially the allegations that files relating to child abuse in Gwynedd have disappeared? Will legal representation be available for child complainants, and will legal aid be available to them and to adults who may need legal representation? Will the inquiry be allowed to review the operations of the Crown Prosecution Service in Wales? Perhaps it will be empowered to consider that one individual is alleged to have decided that, in respect of hundreds of allegations in Gwynedd, prosecutions would not have been in the public interest.
There is widespread public interest and concern at the complacency of the Welsh Office over the years. Will the inquiry therefore have full access to all Welsh Office documents? In particular, will it be able to examine the circumstances in which successive Welsh Office Ministers—some still in the House—over many years wrote to Alison Taylor, a respected former social worker from Gwynedd, assuring her that, in their words,
there are no grounds for concern".
Will the inquiry be able to examine the role of the Welsh Office social services inspectorate, to find out why, throughout the entire decade of the 1980s, while the allegations were emerging, it declined to investigate one allegation or carry out one inspection of any children's home in Clwyd? If the answer to those questions is not yes, the Government will inevitably face the allegation that they are conspiring in a further whitewash.
I am happy to see the proposals for the welcome review, and for the Home Secretary to review the procedures that deal with sex offenders. When we have had a chance to examine the detailed proposals, we will respond.
Will the Secretary of State accept the Opposition's ruthless determination to ensure the fullest scrutiny of all procedures concerning the care of vulnerable children? No one, however powerful or high and mighty, should be allowed to escape the consequences of their actions. For us, the matter is above party political considerations. I hope that he understands now that it should be for him as well.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the thrust of my statement. There are only two points about which I would seek to argue with him. I do not think that it is a belated announcement. He should recognise, as I hope he has, that, if the Jillings report had turned out to be a sound report that could have been published, and if the Adrianne Jones report had suggested that in recent years all necessary procedures and practices were correct and had been put in place, the case for an inquiry would have been weaker. Those two matters have crystallised only in the past 10 days.
The other point about which I disagree is the hon. Gentleman's accusation that we have made party political points. I agree that the matter should be above party politics, and I am not aware of having made any criticism at all of Opposition Members or their parties. I am not aware of having made any party political points. I certainly do not intend to make any, and I am glad that he does not, now that he has got that off his chest.
I think that I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman on all or most of his detailed questions, Yes, it will be a fully independent inquiry. Under the terms of the Act under which such inquiries are set up, there can be private sessions, although they are encouraged to be held extremely rarely. It would be for the judge to decide whether it was in the interest of the inquiry, and in the public interest, to hold some sessions in private. One can imagine that, in some situations involving children, that could be desirable.
I intend that the report will be published. I believe that the terms of reference are drawn sufficiently widely, and they cover the police. The inquiry can examine the conduct of the police. It can consider the conduct of the Crown Prosecution Service, but not decisions about the prosecution of named individuals. That is a long tradition in such matters, designed to defend the independence of the prosecuting authorities. However, any new information could be passed to the prosecuting authorities.
Legal representation will be available to witnesses appearing before the inquiry. It will be free to investigate the work of the Welsh Office and the social services inspectorate in Wales, as the hon. Gentleman has requested. I hope that, with those assurances, he will agree that it is a widely drawn inquiry that will be able to get at the truth, as all hon. Members are most determined that it should.
Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank the House.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement, the announcements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, and the other measures to which he has referred, will be warmly welcomed by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse, of which I am a member? The considerable body of evidence that the commission has received shows that the abuse of children in institutions is a widespread and continuing problem. It is part of the wider issue of child abuse, because the adults involved are members of community as a whole.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while inquiries and reports are necessary, it is essential that, thereafter, measures should be implemented to ensure the prevention of further abuse and to wipe out this scourge of our society?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome for the announcements. I congratulate him on his elevation at the weekend.
The fears of which my hon. Friend speaks are part of the justification for the announcements. I absolutely agree that it is important for measures to be implemented where they are necessary. I will proceed, as I said in my statement, to implement measures recommended in the Adrianne Jones report speedily, without waiting for the results of the public inquiry.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will be eager to implement measures arising from the review that he has set in train, and that he would like to see it conducted as speedily as possible for that to happen.
