UK Politics 3/9/17: voting and parliamentary arithmetic

A lot has been made of the fact that Labour under Corbyn gained many votes in the June 2017 election, enough that some think the party has full victory (in the sense of an overall majority) in its grasp. I wanted to look at some comparative figures, so compiled the following chart of votes (not seats) and percentages in each UK election since 1979:

Year    Conservatives          Labour            Lib Dems        SNP                UKIP

1979    13.7m/43.9%               11.5m/36.9%   4.3m/13.8%     0.5m/1.6%                                                                                                                          (Liberals)

1983    13.0m/42.4%               8.5m/27.6%     7.8m/25.4%     0.3m/1.1%                                                                                                                         (SDP/Lib Alliance)

1987    13.7m/42.2%               10.0m/30.8%   7.3m/22.6%     0.4m/1.3%                                                                                                                         (SDP/Lib Alliance)

1992    14.1m/41.9%               11.6m/34.4%   6.0m/17.8%     0.6m/1.9%

1997    9.6m/30.7%                 13.5m/43.2%   5.2m/16.8%     0.6m/2.0%       0.1m/0.3%

2001    8.4m/31.7%                 10.7m/40.7%   4.8m/18.3%     0.5m/1.8%       0.4m/1.5%

2005    8.8m/32.4%                 9.5m/35.2%     6.0m/22.0%     0.4m/1.5%       0.6m/2.2%

2010    10.7m/36.1%               8.6m/29.0%     6.8m/23.0%     0.5m/1.7%       0.9m/3.1%

2015    11.3m/36.8%               9.3m/30.4%     2.4m/7.9%       1.5m/4.7%       3.8m/12.6%

2017    13.6m/42.3%               12.9m/40.0%   2.3m/7.4%       1.0m/3.0%       0.6m/1.8%

So Labour under Corbyn did well, gaining 3.6m votes, but the Tories under May did even better. Two factors are of primary importance: (a) the collapse of the Lib Dem vote in 2015, following the Tory/Lib Dem coalition (see my earlier blog putting this in context); (b) the collapse of the UKIP vote in 2017, following the EU referendum, after having done exceptionally well in 2015, quadrupling their vote from that in 2010.

Labour certainly did manage to benefit from getting more young people to vote, but they also gained from the UKIP losses, which were threatening them in various traditional constituencies. But the Tories gained more, though the first-past-the-post electoral system through up the bizarre result by which May gained 2.3m more votes than Cameron did in 2015, but won 13 less seats than the latter. The Conservative vote has not fallen, far from it (May won more votes than any Tory leader since John Major in 1992, and more than Thatcher in 1983), it is really just a question of how it is distributed.

The widespread tactical voting generally believed to have occurred from 1997 onwards, which helped the Lib Dems more than double their seats in 1997 (from 20 to 46) and go onto peak in 2005 (with 62), must be assumed to have disappeared, unsurprisingly as Labour voters are disinclined to vote for a party which spent five years in coalition with the Tories, even where they are the primary alternative in some constituencies to the latter. But the current voting system still works against Labour, and it should not be forgotten that they only won 262 seats in 2017; to win an overall majority by one seat they need another 65, whereas for a workable majority (not too vulnerable to backbench rebellions over contentious legislation) they need at least 85.

I cannot see this happening, certainly not with Corbyn as leader. The electoral landscape has changed fundamentally since the pattern between 1997 and 2010. The Lib Dems and UKIP have collapsed, the Tories have swung to the right (though could move further right still) while Labour has swung to the left. Brexit has changed a lot; the good result for Labour and Corbyn this year came about in part through triangulation on this issue, managing to convince both Leavers and Remainers that they supported them. I cannot see this holding up further, and without a major and clear shift of policy, I believe Remainers will move away – though many, like me, feel politically homeless at the moment (a reason why a new centre party would be no bad thing).

On Tuesday Parliament will reconvene, and will start to debate the EU Repeal Bill. There has been talk of the government being defeated on this, which I would hope for greatly, but am not too hopeful, again for reason of numbers. There are four Tory MPs identified by John Rentoul as possible rebels –  Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Kenneth Clarke and Dominic Grieve – and possibly a few more, but nine Labour MPs who supported Leave in the referendum – Ronnie Campbell, John Cryer, Frank Field, Roger Godsiff, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer – while Caroline Flint indicated this morning that she is not prepared to help obstruct the bill. The Tories and DUP together have 327 MPs, whereas the opposition (not including the seven Sinn Féin MPs who will not take up their seats, nor the Speaker) have just 315. Even if all the four Tories listed above voted against the government, and the DUP abstained, they would still have 313 votes and could comfortably beat the opposition if just the nine Labour MPs vote with them. If things got tighter, May could take the same course of action as John Major did twice when facing defeat, and turn a vote on legislation into a vote of confidence. With no parliamentary majority, it is hard to imagine many Tories (most of who, when in the last parliament, voted for Article 50, including Soubry) voting against the government then.

