Wanless Review

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 1:02 pm on 11th November 2014.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary 1:02 pm, 11th November 2014

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the Wanless review.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

In July I told the House that the Home Office permanent secretary had commissioned Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam, QC, to conduct a review of two existing independent reviews into how the Home Office had acted—or failed to act—on information it had received in the 1980s about child abuse. The full report by Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam, QC, has been published today. A copy has been placed in the House Library, and I want to place on the record my gratitude for their thorough work.

In terms of the first review considered by Wanless and Whittam, which was about the extent to which the Home Office acted on the “Dickens dossier”, they say that

“we found nothing to support a concern that files had been deliberately or systematically removed or destroyed to cover up organised child abuse”.

In terms of the second review considered by Wanless and Whittam, which was about whether the Paedophile Information Exchange ever received any funding from the Home Office, they say they

“have seen no evidence to suggest PIE was ever funded by the Home Office because of sympathy for its aims”.

Wanless and Whittam have made three sets of recommendations for the Home Office, all of which relate to the way the Department deals with sensitive allegations, how officials pass such information on to the police and how the details are properly recorded. The permanent secretary has accepted all three sets of recommendations.

I want to make sure that we leave no stone unturned when it comes to the work Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam have undertaken. So I have written to them today to seek further reassurance that the police and prosecutors acted appropriately upon receiving information relating to the “Dickens dossier” or related matters from the Home Office. I have also asked them for a similar assurance about any such information that was passed to the Security Service, if any such information was indeed passed to it.

I should also make it clear that the Wanless and Whittam work is about how the Home Office responded to information relating to the “Dickens dossier”, how the police acted on any information passed their way and, because of concerns expressed by many people, including Members of this House, how the Security Service responded. Their work does not relate to wider allegations about child abuse or the failure of institutions—including the police, prosecutors, security and intelligence agencies, and Government Departments—because those are matters for the inquiry panel that I have established, whose work is now under way.

Many people who have made allegations relating to child abuse and the failure of the authorities to prevent abuse have been ignored for far too long. Some have even been written off and traduced as conspiracy theorists. I want to make absolutely clear that no one with any information about child abuse should be ignored, no one should be written off or dismissed, and no one should be left to themselves. If we want to get to the bottom of what has been going on in our country for too long, we need to come together, work together, and listen to what survivors and witnesses have to say. That goes for all of us who are in positions of responsibility: the police, prosecutors, Government officials, Members of Parliament, public servants in a range of institutions, and people beyond those categories.

The Home Office permanent secretary commissioned Wanless and Whittam to establish what the Department did and did not know, and does and does not know. Their work shows that the original reviews did not cover anything up, but neither do they prove or disprove that the Home Office acted appropriately in the 1980s. Likewise, they do not prove or disprove that public money ever found its way to the Paedophile Information Exchange. That is no fault of Peter Wanless or Richard Whittam; they have been investigating old files, many of which seem no longer to exist. I know that that is a cause of frustration for everyone, but it is not the only aspect of this case. As several Members have pointed out previously, there are other allegations, other lines of inquiry and other possible evidence that need to be considered.

The right place for consideration of these matters—apart from live criminal allegations, which should be dealt with by the police—is the panel inquiry into child abuse that I have established. That inquiry will be comprehensive: the panel will look at institutions in this country, gain access to all relevant paperwork and take evidence from survivors and witnesses, so that we can expose what has been going on. It may take time, and I know that we have slipped twice in our attempts to get this right, but I am determined that we will succeed in doing so, and I know that the whole House shares my determination.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary

I thank the Home Secretary for her response. As she will know, we supported her statement last week in which she told the House that she was delaying publication of the Wanless review because she wanted us to be able to scrutinise it properly. I put the urgent question today to call her to the House so that Members could do exactly that. It is unfortunate that the review was published only just before Peter Wanless appeared before the Select Committee. Given that there have been so many allegations of cover-ups and secrecy, I urge the Home Secretary to go the extra mile in keeping the House informed and making proper scrutiny possible. Everyone in the Chamber abhors the terrible abuse of children, both in the past and today. Survivors need support and justice, and children need protection right now.

