HC Deb 09 July 1987 vol 119 cc528-38 4.13 pm
The Minister for Health (Mr. Tony Newton)

I will, with permission, make a statement about child abuse in Cleveland.

The House is already aware of certain action which has been taken by the authorities there in response to the concern expressed in this House and elsewhere. The Northern regional health authority has set up an independent professional panel to provide a second opinion on cases already subject to investigation. It has also established a special group to consider future cases. On Tuesday, the Cleveland social services department agreed with the police and the health authority about medical examinations where child sexual abuse is suspected. I hope, as will the House, that these steps will go some way to overcome the problems which have arisen.

However, having studied the reports for which I asked last week from the regional health authority and the social services inspectorate, together with representations by hon. Members and the material that they have made available to me, we have concluded that there should be a full inquiry into the arrangements for dealing with suspected cases of child abuse in Cleveland in recent months.

Therefore, we propose to establish a statutory inquiry headed by a High Court judge. The judge will be assisted by a panel of three assessors: one with medical experience, one with social services experience and one with experience of police work. It will be necessary to ensure that there is no risk of conflict between the inquiry and litigation presently arising from individual cases. It will be for the judge to determine how best to carry out the inquiry, but I can say now that its report will be published.

Important as it is to resolve and learn from the situation which has arisen in Cleveland, it is not less important to carry forward the work already set in hand to improve our capacity to tackle the problem of child abuse wherever it may occur.

Draft guidance on the way in which different authorities should work together in this sector was issued last year, covering for the first time the specific issue of sexual abuse. Preparation of the final version of this guidance is being pressed ahead, with a view to issuing it as soon as possible, after taking account of any relevant lessons from Cleveland and the current inquiries into the deaths of Tyra Henry and Kimberley Carlile. Meanwhile, I am asking the social services inspectorate to check with all social services authorities that proper co-ordinating arrangements have been made in their areas.

As envisaged in the draft guidance, we shall arrange with local authorities for the collection of national statistics on child abuse. I shall be discussing with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, whose director I met this morning, the contribution it can make from its special experience in maintaining child abuse registers in various parts of the country.

The standing medical advisory committee has been asked to prepare guidance for doctors on the clinical diagnosis of sexual abuse. Practice guidelines are also being prepared for social workers and for nurses, including health visitors. The professional groups concerned are being asked to aim to complete this work by the end of the year.

The House will also be aware that the European Court of Human Rights, in a judgment published yesterday on five cases from the United Kingdom, has found inadequate our legislation on parental access to children in local authority care. These cases pre-date legal changes made in 1983 and 1986 to strengthen parents' rights, but we fully accept the need to make further changes to reflect the court's findings.

We shall be studying the full judgment in detail, in relation to the proposals of the White Paper on child care law published earlier this year. In framing legislation, we shall also wish to take account of the lessons of Cleveland and the other inquiries to which I have referred, but our aim will be to bring such legislation forward at the earliest practicable opportunity.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

Is the Minister aware that, while the Opposition in principle welcome any initiative that will cool the partisan sensationalism of the past few weeks, we are concerned that this does not turn into a narrow judgmental inquiry confined to one area when what is needed is to implement new agreed child care procedures throughout the country to safeguard the rights of both parents and children alike? What specific evidence of a breakdown in medical and social procedures has been discovered which now justifies a full public inquiry? Will the Minister state the precise terms of reference for the inquiry, which, surprisingly, are left vague in his statement? Will this inquiry be in public or behind closed doors?

Why is it that, after 12 years of mounting public anxiety over child abuse and 13 months of consultation, the Government still have not produced an advisory code of practice for handling such cases? Will he give a firm date when it will be produced?

Why is there nothing in this statement about implementing last year's proposals for reform of the law on child care and family services, which command all-party agreement and are tailor-made for strengthening parental rights, which have been such an issue in Cleveland? The Government produced a White Paper on these agreed proposals in January this year. Why was there no Bill to implement them set out in the Queen's Speech?