Labour have proved themselves utterly incapable of proper opposition on Brexit. The Michel Barnier/David Davis press conference on Thursday was quite farcical, and it is clear the talks have hardly progressed, yet there was hardly a squeak from Corbyn and Keir Starmer until Starmer’s ineffectual interview this morning, which only served to muddy the party’s Brexit policy further. Never has there been a time during which proper scrutiny of the government and their approach to negotiations was more important; never has Labour proved so inept at providing this.

Where I have some hope, paradoxically, is in the possibility of a large-scale grassroots Tory revolt following acknowledgement that the government is preparing to pay a large Brexit divorce bill (with some leaks in the press today suggesting a figure of €50 billion). A recent Guardian/ICM poll suggested that two-thirds of voters would find a figure of €10 billion or more unacceptable, and the government has done nothing to try and explain the reason (not even clamping down on Boris Johnson over his ‘Go whistle’ remark). While the legal obligation to pay such a bill has been questioned, Barnier has made it clear that without the government coming clean on their position on this issue, they cannot proceed with trade talks. With time ticking down until Article 50 expires in March 2019, the UK government cannot really afford to keep delaying this, when the chances of even coming up with a workable transition arrangement – which all the other EU nations will accept – are slim in the time available.

So I think we will hear the sum confirmed soon, despite the denials. May will try to wait until after her party conference in Manchester, 1-4 October, but this may be difficult. The Tory membership have already indicated their wish for May to stand down; if she is conceding a major Brexit bill, then the pressure may become unbearable. May appears to be trying to keep Davis and Johnson close, so that they cannot dissociate themselves from what results, and so would go down with her; in that situation, I still do not think it impossible that the membership might make a crazy choice like electing a figure like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Andrea Leadsom, beloved of Conservative Home and the like.

Then, if a new leader was feeling optimistic or simply deluded, they just might call another election. I do think (or hope?) that a lot of decent Tory voters could not vote for a party led by someone so right-wing. But in order for a different government, Labour will have to make a proper case for an alternative in terms of Brexit, and make more overtures to the Lib Dems and others. I cannot imagine the Lib Dems or SNP supporting a Labour government which is going ahead with Brexit. At present I still cannot support Labour because of Brexit, and am sure they are a very long way from being an electorally viable party.

 

 

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Feasibility of a new UK centre party? And other Brexit-related thoughts

There has been a lot of activity during the last week, mostly on Twitter, but also a few related newspaper articles, emanating from comments by James Chapman, former Daily Mail political editor, who worked for a while for George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then as chief of staff at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) under Secretary of State David Davis. To cut a long story short, Chapman has been arguing that the Tory Party has been taken over by extremists aiming for a hard Brexit, and saying that Brexit will be a calamity for the country and the party, who may never win power again. He has called for the founding of a new pro-European party to be called The Democrats.

Chapman has claimed that several senior former and two serving Cabinet ministers have contacted him to express interest (though it is important to note his caveat ‘They are not saying they are going to quit their parties’), noting that 60% of the Tory parliamentary party backed Remain. And, significantly, he has given a date of 9th September 2017 to be at Parliament Square, saying ‘I promise some very special guests’. No leading politicians have yet openly declared support, though one might glean sympathies from two articles this morning. Former Labour MP and defeated leadership candidate David Miliband wrote in The Observer today about how Brexit will be an ‘unparalleled act of economic self-harm’ and called for a second referendum (or a vote in Parliament) on the choice between remaining in the EU or the alternative after negotiations, echoing a call made by Tony Blair in October 2016. At the same, Tory MP Anna Soubry, something of a hero of anti-Brexiteers since her endearing appearance and frank statements on the election documentary Brexit Means Brexit, wrote in the Mail on Sunday a quite startling piece attacking the ‘Hard Brexiteers’ (though saying she still respects the referendum result), and saying ‘I would be betraying my principles if I did not make it clear that country must always come before party’. Also this morning, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond have jointly declared, presumably in an attempt to override talk of major cabinet divisions, that the UK will definitely leave the EU, single market and customs union when Article 50 expires in March 2019, while also making clear their support for a transition deal from this point, though stressing that this must not be indefinite, or some ‘back door’ to staying in the EU. Fox has been considered one of the most pro-Leave members of the cabinet, Hammond one of the most pro-Remain, or at least ‘Soft Brexiteers’. Interestingly, Soubry tweeted this morning that the statement by Hammond and Fox ‘shows the need to form #Brexit consensus which Hammond is leading’, perhaps a qualified support for the cabinet member to whom she feels closest, though falling short of unequivocal endorsement.

There had been talk of a new party earlier this year: in May it was claimed that various donors were approaching Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change with a view to launching a breakaway movement which could attract some non- or anti-Corbynite Labour MPs, with talk of 100 such MPs resigning the whip and joining the new party. That was of course before the general election on 8th June, resulting in a hung parliament and a better-than-expected result for Corbyn’s Labour. Nonetheless, a report in the Sunday Times from the beginning of July (reproduced here) suggested that if Corbynites went ahead with deselection of centrist Labour MPs (with which some have already been threatened), then that could be a trigger for a number to leave to join a new party. This story was based upon sources said to be close to Blair, and hints were given that David Miliband might be a credible figure for a senior role in such a party.