The Home Secretary is right to thank Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam, QC, for their detailed work, which will need further consideration. We note their key conclusions: that they have found no evidence of systematic cover-ups, but that it is not possible to say that that never happened, because the information that is available remains very limited, and too little is still known about what happened and why. The Home Secretary is also right to accept their recommendations, and to ask further questions about the role of the police, prosecutors and the security services. Let me, however, ask her the following questions. The first concerns the remit of the review, which was narrow. It was a review of a review, which concluded in some areas that matters were not within the authors’ terms of reference. Has the Home Secretary asked them whether they came across any matters that should be further investigated, although those matters were outside their terms?

Secondly, can the Home Secretary clarify exactly how historic allegations about cover-ups are now being investigated? She referred to the work of the panel, but she will have heard, for example, the comments of journalist Don Hale, who says that he had a file of allegations from Barbara Castle, but it was removed by the police after threats and an approach from Cyril Smith. These are immensely serious allegations, so can the Home Secretary tell the House who is investigating them now—the police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, this Wanless review, or the national overarching inquiry that has not yet started—because they must be investigated by someone? We presume that the police will be investigating specific allegations of abuse, but can the Home Secretary clarify who will be investigating specific allegations of cover-ups? Will that be the police or the inquiry, and if it is the inquiry, will it have the full investigative powers it needs?

Finally, the Home Secretary will be aware of concern from police forces across the country about the lack of resources they have for investigating both historical and current abuse cases. Will she tell us whether she believes the police and prosecutors currently have enough resources in place to properly investigate these terrible crimes?

There are still clearly so many unanswered questions and the Home Secretary is right that the whole House will unite in its determination to get to the truth. Survivors of abuse, and all of us, need to know that we now have the most effective possible system in place to pursue truth and justice and protect our children for the future.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right: I did want this report to be published separately today. I thought it was appropriate to do so, rather than publishing it on the same day that I was making the statement about the panel inquiry, so that there are opportunities for this House to look at the document, which has been put in the Library. I recognise that hon. Members at this point will not necessarily have been able to look at the inquiry report as fully as I have, but obviously that opportunity will be open to them.

The right hon. Lady said the review terms of reference were too narrow. I disagree. The review was set up to give the public confidence that the reviews that had been commissioned by the permanent secretary were rigorous and fair, and the review confirms that they were. Unfortunately, of course, it does not prove or disprove that the Home Office acted appropriately in the 1980s, but, as I said, that is not the only aspect of this case, and we should not give up now.

The right hon. Lady asked about the historical allegations and how they were being dealt with. A number of historical allegations are already being dealt with and are under police investigation. For example, there is Operation Pallial in north Wales and there are also all the Operation Yewtree investigations around the Jimmy Savile case, and, indeed, we have seen some historical allegations against individuals being brought to court already and some people being prosecuted as a result of that work.

In relation to the specific question about Don Hale and the comments he made, I did not hear his whole interview on the Radio 4 “Today” programme this morning, but I recognise the allegations he has made, so my office has been in discussions with the Metropolitan police today and the Metropolitan police have agreed that they will now look into those allegations.

The right hon. Lady referred to investigating cover-ups. The point about the panel inquiry is that it will be looking at what the institutions did: it will look at what happened and ask, for example, why was it that children in care homes were abused to the extent that they were; why was it that allegations were not properly dealt with; and why was it that institutions—bodies of government, of the state—that were there and should have been protecting people, and investigating and properly dealing with allegations of criminality, did not do so? Sadly, obviously as we have seen in relation to the Rotherham inquiry and the work in Greater Manchester, some of these issues still pertain today. So that is what the inquiry will look at. Of course if it uncovers anything that relates to criminal activity that has taken place, it will be appropriate for that to be properly investigated by the police. I have said before that I am discussing the question of resources in relation to this, and I have already had a conversation with the national policing lead about these matters.

