HC Deb 15 February 2000 vol 344 cc784-98 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 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 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 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.

Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I thank the Secretary of State for Wales for his courtesy in providing me with 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 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. 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.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

I thank the Secretary of State for doing me the courtesy of giving me a prior viewing of the report. That was very valuable. We endorse the congratulations to Sir Ronald Waterhouse on the very thorough conduct of his inquiry and report. The investigation has exposed a shocking catalogue of child abuse that is a massive tragedy for the victims who have been abused, and was a betrayal of children's trust.

We accept the report and its 72 recommendations, especially the recommendations for an independent children's commissioner for Wales—for which the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly have pressed especially hard—and a children's complaints officer. We need to strengthen investigative powers and the complaints procedure, as well as to provide sufficient qualified staff and training, which are especially important. We also need advocates for children.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the names of unnamed abusers in the report will appear on the register of known abusers? Will he clarify the situation of NHS-registered homes? Page 50 of the report mentions the Gwynfa NHS psychiatric unit in Upper Colwyn, where staff were suspended but their case could not be properly addressed by the tribunal. That is a problem that crosses the responsibilities of police authorities. Will the Secretary of State authorise compensation for those victims whose lives have been ruined by abuse in establishments in north Wales?

Mr. Murphy

I endorse the hon. Member's views on the tribunal. The three members worked unbelievably hard over a long time and had to listen to some terrible things. When hon. Members read the report in detail, they will see how well written it is and how many recommendations it makes that should be considered very seriously. I also wish to mention Sir Ronald Hadfield, who was the adviser to the tribunal on police matters and provided useful and important advice.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether unnamed abusers would be put on the register. I refer him to the policy on naming names that the tribunal describes in its report. The members thought carefully about what they should do, because they wanted to identify those persons who have already been subject to relevant court proceedings; individuals against whom a significant number of complaints had been made, with the tribunal's assessment of them; other persons who figured prominently in the evidence, whether they had been the subject of substantial complaints or not; a limited number of persons who should have been identified to exonerate them after rumours about them had circulated; and persons who had not been the subject of allegations of abuse but who were in positions of responsibility and whose acts and omissions were relevant to the tribunal's full terms of reference—including council officials and police officers—and who had not had the benefit of any anonymity ruling by the tribunal. That covers many people, and those who are covered by it should be named and, therefore, identified in the way that I described earlier.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

I endorse my right hon. Friend's expression of gratitude to Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his team for their valuable work. The priority now has to be to prevent any recurrence of that systematic abuse. In that connection, how do the Government intend to proceed through primary legislation? My right hon. Friend has referred already to two Bills that will be before the House shortly, but do the Government intend to amend those Bills to take on board the recommendations in the report?

With specific reference to the children's commissioner for Wales, is it my right hon. Friend's understanding that primary legislation will be required to achieve statutory authority for that role? What assurances can he give, especially to cash-strapped local authorities, that reform programmes will be properly resourced?

Mr. Murphy

I thank my hon. Friend, who represents a north Wales constituency, and has a particular interest in the findings of the report. As he knows, primary legislation for Wales on social services is a matter for this House, and he is right to point to the various relevant Bills going through Parliament, particularly the Care Standards Bill.

My hon. Friend will also be aware that a children's commissioner for Wales is a manifesto commitment of our party, which has the widespread support of other parties in the National Assembly for Wales. The Assembly has been considering the matter in its committees over a matter of months. I have been in close contact with the Assembly's First Secretary and Health Secretary. We are currently studying the implications of a legislative vehicle for a children's commissioner. However, my hon. Friend may rest assured that we will give it priority.

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

I join the Secretary of State in his condemnation of the evil people who undertook these grotesque actions against just about the most vulnerable children in our society. However, we should not allow that condemnation to be used to tarnish the reputation of social workers who commit their lives and their efforts to supporting those young children.

I welcome the thrust of the 72 proposals, although obviously we have not read all of them yet. I welcome particularly the fact that they reinforce the "quality protects" initiative and the Care Standards Bill, now in the House of Lords.