I echo the congratulations to the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir R. Sims).
I welcome the appointment of Sir Ronald Waterhouse as chairman of the judicial inquiry. His wide experience, and his close knowledge of north Wales, will prove to be great advantages. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, in carrying out the inquiry, Sir Ronald will be free to make recommendations about the way in which, and the resources with which, the police investigate allegations of child abuse, particularly in smaller police forces such as the North Wales police, in which, generally speaking, there are limited resources for special inquiries?
Can the Secretary of State also confirm that it will be possible for Sir Ronald to look at the nature of the institutions in which often vulnerable children are placed, as demonstrated by the evidence that emerges in the courts when prosecutions are started many years later? Can he also confirm that it will be possible for witnesses at the Waterhouse inquiry, many of whom are now adults leading ordinary lives, many of them married with children, to have anonymity in terms of public identification?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is right about Sir Ronald Waterhouse. His origins in north Wales, his knowledge of that area and his experience in the criminal division and the family division of the High Court make him ideally suited to this task, and I am delighted that he has agreed to take it on. He can indeed look into procedures and behaviour, if that seems appropriate, in the course of his inquiry.
The hon. and learned Gentleman's question about privacy for witnesses raises the point to which I referred in answer to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies): that there may be instances of the inquiry wishing to arrange matters to protect the privacy of witnesses, and to do so, as far as it can, without compromising the publicity that should rightly be given to these proceedings and to the public interest in them. The hon. and learned Gentleman can be satisfied on that point.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, and I particularly congratulate the Government on their decision to hold a judicial inquiry into child abuse in north Wales. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern for those people who may have been or were abused many years ago, and who are now adults and may have families of their own? To have their pasts raked over, whether in public or in private, would be an extremely painful experience. What protection and what measures are in place for such people, who do not want to revisit the horror of their past?
I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. Of course, he took a close interest in these matters during his time in government. The question he raises is one of the factors that we have had to bear in mind and weigh against the wider public interest and the need for a public inquiry. As I said in answer to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), I hope that, where necessary, the inquiry will be able to find a way to protect privacy, while also satisfying the public interest and ensuring that all information that should be made public is made public.
While welcoming the inquiry almost wholeheartedly, I have to say that my colleagues in Clwyd have been calling for one for a long time. We have been aware of the kind of abuse that is happening. One of my constituents came to my surgery and described the kind of things that went on. They are horrendous—there is no other way of describing them—and I am delighted that we are now to look at this matter. Although these matters are historical—
Will the Secretary of State ensure that the inquiry takes place with all speed concomitant with getting the truth? Although the cases are historical, the people involved are still suffering hurt. Does he acknowledge that Clwyd county council was not at fault, in that it tried to get a judicial inquiry for the benefit of the people affected? Although the Jillings report may have been flawed, at least it tried to get the facts into the open. I am glad that the judicial inquiry will now do that.
The hon. Gentleman has called for an inquiry before, and we have discussed it before. Had other investigations been carried out to general public satisfaction—in that their reports were published and were seen to deal with the matter—and had the Adrianne Jones report revealed that procedures in recent years had been satisfactory, there would have been a weaker case for a public inquiry.
I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says about speed, and how that must be balanced with the need to look into the matters properly. In consultation with Sir Ronald Waterhouse, I intend to set a target date for the completion of the inquiry, and I do not want to do so in an arbitrary way today. In the meantime, we will proceed to implement the recommendations of the Adrianne Jones report. The report of the inquiry will be in addition to that report, rather than instead of it.
Order. I must safeguard the remainder of today's business, and the House will understand if I now ask for brisk questions from Members and brisk answers from the Minister.
May I assure my right hon. Friend that he was absolutely right to decide to hold this inquiry, which was inevitable following the failure of the local authority to publish the fillings report because of possible defamation? The judicial inquiry is necessary as a result of the Adrianne Jones report, which looked into the situation following the implementation of the Children Act in 1991 and found it inadequate. Does he agree that Adrianne Jones deserves our thanks for her work and her recommendations, including her recommendation to strengthen the inspectorate at the Welsh Office?
