Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Bach: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

North Wales Child Abuse Report

5 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before I begin, I should like to place on record that I was a

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1098

member of the Association of County Councils from 1981 until 1996 and that I chaired the association in 1995.

With the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales. The Statement is as follows:

    "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 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 first 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 actual physical and sexual abuse of children in care in the former Clwyd and Gwynedd was on a much greater scale. When in 1996, on legal advice, Clwyd County Council did not publish a report that it had commissioned, there was increasing concern in North Wales and in this House, and renewed speculation in the media, leading to calls for a public inquiry.

    "The then Secretary of State for Wales, the right honourable Member for Richmond, informed the House on 17th 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. Two hundred and sixty-four witnesses gave oral evidence and 311 submitted written evidence. The work of the tribunal was difficult and harrowing. I place on the record our gratitude to the tribunal for the work it has done and deep admiration for 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. 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.

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1099

    "In its report the tribunal has named many people: alleged abusers, convicted abusers, local government officers, elected members 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 which 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; 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 that,


    '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, the tribunal concludes broadly: 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 and 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 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;

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1100

    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 monitoring residential and fostering services across Wales; and on the appointment of an advisory council for children's services in Wales.

    "Many of the recommendations are specific to Wales and the National Assembly will receive the report today for the first time.

    "Many of the recommendations have wider implications. We have already put significant new work in hand to secure real improvements in the standards of care 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 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 on 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 childcare providers will be required to check the names of anyone they propose to employ in posts involving regular contact with children against the statutory lists kept by the Department of Health and the DfEE.

    "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 even-handed basis. Those will cover inspection of all children's homes, including those with fewer than four children; fostering agencies; voluntary adoption agencies; residential family centres and welfare arrangements in boarding schools.

    "The Bill will also establish new care councils for England and Wales which will set out enforceable codes of conduct and practice for all social care employees. They will set standards and regulate the workforce, helping to ensure that staff get the training and qualifications they need.

    "The Children (Leaving Care) Bill will put in place 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. There will be a duty 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 Connexions programme just launched in England, and a broadly

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1101

    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, including a distinct role for local councillors.

    "Revised guidance on inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, the revised 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 shall be looking hard at these to see how they complement changes we are planning or are already implementing, or whether a change of direction of 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 up detailed proposals for such an appointment, and we shall be considering how best to take this forward.

    "Our key concern now must be to satisfy ourselves, so far as we can, that people who abused children are not in a position to do so now.

    "Those individuals named in the report who are still working in one of the successor local authorities in North Wales have been traced and risk-assessed. However, given the time-span covered by the report, there are a number of individuals against whom findings are made in the report who are no longer working for one of the successor local authorities and whose current whereabouts are unknown. We are working together to establish the current whereabouts of these individuals and to ensure that they do not currently pose a risk to children or to 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 honourable 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 on a temporary basis with immediate effect. This 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 on a permanent basis.

    "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

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1102

    harmed children or of being unsuitable to work with children, have been made by the tribunal but whose current whereabouts are unknown. The Department of Health and the National Assembly have today written to all chief executives of health authorities and local authorities in England and Wales asking them to check their employment records immediately to verify whether such individuals whose whereabouts are unknown are currently working with children or 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 this fact and of the action which the authority proposes to take.

    "The report is being sent to all local authorities, police authorities, health authorities and NHS Trusts; to voluntary sector bodies, area child protection committees and other bodies which have a key role to play 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 also being issued.

    "The programme of action 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 this report as a warning of the constant need for vigilance. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health will be directing the Government's work to drive through this programme with advice from the ministerial task group on children's safeguards, which includes local government, 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 and we are determined that this 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 this House were able to do".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this sad Statement which will clearly have repercussions far beyond North Wales. I join the Minister in thanking Sir Ronald Waterhouse QC for undertaking the mammoth task of conducting the 16-month inquiry spanning the period from 1974 to the mid-90s, and in complimenting him on the thoroughness of his report. It is a veritable compendium. The summary alone consists of 227 pages.

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1103

I also express our profoundest sympathy to the victims of abuse. Some of the abusers have already been convicted and punished for their wrongdoing. Others are being pursued so that they will never again be employed in childcare.

Does the Minister agree that the report clearly and amply justifies the decision of my right honourable friend William Hague when he was Secretary of State for Wales to set up a full-scale inquiry and bring all the allegations into the open so that their validity could be properly assessed and tested? All the local authorities concerned, including the Welsh Office, where I was a Minister for much of the time, were closely examined.

