§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the further action I propose to take over the Kincora affair, about which I previously reported to the House on 18 February 1982.
In 1981, five people who had held positions of responsibility in homes and hostels for children and young people in Northern Ireland were sentenced to imprisonment for sexual offences against those in their care. Following these convictions the police continued their investigations into a number of outstanding matters, and the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary asked Sir George Terry, then chief constable of Sussex, to investigate allegations about the way in which the police had conducted their inquiries and to have a general oversight of the continuing investigations.
The RUC has completed its investigations. Sir George Terry's inquiry has also been completed. He has concluded that the RUC was justified in not mounting a full investigation before it did, in 1980; that there had been no concealment of evidence of a homosexual ring involving residents of the homes or others, nor evidence of homosexual practices by officials or police officers; but that there were shortcomings as regards the administration of the child welfare services. The Director of Public Prosecutions has considered all the papers and concluded that no ground existed which would justify any further prosecutions connected with the affair.
The convictions in 1981, together with others in 1982 and the events surrounding these cases, have been the subject in Northern Ireland of allegations of misconduct and of widespread disquiet. No other inquiry could be pursued without the risk that it would render further prosecutions impossible. Sir George Terry's inquiry has been thorough and his conclusions, as they bear on some of the wider allegations, are clear.
Although the extensive investigations which have been conducted have produced no evidence that would justify my asking the House to approve an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, the House will share my wish to be satisfied that every possible step has been taken to ensure that there is no repetition of these unhappy events. I propose accordingly to establish a public inquiry under the powers contained in article 54 of the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972. His honour Judge Hughes, a retired circuit judge, has agreed to chair this inquiry. The names of the other members of the committee of inquiry will be announced as soon as possible.
I shall circulate the full terms of reference in the Official Report. They will enable the inquiry to examine the administration of children's homes and young persons' hostels whose residents were subjected to homosexual offences which led to convictions or where homosexual misconduct led to disciplinary action against members of the staff; the extent to which those responsible for residential care could have prevented the commission of such acts or detected their occurrence earlier; the implications for present procedures and practices within the system of residential care; and to make recommendations with a view to promoting the welfare of such children and young persons and preventing any future malpractices.
320 The committee of inquiry will be able to consider what more should be done. It will be for the committee to determine its mode of operations and from whom it will seek evidence. It will be able to sit in public if it wishes. Those who give evidence in good faith will, as a matter of law, have protection in proceedings for defamation. Although the inquiries by the RUC and Sir George Terry, taken with the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions, mean that it is exceedingly unlikely that fresh evidence justifying prosecution will emerge, my right hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-General, has undertaken to give immunity from prosecution for evidence which would incriminate a witness in respect of offences involving homosexual relations between males, and related offences such as counselling, procuring or soliciting. The inquiry will have power to subpoena evidence in Northern Ireland and its report will be published.
I believe that this inquiry will enable such lessons as there are to be learned and acted upon, and will provide the best basis for confidence in future in the provision made in homes and hostels for children and young persons.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
The House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, which hardly comes as a surprise. Will he speculate on how the timing seems to have been generally known to the media before it was known to the House?
The House will have confidence in Judge Hughes, but will the right hon. Gentleman explain the reasoning that led him to exclude an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, which at first sight seemed to be the most obvious procedure? Will he confirm that the terms of reference are sufficient to ensure a full investigation into all aspects of the matter, which no previous investigation has achieved—the administration of this home and of young people's hostels in Northern Ireland generally, the methods of ensuring that the authorities are fully informed of the welfare of young people under their care, the role of the police in this matter, what became of the various complaints made over the years before the matter came to light, and the political implications? Will this committee have a duty and power to investigate previous inquiries, whether they were misled and how?
The House notes that the inquiry will have power to compel the attendance of witnesses who in appropriate cases will be accorded immunity from prosecutions in respect of offences disclosed in their evidence. Perhaps more important, will they also be accorded physical protection if they request it?
As this is at least the fourth investigation into the events at Kincora, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that this is his last opportunity to allay public disquiet, if it can properly be allayed, and that this time he had better get it right?
§ Mr. Prior
I felt that a 1921 Act inquiry was not justified because none of the allegations that have been made and investigated by the Terry report and the police has suggested that this matter would justify an inquiry under that Act. When we discussed this two years ago I made it clear that the House would need to be absolutely certain that a 1921 Act type of tribunal was essential before it would permit such an inquiry under those terms. For example, the Salmon report felt that a 1921 inquiry should be used only in very exceptional circumstances.