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is no more foul crime than the abuse of children, and that those who commit it continue to do so because they rely on secrecy? Is he aware of my question on the Order Paper today that asks for a public inquiry into the situation in Cheshire? For more than two years, I have been asking the Home Office to make public information about convicted paedophiles. Is he aware that it takes 10 months for anyone to get information before they employ someone in a children's home? Is it not likely that these people are still operating within the child care system?
The hon. Lady's fears are part of the reason for the measures that I have announced, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I share her concerns. Investigations are continuing and prosecutions pending in Cheshire, and it is important that they are not prejudiced by Government action. That is why the inquiry that I have announced is concerned with Clwyd and Gwynedd.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is unforgivable for children to be taken into care, and then not be properly cared for? Will the Government ensure that there are no more cover-ups, not just in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom? If the problem is as widespread as has been thought, is there a target date for Sir William Utting to report?
My hon. Friend is right. There should be no cover-up of any description. We all want action to be taken as speedily as possible. It will be for Sir William Utting to determine the timetable of his review, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, and that decision needs to be taken as quickly as possible.
The Secretary of State did the right thing this afternoon, and I believe that the people of north Wales will thank him for it. I have three short questions. First, will he assure us that the Jillings report will be made available to the inquiry? Secondly, will he assure us that, should any evidence or any matters before the inquiry concern matters relating to Cheshire, if they cannot be considered by this inquiry they will at least be passed on to the relevant authorities in Cheshire? Thirdly, he says that the inquiry will be unable to consider aspects of decisions by the CPS whether to prosecute individual people; can he assure the House that that exclusion will be drawn quite tightly?
Yes, the Jillings report will be made available to the inquiry. Information relating to other parts of the United Kingdom will, of course, be passed on to the relevant authorities. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the need to interpret relatively tightly the exclusion that we have placed in the terms of reference. The rationale for that is the importance of finality and fairness to potential defendants and victims and witnesses, but it does not mean that the generality of the work of the Crown Prosecution Service is beyond the scope of the inquiry.
May I add my welcome to my right hon. Friend's statement about this horrendous affair? He mentioned various reports that would be made to various Ministers and Secretaries of State. During his important statement, he did not once mention co-ordination or co-operation between Secretaries of State and Ministers in the study of those reports, or the commitment of those Ministers and Secretaries of State to draw what lessons they could from other reports from other parts of the United Kingdom. Can he reassure the House that that will happen?
I think I can reassure my hon. Friend—and he will see from the fact that my right hon. Friends and I have all announced this today—that we have been working on this range of measures together, and we shall of course continue to study this subject in close co-operation.
May I assure the Secretary of State that the welcome he has received from both sides of the House for his decision to hold a judicial inquiry also extends to my party? We want that inquiry to be set up quickly, and we extend our congratulations on the appointment of Sir Ronald Waterhouse as its chairman.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that many of the young people, who are now adults, who had so many painful experiences have had to recount those experiences countless times in recent years? He made a clear, categorical statement that there should be no cover-up. Will he reinforce that? Those young people must go through another very painful experience. They have campaigned long and hard for this judicial inquiry; they need to be satisfied that it will be full, and that the Government will act on its full recommendations.
I am grateful for the welcome that the hon. Gentleman gives on his behalf and that of his party. Obviously, I share his determination that the inquiry should be full and independent, and that everyone should be able to see clearly that there has not been, and cannot be, a cover-up in the light of the inquiry's work. That unites hon. Members in all parts of the House today.
As judges can ban from keeping animals people who are found guilty of cruelty, and bearing in mind the fact that people leaving prison after serving a term for sex offences can open a home or holiday camp for children that very day, did I understand my right hon. Friend to say that those who are found guilty of sex offences towards children will be banned for all time from employment with children? If we can do it for animals, we can do it for children.
