Child Abuse (North Wales)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 17th June 1996.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales 3:31 pm, 17th June 1996

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.