Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:31 pm on 28th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 3:31 pm, 28th November 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to provide a formal response to the Interim Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, published on 25 April.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, the Government welcome the inquiry’s interim report and appreciate the work that has gone into it. We are carefully considering all its recommendations and will publish our response shortly.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, eight years ago, Gordon Brown issued an apology for the mistreatment of migrant children sent to Australia and other parts of the Commonwealth between 1945 and the early 1970s, many of whom suffered serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its report last March calling for redress within 12 months. Australia established a scheme within six months. In July, the Minister for Health and Inequalities promised a response before the Summer Recess. None has been published. How long will it take this Government to accord justice to the many victims of such shocking mistreatment?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

The noble Lord is absolutely right: a response is required and will be forthcoming very shortly. On top of that, the Government are acutely aware of the age and declining health of so many former child migrants. We are, as I say, committed to providing a considered response to the inquiry’s recommendations as soon as possible.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers

My Lords, does the Minister accept that every week the Government delay in taking a grip on this issue means more young people having their lives destroyed? When they are considering their response, will the Government take account of the mounting evidence, added to only this week by evidence about the Catholic Church, that unless people are forced to report child abuse to external agencies, and report only within the agency concerned, very often these organisations will cover it up because they afraid of reputational damage? Will the Government take that into account?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I totally accept the noble Baroness’s point—I have just made it myself—that nobody wants to see any further delay, certainly given the age of some of these former child migrants. On reporting sexual abuse to external agencies, the noble Baroness is absolutely right: unless there is a proper system of support for these allegations, there is then further opportunity for internal cover-up.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour

My Lords, could the Minister comment on an item on the front page of today’s Times, which reports that a child-abuser in prison was able to stake his claim to parental rights to the child of the victim, to her astonishment. Is Rotherham Council part of the problem, or do the guidelines need to be changed?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

That report is extremely distressing for the individuals concerned and for all of us. I know that the relevant government departments here—the DfE and the MoJ—and the local authority will work urgently to understand the facts of this case and to implement any changes needed to the law or procedure. I thank the noble and learned Lord for raising this matter, because it is something on which I think we all agree.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

My Lords, the Minister will have heard the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talk about delays, but this delay pales into insignificance compared with the delay in the implementation of the Hart report in Northern Ireland, which investigated historical institutional abuse. That report has been sitting on the table for years. It has unanimous political support from every party in Northern Ireland—not a single politician is not in favour of its implementation—but, because of the current crisis and the failure to take any action, the victims are being revictimised all over again. I invite the Minister to appeal to her right honourable friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands to ensure that the Hart report is implemented and that those people are given justice.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I certainly will elect to bring the noble Lord’s points to the attention of my right honourable friend. Of course, a particular set of circumstances in Northern Ireland means that certain things do not go smoothly, and this is perhaps one of them. However, I will certainly take back the noble Lord’s points.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, do Ministers accept that, in organising its inquiries and hearings, the IICSA has a duty to protect the reputations of persons who have been accused of sexual offences but not found guilty in a court of law? Or is it the Government’s position that IICSA should be free to undermine the reputations of whole families by the way it conducts its inquiries?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

It is important to point out that IICSA’s central role is to inquire into a number of institutions rather than people, and that includes the Home Office, the DfE and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, have the Government made any assessment of the process in Australia, where, as I said, matters have been resolved within six months? If so, what lessons have they learned from that?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

The noble Lord is right that many of the children who went to Australia were apologised to by the Australian Government, and indeed the Australian Government issued compensation to some—I do not know whether it was all—of those involved. Certainly, we will consider all those things in the round when we respond to the inquiry review.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Why do the Government take so long to reach a decision on these matters?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, the Home Office is providing a consolidated report on behalf of all the government departments involved. My noble friend is absolutely right to point out that we need to issue our response very soon, but we want to respond in a very considered way and there are quite a lot of recommendations to be considered.