All these matters interact in a complex way. The balance of adoption, fostering and care is difficult to get right, and more than one Government have struggled with it. Will we have an opportunity to debate the implications of this, not just for the homes in Wales, but for those in the other parts of our kingdom? Such a debate should allow us to cover the whole range of adoption, fostering and care, because these issues clearly deserve our detailed attention and understanding.

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those comments. I agree with what he says. I particularly agree with his view that we must not tar all social workers with the same brush. There are many thousands of social workers who are currently working in the field and have done so over the decades to which the report refers, and who contribute tremendously to the well-being and protection of young children. We strongly support those people.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the significance of the report of the tribunal is so enormous that it is extremely important for the House to debate it as soon as possible. I, of course, cannot determine when that will be, but I should have thought that it has to be fairly soon. In addition, it should deal not only with Wales but with the entire country.

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)

My right hon. Friend mentioned the involvement of council officers and elected members of the old Clwyd county council. I find that particularly disturbing. Was that a significant factor in the abuse of these young people?

Mr. Murphy

My hon. Friend is another who represents a north Wales constituency. When he reads the report, which I know that he will do with great interest, he will see that so far as the local authorities were concerned, and the officials and elected members therein, the problem was that they simply did not listen to the children—or, indeed, the adults—who were complaining about what they thought were difficulties. There was a lack of decent management, a lack of decent guidance and a lack of direction over a period of 20 years. The report names a number of council officials throughout north Wales who really should have done their job better. That is not, in any sense, to say that they were necessarily involved in the abuse of children—it was more a case of not doing their job well enough.

The report makes an excellent recommendation that elected members who choose to sit on social services committees should take their duties very seriously and visit residential homes in their local authority areas. In the past, it would seem from the report, such visits were very perfunctory. The councillors did not discover what they should have discovered. There is an important role for elected councillors, throughout England and Wales, and I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and his colleagues are also dealing with the matter.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. A number of hon. Members wish to ask questions on the statement, but the main business of the House is yet to begin and must start within the next hour. I should be obliged if hon. Members put one question briskly, and if the Minister replied briskly, so that I may call as many hon. Members as possible. I know that there is deep interest in the matter.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I add my congratulations to Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his colleagues. I welcome the report, as many of us have campaigned for many years for a children's commissioner. The complaints officer will also be an excellent forward move. Will the Secretary of State be amenable to assisting Voices from Care and Children in Wales to advance amendments to the Children (Leaving Care) Bill, on which they have already lobbied Parliament? Their sensible amendments would ensure that the voice of young people was heard.

May I also thank the Secretary of State—I may be doing this in the wrong order—for extending me the courtesy of a preview of the report earlier today?

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who represents a north Wales constituency. I am sure that any representations made by organisations such as those to which he has referred will be taken seriously by my ministerial colleagues.

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who fought hard to have an inquiry set up should be congratulated? In particular, Councillors Malcolm King and Dennis Parry and the care worker Alison Taylor deserve our praise. It was extremely difficult to get the issues into the open.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great tragedies of this matter has been that young people who had to leave home—for whatever reason—ended up in much worse situations? They were supposed to be taken to places of safety, but they were not. I welcome my right hon. Friend's general apology, but would ask for arrangements to be made for apologies to be given to young people who have survived into adulthood. Sadly, many have died. Some of the children came from south Wales, and they have said that no one has ever said sorry to them.

Mr. Murphy

I agree with all that my hon. Friend said about the important role played by members of local authorities and others in getting the tribunal set up. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales is, as I speak, in north Wales, where I hope he may have the opportunity to say sorry in the area where all the abuse occurred.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

Given the seniority of some of those involved in abuse, it seems likely that it could have spread further across Wales than we have yet established. Does the Minister have a plan that will allow us to break through the veil of secrecy and to find out whether other parts of Wales had similar horrendous catalogues that have not yet come to light?

