§ Mr. Tom King
The committee of inquiry chaired by Judge William Hughes has now reported and the report is being published today. I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Library. The committee of inquiry was appointed in March 1984 by the Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland following an announcement on 18 January 1984 by the then Secretary of State.
The inquiry was held in public for the most part and witnesses had a right to be legally represented with all reasonable legal costs being met from public funds. 66 individuals gave oral evidence and written evidence was received from 26 individuals and organisations. On 10 days the committee took evidence in private in order to protect the identity and privacy of former residents of childrens homes.
I am grateful to Judge Hughes and the members of the committee for the thoroughness of their examination of the facts and of the underlying issues, for the deep concern shown in the report for the wellbeing of children and young people in residential homes and for the care and balance displayed in the analysis made by the committee of all that occurred.
The Government welcome the report as a lull and objective analysis of events and I can give an assurance that its recommendations will now be pursued urgently with the interests concerned.
Judge Hughes' inquiry acknowledges the action which has already been taken to improve residential child care since the evidence of homosexuality came to light in 1980. The report endorses the action taken in introducing a new programme of inspection of children's homes under which each home will be inspected annually, in devising a complaints procedure for children in residential care and their parents, in improving the procedures for recruiting staff, in developing monitoring systems and in providing improved training for residential care staff.
There are many references in the report to the difficulties of preventing any detecting homosexual offences unless complaints are made by the children and young people concerned. The committee commented that the formal complaints procedure introduced in May 1985 to deal with this problem had not been fully put into effect because of difficulties in reaching agreement on the question of safeguards for residential care staff. I am glad to say that a set of guiding principles has now been developed which I am confident will fully protect the legitimate interests of children and staff. However, the recommendations now made in the report about 99W preliminary investigations will be carefully examined with a view to considering whether these guiding principles can be further improved. The exhaustive investigation undertaken by the inquiry did not bring to light any evidence of an official cover-up of homosexual affairs involving children and young people in residential care. However, the report draws attention to errors and weaknesses which the committee discovered in the operation of the child care system and while acknowledging the progress which has been made goes on to make a series of recommendations for further improvement.
I am confident that close study of the report will reassure the public that the various complaints and allegations which circulated regarding abuse in the child care system have been meticulously investigated and that a door has been closed on the past. I am also pleased to endorse the comments made in the report about the valuable work done by social workers in Northern Ireland and I concur with the inquiry in hoping that its outcome will help restore their personal and professional confidence in the way they do their demanding work.