Is it not extremely regrettable that the Government have found time this Session for the introduction of the poll tax and the liberalisation of the licensing laws but not for reform of child sex abuse procedures, which can cause enormous anguish to parents and children alike? Is it not wrong that, under the present procedure, children can be removed from parents for a month without either the parents or the children having the chance to oppose the move in court? As 6,000 children each year are removed from their homes through place of safety orders, will the Minister accept that all such orders should be confirmed by a court within a week, with the parents having an automatic right to attend and to be legally represented?

Above all, will the Minister accept that a national consensus does not yet exist, either on the criteria for identifying child sexual and physical abuse or on the interprofessional procedures to be followed when such cases are suspected? Will he acknowledge that, until such a consensus has been created, no reliable statistics of the national incidence of child abuse can be attempted, and the conflict between paediatricians and police surgeons that we have seen in Cleveland will not be resolved? Will he accept that a judicial inquiry into specific events in Cleveland is not an appropriate vehicle to achieve such a national consensus?

Finally, will the Minister accept that his responsibility is not discharged merely by removing a child from the hands of its abuser, but that care programmes should guarantee necessary counselling, support and family therapy if we are ever to break the tragic cycle whereby an abused child becomes an abuser?

Mr. Newton

I shall take those questions in approximately reverse order. The issue of consensus to which the hon. Gentleman referred is indeed a difficult one. That is one reason why we have set about the drawing up of guidelines in relation to clinical diagnoses and practice, and why we shall be having discussions with local authorities and others about the collection of statistics, including, as I made clear in my statement, the NSPCC. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for recognising the difficulties in this area and the fact that there are no easy answers.

Far from not referring to the reform of child care law in my statement, the last two paragraphs of the statement—which the hon. Gentleman cannot have heard—made clear our intention to legislate as soon as practicable, but, not least, to take account of yesterday's judgment of the European Court. It would be right to do that.

The hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions about the terms of reference and the conduct of the inquiry. The details will need to be determined in conjunction with the judge who is appointed to conduct the inquiry. That is the normal practice.

On the introduction of agreed procedures, one reason why I have announced to the House an inquiry that we hope can produce an early report specifically about Cleveland is that we do not want an enormously lengthy report that would necessarily be likely to delay further progress in introducing precisely those procedures that the hon. Gentleman wants.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

I would have hoped that both sides of the House would have welcomed my hon. Friend's statement, which was sensible and sound. I hope that my hon. Friend appreciates that child abuse cases should really be heard in a professional and properly structured family court. Will my hon. Friend take heed of what his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said yesterday about family courts, and may we have some legislation on this issue as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Newton

I note what my hon. Friend has said and undertake to draw it to the attention of my colleagues.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

I thank the Minister, his Department and officials for all the hard work they have been doing as the lead Department for child protection. It is deeply appreciated.

Does the Minister accept that child protection has to include mental, physical and sexual abuse? Does he concede that, when we talk of child care, care must mean care? Sadly, it does not always mean care. Will my hon. Friend go one step further after the inquiry and examine the area of care to ensure that, when children are taken into care, that trust is not betrayed? Unfortunately, it sometimes is.

Mr. Newton

We are certainly very concerned that when, unhappily, it is necessary to take a child into care, local authorities should have appropriate policies for taking care of that child in the best way. However, the focus of the present concern, and of the inquiry, is the processes by which children are taken into care. It is important to ensure that those are correctly handled.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

Is the Minister aware that the people of Cleveland in my constituency will welcome his long and detailed statement today and his announcement of the inquiry? I thank the Minister for the courtesy and diligence that he has shown in what is, after all, a sensitive matter.