Mr. Murphy

Many inquiries—32, I think—are being conducted in England and Wales. One large inquiry is happening in my own county, Gwent. The results of the tribunal report will ensure that we are even more vigilant.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

I join everybody else in congratulating the team that produced the Waterhouse report. We have not yet taken in all its implications, but the House will surely put its full weight behind any proposals made by my right hon. Friend and the Government, particularly on the children's commissioner. May I plead for significant work on developing skills among both those in social work and those who want to do it? I ask, too, for more support for those people.

As well as focusing on child abuse, which is close to being endemic despite the good work of many social workers, we need to provide a great deal more family support.

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, as a former Minister in the Welsh Office, is conscious of many of the issues discussed today. I agree that we must make every effort to recruit and train more qualified staff. Too many staff are still unqualified. I know that the training support programme in Wales for 2000–01 is attempting to address these important issues.

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in a previous existence, I was one of the barristers instructed by Clwyd county council to advise whether the council could publish its own, earlier report into this appalling and tragic scandal? Is my right hon. Friend also aware that had the council published, its insurance company could immediately have argued that its insurance policies were thereby vitiated? Does he agree that action should be taken so that insurance companies no longer have the right of veto over matters of such signal and painful importance?

Mr. Murphy

I am, of course, aware of my hon. Friend's previous existence and of his interest in the report published today. The question whether insurance can affect the publication of certain reports resulting from inquiries is important. When my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and the National Assembly for Wales see the report of the proceedings of the House, I am sure that they will take account of my hon. Friend's remarks and consider future activity in that regard.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy)

As a former member of Gwynedd council and chair of social services, I welcome with great emotion my right hon. Friend's statement, and look forward to working with our colleagues at the National Assembly for Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the commissioner is appointed, it is important that he or she should work in partnership with colleagues in other parts of the United Kingdom, as abuse does not have convenient boundaries? That is where we failed in the past, and we must make sure that we do not fail in the future.

I know that my colleagues at the Welsh Assembly will understand the point that it is important that advocates should be able to communicate with children and young people, and in Wales it is important that advocates should be bilingual. When children are placed in a vulnerable situation, they find it difficult to express themselves after the experiences that they have gone through, so it is imperative that there be sufficient numbers of suitably trained advocates who can communicate in the language of the child's or the young person's choice.

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who also represents a Gwynedd constituency. I agree that abusers do not recognise national boundaries, and that there must be the greatest co-operation between any children's commissioner for Wales and any counterpart in England. My hon. Friend's points about the need for the use of Welsh in advocacy are well taken.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what he said today amounts to the most profound statement of failure of the state in its duty of care to the most vulnerable in our society? It is a failure of local government, central Government and society. In the 1970s and 1980s I was a teacher, and I sometimes taught children who were in care homes. I wonder whether I spent sufficient time talking to those children. The report reveals a failure of society as a whole. I approve of the proposal to set up a children's commissioner; I agree with many of my colleagues' comments about that.

May I make one criticism, however? The report, which was commissioned by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), has taken almost four years to come before Parliament. Would it not have been possible to issue interim proposals rather sooner? I know that the report is comprehensive, but it has taken a long time. Its recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible.

Mr. Murphy

As a former Minister in the Welsh Office with responsibility for health, my hon. Friend will know that these matters are especially difficult and sensitive. When he sees the size of the report, he will realise that the amount of time taken to produce it was necessary in order to get it right. However, I take the general thrust of his points. It is most important to overcome the difficulties outlined in the report.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Is it not staggering that, after so much evil over such a long period, so few people admit to awareness of it? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the present statutory provisions do not include the vetting of volunteers? Is he satisfied that the inquiries that he has set up will not be impeded by existence of that loophole?

Mr. Murphy

I agree with my right hon. Friend's point about volunteers. Paedophiles will find their way into many different occupations and jobs; they will not confine themselves to those that we have discussed today. As a longstanding Member of the House, my right hon. Friend knows how important it will be to consider carefully the recommendations of the report; that is what the Government will do.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

This is yet another damning indictment of our failure to protect our young people. As a trustee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, I welcome the recommendation for a children's commissioner. However, evil knows no boundaries. Will my right hon. Friend speak to other members of the Government about the appointment of a children's commissioner for all our children?