I want to confirm two further things. Some people have expressed concern about what evidence can be given to these inquiries in relation to the former officials who had signed the Official Secrets Act. I am very clear that the Official Secrets Act should not get in the way of anybody giving evidence to the panel inquiry or bringing forward any evidence that they have that is relevant to this issue. If anyone who knows something is worried about the Official Secrets Act, they should come forward and speak out.

Also, in their report Wanless and Whittam found that there was no inappropriate behaviour or cover-up when the Home Office recently reviewed these matters. However, as I said, that does not prove or disprove allegations about the Home Office in the 1980s. Their verdict is “case not proved”, rather than “not guilty”. I cannot stand here and say that the Home Office was not involved in a cover-up during the 1980s. There might have been a cover-up, and that is why we have set up the inquiry into child abuse. We are determined to get to the truth.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s determination to leave no stone unturned in addressing the deficiencies of the Home Office’s record keeping in the period between 1979 and 1999. Will she give me an assurance that the recommendations of the report have now been adopted, that child abuse allegations received by the Home Office are being marked as significant, that a record is being kept of what is passed on to the police and that there is a procedure for following up what happens after that?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said earlier, the permanent secretary has accepted all the recommendations, and they are being put into place at the moment to ensure that the systems record information appropriately in the way that Wanless and Whittam have recommended, so that it will be possible to follow through any matters that are passed to the police to ensure that they are being properly recorded and dealt with.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee this morning. We gave the Home Secretary the opportunity to appear before us, before they came to see us, but she declined to do so. In my seven years as Chairman of the Committee, such occurrences have been extremely rare. It is important that Ministers should submit themselves to proper scrutiny by Select Committees on issues of this importance. Perhaps the only way to achieve that is to table an urgent question, and we will consider doing that in the future. When Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam gave evidence, they said that it was the Home Office’s shambolic record keeping over 30 years that had led them to believe that they could not rule out the possibility of a cover-up. The Home Secretary has said that she is writing to them with further information. When will she do so? Further to the point made by Mr Clappison, we want the new system set out in recommendation 2 to start today. Can this be done, please?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would not normally reveal the interaction between myself and the Home Affairs Committee in relation to an appearance, but as the right hon. Gentleman has made reference to it, I think I should clarify the matter for the House. I am happy to appear in front of the Committee on these matters, but I did not feel that it was appropriate to do so before the report had been published. I would have been asked questions that it would not have been appropriate for me to answer, given that I had not yet made the report public. However, I look forward to receiving an invitation to appear on a separate date.

The right hon. Gentleman is right on the issue of record keeping, and the matter is being addressed in the Home Office. We want to ensure that this is done as quickly as possible, but we also want to ensure that the system that is being put in place will work, that it will be sustainable over time, and that everyone who is working in it understands it and deals with it appropriately. That is not something that can be done at the click of one’s fingers. It takes a little time.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

When we heard from Wanless and Whittam at the Home Affairs Committee this morning, they told us that their report had been submitted to the Home Secretary on 15 October. They also told us that they had wanted it to come out as quickly as possible and did not know why it had not been published until today. They said that the timing of its publication had been nothing to do with them. The Home Secretary has a track record of delaying reports that she is concerned about. Why did it take so long to bring this one out?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I cannot recall whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber when I made my statement on the child abuse panel inquiry last week. I suspect that he was—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in attending the Chamber when matters relating to Home Affairs are being discussed. I made it clear then that I did not want to publish this report on the same day as the statement, and that I wanted to publish it later. I said that I would publish it this week, and I have kept that commitment to the House. Also, when I receive a report it is important that I read and consider it. As a result of having done so, I asked a number of questions of officials. That has resulted—this answers part of the question asked by Keith Vaz—in my writing today to Peter Wanless to indicate that I would like him and Richard Whittam to give a reassurance about the extent to which they were able to reassure themselves that the police had dealt appropriately with matters that were handed over to them. The reason I have done that is simple: I do not want a situation where people simply say, “The Home Office can absolve itself of responsibility because it handed things to the police.” We want to make sure that those allegations were dealt with appropriately, and I think it is entirely right that I have written to them for reassurance on that.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