I look upon sexual abuse as a heinous and evil crime, and I want every effort made to prosecute the perpetrators. Will he give the House an assurance that the specific things that happened at Middlesbrough general hospital, where children were taken in for specific ailments but were analysed and investigated for sexual abuse, will be part of the inquiry? Will the fact that parents and children were held for hours on end, and that children were woken in the middle of the night and taken to a room to be photographed, and that the police were obstructed in their duty of investigating what is a serious crime be part of the inquiry? No one wants the Health Service to be brought into disrepute or discredited, and it is in the interests of the Health Service that the inquiry should complete its investigations and studies, that the report should be published, and that the Health Service be maintained with its reputation intact.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I shall reciprocate by saying how grateful I am to him for the way in which he has kept me in touch with his own work and made his papers fully available to me. One of the difficulties with the inquiry, as I said in my statement, is the interrelationship with other investigations of a judicial kind, or under the hospital complaints procedure, which are already going on. Therefore, I cannot be specific at this stage about precisely how the judge will feel it right to go about his work, or the extent to which he will be able to look at particular cases that are already the subject of other forms of action. In general terms, I have no doubt that he will wish to examine the allegations that the hon. Gentleman has made about events at Middlesbrough general hospital and other places.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

I welcome the judicial inquiry that the Minister has announced, because the sheer concentration of cases will not go away and because a period of calm is required.

Will the terms of reference be drafted in such a way that the evidence that we have obtained in Cleveland and the remit of the judge in the inquiry will enable national comparisons to be made and national lessons to be learnt? Finally, what powers will the inquiry have? Will it have the power to summon witnesses, to take evidence on oath and to take action for contempt when witnesses are unwilling to give evidence?

Mr. Newton

The answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's last point is that this is a statutory inquiry, and it will have the powers to which he referred.

As regards the terms of reference, it is certainly my expectation, subject to discussion with the judge, that, while the initial focus will be on Cleveland, the inquiry will be empowered to draw conclusions that are of relevance elsewhere.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

I greatly welcome my hon. Friend's statement, but will he assure the House that he will take time during the inquiry to discuss with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary some of the delays that occur when these cases come to court and the court wishes to appoint guardians ad litem. That is causing much concern in other parts of the country, as well as in Cleveland.

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly discuss that matter with my right hon. Friend as my hon. Friend asks.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Is the Minister aware that many hon. Members are worried about the way in which Cleveland has been highlighted and vilified? We know that the problem of child sex abuse has been neglected for many years, and that a child that is being sexually abused has its whole life damaged. There is a danger that any authority that tries to move on the issue, and therefore finds more cases, will be attacked in the press for doing so, that parents who are not abusing their children will feel in danger of losing their children, and that the net result will be that the abusers will continue to get away with their crimes. We know that there is more abuse than that which is dealt with. The research is clear on that point. Parents who abuse always deny it.

It is a mistake to have a judge heading the inquiry. The judiciary does not have a good record on the issue and it is a mistake to confine the inquiry to Cleveland. We need the best lessons and the best practice in this country and internationally so that we can deal better and more sensitively with the needs of children who are being sexually abused. Most of those children are not being protected or given the appropriate therapy and support at present.

Mr. Newton

It is precisely because I see some risk of the kind that the hon. Lady outlined in the first part of her question that it is right to have the kind of inquiry that I have proposed focused primarily on Cleveland. The risks about which she is rightly concerned will multiply as long as public confidence is not restored about what is alleged to have happened in Cleveland.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)

I welcome the statement by my hon. Friend. The inquiry should be focused, specific and time-limited. There has been near hysterical public reaction to what seems like a professional over-reaction in Cleveland. The vast majority of child abuse cases arise because of what appears to be a lack of professional vigilance, not an idiosyncratic excess of professional interference. We shall have to co-ordinate our professional operations and the conduct of our professionals, but primarily our health and welfare services are there to protect not the interests of parents and professionals, but the welfare of vulnerable children.

Mr. Newton

I very much agree with the spirit of my hon. Friend's remarks, and I am grateful to her.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I welcome the inquiry, the way in which the judge will be assisted by assessors and the fact that the report will be public. I hope that the inquiry will be wide-ranging and that as far as possible—given that the inquiry needs to be speedy—the judge will take the comments of hon. Members into account.

The Minister said at the end of the statement that there will be legislation at the earliest practicable opportunity. That must mean next year. It is 13 years since the Finer committee recommended family courts, and a year has passed since we had all-party agreement on the need to reform child care law. As has already been said, many less important pieces of legislation for this year were announced in the Queen's Speech. There is no justification for the Government not legislating at the beginning of the next Session to take into account this inquiry and the European Court judgment, because these are vital national issues.

