Andy Burnham presses Jeremy Hunt for ‘overarching inquiry’

Inquiry into child sex abuse is raised for third time in Parliament as 113 MPs sign up to it

By Alex Varley-Winter | 26 June 2014

“Surely an overarching inquiry into child sex abuse would help us to understand the political networks to which Savile belonged” – Simon Danczuk, Labour MP

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was challenged in Parliament today by shadow minister Andy Burnham over an overarching inquiry into child sex abuse.

The clash came as Hunt was called to the House of Commons to answer an “urgent question” about a series of reports by the Department of Health and NHS hospitals into paedophile activities of Jimmy Savile, the late BBC star.

Hunt issued an apology on behalf of the government and the NHS for the failures as revealed by the reports.

But Burnham said “Each hospital has effectively investigated itself,” saying that it showed the need for an overarching, independent inquiry.

Kate Lampard, a barrister, oversaw investigations at three of the hospitals – Broadmoor, Leeds General Infirmary and Stoke Mandeville.

Only two days ago, Burnham became one of 113 MPs so far to join the cross-party call for an independent panel to carry out an investigation into child sex abuse in the UK similar to the inquiry into Hillsborough, the football disaster of 1989.

Addressing Savile’s crimes, Burnham asked Hunt: “There is now a clear case for a proper, overarching, independent review led by child-protection experts into why there was such large-scale, institutional failure to stop these abhorrent crimes.

“I would be grateful if the secretary of state gave this proposal careful consideration. I finish by assuring him of our full support in helping him to establish the full truth of why abuse on this scale was allowed to happen for so long.”

Hunt said: “The question of whether any further inquiries are necessary will of course be considered. The first step is to let Kate Lampard do her full report.

“At this stage, she has not drawn together all the different inquiries and tried to draw lessons from the system as a whole.”

“We need to hear what she has to say about that and, indeed, what the Department for Education and the BBC learn from their reports, and then we will come to a conclusion about whether any further investigations are needed.”

Other MPs pressed Hunt over what they say is an urgent need for an overarching inquiry in the organised sexual abuse of children. These MPs included three of the original seven who earlier this month sent a joint letter to Theresa May, home secretary, asking her to set up an independent panel to hold it.

The three were Tim Loughton, Conservative; Tessa Munt, Liberal Democrat; and Simon Danczuk, Labour.

A further Labour MP, Chi Onwurah, pressed Burnham’s question, asking the health secretary: “Do we not need an overarching, independent inquiry?”

David Cameron was challenged at prime minister’s questions a fortnight ago about whether he would order a Hillsborough-style inquiry into the organised sexual abuse of children in the UK.

Earlier this week, as the number of MPs who support such an inquiry passed the 100 mark, Loughton raised the issue with the issue with Andrew Lansley, leader of the House of Commons.

The final question went to Tom Watson, a Labour MP, who asked Hunt today whether there was any evidence that Savile’s victims feared to come forward because he enjoyed powerful, political protection.

Hunt said that he did not believe that there was any such evidence in today’s official reports.

We have reproduced extracts of today’s relevant exchanges in the House of Commons below.