321 In this case I did not believe that it was justified, particularly as I believed that the manner of the inquiry and the terms of reference — with the committee sitting under an experienced judge such as we have been able to obtain—would present an opportunity for all the matters relevant to what has happened in these boys' homes over the years and the innuendo surrounding this whole affair to be properly examined.
If it is necessary for physical protection to be given by the police, it will, of course, be given. I give the House that assurance.
I was not aware that there had been any breach of the etiquette surrounding the notice that I would make a statement to the House, but if there was, I apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
Does the Secretary of State accept that we in Northern Ireland are used to the fact that the press knows what is happening in advance? It is therefore no surprise that the press was able to speculate on what would happen on this occasion.
Despite his judgment about a 1921 Act inquiry, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many people will doubt whether the allegations of misconduct and widespread disquiet, which have circulated in Northern Ireland for some time, will be dispelled by the nature of the inquiry that he has announced? I do not criticise the chairman of the inquiry who has been asked to investigate this matter, but I query whether the terms of reference are too narrow to deal with the problem. My hon Friends and I would prefer a much wider inquiry to deal with the issues.
Does the Secretary of State disagree with those hon. Members who take issue with that part of the report which says that, bearing in mind the pressures on the Royal Ulster Constabulary, it was not surprising that it did not investigate the matter before 1980? Like many of my friends in Northern Ireland, I think that because of the pressures of security duties upon the RUC, reinforcement should have been sent to help it instead of distracting it from other important investigations. We believe that the care of young people is a vital responsibility for the state. When it takes them under its care, it is our responsibility to look after them.
I welcome the forward-looking aspects of the inquiry. I hope that the Secretary of State agrees that the sooner guidelines are given and the sooner confidence is restored, the sooner those in this sensitive and responsible area will be helped to do an excellent job. Many workers in the field have felt under a cloud because of the allegations. Will those journalists who have used the freedom of the press to impute different motives or to allege certain acts be brought before the inquiry so that they may be asked to substantiate their allegations, which have caused continual unrest in the Province?
§ Mr. Prior
We have chosen not to follow the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 because the Salmon report made it clear that tribunals of inquiry under the 1921 Act should be set up only sparingly and in very special circumstances on matters of urgent public importance. Successive Governments have accepted that recommendation. I am confident that the inquiry that I have announced is wholly appropriate for its task.
322 I can answer the direct question by the hon. Gentleman. The power of subpoena is available to the inquiry. It could, if appropriate, call journalists to give evidence.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important, among other matters, for the conduct of children's homes to be seen to be above reproach. Immediately after the events came to light, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Sheridan inquiry was set up. All the boys' homes have been looked at carefully and fresh guidelines have been laid down, which I believe will all be implemented by February at the latest. A great deal of work has been done in the past two years. We have dealt with most of that side of the problem.
The hon. Gentleman said that Sir George Terry understood why the police did not investigate the matter before 1980. I believe that it would be within the inquiry's terms of reference to examine why no inquiry was instigated before 1980. This goes to the heart of much of the concern expressed in Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
All constitutional and political parties in Northern Ireland have independently and unitedly made approaches to the Secretary of State for a complete, full and in-depth inquiry into this affair. Several approaches have been made by the party leaders to the Secretary of State asking for a full, public, judicial inquiry. Has it not been made abundantly clear that nothing less than the fullest possible judicial inquiry will satisfy the demands of justice and allay the fears of the general public in Northern Ireland? Opinion in Northern Ireland is that the Government have been dragging their feet. Will the inquiry be permitted to plumb the depths of the matter and consider the numerous other homes which have been under suspicion for several years, or will it be nothing more than a gloss on the surface of the affair?
§ Mr. Prior
The Assembly had two debates on the subject. I have seen the party leaders and at all times they have asked for a judicial inquiry to be held in public. That is the gist of what they have required. I believe that I have satisfied their demands without setting up a 1921 Act type of inquiry, which I do not believe to be appropriate in this case.
