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Operation Augusta — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:48 am on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:48 am, 5th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I want to thank Graham Stringer for securing this debate on the independent assurance review on child sexual exploitation in Manchester, and particularly for the serious and effective tone he set for the debate. The subject is clearly important not only to Members for Greater Manchester constituencies, but to Members representing places across the country, given what the review uncovered.

The report of the first phase of the review, focusing on Operation Augusta, was shocking. It told a story that has sadly become far too familiar, of vulnerable young people let down by those whose job it was to protect them. The Government welcome the publication of the report. While it is distressing to read, we must bear in mind that reviews such as the independent review in Manchester are critical. If we do not confront the failures of the past, we risk repeating them. Reviews such as this give a voice to the survivors of abuse and allow their stories to be heard—stories that previously were too often ignored.

I turn to one or two of the points raised during the debate by hon. Members. Regarding the query from my hon. Friend Mary Robinson, we expect the review later this year. However, we as the Government cannot commit to a specific date, because the report is an independent one and therefore the exact date of publication is in the hands of the reviewer. There were particular queries in relation to the coroner’s report; I understand that there has been correspondence between the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the Attorney General, and that the Attorney General is considering the request to look at reopening that particular inquiry.

There were also some comments, not surprisingly, about what is being done to hold to account those who failed so visibly in this investigation. My understanding is that the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which is rightly independent of the Government, has been in discussions with the Greater Manchester authority and is scoping a potential investigation. I hope hon. Members will realise why the Home Office cannot go much further than that at this stage in commenting on particular individuals.

There was also commentary about the iOPS system in relation to Greater Manchester Police. I understand that the Mayor has commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to undertake an inspection, and we are awaiting the written report. We expect it to be published shortly and will, of course, closely consider any recommendations that it brings forward.

It was partly because of cases such as this that, in 2015, the Government established the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse to get to the truth, expose what has gone wrong and learn lessons for the future. The inquiry is investigating institutional responses to child sexual exploitation by organised networks, with public hearings scheduled to take place from 20 April this year. There was some talk in the debate about commissioning research; I understand the inquiry has already announced it has commissioned research into the motivation and behaviour of perpetrators who operate as part of organised networks. Given that, we do not believe it would be appropriate for the Government to set about duplicating the work while it is under way. We will wait for the findings and are ready to commission further research if necessary. I feel I might be about to get some comments on this from Sarah Champion, who I will happily give way to.