To clarify for my hon. Friend, I said that, in the Home Secretary's consultation document, he would propose to introduce provisions to prohibit sex offenders from seeking employment involving access to children. I believe that that gets at the point my hon. Friend raises. Further details can be found in the consultation document, and any further decisions or legislation will depend on the reaction to it.
Is the Minister aware that some of my constituents were in so-called care at Bryn Estyn? They are asking the following questions: how can an insurance company dictate whether a report is published simply because of possible liabilities? Why did the Welsh Office, over 20 years, take such a laid-back attitude when it knew what was going on? Was it to protect public and political figures? If so, will they now be named?
I share the hon. Lady's concerns about the insurance situation, as she will have gathered from my statement. I am currently discussing it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The actions of the Welsh Office—as is the case for all public authorities and institutions—will be open to investigation by the inquiry. We should not prejudge the results of that inquiry today.
Does my right hon. Friend recall the outcome of the inquiries that took place in the aftermath of the Orkney and Cleveland scandals? I feel quite nervous about the format that my right hon. Friend has proposed. When this format has been used in the past, and when local bureaucracies have been challenged by inquiries, no individual has been responsible for anything within those bureaucracies—no one was sacked, called to task or held responsible.
In the light of those inquiries, will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that accountability in these inquiries will mean that people who have been incompetent or plain evil will be sacked or prosecuted? Accountability must come from individual accountability for actions. We do not want to hear about practices, procedures, guidelines and resources. The inquiry has to find people who did wrong.
My hon. Friend is right: we want to see accountability. It is a challenge for any inquiry of this kind, and for any of us dealing with these matters, to penetrate bureaucratic indifference or collective responsibility. However, I hope that the inquiry will seek to do that. There have already been a number of prosecutions—and there may be further prosecutions if new evidence comes to light. I agree with the thrust of what my hon. Friend said.
As a trustee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, I am sure that the Minister is aware of its deep concern about the lack of protection for children in this country. Will the Utting review look at children when they leave care so that fewer of them end up on the streets as prostitutes? Will his statement enable the legal system to be looked at so that children can give evidence against paedophiles—who can then go to court, so that they can be charged and so we know who they are?
I can satisfy the hon. Lady on her second point. I am not sure whether her first point falls within the scope of the Utting review, but my right hon. Friend or I will be happy to clarify it, and to write to her about it.
I join my fellow former Clwyd Members of Parliament in welcoming the inquiry. First, will the Secretary of State say when Clwyd county council first asked for a judicial inquiry? Secondly, when did the social services inspectorate in the Welsh Office bring these matters to his attention? Thirdly, does he intend to have any discussions with the named chair and judge involved in the inquiry with regard to possible press coverage and the damaging effects that it may have on the victims of the abuse?
Yes, I should like to discuss the latter point with the judge who will be conducting the inquiry—although it will be for him to use his judgment on it. As many hon. Members have said, we want to see legitimate public interest in these matters satisfied, but we want necessary privacy maintained. The local authorities believe that there should be a public inquiry—they have put that view to the Welsh Office over the past few months, and I have taken it into account in reaching this decision. I cannot remember the precise date of the discussions offhand. I have been aware of these matters since I entered the Welsh Office.
I welcome the Utting review of procedures in children's homes and fostering agencies. As the Secretary of State will know, however, the Government have already issued a consultation document entitled "Moving Forward" to look into the registration and inspection of such homes and agencies—a key protection issue. Although the consultation was completed in February, no Government proposals have been forthcoming as a result.
Does today's announcement mean that that consultation will be put on the back burner, and that we shall now have to wait for months for the current review and for the Government to act on some of the problems—particularly those of unregistrable small children's homes—of which they are aware, and on which action is urgently needed?
No. The Utting review is assuredly not intended to delay work that has already been set in train. Indeed, the scope of that work was designed partly to take into account work already in progress, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is eager to advance.
Have all those who were accused of child abuse, and named in witness statements revealed in the appendices to the Jillings report, been prosecuted? If some have not, and some names remain, are any of those people still working with children anywhere in the United Kingdom?
