As victims, survivors and Inquiry panel members continue to go head to head on the latest issues to plague the nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse, politicians and peers have been having it out in Parliament this week, too.
The debate transcript from the House of Commons makes for a very frustrating read. Lisa Nandy’s Urgent Question, which asked for an update on how the Inquiry is handling the latest setbacks, was met with resistance by Sarah Newton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Every time a question was asked about the state of the Inquiry – was the Chair recruiting new Lead Counsel, was a new Chair going to be put forward – the response was always the same: the Inquiry functions ‘Independently’ from Government, so…. no comment.
The argument the government puts forward for not giving any details about the Inquiry’s current state is a legal one. Under the Inquiries Act 2005, it’s up to Inquiry members to sort out procedural problems, without government interference, in order for it to remain as independent as possible. However, It would have been helpful prior to the debate if Newton had actually asked Inquiry Chair Professor Jay for an update. The lack of effort on this front could only mean two things: either the government is being more dullard-ish than usual, or they’re playing for time and giving the Inquiry the space it needs to sort itself out.
More interesting, was the chat over at ‘The Other Place’.
The debate in the House of Lords begins with a recap of Newton’s formal response to Nandy’s Urgent Question, added below:
“The inquiry was set up to look at the extent to which institutions in England and Wales failed to protect children from sexual abuse. We know the terrible impact that abuse has on survivors, sometimes for many years. As the House knows, following the resignation of the previous chair, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary appointed as chair Professor Alexis Jay. She has a distinguished career in social work and a long-standing dedication to child protection. She led the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham where she scrutinised the work of social workers and proved her capability to uncover failings across institutions and professions. She is the right person to take this work forward.
Taking the work forward is vital for creating a sense of certainty for victims and survivors. The inquiry has set up 13 strands of investigation, made 250 formal requests for information from over 120 institutions, with 164,000 documents now having been submitted. It has referred roughly 80 cases a month to the police. It has rolled out the Truth Project, providing survivors with the opportunity to tell the inquiry what has happened to them, and more than 500 people have come forward so far.
The inquiry has adequate resources to undertake its work and we will support the inquiry with what it reasonably needs. The inquiry remains independent, which means that it is not part of government and is not run by a government department. Professor Jay is mindful of both the scale of the task and the need to move forward at a pace. That is why she instigated an internal review of the inquiry’s approach to its investigations, exploring new ways to deliver its investigative work while remaining faithful to its terms of reference. She has made it clear that if any changes are proposed, the views of those affected by them will be sought. We expect the outcome of this review soon.
It is crucial that we now give the inquiry the space and the support it needs to get on with its job, getting to the truth for victims and survivors. I urge everyone in the House to do just that”.
There’s the usual response to direct questions asking about specifics at the Inquiry (the investigation is independent, bla, bla, we can’t interfere, yada, yada, so….. no comment). Then, it gets interesting.
Lord Faulks makes a suggestion which tries to shift the Inquiry’s focus away from gathering evidence about individuals who are alleged to have abused children, to collecting information about child abuse complaints instead. It’s a bizarre proposal, given that both of these actions are necessary to understand the history of child abuse in Britain, until you read on and realise why Lord Faulks makes it. Declaring his interest in the debate, Faulks tells The House that he’s been instructed by Lord Janner’s family. The late peer has been accused of a string of serious assaults against children during the 1950s-1980s. Several attempts by his family have been made to block an inquiry into these allegations.
This question is raised just as the Inquiry’s own investigation into complaints of child sexual abuse against the late peer has been put on hold. Janner’s son, a QC, has been campaigning to drop the investigation, and this latest question from Lord Faulks looks uncomfortably like a further attempt at frustrating proceedings. However, it’s unlikely Faulks will get his way. The Inquiry has confirmed that it will continue to hold hearings into the allegations against Lord Janner, once criminal investigations have taken place.
What do you think? Is the Government right to field questions about the Inquiry back to its Chair, or is it just a play for time?