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Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman's proposal, as I understand it, is in conflict with the views expressed by the previous shadow Foreign Secretary in his last speech. He said that Britain would not wish to stand in the way of other countries which wanted to pursue flexibility. His sudden disappearance suggests that perhaps his view did not entirely find favour with the Conservative party. We wait to discover whether it remains Conservative Front-Bench policy.

Flexibility is not a pick-and-mix charter for opt-outs. The flexibility that other member states propose means the enhanced co-operation of a tighter group. We agreed to such a model at Amsterdam. It has never been used. It is hard to understand why a provision that has not been used already needs amendment.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): What would happen if the British Government ruled out the single currency for ever and also blocked enlargement so that the potential 12 additional members of the European Union were not included in it? What would happen to relations between this country and the rest of the continent if such a policy was pursued by a Government led by white-van man?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes his case through his question. There is no point in this country remaining a

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member state of the European Union if we, like Conservative Members, are half-hearted about it. A half- hearted Britain in the European Union would secure only half a national interest. If we are to remain a member of the European Union--and we are committed to that--the only rational strategy is to be a full member playing fully to ensure full benefit for Britain.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): Will the Foreign Secretary be more specific about Cyprus? I think he said that on joining the European Union, an applicant country must accede to free movement of peoples and capital. Does that mean that if Cyprus signs and joins, the division of the island is over, but if the division continues, Cyprus cannot join?

Mr. Cook: That is not our policy. I have long argued from the Dispatch Box that Cyprus's application for membership of the European Union must be judged on its merits. It would assist that process if the division of the island was settled, and the people of the Republic of Cyprus want that to happen. However, it must not be a condition of membership. Freedom of movement between the Republic of Cyprus and the occupied northern sector would apply only if Turkey simultaneously joined the European Union.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): What does the Foreign Secretary envisage as the end state of European political integration?

Mr. Cook: I have already told the House that we share the vision of other European leaders and that we shall continue to move towards a united Europe of states, not a united states of Europe.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the eventual consequences of enlargement will be the diminution of the amount of cash available in the United Kingdom for agrimonetary compensation and structural funds? Is it not therefore essential that we do not lose out on the money that is currently available because of the Government's reluctance to contribute genuine additional match funding?

Mr. Cook: We debated those issues in Berlin. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the deal that Britain secured whereby the highlands and islands continue to receive exactly the same amount of money as they received when they were an objective 1 area.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): The Foreign Secretary is right that enlargement requires institutional reform, and I look forward to the enlargement about which he speaks. He was also right that retention of the veto could mean that reforms in Britain's interest might not occur. However, is not the reverse also true? Extension of qualified majority voting could mean that Britain would have to accept changes that would not be in our interest. Which is more important?

Mr. Cook: I have already made clear the subjects on which we do not accept an extension of qualified majority voting. They are: border controls; taxation and social security; revenue raising; treaty amendments; and defence. We will retain the veto on those matters for

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precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's recognition, which is not shared by some of his hon. Friends, that retaining the British veto means retaining the veto for everybody else, and leaving our interests subject to it.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Will the Foreign Secretary undertake to reject any treaty that does not accord France, Britain and Germany at least that blocking minority vote of which he spoke?

Mr. Cook: If we do not achieve the increase in weighting in the Council, there will be no change to the Commission. If there is no change in the size of the Commission and no change in weighting in the Council of Ministers, it is impossible for the European Union to proceed. That is clearly set out in the protocol to the Amsterdam treaty.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Does the Foreign Secretary realise the importance to Britain's economic interests of our sovereign right to negotiate international air service agreements, particularly as Heathrow is a premier gateway to Europe for those who cross the Atlantic? Can he assure the House that he will not relinquish our veto in transport matters?

Mr. Cook: I fully understand the importance of the air service agreement to Britain and regularly raise it bilaterally with countries that I visit. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I wish to retain the freedom to do so.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): In my customary consensual way on these issues, may I ask the Foreign Secretary about systems of proportional representation, which he supports? Given the overwhelming opposition to such systems in the Labour and Conservative parties, will he guarantee that any veto that would prevent Europe from imposing on this country a proportional electoral system for which we had not voted ourselves is not among the many vetoes that he may be considering giving up?

Mr. Cook: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's attempt at consensus-building, although he will have to go a little further next time to secure it. I am aware of no such proposal and plainly would not welcome it. No European Union country--

Dr. Lewis: Would the Foreign Secretary veto it?

Mr. Cook: I am not even aware of the proposal. It would be my firm view that every nation should set its own electoral system.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): Mr. Arne Otter of the Estonian Youth Council recently wrote to me. [Interruption.] Labour Members laugh, but they have mentioned Estonia and new applicant states. The letter says that the

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    Does not the Foreign Secretary think that many applicant countries cannot absorb the full acquis communautaire in one hit and that a more flexible approach would be sensible?