I understand that not everyone named in a statement was prosecuted. Several hundred cases were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, and there have been seven convictions; 2,600 statements were taken. I do not know where the current employment of any of those people is.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, for some two or three decades, similar allegations have been made in Northern Ireland about the Kincora boys home? Can he confirm that the Utting review will be able to examine those allegations in the same way as the Waterhouse inquiry is examining the allegations in north Wales?
No. The Utting review is not concerned with past allegations; it is concerned with a review of the legal framework. As I explained in my statement, however, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will keep in close touch with the review in order to consider what measures should be taken in Northern Ireland.
Will the Secretary of State congratulate those sections of the media—including HTV Wales and Private Eye—which, courageously and at great cost to themselves, exposed the abuse that we now know to have taken place in north Wales?
Is not one of the main problems the fact that, in court cases, those who have been abused are poor witnesses in their own interests? Their experiences of being in care have led them to a position in which their truthfulness is often questioned, while the accused are often experienced witnesses because of their profession. Will the Secretary of State, as a parallel measure, accept the recommendations of the NSPCC, which is now asking for improvements in the way in which court cases are conducted when vulnerable young people are involved?
I have already explained that legal representation will be available to witnesses in the inquiry. I know that the judge conducting the inquiry, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, will want to consider how best to help people who may feel inhibited in giving evidence.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Secretary of State for Scotland's watching brief. Is there not a particular need to pay close attention to the, admittedly small, number of children who, when placed in care, are sent from one country to another within the United Kingdom? Several years ago, the children of a family living in the west of Scotland were sent to a home in the north-east of England, owned and managed by a religious order, where they were systematically abused. Is it the case that a social worker working with such a family has ready and unannounced access to such homes in England and Wales, or in Northern Ireland?
In the light of the events that led to the inquiry and of Dunblane, have the Government finally abandoned their plans to deregulate the vetting of those who work with young people in playgroups? Has any rule been proposed by the Utting review, or by the review that preceded it, on the inspection of homes for young people? If so, will it apply to homes in public and private ownership? Will the Utting review consider the value of registering residential care as an occupation, as part of the measures to introduce a general social services council?
The legal framework applies to public and private homes, so one would expect the Utting review to cover both. I have no new announcement to make on the other subjects.
The Minister will be aware that, because of the operations of paedophiles in a minority of independent boarding schools, the Children Act 1989 made such schools' pastoral arrangements liable to inspection. Why, therefore, did the Government pass a deregulation measure allowing those schools to dispense with social services departments and appoint their own lighter-touch inspectors? Is this an example of deregulation potentially placing children at risk?
We welcome today's announcement of a judicial inquiry into events in north Wales, but does the Secretary of State accept that the need to co-ordinate the different actions now proposed—the Waterhouse judicial inquiry that the right hon. Gentleman has announced, the Utting review that the Secretary of State for Health is announcing and the Home Secretary's review of sentencing and probation procedure for paedophiles—is paramount?
Will he forgive me if I suggest that the impression given by Ministers in the past few days—going back to last Thursday's Prime Minister's questions—has been of their almost competing with one another for the limelight rather than co-operating, as suggested by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone)? Will he acknowledge that, without careful co-ordination, there is a danger of interdepartmental cross-sterilisation, if I may call it that, between the different inquiries?
Does the Minister accept that our residential child care system is now on trial? These children's homes were supposed to provide care: instead, they dished out a diet of sadism by day and sodomy by night. If this tragedy is not to be repeated, it must be followed not by more inquiries but by action.
The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance of co-ordination. My announcements today have been co-ordinated between all the Departments concerned, and the continuing work of all Departments will be co-ordinated. He is also right to emphasise the importance of action. The Government have taken a wide range of action in recent years to improve the legal framework as it relates to children.
Where reports such as the Adrianne Jones report, which is published today, recommend action, we shall not be long in taking it. I intend to carry that forward speedily.I welcome the hon. Gentleman's general words of welcome and the reaction of hon. Members. We shall take forward this work with great seriousness and all possible speed.