It will be up to the inquiry and the eminent judge who will preside over it to examine anything which is relevant to the particular boy's home, or to the other five boys' homes, and the circumstances which led up to the problems. Immunity will be given to witnesses who come forward and people will be protected from the law of defamation, provided that their motives are proper. I believe that it will be possible for the inquiry to be conducted along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea).
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Has not the 1921 Act type of inquiry often been criticised for its unfairness to individuals brought before it? The Secretary of State has announced improvements in the supervision of homes. May we take it that appropriate lessons are being learnt on this side of the water as well as in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Prior
We have used experience on this side of the water to help us with the problems that we encountered in Northern Ireland. Of course there has been close liaison between the social services Department in Northern 323 Ireland and the DHSS in England. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about use of the 1921 Act type of inquiry which I have much in mind and which I thought that the House would have in mind if I brought a resolution to that effect before the House. The problem for the House and for the Government is that there is little between a 1921 Act type of inquiry which involves many disadvantages for many innocent people, and the type of inquiry that I am suggesting. There is no easy middle course for such an inquiry. That is why I have tried as best I can to provide wide terms of reference within the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972.
I have no wish to drag my feet or to cover up the affair in any way. It has been much on my mind in the last two years. I should like an inquiry to bury the issue once and for all by finding out the facts, if there are facts to be found. If there are no facts, I hope that people will have the grace to say that rumour-mongering has been engaged in and that that is the end of the matter.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
It is now nearly two years since the Secretary of State expressed his intention of appointing a committee with a High Court judge as chairman to sit in public. Why has it taken such an inordinate time for an inquiry to be set up? Why are we not now to have a public inquiry, but essentially a private inquiry with the power to sit in public if its members wish? Why is police conduct in the Kincora affair outside the proposed inquiry's terms of reference, as was made clear in today's statement, when the only inquiry into police conduct was by a police officer?
§ Mr. Prior
In answer to the hon. Gentleman's last point, it was carried out by a chief constable from another force. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about why it has taken so long between my original announcement in February 1981 and today is that the report by Sir George Terry, which was commissioned by the Chief Constable of the RUC, did not come out until last autumn—I think it was the end of October. Until that report was considered by the Chief Constable and then referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, to see whether any prosecutions were to be brought under it, there was no way in which I could set up an inquiry. Had I tried to set up an inquiry before the report was available, anyone who gave evidence to that inquiry would have had to be given immunity, that might have prevented people who could have been found to have committed offences from being charged with those offences. So that was the reason for the delay. We have a judicial inquiry. It is expected to meet in public. I think that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question. The judge in question is not a High Court judge, but he is a judge of great experience. So I think that the inquiry qualifies as a judicial inquiry.
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
Although I have considerable sympathy for my right hon. Friend and his statement, I should like to ask one or two questions about the inquiry. My right hon. Friend said that it will meet in public, if it so wishes. He then went on to say that those who give evidence in good faith will, as a matter of law, have protection in proceedings for defamation. How does one define the phrase "in good faith"?
My right hon. Friend also said that it was exceedingly unlikely that fresh evidence justifying a prosecution will emerge. He also said that the Attorney-General has 324 undertaken to give immunity from prosecution for evidence that would incriminate a witness. I have to tell my right hon. Friend, in spite of my strong sympathy and support for the work that he does, that I am profoundly concerned about the terms of reference for the committee of inquiry, particularly as he said that it will be for the committee to determine its mode of operations and from whom it will seek evidence.
§ Mr. Prior
I do not think that I can decide from whom the committee will seek evidence. It must be a matter for the committee either to call people to give evidence or for people to come forward to give evidence. In answer to the other matters that my hon. Friend raised, witnesses who in good faith give evidence, believing it to be true, will be protected in defamation proceedings. That is a judicial expression of witnesses acting in good faith which I think will be understood, and is understood, by the judge and by lawyers who may attend with any witness who comes forward.
Perhaps I might clear up the matter of immunity by saying that my right hon. and learned Friend has decided that no evidence given by a witness to the inquiry, nor any document that he is required to produce, will he used against him in any subsequent criminal proceedings for an offence involving homosexual relations between males, or attempting, aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring. soliciting or inciting, or conspiracy to commit any offence of that kind, or withholding information about any such offence.