Since Chapman’s first statements and tweets appeared, there have been a variety of left-of-centre voices considering the implications of a new party. Former SDP member and then Blairite advisor and then Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis (and staunch anti-Brexiteer) claimed a new party would indeed be much like the old SDP, and would achieve little more than to split the left and help the Tories, a view also echoed by Owen Jones, on the other wing of the party.  Corbynite journalist and Brexiteer Paul Mason, responding to those who had looked to the success of Emmanuel Macron in France as a model for a new centrist force, said that a new party would be ‘a liberal Tory party. The party of Notting Hill and Canary Wharf; the party of free market economics, globalised finance and social liberalism’ and would likely split the Tories rather than Labour. One might have imagined this to be an outcome Mason would have welcomed, not least in light of his earlier suggestion to the Progress faction that they ‘do a Macron’, but he suggested this would provide little more than ‘an emotional comfort blanket’ as global neo-liberalism withers.

However, political scientist and historian Tim Bale notes various questions relating to a new party, asking what such a new party would which is not already provided by the Liberal Democrats, whether existing anti-Brexit MPs would be better to pursue cross-party strategies, whether it is possible to ‘break the mould’ of British politics as SDP co-founder Roy Jenkins once claimed, in light of the UK electoral system which is unfavourable to third parties. However, he also argues that even if unable to achieve electoral victory, a new party could have an effect upon the policies of others, giving as previous examples of such a phenomenon the SDP pushing Labour towards a more centrist and pro-European stance such as won Blair a massive victory in 1997, or UKIP pushing the Tories towards a more overt and pervasive Euroscepticism.

Various issues occur to me immediately in terms of a new centre party and what it might achieve. The first relates to whether it could actually bring down the Tory/DUP quasi-coalition (for the purposes of confidence and supply issues in Parliament). The June election produced the following results: Tories 317, Labour 262, SNP 35, Liberal Democrats 12, DUP 10, Sinn Féin 7, Plaid Cymru 4, Greens 1, Independent Unionist 1, Speaker 1. So the Tories with the DUP have 327 seats; the others (without Sinn Féin, who will not take up their seats, or the Speaker) have 316. In a vote of confidence, I believe all the others, with the possible exception of the Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon, would vote against the government. If 6 Tory MPs were to join a new party, or resign the party whip, that could leave the Tories + DUP with 321 votes, the others with 322. If Hermon voted with the government, they would win with 322 to 321; if she abstained, then the Speaker would use his casting vote, and support the government. So the new Democrats would have to capture seven Tory MPs to be sure of being able to bring down the government in a confidence vote, leading to a new general election in which they could fight most seats.

I do not believe this is likely at present. It is possible that Soubry (who in her mid-20s defected from the Conservatives to the SDP) and maybe one or two others (some possible candidates might be Kenneth Clarke, Nicky Morgan or Nicholas Soames, but it would be a huge step for any of these) might be prepared to take the ‘nuclear option’ and leave their party, but to gain a whole seven would require a true sense of a party in crisis.

The situation as regards Tories jumping ship is interesting to compare to that in early 1981, when just one Tory MP, Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler, joined the new Social Democratic Party (like Soubry, though it would be 29 years before she would become an MP), following the Limehouse Declaration of 23rd January 1981 . In 1981 the Tories had a clear majority (which would increase significantly in 1983). Their government’s reputation did look shaky, and Thatcher’s net popularity, pre-Falklands, was low as unemployment rose sharp, so that by the end of the year  she was declared the most unpopular Prime Minister since polling began. Furthermore, Labour remained consistently ahead in the polls right from the time of the 1979 election (peaking, as might surprise some, soon after Michael Foot became leader in November 1980), though this all changed after the Falklands War in 1982, when the Tories’ support soared from the mid-20s to the high 40s. This could not however have been predicted in early 1981. The Conservatives looked weak in the polls, though this was not an uncommon mid-term situation. They did not face something of such shattering impact as Brexit, nor rely upon another party in order to have a majority in the House of Commons. Thus I would argue that the situation was less serious then, and the incentives for Tory MPs to leave the party correspondingly fewer.

