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.