The substantial report covers a long time-span, administrations of both major parties, and different local government arrangements. Can the Secretary of State confirm that throughout the period--indeed, ever since the Children Act 1948--the main duties and responsibilities relating to public childcare were vested in the local authorities and that they were responsible for allocating adequate staffing and resources for that purpose?

Can the Minister also confirm that the powers of the office of the Secretary of State throughout the period were largely powers of supervision, refined in the Children Act 1989 as being to provide a statutory and regulatory framework for the local authorities to exercise their responsibilities? Does she agree that the reformulation of the duty in that Act as being to safeguard and promote the welfare of children was a major step forward, as acknowledged in the report?

Does the Minister agree that while the report deals largely with the past and may result in further legal proceedings, its greatest value lies in its provision of a basis of knowledge and experience upon which central and local government can avoid the mistakes of the past and plan a better framework for the care of children in future?

While I fully appreciate, like all noble Lords, the value of the actions taken by the Government in the Care Standards Bill and in the Children (Leaving Care) Bill and the report's recommendations that there should be a children's commissioner with an advisory committee and a complaints officer in each social service department, perhaps I may suggest that these safeguards will only be as effective as the individuals who occupy the posts that will be established. Every effort should be made to secure staff of the highest quality and integrity.

Child abuse has not been confined to North Wales. This report, devastating as it may be to those who have some responsibility for the childcare system in Wales, is to be welcomed as a very revealing and instructive report, which will be studied both far and wide.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for the assistance that the department has given us today. I should also like to congratulate Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his inquiry team on producing a painstaking and rigorous analysis of a huge body of

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1104

evidence, which has faced up squarely to all the issues that have been disturbing the public, especially in my home town of Wrexham and in North Wales, for a long time. Sir Ronald has produced comprehensive findings and recommendations. This report is the reverse of a whitewash: he has faced and enunciated unpalatable truths with clarity.

Perhaps I may also declare something of an interest. As I said, Wrexham is my home town and it would be surprising if I did not know anyone who was named in the report. I have personal knowledge of the five individual care assistants from Bryn Estyn, who were known as the "rugby set". Indeed, I gave advice initially to one of them who was subsequently prosecuted and acquitted, although I did not act in the case. As for the others, they were not charged and are not seriously criticised in the report.

If only to dismiss the public fear in my part of Wales that matters were hushed up by reason of some dire conspiracy among those in authority--whether in the North Wales Police or in local authorities--to prevent investigation of paedophile offences, perhaps I may articulate that this inquiry report categorically finds that there was no evidence of the existence of a wide-ranging ring of prominent persons targeted at care centres. It also totally acquits the North Wales Police of failing in its duty to investigate complaints. Indeed, the investigation of 1991-93 is described as being "thorough" and states that the North Wales Police showed every willingness to prosecute, as many of the offenders were prosecuted.

It seems to me that there are three outstanding features of this report. First, there is the lack of adequate structures and strategies for the inspection and supervision of care establishments. Criticism is made in the report of both the Welsh Office and the existing county councils at that time. Although I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said about the Welsh Office, the report specifically found that it did not take any initiative of its own that was relevant to the possible occurrence generally of child abuse in either children's residential homes or foster homes. It also says that the office's response generally to information available by the end of 1986 was "lethargic", despite the gravity of the risk. Those are severe criticisms and, as I said, the report faces up to them. The county councils also receive their share of blame.

Secondly, the report reveals the casual way in which care staff were recruited to these establishments. One of the people to whom I have already referred was taken on as a care assistant at the age of 21, without any training or background whatever. He was left to fend for himself in an establishment which, according to the report, had this culture of violence and sexual abuse within it. That casual recruitment must never be repeated.

Thirdly, there was the culture of silence in which all those who were in authority were complicit. Another of the people to whom I referred, Robert Jones, whom I know well, complained to the headmaster after witnessing one episode of physical abuse. However, his

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1105

complaints were not heeded. He then wrote to the social services department of the county council and received a letter in response saying that it was taking no action about the matter. If that is the sort of response that the staff were getting when they endeavoured to make complaints, one can well understand why it was that no hint of these problems within such establishments in the county of Clwyd, where I live, ever came to public attention. Instead of these matters percolating through to people in authority who could do something about it, it is terrible to note that complaints--even those from staff--were stifled rather than acted upon.

