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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I thank the Secretary of State for Wales for his courtesy in providing me with

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an advance copy of the report and statement. It is, rightly, a weighty report. Our thanks must go to Sir Ronald Waterhouse and to his team for providing us with such a thorough report, which is required reading for all bodies and organisations that deal with child-care provision away from home.

It is time to reflect on the report, to look carefully at its 72 recommendations, to take on board the reasons why it was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in 1996 when he was Secretary of State for Wales, and to act with speed and determination.

Our thoughts are clearly with the victims who are at the centre of the report. It makes chilling reading. It has already been described as the greatest scandal to hit the modern welfare state. It contains descriptions of horrendous abuse, physical and sexual, over 20 years involving hundreds of children, the most vulnerable young people in our society, in many homes. It leaves one filled with many emotions and feelings. The main one for me is a sense of betrayal. Our system has betrayed the very people who needed our help most; it not only failed them, and failed to deliver for them and to live up to their expectations and our intentions: it betrayed them.

We do not look for a knee-jerk reaction to produce a short-term fix for what are long-term deficiencies and decay. It is the system that has let down our children, and it is the system that must be addressed. As the Secretary of State himself has acknowledged, the system--notably by means of the Children Act 1989 and other measures--is being addressed. Nevertheless, we must remember that not only the depravity of the acts that we are considering, but the utter scale of the abuse condemn the system that allowed such abuse.

This major inquiry followed many internal investigations into child abuse in north Wales, including a report by John Jollins. Sadly, however, on legal advice, that report was not made public. There was also a major police investigation, in 1991, that resulted in eight prosecutions and six convictions.

Subsequent to that inquiry and the non-publication of reports, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks initiated the judicial review. At the same time, the then Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), established his review--which the Secretary of State for Wales mentioned--under Sir William Utting, of safeguards for children living away from home.

Today's headlines will report and centre on the call for an independent commissioner for children and for children's complaint officers in each local authority. Although due consideration must be given to those recommendations--especially considering the backing that they have received from various voluntary organisations--all the recommendations should be considered carefully. Each of the recommendations should play an important role in building a strong fabric of detection and of protection for our children. I therefore have a number of questions about the recommendations.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House in what time scale he expects the Government to consider the report before they are able to provide their response? I appreciate that measures are being considered by the House now--Sir Ronald himself refers to that fact--but with today's

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publication of the report, we should know what time scale the Government envisage for consideration of and consultation on the recommendations.

The Secretary of State stated that counselling facilities will be available for six months to victims and their families, provided by the Bridge Child Care Development Service. We welcome that provision. However, will he give an assurance that he would be prepared to revisit the matter of counselling in the light of requests from those receiving help, with the possibility of extending the time for which counselling is available?

One of the report's recommendations is to examine the availability and adequacy of fostering provision. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that such an examination will be made? My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) has established his own commission on the provision of fostering and adoption, which is being chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis). Both fostering and adoption are vital to providing greater stability and security within a family atmosphere, and both can play an important role in child-care provision.

What role does the Secretary of State envisage for charitable bodies such as Barnardos, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and others in developing the Government's policy on child care? Those organisations have tremendous expertise. What additional role does he envisage them playing in addressing the issues?

After the publicity that the report will receive, it is likely that other victims will wish to come forward. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that sufficient measures will be put in place not only to cope with further complaints as they arise, but to encourage former victims to come forward? One of the reasons given by victims for not complaining at the time, or soon afterwards, was their sense of guilt and shame. Will the Secretary of State assure the victims that there is no guilt or shame for them, but that their evidence in coming forward will help further to root out abuses that still exist in the system? Will he also make public the best course for them in making their complaints?

The Secretary of State has stated that he will assist in helping to track down the people named in the report, but who have since moved on and whose location we do not yet know. Will he say how many people he believes fall into that category? In his requests for local authorities and other bodies to check their employee records, will he include a time limit in which those checks are to be made, to ensure that everyone is clear about the urgency of the situation?

Will the Secretary of State discuss with his colleagues in Government the need for fresh guidelines to deal with deficiencies in the system, so that internal inquiries, such as the Jollins inquiry, are made in such a manner that they can be properly published and acted on?

The Government's response to the Utting report states that children have a right to be protected against abuse. That is a provision of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which the United Kingdom has ratified. We cannot guarantee that abuse will never occur, but particularly for children living away from home, the Government have a responsibility to put all practicable safeguards in place to prevent it, to uncover it when it occurs and to deal severely with those responsible.

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Conservative Members fully endorse those aims. We shall work with the Government to bring about excellence in child-care provision throughout the country and to ensure that the horrendous and appalling acts of abuse that have stained and scarred so many lives in this country, particularly in north Wales, will never happen again.

Mr. Murphy: I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, particularly his comments on the victims of such terrible acts. I agree that we do not want knee-jerk reactions to such an important and sensitive report.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the time scale. We hope that matters will be dealt with as soon as possible. The Ministry working group will meet next week. We shall revisit the issue of counselling victims and others after six months if it is felt that there is a need. I entirely agree with him on fostering provision. The National Assembly for Wales and the Department of Health will be dealing with that. I also agree that charitable bodies play a hugely important role, working closely with the Department and the National Assembly. If others have complaints, they should be listened to seriously and the method by which they are able to do that should be made public. I also agree that no guilt or shame should attach to such complaints.

Approximately 200 people are named in the report, although not all are associated with abuse. Some of them needed to be named so that they could be exonerated. Twenty-five people have been convicted. A number have died. The report makes findings against 11 people--either that they have harmed children or that they are unsuitable to work with children. Information in the report brings into question the suitability to work with children of a further 30 to 40 people, but in relation to a wide variety of incidents of differing gravity. The letters to local authorities and health authorities requesting the information required by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and the National Assembly have been sent today. We shall require a response by 5 pm on Thursday this week.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): As my right hon. Friend knows, many of the private homes involved in the tragedy are in my constituency. Will he assure me and the residents of north Wales that all the alleged abusers and all those named by the victims--including those not named in the report--will be subject to investigation and prosecution if necessary?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, I think that I made that clear. My hon. Friend has played an important role as a north Wales Member of Parliament in watching the events closely. He represents his constituency well on these matters. We are asking every local authority and health authority in England and Wales to inquire as to whether anyone named in the report is working for them. If they are, the authority must report to the Department of Health or the National Assembly by Thursday. In addition, the report will be widely available to all sorts of authorities--including police authorities, health authorities, local education authorities and social services authorities--as well as in libraries. Everyone who needs to see the report will be able to do so. Employers will be able to read it and take appropriate action.

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