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In England, there are some differences in the way we deal with these matters. As she will be aware, the relevant Bill will include a commitment to a children's rights official. We need some time to consider the implications for administration in the report, but she can rest assured that all 72 recommendations will be treated very seriously indeed—not only by the Welsh Assembly but by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and his colleagues.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the report will strengthen the Government's intention fundamentally to reform the entire care system throughout the United Kingdom? Will he also confirm that the children's commissioner will provide a service for all children? Does he agree that there is great strength of feeling throughout the House as to the need for linked offices—for a children's commissioner for all children in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?

Mr. Murphy

I agree with my hon. Friend. However, as he is aware, there is devolution throughout the UK, so it is for the Administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to decide how they will react to the report. I have no doubt that they will all agree on the need to treat the recommendations seriously. As I said, there will be provision for the appointment of a children's rights commissioner in England in a relevant Bill. I am sure that our Scottish and Northern Ireland counterparts will consider the report seriously.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I must first declare an interest in that I am a founding trustee and director of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation—an organisation that, over 10 years, has rapidly established an international reputation for leading therapeutic techniques for dealing with victims and with perpetrators.

I can hardly welcome the report, but I can register satisfaction that at least it has been produced. We feel relief, but we felt similar relief on the publication of similar reports before. I remember the Cleveland child abuse inquiry, conducted by Lord Justice Butler-Sloss. The report of that inquiry contained more recommendations than this report. However, the recommendations were implemented with great selectivity—driven largely by availability of Treasury funds.

Will my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Health and their ministerial teams institute monitoring, as called for by other colleagues today, throughout all the nations in the United Kingdom, to trawl the previous inquiries of this kind and pick up recommendations that have been discarded in the past? That would ensure that we have a comprehensive programme which should be constantly monitored to ensure that it is effective not only in the United Kingdom but against those characters who leave the United Kingdom to practice their scandalous procedures elsewhere, and those who visit the nation from outside.

Mr. Murphy

My hon. Friend is right to say that it is very important to treat all the recommendations with the seriousness that they deserve, but I should remind him that many of the recommendations in the report were anticipated in the drafting of the two relevant Bills before the House; that several measures have been implemented in the past few years, including "quality protects" and "children first"; and that we are in the middle of the biggest overhaul ever of ways in which we can deal with children's safety.

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge)

This is a very important report and I wholeheartedly welcome the Minister's response. However, in his response he drew on the Protection of Children Act 1999 several times, and I feel that it is my duty to point out that there is a major loophole in the Act, concerning volunteers. At the moment, the 1999 Act only allows for the vetting of volunteers—it does not require it. If we do not shut this door when we know that it is open, it will be an avenue for abuse. I call on the Minister to consider that as a matter of urgency. None of the measures introduced by the Care Standards Bill or any of the other measures coming before the House in the foreseeable future close off that avenue, which is still open.

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who pioneered the Protection of Children Bill in the House and will be thanked by generations to come for what she has done. However, on the vetting of volunteers—a matter which my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) also mentioned—we do understand the point that my hon. Friend is making and we will examine the matter.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

The Secretary of State expressed it aptly when he said that what had happened was a total abuse of power and that sorry was not enough. Does he consider that these principles should be extended to other fields, such as educational and residential settings; that active child protection policies should be pursued; that a complaints procedure should be instituted; and that designated teachers and senior officers should be responsible for reporting at least yearly, thereby transforming their passive role into an active one?

Mr. Murphy

I agree with my hon. Friend and I believe that education departments, whether they be in England or in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland in the devolved Administrations, will take a very close interest in the tribunal's report. We already have the Department for Education and Employment measures, List 99 and others, which are very important, but in addition there must be close liaison between the social services departments and education departments of local authorities.