How about the situation for the other parties in early 1981? The Liberal Party then had 11 MPs, down from 13 prior to 1979; they would also go on to win Croydon North West from the Conservatives in October 1981, and Bermondsey from Labour in February 1983. The party had recently suffered a terrible blow with the trial in 1979 of their former leader Jeremy Thorpe on charges of having organised the murder of his homosexual lover. Even though he was acquitted, his refusal to give evidence and the general aspects of his lifestyle revealed in the trial meant his reputation was destroyed, with wider harm for the party as a whole, during a period when public opinion was considerably more homophobic than today. David Steel had taken over as leader in 1976 and tried to restore the party’s reputation, in which he was relatively successful, taking it into the Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-78, but the trial itself caused much strain. So the party was not in a strong situation. However, today we have a situation in which just two years ago, in the 2015 General Elections, the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg suffered the worst percentage loss of seats of any UK centre party since 1918, down a previous 57 to just 8. They won the seat of Richmond Park in a by-election forced by the sitting Tory MP Zac Goldsmith in December 2016, but Goldsmith won this back in June 2017. Otherwise, under leader (now ex-leader) Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats went up to 12 seats, a modest gain but still a very long way from the numbers they had under leaders Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. It is hard to see yet any sign that under Vince Cable – widely remembered as a major figure in the Tory/Lib Dem coalition, and the man who trebled tuition fees – as leader, this situation would change. By contrast, when Steel was leader, it was not since the 1920s that they had experienced huge losses. Also, the Lib-Lab confidence and supply agreement, lasting 18 months, was of a different order to the five-year full Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010-15, which has left many on the left with a visceral disdain and distrust for the latter party, which will take time to shake, especially as the current leader was at the centre of that coalition.

So, the Liberal Democrats are in a relatively weak position, Somewhat more so than in the early 1980s. This just might be enough to prevent a re-run of the events of the 1980s, in which the SDP and Liberals fought two elections in an alliance, then after the 1987 election the former part split down the middle over the issue of a merger. This merger was supported by Steel and most in the Liberals, and various up-and-coming SDP politicians including Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy, and veterans such as Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. On the other side was SDP leader David Owen, with a group of acolytes including MPs John Cartwright and Rosie Barnes, who maintained his own separate SDP following the merger in 1988. This led to the two parties running rival candidates in by-elections, most notably in that in Richmond (North Yorkshire) in February 1989, in which the votes of the two rival centre parties together exceeded those for the Tory candidate (future leader William Hague), but the division of the centre let the Tories through. Following disaster in the May 1990 Bootle by-election, the Owenite SDP was wound up. The situation was not plain-sailing for the new Liberal Democrats, though: they first had problems with their name, beginning as the ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’, then adopting ‘Democrats’ as a shorter version (so anticipating the new party, and alluding to the American party), before settling on ‘Liberal Democrats’ in October 1989 after heated debates in which leading figures very publicly disagreed. Prior to this, they had suffered a terrible set of results in the 1989 European Elections, gaining only one-third of the votes of the Green Party. But Ashdown was able to hold the new party together and eventually more than double their representation in the 1997 General Election, helped by a new wave of tactical voting (which held up until 2015, as Nick Clegg discovered to his immense cost).

Could we see a similar course of events, with the new Democrats in the place of the old SDP? The moderately greater weakness of the Liberal Democrats today might result in some differences, but I cannot see why these would be that significant. A small number of Tory MPs might join the party, and a few from Labour, at present. The election result, and the power of party members, has consolidated Corbyn’s position, so that those who leave are unlikely to ever find a way back in, at least for a long time. However, if deselections begin, this situation might change.

I also find it hard to imagine that Labour under Corbyn could win an overall majority (from which they were well-short in June) in a future election, especially now that the triangulation witnessed during the election campaign – managing to convince some Northern Leave voters on one hand, and Southern middle-class Remainers on the other, that Labour was on their side – is unravelling. This has been clear ever since Corbyn sacked three shadow ministers for voting for a Queen’s speech amendment calling for the UK to remain in the customs union and single market. But there is no obvious rival for party leader likely to win enough support in the party as a whole. Because of the membership, even if Corbyn does eventually stand down, perhaps following another election loss, his successor may be another similarly-minded candidate. With this in mind, it would probably make sense for the likes of Liz Kendall, Chuka Umunna, Stephen Kinnock or Hilary Benn to leave for a new party, especially if supported by Blair and Miliband, but I cannot see them doing so without a wave of deselection. Just this weekend, Andrew Grice argued that unless Corbyn opposes Brexit, then he will be unable to retain the support of many who who might shift their allegiance to a new party. This may be true of voters, but Labour party tribalism should not be underestimated.

But there are other factors to consider. It is very far from a foregone conclusion that a transitional agreement will be agreed by the other 27 EU nations (all of whom must agree unanimously for it to be possible). And this will not come without a price, quite literally. A week ago, it was reported that the UK was prepared to pay a £36bn bill for exiting the EU, provided the negotiators would talk about trade (contradicting Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remark a few weeks previously that the EU leaders could ‘go whistle’ if they expected any such ‘divorce bill’ to be paid). However, immediately following the publicisation of this figure, various Tory Eurosceptics responded angrily and claimed that such an action would be impossible to sell to voters, and Downing Street rejected the claim that they were prepared to pay the £36bn. The Eurosceptics may be right, but I do not believe the EU will take trade, transition, or anything else until the UK government agrees a figure (Michel Barnier made this clear in July). We are informed that the government is about to publish a range of key position papers on various Brexit issues, but it is far from clear if the divorce bill will be included.