Mr. Newton

I cannot go beyond the words that I used in my statement. Those words show our clear wish to make progress in this area, taking account of recent events.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

I appreciate the method of approach adopted by the Minister. Will he bear in mind that in many cases one parent can be entirely innocent of the other parent being involved? If we are to get a balance between the child and the parents, is it not very much better to have a family solution for the beneft of the parents themselves?

Mr. Newton

Yes. Again, I very much agree with the spirit of what my hon. Friend has said.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I welcome the Minister's statement. He said that he is to consult the NSPCC, and it is right that he should do so. May I also advise him to seek the advice of the officials of the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children? It, too, has many years of experience, and the Minister must remember that it works within a different legal framework.

I am sure that the Minister is aware, although other hon. Members may not be, that a significant number of referrals about alleged child abuse come from neighbours and even the families of the children concerned. Voluntary agencies and social work departments have sought to establish a climate of opinion which encourages the families of abused children to come forward. Does it not make sense to ensure that that positive development is not diminished or retarded by unhelpful publicity and thoughtless criticism made in this House and elsewhere?

Mr. Newton

Again, rather as I said to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), one of the reasons for the sort of inquiry that I have proposed is that we hope it will act speedily to respond to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley)—the re-establishment of confidence in Cleveland. That is important so that the fears that have arisen there will not spread to other parts of the country and undermine good developments of the kind that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has mentioned.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I am sorry if I inadvertently appeared to have ignored Scotland. I shall certainly ensure that we take note of the views of the RSSPCC.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my hon. Friend accept that the care and speed with which he has acted in this matter is deeply appreciated? In fully supporting the views and thanks expressed by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), in whose area these sad cases occurred, may I ask whether my hon. Friend accepts that many of these problems could in part have been dealt with if the Government had acted on the recommendations of the Select Committee on Social Services? That Committee carried out an in-depth inquiry into children in care. It did not deal specifically with the matter of child abuse, but the Committee's particular recommendation about the formation and establishment of children's courts would have made a major contribution to the prevention of these cases. Will my hon. Friend also accept that a valuable part is played by police surgeons in identifying and dealing with these matters? I hope that their contribution, experience and expertise will not be overlooked.

Mr. Newton

I have made it clear that one of the assessors will be someone with experience of police work.

My hon. Friend spoke about the Select Committee on Social Services. I am well aware that the Government, the House and, indeed, the country gained much from the work of the Committee. However, I resist the conclusion — if such a conclusion was implied — that the Government have not been taking vigorous and effective action to make progress on these matters.

Several Hon. Members


Mr Speaker

Order. We have a very heavy day ahead' of us. I shall call hon. Members who have been persistently rising, but I hope that we can have questions on the statement concluded by 4.45 pm.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

Will the Minister ask the inquiry team to ignore many or all of the comments that have been made in the House, especially comments along the lines that there has been obstruction of the police and that professional workers have been over-reacting? All those comments prejudge the evidence and therefore prejudge the conclusions. Will he also take this opportunity to reassure those who work in this very sensitive area—doctors, health visitors, nurses and social workers—that the Government support their activities? The frenzied atmosphere generated either in the House or in the newspapers in recent weeks makes their job more difficult. Some reassurance from the Government or from the Minister that the primary responsibility is always for the safety of the child would be very welcome.

Mr. Newton

I certainly echo the hon. Gentleman's last sentence. I hope it is implicit in everything that I have said and done over a much longer period than the last fortnight that we greatly value the work of all the people who are involved in seeking to tackle those problems.

I cannot respond quite so forthcomingly to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I think that the House as a whole would take it rather amiss if I asked an inquiry to ignore everything that was said in this House.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Will the Minister accept that many of us are very pleased about the tremendous emphasis that he is putting on inter-professional cooperation? Will he also accept that co-operation on the ground depends far more on the quality of the one or two people working at ground level than on which profession they belong to? Will he give an assurance that he will be very careful not to be dragged down the path of automatically giving guidance that one profession should be the lead profession at local level in cases of this kind?