Mr. Cook: I have good relations with the Estonian Foreign Minister, but I confess that I have not received a letter from Mr. Arne Otter. The bulk of the population of Estonia strongly supports its application for membership of the European Union. Indeed, the Estonian Government have taken heroic steps to meet the conditions, particularly in their treatment of the Russian-speaking ethnic minority. In those circumstances, in which Estonia is working hard for membership, we have to work equally hard to make it possible for it to join.

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Child Abuse (North Wales)

4.18 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): With permission, I should like to make a statement about the report of the tribunal of inquiry into the abuse of children in care in the former county council areas of Clwyd and Gwynedd since 1974. Copies of the tribunal's report are available from the Vote Office.

The report includes the testimony of many people who made allegations of physical and sexual abuse and gives an insight into the appalling suffering that they endured as children. It is a tragedy that such treatment should have been meted out to children in care.

The background to the inquiry is complex. Allegations about poor treatment of children in north Wales emerged in 1986. One result was an intensive investigation by the North Wales police in 1991, which resulted in a number of convictions. However, speculation continued that the physical and sexual abuse of children in care in the former Clwyd and Gwynedd was on a much greater scale. In 1996, when Clwyd county council--on legal advice--did not publish a report that it had commissioned, there was increasing concern in north Wales and in the House and renewed speculation in the media, leading to calls for a public inquiry.

The then Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), informed the House on 17 June 1996 that there would be a judicial inquiry, under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. Given what has emerged, I think the House will applaud his decision. Sir Ronald Waterhouse was appointed as chairman, with Margaret Clough and Morris le Fleming as the other members.

The tribunal sat for 201 days between January 1997 and April 1998; 264 witnesses gave oral evidence, and 311 submitted written evidence. The work of the tribunal was difficult and harrowing. I place on record our gratitude to the tribunal for the work it has done and our deep admiration of the courage of the many complainants who were willing to relive their childhood experiences.

The report records the testimony of the witnesses in detail and with great sensitivity. Recounting past events will have been distressing to some, and I have made arrangements for the services of the Bridge Child Care Development Service, which provided a witness support team throughout the proceedings, to be available again from today to witnesses and their relatives or partners for a period of up to six months.

In its report the tribunal has named many people: alleged abusers, convicted abusers, local government officers and elected members of local authorities and Welsh Office officials. It has not named complainants or some alleged abusers. The tribunal set out its policy on the naming of names, and did so in the knowledge that its report would have the absolute privilege afforded by the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840.

The tribunal has also confronted the serious questions that arise about the management and safeguarding of children in care. There are 95 conclusions. Those relating to the abuse of children are that there was widespread sexual abuse of boys, and to a lesser extent of girls, in local authority and privately run children's residential establishments and schools, and in an NHS psychiatric unit

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in Clwyd, between 1974 and 1990; that there was no evidence of persistent sexual abuse in children's residential establishments in Gwynedd; that many children in children's residential homes were subjected to physical abuse; that sexual and physical abuse also occurred in a small number of foster homes in Gwynedd; and that

    "there was no evidence presented to the Tribunal or to the North Wales Police to establish that there was a wide ranging conspiracy involving prominent persons and others with the objective of sexual activity with children in care".

However, the tribunal also says:

    "During the period under review there was a paedophile ring in the Wrexham and Chester areas in the sense that there were a number of male persons, many of them known to each other, who were engaged in paedophile activities and were targeting young men in their middle teens. The evidence does not establish that they were solely or mainly interested in persons in care, but such youngsters were particularly vulnerable to their approaches."

On the role of the police, the local authorities, the Welsh Office and central Government, broadly the tribunal concludes that, with few exceptions, the police carried out investigations properly; that standards of care and of education in children's residential establishments were deficient; and that failures in the care system were widespread at all levels--including local authorities, the Welsh Office and central Government--embracing staff recruitment, supervision and management; qualifications and training; complaints and investigation procedures; registration and inspection; and policy making, implementation and monitoring by local authorities and by the Government.

There are 72 recommendations.

On the detection of, and response to, abuse, the tribunal recommends that an independent children's commissioner for Wales should be appointed and that every social services authority, not only in Wales, should be required to appoint an appropriately qualified or experienced children's complaints officer.

There are recommendations on advocacy services, complaints procedures and whistleblowers; on assessment and care planning; on inter-agency working when abuse is suspected; on the recruitment and training of staff and foster carers; on inspections and regulation of private residential schools and all forms of children's residential care; on common standards of care; and on support for young people leaving care.

The tribunal makes recommendations on the expertise required in social services management, on the responsibilities of local authority members for monitoring services to children, on the need for a wide-ranging review of children's services in Wales, on the monitoring of residential and fostering services across Wales, and on the appointment of an advisory council for children's services in Wales. Many recommendations are specific to Wales, and the National Assembly will receive a copy of the report today for the first time.