One other option has been touted by leading anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, who has suggested that instead of a transitional agreement, we should be looking for an extension of the timetable for exit, but as one person has pointed out, it is hard to see how this would be possible with EU elections forthcoming in May/June 2019. For the UK to be part of these would be a huge leap that even some ‘soft Brexiteers’ would find difficult to back, at least to their constituents and local parties.

I think the government will realise soon that it has two options: either to agree a figure, at least for negotiations, in advance, or else have to exit the talks without any agreement. This may come as soon as the Tory Conference at the beginning of October, at which we are told today Theresa May will attempt a ‘mea culpa’ about the election result, in an attempt to hold onto her job. But I do not believe this will be any more successful than Ian Duncan Smith’s ‘quiet man turning up the volume’ speech in 2003, soon after which he was deposed. May looks a weak and wounded Prime Minister, lacking authority, only remaining in place because of lack of a clear successor. If she commits to a Brexit divorce bill, I believe there will be moves against her following the conference, as have been predicted by others, and many Eurosceptic Tories in the constituency parties will put their weight behind an alternative candidate. It is not inconceivable that they might support Jacob Rees-Mogg, who today is said to be considering his options, a result which would be as ground-changing for the Tories as Corbyn was for Labour. I cannot imagine Soubry, Clarke and various others being able to remain in a party led by him, even less so than when it was led by Duncan Smith.

So, in conclusion: a new party might attract some small number of defectors, but will probably become embroiled in a competition for the centre with the Liberal Democrats; as anticipated by Bale, it may have an emboldening impact upon anti-Brexiteers in the two main parties; if the Tories elect a highly right-wing leader like Rees-Mogg (or Andrea Leadsom), more MPs might be prepared to defect, as would be the case for Labour if they begin deselections, or back hard Brexit. And above all, the decisive moment in the Brexit negotiations is about to come, I believe. Either a bill will be agreed, or negotiations will come to a halt, and a hard Brexit without a transitional agreement will be a foregone conclusion.

I am unsure if there exists such a thing as a ‘soft Brexit’ other than entering into an EEA agreement in the manner of Norway, thus remaining in the single market, but a hard Brexit would be the worst possible outcome, and fatal for the UK. At present I see no evidence that either Labour or the Tories have any strategy to avoid this. It is time for all right-thinking politicians in all parties to accept that this matters more than party loyalties. I can personally no longer support Labour (or my local MP, Corbyn) while he maintains essentially supporting Brexit, and would welcome the new party. A second referendum is desperately needed, with much more information about what a post-Brexit Britain will actually entail made available to the voting public. I await 9th September with great interest.

 

 

 


House of Commons debate 26/6/14 following publication of Savile reports

[Please continue to write to your MP to ask them to support a national inquiry into organised abuse, and also please sign this petition calling for such an inquiry]

Today twenty-eight reports were released following NHS and Department of Health investigations into the activities of Jimmy Savile at a range of hospitals and other institutions. These make for grim reading, detailing victims of both sexes aged from 5 to 75, abuse reported but with no action taken, encounters taking place in a whole host of locations on and off premises, and even an unhealthy interest in the mortuary of Leeds General Infirmary by Savile, where he is claimed by some witnesses to have made rings out of glass eyes taken from bodies (see Caroline Davies, ‘Jimmy Savile’s victims were aged five to 75 at Leeds hospital, inquiry finds’, The Guardian, June 26th, 2014, for a summary, also ‘Jimmy Savile hospital reports: At a glance’, BBC News UK, June 26th, 2014).

In the House of Commons today, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP gave a long statement in response to the publication of the reports, followed by a short series of parliamentary questions; the full text, taken from Hansard, is given below. Hunt summarised the findings and apologised on behalf of the government and NHS, whilst arguing that today’s safeguarding processes make it harder for such a thing to happen again. Otherwise, he simply mentioned that the Department of Education is overseeing investigations of Savile’s activity in care settings, that there are other investigations into child sexual abuse, and that the Department will work with the NSPCC and NAPAC to ensure information is passed on.

One might recall, however, that in 2011 the very same Jeremy Hunt, then Culture Secretary, had the following to say upon the news of the death of Savile:

“Sir Jimmy Savile was one of broadcasting’s most unique and colourful characters,” said Mr Hunt.

“From Top of the Pops to making children’s dreams come true on Jim’ll Fix It, a generation of people will remember his catchphrases and sense of fun.

“But his lasting legacy will be the millions he raised for charity, tirelessly giving up his time and energy to help those causes he was passionate about.”

Some knowledge or at least strong rumours of Savile’s activities have been well-known for a long time; was Hunt really never aware of any of them in 2011?