That is the precise ruling that the Attorney-General gave on the matter. Should it become apparent that a witness has evidence which is of material interest to the inquiry but which cannot be given without risk that it could lead to prosecution, my right hon. and learned Friend has agreed to consider whether immunity should be extended to cover it. I think we have gone as far as we can to ensure that this inquiry will be entitled to get all the facts of the situation.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
In view of the history of this affair and its extremely protracted unravelling, does not the Secretary of State think that it might have been wiser to regard this as one of those exceptional cases in which it would be appropriate to proceed under the 1921 Act? Secondly, in view of the desirability of reaching final conclusions and putting the matter beyond further anxiety, can he say when he expects the Hughes inquiry to complete its business?
§ Mr. Prior
I cannot give any information about the time that it will take. I want it to get on straight away. I shall, of course, announce the names of the other two members of the inquiry team as soon as possible after consulting the judge. I hope that it will be a reasonably short period, but it will depend on the number of people who come forward to give evidence. This time, it must be a complete inquiry. As for whether I am right in my judgment about the 1921 Act type of inquiry, it is my judgment that the House would have been reluctant to grant those powers, and I did not wish to put the House in the position of having to consider the matter when I myself did not believe, as the Terry report has already dealt with a large number of these allegations, that it would have been right in this case. I have seen and heard nothing since, despite what a few hon. Members have said, to make me change my mind.
§ Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Sir George Terry, who until recently was the highly respected chief constable of Sussex, for compiling what appears to have been a thorough and highly sensitive report? However, may I invite my right hon. Friend to go somewhat wider, as the matter has implications elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and agree that the unhappy circumstances surrounding this case and the setting up of the Hughes inquiry show that there are still circumstances in which many young people are still under the influence of adults who may have homosexual tendencies? When we receive demands from many groups, such as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, for a reduction in the age of consent among adults for homosexual acts, we should bear unhappy circumstances such as these in mind.
§ Mr. Prior
That goes a good deal wider than the inquiry, but I agree very much with what my hon. Friend says. I should like to pay tribute to Sir George Terry for the thoroughness of his inquiry. It was conducted on behalf of the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, so only the conclusions have been made public. It was a very thorough inquiry, conducted by two superintendents under Sir George Terry, and took a good deal of time to compile.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
My right hon. Friend will know that the Home Secretary kindly consented to investigate any cases of child abuse that I bring to his knowledge. However, perhaps the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does not know that, sadly, this morning I handed a further dossier to the Home Secretary—
§ Mr. Dickens
It is indeed, Sir. That dossier contained allegations of a child offence in a children's home. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the lessons and experience learnt from the Kincora episode will be communicated to the Home Office and to the chief constable of the establishment concerned so that we may move with much more speed in such cases?
§ Mr. Prior
The answer to that is yes, but I must point out that the underlying problems of the Kincora affair go a good deal wider and deeper than just the problems of homosexual affairs in one home. Although the prevention of that must be the first aim of any Secretary of State or his Ministers, my other aim is to bring to an end the chapter of rumour, innuendo and charge levelled against people in Northern Ireland without, as far as I can find out, any basis of fact. It is a related but much wider problem that we are dealing with, as well as the one my hon. Friend mentions.
the Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland, in pursuance of the powers conferred on it by Article 54 of Schedule 8 to the Health and Personal Social Services (NI) Order 1972, hereby appoints the following persons (names of chairman and members) to:
- (i) the investigations of the Royal Ulster Constabulary into possible homosexual offences related to children's homes and young persons' hostels in Northern Ireland
- (ii) the investigation by the former Chief Constable of Sussex, Sir George Terry CBE, QPM, DL, and the publication of his conclusions and recommendations; and
- (iii) the report of the team of child-care experts made available by the Secretary of State for Social Services to consider the ways in which the Department of Health and Social Services (NI) carries out its role in relation to the supervision and management of homes and hostels for children and young persons,
and to report thereon to the Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland.
- (a) inquire into the administration of children's homes and young persons' hostels whose residents were subjected to homosexual offences which led to convictions by the Courts or where homosexual misconduct led to disciplinary action against members of the staff, and into the extent to which those responsible for the provision of residential care for children and young persons could have prevented the commission of such acts or detected their occurrence at an earlier stage;
- (b) consider the implications for present procedures and practices within the system of residential care, including in particular the adequacy and effectiveness of arrangements for the supervision and protection of children and young persons in residential care; and
- (c) make recommendations with a view to promoting the welfare of such children and young persons and preventing any future malpractice;