Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:06 pm on 20th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Finkelstein Lord Finkelstein Conservative 4:06 pm, 20th December 2018

The right reverend Prelate is intervening on me, so my noble friend Lord Lexden cannot reply.

I shall start with the words that noble Lords most dread—“It is not my intention today to make a long speech”. I intend only a short intervention to express concerns about the proposed treatment of Lord Janner by the child abuse inquiry and to associate myself in that regard with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.

My opening observation is that what we have learned in the past few years about the prevalence of child abuse is deeply shocking. We have learned that all sorts of institutions covered up the behaviour in order to avoid embarrassment, and that was shameful. I have always thought that it was highly unlikely that the behaviour—both the abuse and the cover-up—that was so prevalent in society would be absent from political institutions, so I vigorously support an independent inquiry. I also note that, as Parliament is one of the institutions being inquired into, the inquiry will wish to maintain a robust attitude to our criticisms and to insist that it is better placed to make judgments than people in this House.

I knew Lord Janner, I know and love his family, and I accept that this means that I do not have the independence that the inquiry claims for itself. Yet, while accepting that, I hope that the inquiry will prove able and willing to listen to legitimate concerns, politely put. My concern is that the decision to hold a separate strand on Lord Janner—the one strand on a person—is very odd indeed. The inquiry suggests that it will not relitigate criminal or civil proceedings and that it has no power to determine criminal or civil liability. Does this mean that allegations will be aired as if they were true, without subjecting them to question? The inquiry insists that it has made no assumption of guilt, but let us not be naive. The danger of a separate strand is obvious; we can all see it. I can certainly see it—I am a newspaper journalist, after all.

If the inquiry simply airs allegations without cross-examination it will give the impression of guilt. It will put on the record charges without proper regard to whether they are true—and I cannot think that is fair or right. Of course Lord Janner must not be treated better than other people, but we are discussing the fact that he is being treated worse than other people. I completely appreciate the importance of the rights of victims, and the right of victims to be heard, but the inquiry has to make sure not just that it is listening to victims—and in some cases it may not be—but that it is listening to victims of Lord Janner, and it cannot know that unless it inquires into facts that it says it will not inquire into and is obviously taking as read. This cannot be done casually or lazily. Nor can it be done, as I fear it is, by assumption. So I hope that the inquiry will be able to reassure those of us who worry about this.

I have a third point to make before I sit down. The inquiry must take care not to think that, as Lord Janner is dead, it matters less what is said about him. He has a family; they loved him and his reputation matters to them. He belonged to a community who much admired him, and his reputation matters to his community. He was a parliamentarian and he thrived here, and his reputation matters to Parliament—and it matters to me, too. So it matters what the inquiry says.

It is important to emphasise that the inquiry must tell the truth. It must do so bravely, without favour and independently of people like me and my judgment. But you know what? It must do it fairly, too.