There are lots of important points raised in this debate; here I will concentrate on those relating to wider issues to do with widespread abuse and the need for an inquiry. Five of the original seven MPs to write to the Home Secretary calling for a national inquiry into organised abuse – Conservative Tim Loughton, Liberal Democrats John Hemming and Tessa Munt, and Labour Simon Danczuk and Tom Watson – all made statements calling for an inquiry

The Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, who made clear yesterday in a letter to Tim Loughton his willingness to be added to the list of MPs supporting a national inquiry into organised abuse, stopped short of advocating this in his own statement on behalf of the Labour Party as a whole, saying instead:

That paints a picture of chaos in the Department and a complete absence of due process for a serious appointment of this kind. This is an extraordinary revelation. 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 hon. 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.

It is not clear (perhaps intentionally) whether this refers just to all cases involving Savile or the much wider issues of all types of organised child abuse – certainly this falls short of the call in the original letter from seven MPs.

Furthermore, Hunt said the following key passage:

On the specific point about the behaviour of one Minister and what it suggested about the motivation for Savile’s approval for his job at Broadmoor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who was Secretary of State at the time, has said that that behaviour would be indefensible now and that it would have been indefensible at the time. I agree with him. Everyone must be held accountable for the actions they took.

The minister in question was Edwina Currie, who was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health from September 1986 to December 1988 (when she was forced to resign over an ill-judged statement about salmonella in eggs). Currie appointed Savile to run a taskforce in charge of Broadmoor Hospital, which included temporary powers to oversee the running of the hospital after a series of industrial disputes, despite a lack of any professional qualifications (a classic piece of union-busting), and then a friend of Savile’s was given the most senior job at Broadmoor (see Robert Mendick and Laura Donnelly,’Jimmy Savile: Questions for Edwina Currie and the BBC’, Daily Telegraph , October 20th, 2012) (see also Stephen Cook, ‘Savile’s travails’, The Guardian, November 1st, 1989). The Health Secretary under which Currie worked was then Kenneth Clark. The new report details ten cases of sexual assault directly related to Broadmoor, and one allegation of indecent exposure to a minor, also of Savile being able to watch female patients stripping completely (see Bill Kirkup and Paul Marshall, ‘Jimmy Savile Investigation: Broadmoor Hospital’, Department of Health, June 2nd, 2014). It also says:

Savile met Mrs Currie, at his request, when she visited another hospital. He reported having discovered widespread false overtime claims, occupation of staff residences by people not entitled to them, and financial irregularities concerning the capital building project. He said he intended to use his knowledge of these to control the POA’s activities by threatening to expose them to the press if the union would not cooperate with him. Mrs Currie did not discourage him in this, although it would have meant tolerating alleged fraud in return for union co-operation. (p. 5)

Gisela Stuart asked if Kenneth Clarke would apologise for his stewardship of the department then and also whether Hunt would look into the behaviour of Currie, but Hunt did not give any clear assent to either thing, on the grounds that the reports say that there was no evidence that Ministers or others were aware of sexual abuse. As I have blogged about elsewhere, Edwina Currie also recounted in her Diaries knowledge that former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and PPS to Margaret Thatcher Peter Morrison was a ‘noted pederast’ with a liking for young boys, that this was known by other senior figures in the party, and even that a constituency agent was offered money to keep quiet about it. A statement on this and on Savile is now needed urgently from Currie.

Furthermore, John Hemming referred to the case of Leah McGrath Goodman, an American journalist who was investigating abuse at Haut de la Garenne, Jersey (see the range of articles at Spotlight and in particular Josh Halliday, Katharine Viner and Lisa O’Carroll, ‘Jimmy Savile linked with Haut de la Garenne children’s home scandal’, The Guardian, October 9th, 2012), who was banned from entering the UK, and arrested back on June 5th when coming to give evidence to an inquiry. Hunt simply said that he was unaware of this and would look into it. More on McGrath Goodman’s work can be read on her website, in particular her story commissioned by The Guardian after being banned from entry. See also Hemmings’ Early Day Motion (EDM) from September 11th, 2012 objecting to the banning of McGrath Goodman and a further EDM from July 2nd, 2013, after McGrath Goodman was re-allowed entry.

Tessa Munt drew most direct attention to the call for an inquiry (mentioning the 104 further MPs who had joined the original 7 – now 105 thanks to the addition of Chi Onwurah, who also mentioned the need for an inquiry and has since indicated her willingness to be added to the list), and in particular loss of vital evidence, and cases being stalled or abandoned. Hunt’s response just referred to a Home Office committee chaired by Norman Baker (who lent just 10 minutes of his time to seasoned abuse researchers and campaigners Peter McKelvie and Liz Davies recently). Other supporters of an inquiry who spoke in the debate included Conservative Bob Blackman, Labour’s Diana Johnson, Barbara Keeley and Grahame Morris and Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley Jr.