Mr. Newton

Yes. I have always been very conscious that the issue of guidance or circulars will not achieve as much as anyone would like if there is not practical working co-operation between individuals on the ground. That is one of the problems that anyone faces in this area.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

I am sure that the Minister agrees that the sexual abuse of a child is a most serious and tragic event. He will also agree that it is extremely difficult for many and almost impossible for the vast majority of children to do anything about the situation.

I am sure he will also agree that social services departments throughout the land have an obligation to act promptly if they suspect that any child is being sexually or physically abused. We must take care to ensure that social workers do not become over-cautious because of remarks, such as those made by the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), that social services departments might be guilty of over-reacting. Many of us think that perhaps on some occasions they act rather cautiously.

On a number of occasions the Minister mentioned parents' rights, but does he agree that children also have rights?

I welcome, as do other hon. Members, the inquiry into the matter in Cleveland, but will the Minister give the House an assurance that the inquiry will be concerned not solely with the social services department at Cleveland but will involve other authorities, such as the police and the health authority that may have been involved in what happened in Cleveland?

Mr. Newton

I go along with the spirit of much of what the hon. Gentleman has said. As to his specific question, if he looks at my statement he will find that it refers not to any one authority but to the arrangemants for dealing with cases of suspected child abuse, including, in particular, child sexual abuse in Cleveland. That manifestly is intended to embrace the work of all the authorities that are involved.

Mr. Bob Hayward (Kingswood)

I welcome the Minister's rapid announcement of an inquiry, but will he say when the judge will be appointed and who will head the inquiry?

Further, will he clarify his comments with regard to adoption? Will there be a review of the guidelines used by social services departments with regard to adoption practices and the people whom they consider suitable for adoption? I have recently received two cases which express concern about two social services departments' guidelines which are being applied to potentially adoptive parents.

Mr. Newton

We shall be consulting my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor about the appointment of the judge. I hope that it will be possible to make the name known within a week or so.

Ms. Short

May we have a woman, please?

Mr. Newton

The point about adoption does not relate directly to the issues that have arisen in Cleveland, although it is closely related. I take on board the point that my hon. Friend has raised.

Miss Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

Will the Minister consider the question of additional funds for Cleveland county council? I accept the point that a number of different services will be included, but there has been great pressure on Cleveland's social services over the past couple of months, and clearly it will increase in the months to come.

Mr. Newton

I think it would be a little premature for me to come to such conclusions at present. The hon. Lady will be aware that last year there was a substantial increase in the provision for social services generally which took account of pressure on children's services and the need for training. In the next few months we shall be considering provision and related matters for next year which will take account of these issues, but I cannot make a specific promise from the Dispatch Box about resources for Cleveland.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the setting up of the inquiry will be warmly welcomed by professional and lay people, not least because it should help to establish the facts of the matter as distinct from the rumours and speculation that have surrounded it in the media? One of the dangers of setting up an inquiry is the possibility that there will not be action until it reports. Therefore, I was delighted to hear that my hon. Friend is going ahead with the establishment of a national child abuse register and with the issue of national guidelines. Will he say a little more with regard to the possibility of legislation? Is he aware that he will have the full support of Conservative Members for any steps that he may take to get the White Paper turned into legislative form in the present Session of Parliament, which is rather longer than normal?

Mr. Newton

I cannot go beyond what I said in my statement. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, not least because I know of his close interest and involvement in these matters through his work with the NSPCC. I am glad to say that the NSPCC thinks it right to have an urgent, focused inquiry so that the action that is needed to make progress on other fronts is not held up.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

I join in the all-party welcome of the Minister's statement, but will the inquiry or the Minister's Department be considering the provision of independent counselling and advice for parents whose children have gone on to the "at-risk" register or where it is suspected that there has been abuse? I have received a number of cases in recent months from parents who have wanted some independent qualified advice on what they should do in those circumstances. Not all of those parents have acted in a criminal or evil manner and many of them need help and advice. Will that help and advice be provided through Government offices?