Looking to the future, I greatly welcome the introduction of a Care Standards Bill, which will set up care councils, and the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. However, I have a number of questions for the Minister. First, in repeating the Statement, the noble Baroness emphasised the importance of tracing those who are named in the report. That is of vital importance. When they are traced a risk assessment is to be carried out, but the report is not clear as to who will be responsible for that task. Can the Minister say who will carry out such an assessment?

My second question relates to compensation. I know that the Government frequently say how concerned they are about the victims of crime. Therefore, I should be grateful to know what arrangements have been made for the proper compensation of those who have suffered under these terrible regimes. Further, is that simply to be confined to the restrictive tariffs of the provisions that apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board?

Thirdly, I welcome the proposed appointment of a children's commissioner for Wales and the recommendation that there should be child complaints officers in every local authority. But can the Minister say when this will happen? I note that the National Assembly will quickly be charged with the duty to appoint such a person, but can the noble Baroness assist by telling us when this will take place and what sort of guidelines will be given to the very important position of children's commissioner?

Noble Lords will appreciate how difficult it is for someone from this community to have to face up to a report of this nature. But I am grateful to Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who, indeed, comes from the same community, for the tremendous task that he has undertaken.

5.28 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps I may thank both noble Lords for their contributions. Of course, I fully echo the sentiments that they have expressed about the work of Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his fellow members of the tribunal; and, indeed, of all those involved. They undertook a mammoth task in order to produce this very comprehensive report.

Perhaps I may begin by referring to the situation with regard to a children's commissioner for Wales. There is all-party support for this and the Assembly is

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1106

working to develop the scope and remit for such a post. The Government will consider an appropriate legislative vehicle when the Assembly brings forward its proposals. A children's commissioner could have a wider role in children's matters than that contained in the Care Standards Bill. There is also scope for the Assembly to establish a children's rights director within the care standards directorate in Wales.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised the issue of compensation for victims. I understand that a large number of civil claims have been lodged against the local authorities and others responsible for establishments in which abuse took place. Some claims have been settled out of court. I prefer to write to the noble Lord on the subject of the tariff that would apply in those circumstances.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, have rightly drawn attention to the need to ensure that children will be dealt with properly in future. We have made significant improvements in safeguards by improving the vetting of all childcare staff; by putting the consultancy index on to a stronger and more comprehensive basis; by supporting advocacy schemes so that children's voices are heard; by improving support for training for foster carers; by better training for childcare social workers; and by preparing revised guidance on interagency working. However, we can never be 100 per cent sure on this matter. Paedophiles who are determined to abuse children can be devious and skilful in evading detection. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, identified the fact that people who live in a community may be highly respected and yet--to the shock and dismay of other members of the community--may, after many years, be found to have abused the trust placed in them.

I was also asked about risk assessment. For those in employment, the risk assessment must be carried out by the employer. The Government have set a strict timetable against which this must be done. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, was absolutely right to say that his right honourable friend Mr Hague was fully justified in setting up the inquiry. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, also asked why this happened and who was to blame. The report outlines serious and systematic failures in the care of children. The primary blame lies with the abusers who are individually responsible for their actions. However, the report also reveals failures on the part of the Welsh Office and local authorities. The Welsh Office failed to provide leadership and guidance to ensure that the provision and administration of social services were given appropriate priority, and failed to inform itself adequately of what was happening to those services in relation to North Wales. The social services departments failed to provide effective and positive leadership at the most senior level and some managers failed to act on allegations of abuse. Children and some staff were not listened to.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said that this is not, sadly, a problem that has occurred only in one area. I refer to the problem of child abuse in residential settings. Between January 1998 and

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1107

January 1999, 32 police forces in England and Wales investigated allegations of institutional child abuse. Realistically, we are unlikely to eradicate child abuse altogether. Much has happened since the implementation of the Children Act 1989 to create a safer environment. Sir William Utting's key recommendations are being implemented. The Protection of Children Act, which is to come into effect later this year, will require regulated childcare organisations to undertake comprehensive vetting procedures on applicants who work with children.

I have tried to answer the points raised by noble Lords. If I have failed to answer any point in detail, I shall, of course, write.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, those of us who live in North Wales must be deeply affected by these appalling events. We are also grateful to Sir Ronald Waterhouse and to his colleagues for the report.

I do not propose to make a speech as I have not yet had the opportunity to read the report. However, I am impressed with the comments of my noble friend. The Government have taken helpful action. Perhaps my noble friend can tell the House what action they are taking immediately to try to resolve some of the problems. We are grateful to my noble friend for her comments today. However, we shall want a full debate on this matter in due course when we know what the Government have achieved in this area.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page