Simon Danczuk first raised the question of Savile’s wider political connections, not least with Cyril Smith, and pointed out that Savile appeared in a Liberal Party Political Broadcast. Smith himself, in his autobiography, refers to meeting Savile at a medieval banquet at Worsley, Lancashire, after which he was invited by Savile to sing ‘She’s a Lassie from Lancashire’ on his programme Clunk-Click, and also a comedy routine with Les Dawson; Smith admired the model of Savile as a ‘personality’, but wrote that Savile ‘admits openly that his work as a disc jockey is a joke, but his record of public service and charity must be unequalled’ (Big Cyril: The Autobiography of Cyril Smith (London: W.H. Allen, 1977), pp. 225-226; see also Danczuk and Matthew Baker, Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith (London: Biteback Publishing, 2014), pp. 100-104, on Smith’s cultivation of Savile and other comedians and TV personalities). Danczuk said that an ‘overarching inquiry’ would enable one to ‘understand the political networks to which Savile belonged’. Hunt’s answer essentially side-steps this question.

Tom Watson followed up on this issue asking if Hunt had any suspicion that ‘victims of Savile were frightened to come forward because he enjoyed powerful political protection?’ Hunt side-stepped this again, saying there was no evidence of that in the reports, and suggesting that victims of Savile were simply afraid to come forward because of his ‘celebrity status’ and consequent ‘connections in high place’ (not quite the same thing as Danczuk or Watson are asking).

In an interview from last weekend, Danczuk made clear that when he appears before the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) on Tuesday July 1st, he will if asked be prepared to use Parliamentary Privilege to name a further living parliamentarian who visited Elm Guest House at Barnes, where boys are claimed to have been abused by a paedophile ring (Mark Leftly, ‘MP will name politician ‘involved in child abuse”, The Independent, June 22nd, 2014), and may also name a further politician involved in a separate abuse scandal (this is likely to be the former Blair-era cabinet minister alleged to have abused boys in a children’s home in Lambeth, run by paedophile Michael John Carroll, in which case experienced detective Clive Driscoll was taken off the case as he allegedly came to investigate the minister, as investigated in Tom Pettifor, ‘Pressure mounts on Tony Blair to answer questions over minister child sex abuse cover-up claims’, Daily Mirror, April 29th, 2014). Three members of the HASC – Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert, and Labour MPs Paul Flynn and Yasmin Qureshi – are supporters of a national inquiry; one member of the HASC has confirmed that Danczuk will be asked about visitors to Elm Guest House (Leftly, ‘MP will name politician ‘involved in child abuse”). This will be an important occasion at the HASC which may change the whole climate of opinion concerning abuse and the urgent need for an inquiry.


NHS Investigations (Jimmy Savile)

11.25 am

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt):
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Jimmy Savile investigations.

This morning, 28 investigations into Savile were published, including two larger reports on Leeds infirmary and Broadmoor hospital and 26 smaller reports on other institutions. I know that this House and, indeed, the whole country will share a deep sense of revulsion at what they reveal: a litany of disturbing accounts of rape and sexual abuse committed by Savile on vulnerable children and adults over a period of decades.

At the time, the victims who spoke up were not believed, and it is important today that we all publicly recognise the truth of what they have said, but it is a profoundly uncomfortable truth. As a nation at that time, we held Savile in our affection as a somewhat eccentric national treasure with a strong commitment to charitable causes. Today’s reports show that, in reality, he was a sickening and prolific sexual abuser who repeatedly exploited the trust of a nation for his own vile purposes.

The report published by Leeds infirmary today reveals that Savile was a predatory porter who abused and raped patients without scruple. Sixty people reported abuse to the investigation. One of his teenage victims believed that she was pregnant as a result of his abuse. Two witnesses told the investigation Savile claimed to have had jewellery made from glass eyes taken from bodies in the mortuary. Other reported behaviour is too horrific to recount in detail to this House, but is set out in full in the reports published today.

Savile was also an opportunistic sexual predator at Broadmoor. The investigation concludes that at least five individuals, and possibly more, were sexually abused by Savile. Inexplicably, Savile was allowed to watch female patients as they stripped naked for bathing.

There were fewer incidents reported in the other 26 investigations, but there are strong indications that they were consistent with a wider pattern of offending. I have placed the reports of all the investigations in the House of Commons Library. Five investigations are ongoing and will report later this year.

Today’s reports will shake this House and our country to the core. Savile was a callous, opportunistic, wicked predator who abused and raped individuals, many of them patients and young people, who expected and had a right to expect to be safe. His actions span five decades, from the 1960s to 2010. The family favourite loved by millions courted popularity and used it to perpetrate and cover up his own evil acts.

I and, I am sure, the whole House will want to pay tribute to all the victims who came forward to talk about their experiences. It took great courage for them to relive their often extremely distressing and disturbing experiences.

The reports paint a terrible picture, as time and again victims were ignored or, if they were not, little or no action was taken. The systems in place to protect people were either too weak or were ignored. People and institutions turned a blind eye.

Today, I want to apologise on behalf of the Government and the NHS to all the victims who were abused by Savile in NHS-run institutions. We let them down badly and however long ago it may have been, many of them are still reliving the pain they went through. If we cannot undo the past, I hope that honesty and transparency about what happened can at least alleviate some of the suffering. It is the least we owe them.