This morning, our Committee heard from the victims groups, which expressed reservations about some members of the panel for the overarching inquiry and suggested three names for the chair. Two of them, Nelson Mandela and Theresa May are obviously not possibilities—[Interruption.] Sorry, I mean Madam Theresa—[Laughter.] Mother Teresa! But they did suggest one sensible name, Michael Mansfield. Will the Home Secretary assure me that she will give full consideration to what the victims groups are saying about who should be chairing the panel and that she will re-examine its members?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I had a sense of déjà vu then, because when I was a councillor in the London borough of Merton the then leader of the Labour group sometimes used to call me Mother Theresa. The hon. Lady did raise a serious point, because we need to ensure that the panel of inquiry and its chairman have the confidence of survivors and victims, so that they can have confidence in the outcome of the panel’s work. The name she mentioned has been raised by others, but so have a number of other names. Hon. Members are making proposals, as are survivors groups and individual survivors. The Home Office is collating all the names that are being suggested as a possible chairman and, appropriately, we will look into those individuals in due course. I hope that this will not take too long, but we will need to do the necessary work to bring a further name forward.

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood Conservative, Oxford West and Abingdon

I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to implement the report’s recommendations swiftly. However, in evidence today, Wanless and Whittam were clear that these recommendations have relevance across government. Will she today commit to impressing on her Cabinet colleagues the importance of these recommendations for every Department, so that survivors of child abuse can have confidence that wherever an allegation of child abuse is made to government it will be acted on swiftly and appropriately?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I am very happy to commit to doing that. I will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that all Departments and agencies co-operate fully with the child abuse panel inquiry, and I am very happy to put in that letter as well my hon. Friend’s suggestion that the Wanless and Whittam recommendations on record keeping should be applied across the whole of government.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Don Hale was given a huge number of Home Office minutes by Barbara Castle that directly related to allegations of child abuse by prominent people, including many prominent MPs. Those minutes were seized virtually straight away by three special branch officers. Why is it appropriate that the Metropolitan police should now be investigating this, rather than inviting those special branch officers to the inquiry in order to give their explanation of why they were instructed to take those files and where they took them?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman has raised points that I think are relevant, but they are separate points in relation to what evidence can be given to the inquiry. It would be entirely open to the inquiry, if it chose to do so, to ask Don Hale, and indeed others involved in this, to come before the inquiry to give evidence to it. That is not a matter for me; it will be a matter for the inquiry panel to decide whether it wishes to pursue that course of action. Having been made aware of the allegations that Don Hale had made this morning, I felt that it was right that there should be a police investigation into this, which is why the Metropolitan police will be looking into it.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I wish to ask the Home Secretary about the security services. It is my understanding that, in the 1980s and at other times, copies may have been made of files that have been established by this review as now missing from the Home Office. Those copies may have been taken by the security services. Will she ensure that further inquiries are made to establish that there are not copies of these old files somewhere else? As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, may I confirm that the Home Secretary is a very regular attendee, whereas her shadow has not been once in the time that I have been in the House?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand that in their work, Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam did investigate whether files were held by a number of other Government Departments and agencies. I have in my letter to them today made it clear that I would like further reassurance on the role of the Security Service. I trust that they will be able to look into that further and report back to me.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley and Eccles South