Burnham: “The question arises of whether this process of inquiry [the Savile investigations] is a sufficient response to the scale of these atrocious crimes. It is hard to draw a clear picture and consistent recommendations from 28 separate reports and all the other inquiries that are still ongoing in schools, care homes, the BBC and the police.
“While there is no suggestion that any minister knew of any sexual misconduct, it does point to the need for a further process of independent inquiry so that we all, as ministers and former ministers, can learn the lessons of what happened, but also so that we can draw together the threads of the multiple inquiries that are ongoing. It simply cannot be left for Savile’s victims to try to pull together the details of these investigations.
“As the shadow home secretary, my right honourable friend the member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), has said, there is now a clear case for a proper, overarching, independent review led by child-protection experts into why there was such large-scale, institutional failure to stop these abhorrent crimes.
“I would be grateful if the secretary of state gave this proposal careful consideration. I finish by assuring him of our full support in helping him to establish the full truth of why abuse on this scale was allowed to happen for so long.”
Hunt: “The question of whether any further inquiries are necessary will of course be considered. The first step is to let Kate Lampard do her full report.
“At this stage, she has not drawn together all the different inquiries and tried to draw lessons from the system as a whole. I asked her to do two things. The first was to verify independently that the reports of NHS organisations were of the necessary quality, and I think she has done that superbly. The second stage of her work is to see what lessons can be drawn from the system as a whole. We need to hear what she has to say about that, and, indeed, what the Department for Education and the BBC learn from their reports, and then we will come to a conclusion about whether any further investigations are needed.”
Loughton: “I welcome the shadow secretary of state’s comments about joining our call for an overarching inquiry, because this is the tip of the iceberg. There are still ongoing inquiries to do with Savile in the NHS, 11 local authorities, care homes and others.
“Specifically on the subject of victims, there is something that the secretary of state can do to help immediately. So many victims have very bravely come forward after suffering trauma over many decades and many are still calling the Childline and NAPAC – the National Association for People Abused in Childhood – helplines.
“However, for too many, the therapeutic support that they need to help them through such a particularly difficult time is absolutely not there. Police and health professionals have come to me to say that they know such people, but cannot do anything for them. With the resources in the NHS, the secretary of state can help now.”
Hunt: “I commend my honourable friend for his campaigning for vulnerable children over many years. The letter I sent to NHS England this morning asks it to make sure that all the lessons are learned from the reports, and it includes the very clear suggestion – I want the NHS to interpret my letter in this way – that it should ensure that it commissions the support needed for children in these circumstances so that they get the very support that is necessary. This is not just about encouraging people to speak out. It is about making sure that when they do, they feel listened to and supported.”
Munt: “Child sexual abuse is always abhorrent. The victims are always innocent, and nobody should be above the law. At the beginning of this month, six members and I wrote to the home secretary – now we are supported by a further 104 MPs – requesting an investigation by an independent panel into at least eight cases of child sexual abuse going back over 30 years, where the evidence has been lost or destroyed by the police, by HM Customs and Excise and by other agencies, and where the cases have therefore been stalled or abandoned altogether. To date, we have had no reply, so can I ask the secretary of state to encourage the home secretary and the education secretary, and anyone who else who might be moved to take the matter on, to do so, and accept that such an independent investigation is essential to search out the truth and to make sure that action is taken after that?”
Hunt: “I would like to reassure the honourable lady that we have a Home Office committee, chaired by the Home Office minister from her own party – the Minister for Crime Prevention, the honourable member for Lewes (Norman Baker) – that is drawing together all the lessons from Savile across all departments. It is then going to take that view as to what needs to happen next to prevent child sexual abuse, and I would like to reassure her that the Home Office and the government as a whole have no higher priority than that.”
Onwurah: “Is not my right honourable friend the member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) right?”
“Do we not need an overarching, independent inquiry?”
Hunt: “We are having an overarching independent inquiry – that is what Kate Lampard is doing – but on whether we need to have further inquiries, we need to wait until we get the response, which we are hoping for this autumn. Because, at the moment, we have published individual reports, but we have not drawn any wider lessons for the NHS system-wide.”
Danczuk: “We know that Savile was well regarded by many politicians. By way of example, he was friends with Cyril Smith and appeared in a Liberal party political broadcast in the 1970’s, and had friends in high places. Surely an overarching inquiry into child sex abuse would help us to understand the political networks to which Savile belonged.”
Hunt: “I know that the honourable gentleman has campaigned a lot on these issues. We have not ruled out anything, but we want first to draw together the lessons for the NHS and across government as quickly as possible. One of the important benefits of the way in which we have proceeded so far is that, because it is an investigation and not a public inquiry, we can get to the truth relatively quickly. However, we will certainly look at the cross-governmental lessons.”
Watson: “Has the secretary of state received intelligence, or does he have a suspicion, that victims of Savile were frightened to come forward because he enjoyed powerful political protection?”
Hunt: “I do not believe there is any evidence of that in the reports, but there is a lot of evidence that people felt that they would not be believed because of Savile’s celebrity status. Part of that celebrity status was his connections in high places, and that is part of the myth that we need to puncture as a result of today’s report.”

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