My Lords, I am grateful for the clarity with which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has spoken and am glad to follow him in this debate. I can speak today with direct experience of the work of IICSA and its handling of evidence. In March this year, the inquiry held public hearings over 14 days in its case study of the Chichester diocese, in which I gave written and oral evidence. As part of that case study, the inquiry has also heard evidence from survivors of sexual abuse. I begin today by asking the House to keep in mind the courage, and personal cost, with which survivors have been willing to share their testimony.
The inquiry has had from the start, and continues to have, the unequivocal support of the institutions of the Church of England. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury called for and has publicly welcomed the inquiry. The Archbishops’ Council continues to support it and has given a commitment to co-operate fully with its work.
The Church and we as a diocese are shamed and profoundly sorry for the abuse that has been perpetrated in our midst; for our grave failings in preventing and responding to incidents of abuse; and for our past shortcomings in providing care and support to survivors. My heartfelt apologies are already on record. But words of apology in this context can have substance and credibility only if we are seen to face up to our failures and deliver a real shift in safeguarding practice and culture.
It is right that the grave and costly failings of the Church and of other institutions should be investigated independently. It is right that survivors of abuse are listened to with respect and afforded dignity, which is happening not just through public hearings but through the important work of the Truth Project commissioned by IICSA. It is right also that institutions and their processes which have failed vulnerable people co-operate energetically and with humility in assisting the inquiry.
As someone who has appeared before a public hearing of the inquiry, in giving evidence I found its approach to be robust, challenging and extremely well informed. I was left with a strong impression that the inquiry’s staff, counsel and panel members were approaching their difficult task with considerable skill and care.
As a diocese and in the wider Church of England, we see our engagement with the inquiry as an expression of a more general willingness to be accountable to external bodies for how we keep children and vulnerable adults safe.