Lauren Wright

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:16 pm on 16th October 2001.

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Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North 1:16 pm, 16th October 2001

I congratulate Mrs. Shephard on securing this debate and on her tenacity in pursuing an appalling case. It is a special case in that it is the fifth in Norfolk in the past few years. The public in Norfolk have a crisis of confidence in social services and their delivery on such issues. That will have to be addressed by an open and transparent public inquiry. There is a lot to be said and there should be no attempt to hide what went on in this tragic case. Unless there is a public inquiry, confidence in Norfolk will erode. Such a case must never ever happen again—and if we do not get it right, there will be another such case.

I am not going to blame individuals. A failure in the development of services has been admitted to. If we are to achieve the change that we need in the way in which such situations are addressed, only an inquiry will bring out all the issues in an open and transparent way and ensure that the public acquire the confidence that is sadly lacking.

I would like the inquiry not to be secret. It is possible to have an inquiry whose chair decides to open only a specific aspect to the public. That would increase suspicion. The whole inquiry will have to be open, because the case has touched the people of Norfolk so deeply. The morale of those who work for social services must be at rock bottom, too. There is a resource requirement to be examined. The way in which we treat our children, viewing them as possessions about whom no one can ask questions, is a general problem in society, which such an inquiry would illustrate.

I give my full support to the right hon. Lady in her demand for a public inquiry. I hope that the Minister will listen and ensure that there is one. The case is a special one, against the background of a county struggling with such issues. Comparisons with anywhere else are not valid at this stage. Will the Minister ensure that the debate is opened up? We must see to it that this never happens again in Norfolk in our time.