Greater Manchester police admit that they failed to pursue perpetrators of child sex grooming gangs despite allegations being made to them about those gangs over a decade or a more. Our admirable friend the shadow Home Secretary has pressed the issue about the lack of police resources, so will the Home Secretary now say more about providing those resources, because Greater Manchester police will need them to investigate the levels of current and historical sex abuse that we have had in that city?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will repeat what I said in response to the shadow Home Secretary. I have spoken with the national policing lead on this matter, who is looking at all the investigations that are taking place in forces across the country, and on what is needed to ensure that those investigations can be undertaken. One issue that has clearly emerged from the Rotherham report and from the work that the shadow Home Secretary did in relation to Greater Manchester police and the issues around child sexual exploitation was not about resources but about an attitude which did not believe or listen to the victims and was not prepared to investigate their cases. We must change that attitude of mind and change that culture.

Photo of Tessa Munt Tessa Munt Liberal Democrat, Wells

In the interests of clarity, may I ask the Home Secretary on what date she instructed her permanent secretary to check and order the preservation of each and every file containing documents relating to any allegations of abuse, so that the independent panel has access to them? Destroying any documents would be against section 29 of the Data Protection Act, which should protect them in the interests of justice.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will, if I may, write to my hon. Friend with details on the work that the Home Office has been doing to ensure that files are preserved and available for those who need to see them.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Opposition Whip (Commons)

On Friday, given the discussion that was going on in the media about this report, I raised a point of order in the House. Although I welcome the detail that the Home Secretary has given us today, I remain somewhat confused as to why she did not choose proactively to make a statement to the House. There are issues of confidence and assurance that concern both victims and Members from all parts of the House. Will the Home Secretary reassure us that she will take a proactive approach in coming to this House with information on these serious issues?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have come to this House on a number of occasions to deal with these matters and to talk about the work that the Government have put in place in relation to these very serious allegations—be it in response to the Rotherham inquiry or to the child abuse inquiry panel that the Government have established. It is absolutely my intention that the work that has been put in place by this Government will get to the truth. Survivors of child abuse will have the opportunity to put their case and to see a thorough consideration of these issues so that we can identify what went wrong, why they were not protected by the very institutions that should have protected them and what further lessons we need to learn for the future. I will undertake to update the House on a regular basis, when it is possible to do so.

The independent panel will be conducting its work independently. It is not for me to determine when it may make public statements about the work that it is doing. One issue that I wish to raise with it is exactly this question about how it can ensure that people are aware of the work that it is doing while it is doing it, so that people can have confidence in it and see what is being done.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The Wanless report has been published and the Home Secretary and others have confidence in it. Has she considered appointing either Peter Wanless or Richard Whittam, or indeed both, as chairman or co-chairman of the independent panel inquiry?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for that proposal and will add both names to the list that the Home Office is compiling.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

Will the Home Secretary confirm whether the Wanless review looked at the situation in Wales? Did it consider the role of North Wales police and the work of the Wales Office at that time? I tabled an early-day motion in 2012, just before the Waterhouse review was set up, which made it clear that

“the police have lost the confidence of the public by their apparent failure properly to investigate the full extent of the paedophile activity in North Wales; and similarly that the Crown Prosecution Service has inexplicably failed to prosecute on a number of occasions despite clear evidence and a large number of allegations”

North Wales police lost documents, photographs and statements. Who is looking into that?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

In answer to the right hon. Lady’s specific question on the Wanless and Whittam review, it looked at information held in the Home Office—what information it had and how it dealt with it. If the information in those files related to Wales, or anywhere else in the United Kingdom, of course it would be within the review. The purpose of the review was to look at how the Home Office handled that information. I can assure her that the independent panel inquiry’s terms of reference explicitly state that the inquiry will cover England and Wales, so matters relating to child abuse that might have taken place in institutions in Wales will be covered.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Conservative, Harrogate and Knaresborough