A number of the recommendations have wider implications. We have already put significant new work in hand to secure real improvements in the standards of care that we expect for children living away from home. As the tribunal recognises, there have been many far-reaching changes over the past decade, in particular those flowing from the changed perceptions introduced by the Children Act 1989.

More recently, we have taken a number of important steps to raise the quality of care for children in response to "People Like Us", the report by Sir William Utting of

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the review of safeguards for children living away from home, which was commissioned at the same time as the inquiry. The Protection of Children Act 1999 will create a statutory register of individuals deemed unsuitable to work with children. Regulated child-care providers will be required to check the names of all whom they propose to employ in posts involving regular contact with children against the statutory lists kept by the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment.

The Care Standards Bill will introduce improved arrangements in England and Wales for the independent regulation and inspection of local authority, voluntary and private sector services on an evenhanded basis. They will cover the inspection of all children's homes, including those with fewer than four children, fostering agencies, voluntary adoption agencies and residential family centres, and welfare arrangements involving schools. The Bill will also establish new care councils for England and Wales, which will provide enforceable codes of conduct and practice for all social care employees. They will set standards and regulate the work force, helping to ensure that staff receive the training and qualifications that they need.

The Children (Leaving Care) Bill will establish extensive new support arrangements to ensure that young people over 16 leaving care will continue to be supported until they are ready and able to stand on their own. A duty will be placed on local authorities to assess and meet needs, and to keep in touch with care leavers. Our plans for more general youth support--through the Connections programme that has just been launched in England, and a broadly similar scheme for Wales--will offer children in care, and others, a range of support in education, careers, housing and personal relationship issues.

The Government have launched major new programmes--"children first" in Wales, and "quality protects" in England--to improve the management and delivery of children's social services. That will include a distinct role for local councillors. There is revised guidance on inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The revised paper "Working Together" was issued in England in December 1999, and will be issued in Wales in March.

The tribunal's report adds impetus to this programme for change, but also makes significant new recommendations. We will be looking hard at them to see how they complement changes that we are planning--or are already implementing--or whether a change of direction or emphasis is needed. At the top of the list is the tribunal's call for the appointment of a children's commissioner for Wales. The National Assembly is already working on detailed proposals for such an appointment, and we shall be considering how best to proceed.

Our key concern now must be to satisfy ourselves as far as we can that people who have abused children are not in a position to do so now. Those named in the report who are still working in one of the successor local authorities in north Wales have been traced and risk-assessed. Given the time span covered by the report, however, there are a number of individuals against whom findings have been made in the report who are no longer working for one of the successor authorities, and whose current whereabouts are unknown. We are working

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together to establish their current whereabouts, and to ensure that they do not now pose a risk to children or other vulnerable groups.

In order to achieve that, the Government are taking additional immediate action. We are today extending the consultancy index to permit the inclusion of names in the list otherwise than following a referral by an employer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will announce today that a number of individuals named in the report who have been convicted of offences against children, or against whom the tribunal has made a finding of having harmed children, or of being unsuitable to work with children, are to be included on the extended index temporarily, with immediate effect. That is an interim measure pending representations by those individuals, which will be carefully considered by the Secretary of State before deciding whether they should be included on the extended index permanently.

We are taking immediate steps to establish the current whereabouts of individuals named in the report who have been convicted of offences against children, or against whom findings of having harmed children, or of being unsuitable to work with children, have been made by the tribunal, but whose current whereabouts are unknown.

Today, the Department of Health and the National Assembly have written to all chief executives of health authorities and local authorities in England and in Wales asking them to check their employment records immediately to verify whether such individuals whose whereabouts are unknown are currently working with children, or with other vulnerable groups within their authorities. If such individuals are found to be working with any authority, that authority will be required to inform the Department of Health in England, or the National Assembly of that fact and of the action that the authority proposes to take.

The report is being sent to all local authorities, police authorities, health authorities, NHS trusts, voluntary sector bodies, area child protection committees and other bodies that have a key role in the protection of children. That will enable checks to be made where appropriate. To ensure that the messages in the report are widely read, greater numbers of a summary report are being issued.

The programme of action that we have already put in train is a demanding one for all levels of Government. We are determined to see it through and to use the report as a warning of the constant need for vigilance. The Secretary of State will direct the Government's work to drive through the programme, with advice from the ministerial task group on children's safeguards, which includes local government, the voluntary sector and young people themselves.

Sir Ronald's report catalogues deeds of appalling mistreatment and wickedness, of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and of the total abuse of trust. To those whose lives have been shattered, to the families of those who have died and to all decent-thinking people, of course, we all say "sorry", but sorry is not enough. We are determined that the report will lead to a society where young people can be cared for in safety and where they can truly enjoy their childhood--just as most of us in the House were able to do.

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