Mr. Newton

I will consider what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I think that that matter goes rather wider than the inquiry that I have announced. We shall wish to consider with the judge the need to ensure that parents and children are effectively represented in the proceedings of the inquiry.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

I welcome the setting up of the inquiry, as I am sure the whole country does, but, without wishing to constrain it, in what sort of time scale does my hon. Friend expect the inquiry to report? During that time, with regard to the guidelines that he has talked about, will he ensure that they are communicated directly to county councils and magistrates, who sometimes make these orders?

Mr. Newton

The draft guidelines were widely circulated and brought a number of comments which need to be and are being taken into account in the further work. I said that we were asking the social services inspectorate to check that appropriate action has been taken already in the light of those draft guidelines. If further action is needed, it will be taken.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I welcome the inquiry and think that the right decision has been made. However, many junior policemen — young constables and sergeants—are not competent or trained to deal with these matters in as sensitive a way as they should when they visit families where these matters have been reported. Will the Minister raise that matter with the Association of Chief Police Officers with a view to it briefing policemen on what is expected when reports are brought before them?

Mr. Newton

As the hon. Gentleman will understand, the appropriate course is for me to undertake to bring those remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

I thank my hon. Friend, on behalf of my constituents in Middlesbrough and Cleveland, for the decision to have this inquiry. May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that, despite the media publicity and furore and the fact that procedures were allegedly established whereby children could no longer be taken from their parents on the say-so of one of the paediatricians named in the House, as recently as three days ago a family has been broken up in similar circumstances? I have spent almost two days on the telephone seeking to find out whether there was a second opinion that confirmed the diagnosis of Dr. Wyatt. I have been bluntly refused by everybody, and the children are in care. There was no corroborative evidence whatsoever that any person can get access to the single diagnosis and, as I understand it, it was not put to the magistrates. It is clearly in breach of the rules that were laid down for operation by the Northern regional health authority, where Dr. Donaldson bluntly instructed the director of social services that he would not give him the information, nor, if he found it, was he allowed to give it to me. The parents are distraught. The police were involved in finding the children and rounding them up when the father absconded with them, but the police have not been brought in to see whether charges should he brought against that parent. In all these circumstances, the inquiry is welcome but urgency is still the order of the day.

Mr. Newton

I accept the need for urgency, and I hope that that was conveyed by my statement. As to the particular case that my hon. Friend has raised, he will understand that I would not wish to make some quick comment at the Dispatch Box on what he said. However, I understand that the position on first or second opinions and their availability is the normal one. They would be made available with the consent of the patient concerned or, in the case of a child, with the consent of the parents or guardians. It is not normal for medical opinions to be made available to third parties without that permission, and that is the position that would be maintained in this case.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I welcome much of what the Minister has said, in particular the announcement of the inquiry. I am sure that that will find favour with both sides of the House. Has the Minister decided who the judge will be? If not, will he announce that as soon as possible? Will he give the House a guarantee that the assessors will be of sufficient integrity in their own professions to command the various opinions within the professions that are involved?

With regard to the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, is the Minister aware that should the Government introduce legislation as a result of that judgment they will have the co-operation of the Opposition? Even if it took them until Christmas to study that judgment, it would not be too late to introduce appropriate legislation early in the new year. Will the Minister guarantee that he will look at that carefully?

Why was I able to read about this statement in the afternoon press an hour before it was delivered in the House? Has the Minister any explanation?

Mr. Newton

I am certainly not in a position to explain the hon. Gentleman's last point, but I note the implicit concern that he has expressed.

As for his remarks about legislation, I cannot go beyond what I said earlier, but I am again grateful for the helpful spirit in which, I take it, the hon. Gentleman's remarks were intended.

With regard to the integrity of the assessors, I can certainly guarantee that our aim will be to find assessors who will command the sort of confidence that the hon. Gentleman wants. I have already indicated that we would hope to be in a position to announce the name of the judge within a week or so.