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the establishment and publication of this review are an important step in ensuring that institutions up and down our country take seriously their duty to protect children from abuse, and to learn any lessons from their failures, because one of the most shocking aspects of this story over the past few months has been how those institutions let children down, and let them down terribly?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is shocking that we have seen bodies of the state—institutions, Government Departments and agencies—that should have been protecting children failing to do so. That is clear from the historical cases of child abuse we have seen, which were not followed through or considered properly. Sadly, it is also what we have seen from the more recent cases in Rotherham and Greater Manchester. Indeed, there are other cases currently being taken forward by police investigating child sexual exploitation in these matters. It is essential that we recognise that there are still problems, which is why it is important that the inquiry finds out what went wrong and identifies the lessons we now need to learn and what we need to put in place to ensure that we stop that in future.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Education)

Although many of the files may no longer exist, it has been suggested that there are plenty of officials, or at least retired officials, still around who are fully conversant with their content. Were any of them interviewed as part of the Wanless review? If not, in the interests of getting to the bottom of this, does the Home Secretary think that it might be an idea to interview them now?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It was open to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam to interview any individuals they felt it was appropriate to interview. For example, they interviewed the former official who had indicated that he had information relating to money going to the Paedophile Information Exchange. It is also open to any official who has information or knows of something that happened in relation to these matters to come forward and give evidence to the panel inquiry. As I said earlier, I am very clear that the Official Secrets Act should not prevent anybody from bringing such evidence forward.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Clearly the evidence emerging from both Rotherham and Manchester shows the systemic failure of public services to treat allegations of child sexual abuse seriously. Will my right hon. Friend now reiterate the view that anyone who has any evidence whatsoever of child sexual abuse, or who has been the victim of child sexual abuse, should come forward so that these allegations can be thoroughly investigated and their minds can be put to rest?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the extent to which children have been failed, both in the past and more recently, as we have seen from the cases he mentioned. I am very clear that anybody who has any evidence should come forward. I want people to feel confident that they can come forward in the knowledge that the intention of the inquiry we have set up is to get to the truth. If there were cover-ups among Government Departments or others in relation to these matters in the past, that should be exposed and we should ensure that that cannot happen in future.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Opposition Whip (Commons)

My question takes that one step further. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the overarching inquiry into child abuse, when up and running, will examine the role of Whitehall and its authorities, because that is a critical question for many people?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, it absolutely will. As I have said, the inquiry will be comprehensive when it comes to the institutions it looks at. It will look at state and non-state institutions, because there have clearly been failures not only in state-run care homes, for example, but in other areas of life, such as the Church. The review will be comprehensive.

Photo of Zac Goldsmith Zac Goldsmith Conservative, Richmond Park

The Home Secretary has rightly pointed out that the report identifies no clear evidence of cover-up, but I want to draw her attention to a reference it makes to a letter that the 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, as the review states,

“in the view of the DPP, two could form the basis for enquiries by the police and have been passed to the appropriate authorities.”

If that is true, it is very hard to understand how there can be no evidence of those letters. That is exactly the kind of loose end that the inquiry will have to resolve if it is to have any credibility at all with victims and the wider public.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is precisely those sorts of issues that have led people to query what has happened, question the attitude taken to these matters and ask the very question he raises about why there do not seem to have been any prosecutions off the back of it. Wanless and Whittam were specifically asked to look at how the police and prosecuting authorities dealt with any reference that had been made from the Home Office because, as I said earlier, in my view it is not good enough for the Home Office to say, “Well, we’ve reviewed what the Home Office did.” We need to know what happened to the evidence that the Home Office passed on. It is in looking at what further action was taken that I have gone back to Wanless and Whittam in the letter I sent them today.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Can the Home Secretary shed any light on recent press reports that the Dickens dossier might be held in the files of Barbara Castle at the Bodleian library in Oxford?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am unable at this stage to shed any further light on that, but obviously that will be looked into. If there is evidence sitting somewhere like that, we want to ensure that it is available to the inquiry.

Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham

I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary remains so hungry to find the truth about this situation. I am a little puzzled, because the period of the review stretches from 1979 to 1999 yet there is such a heavy dependence on paper-based records, even though the use of computing within public administration would have been widespread for a good deal of that period. Why is that the case?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that Governments spend a lot of time working with paper-based methods. Indeed, much of the material available to Government is still paper-based, rather than in digital form. Obviously, increasingly the balance is changing, but the records kept at that time were almost invariably in paper form. Indeed, many records are still kept in paper form.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

Does the Home Secretary have any lessons from this inquiry with which to reassure people about the wider inquiry, given the apparent absence of good record keeping in the past? How will people be kept on board so that they have trust in the process, rather than awaiting something and then, at the end, crying, “No, that can’t be right”?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady makes an important point. It will be for the inquiry panel to determine how it is going to report, how frequently it will report, and in what form it will report the work that it does. My personal view is that because of the nature of these issues, the comprehensive nature of its work, and the need for confidence in it that she mentioned, I would like it to report to people on a fairly regular basis so that it can show what it is doing. Indeed, there may be a benefit to that, because if it reports on a piece of work that it has done on, say, identifying a certain set of institutions, that may trigger other people to come forward with further evidence. This will be a matter for the inquiry panel, but I have made clear my view that they should be doing it regularly.

Photo of Stephen Mosley Stephen Mosley Conservative, City of Chester

The Wanless review continually highlights the fact that in the 1980s data relating to parliamentary questions and information about constituents submitted by MPs to Ministers were retained for only two years. What is the position now? Following on from the question by my hon. Friend Duncan Hames, would it not make sense to store these data digitally so that they are available for future generations?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If I may, I will write to my hon. Friend about the current procedures that are followed by Government Departments in relation to retention of records. The length of time for which a document is kept is determined by its status. There have been a number of models for this across the intervening years. I fully accept that maintaining material in digital fashion is the way forward. However, as I said to my hon. Friend Duncan Hames, the Government still—how can I put it?—like the paper form and are still, in many cases, keeping the material available to them in that form, but they are moving towards more digitisation.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

The Home Secretary will be aware of the sickening case of the Crown Prosecution Service supporting the charges against Eleanor de Freitas of false allegations of rape that resulted in her suicide. What assurances can the Home Secretary give to victims of public figures who abused them that the CPS will not pursue counter-claims against them that might lead to deterrence or, indeed, their suicide?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will not comment on the individual case that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am very clear, and it is very clear in the request that I will put to the Cabinet Secretary, that Government Departments and agencies—all aspects of Government—should be working to help the inquiry to get to the truth and to ensure, in doing so, that any evidence is available to it. The Crown Prosecution Service is an independent body in relation to decisions that it takes about prosecutions. Certainly, the message we will be sending from the Government is that in matters relating to the inquiry we want Government Departments to come forward with the information they have to ensure that we can get at the truth.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

I very much welcome the approach that the Home Secretary is taking, and I understand why she wants to be absolutely sure that the systems that are in place are going to work. Will she confirm that the recommendation that a record is made of what happens to something that is passed to the police will be put in place as soon as possible, without waiting for the full inquiry?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes. That recommendation from the Wanless and Whittam review is separate from the work of the inquiry panel. The permanent secretary has accepted those recommendations and is ensuring that they are acted on and put in place.

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

May I return to the question by my fellow Birmingham MP, my hon. Friend Steve McCabe? We have clearly lost a lot of paper files, and only one official who would have been expected to know what went on, even in the absence of files, has voluntarily come forward to give information. Would it not therefore be appropriate to have a more systematic scroll through those who might have known, and rather than wait for them to come forward, to ask them proactively?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said to Steve McCabe, Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam were open to decide how to do the work of the review; it was for them to determine how best they could ensure that they were doing their job thoroughly, as I believe they did. As for whether there are officials who would, or should, come forward to give evidence to the inquiry panel, that is a separate question. I am very clear that any former official who has any information should feel able to come forward and not feel that the Official Secrets Act will get in the way of their doing so. It is important that we hear all the evidence that is available.