Today, changes to the way that we guard against abuse would make it much harder for someone such as Savile to perpetrate these crimes for so long. The safeguarding system, as the Leeds report makes clear, has been much improved over the past 30 years. The landmark Children Act 1989 enshrined a child’s right to protection from abuse. The first child sex offenders register was established in 1997, and 1999 saw legislation to prevent sex offenders from working with children. Criminal Records Bureau checks and the Disclosure and Barring Service have provided further protection. The Children Act 2004 requires NHS bodies to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and to sit on the local safeguarding children board. NHS England published its safeguarding framework in 2013.

Savile was, however, never convicted of any offence, so this safeguarding system depends on much better awareness by professionals and the public and a much heightened vigilance against such abuse than there was in the past. Although that is reassuring to an extent, we cannot be complacent. Today, I am writing to all the system leaders in the NHS—NHS England, the NHS Trust Development Authority, Monitor and the Care Quality Commission—to ask them to ensure that they and all trusts review safeguarding arrangements in the light of the reports, and to ensure that they are confident about patient safety. For its part, the Department of Health has accepted all the specific recommendations assigned to it in the Broadmoor report.

There are some painfully obvious lessons for the system as a whole. First, we must never give people the kind of access that Savile enjoyed to wards and patients without proper checks, whoever that person may be. Secondly, if people are abusive, staff should feel supported to challenge them, whoever that person may be, and take swift action. Thirdly, where patients report abuse, they need to be listened to, whatever their age, whatever their condition, and there needs to be proper investigation of what they report. It is deeply shocking that so few people felt that they could speak up and even more shocking that no one listened to those who did speak up. That is now changing in the NHS, but we have a long way to go.

In ensuring appropriate measures, we must not hinder the extraordinary contribution of thousands of volunteers and fundraisers working in the NHS every day. They are the opposite of Savile and we need to ensure that their remarkable contribution is sustained.

In parallel with this NHS work, the Department for Education is overseeing investigations into Savile’s activity in care settings, based on the same tranche of information that led to the smaller NHS investigations. There are other ongoing investigations by the police into allegations of historic child sexual exploitation. I hope this reassures the House of the seriousness of this issue and our response to it. The Department will also work with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood to ensure that information is swiftly passed on.

I conclude by paying tribute to Kate Lampard and her team. When patient safety is the issue, speed is vital. These investigations have swiftly and effectively brought to light vital issues that must be addressed. She will be publishing her conclusions and recommendations on this scandal later this year, as will the national group on sexual violence against children and vulnerable people. This report will bring together the Government’s wider work to eradicate violence against children and vulnerable people.

But today, above all, we should remember the victims of Savile. They were brave. They have been vindicated. He was a coward. He has been disgraced. The system failed to prevent him from abusing. It failed to act when people spoke up. We must not allow history to repeat itself. I commend this statement to the House.

11.34 am

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab):
I thank the Secretary of State for notice and sight of his statement. I commend him for the way he introduced it to the House and welcome everything he said. The reports published today are truly disturbing, and as sickening as any ever presented to the House. How a celebrity DJ and predatory sex offender came to have unfettered access to vulnerable patients across the NHS, and gold-plated keys to its highest security hospital, surely ranks as one of the worst failures of patient and public protection our country has ever seen. It raises questions of the most profound kind about how victims of abuse are treated, how systems for protecting vulnerable children and adults work and the nature of celebrity and society’s relationship with it.

The Secretary of State was right to begin with an apology—I support him in making it—to the hundreds of people who were appallingly failed and whose lives have been haunted ever since. Our first thought must be with them today. They had a right to look to the NHS as a place of safety and sanctuary, but they were cruelly let down by the very institutions that were meant to offer protection. As one of Savile’s victims put it:

“It was like another insult. I’m in a top security hospital and someone has got to me again. When does it stop?”

Today’s statement will have evoked memories of the most painful kind for them, so will the Secretary of State ensure that all Savile’s victims have full and direct access to all the counselling and other support they will need?

One of the main purposes of this process of inquiry should have been to give all the victims the opportunity to be heard, but the Secretary of State might know that there are reports today in the Yorkshire Post that one person who tried to come forward was at first ignored in October 2012. Will he assure us that all reasonable steps have been taken by those preparing these reports to help victims come forward and tell their story, including those who might have been ignored when they first tried?

Many of Savile’s victims have suffered severe financial loss as a result of the challenges they have faced. I understand that claims for compensation will in the first instance draw on Jimmy Savile’s estate. Has there been an assessment of whether the estate’s funds will be sufficient to meet all claims? Given what has been revealed today and the abject failures of public bodies, should not the Government now consider allocating public funds to ensure that all the people damaged by Savile are properly compensated and supported?

Reading the report, it is not at all clear to me that a proper process has yet been put in place to hold people who failed in their public duties to account. If evidence is revealed in any of these reports that shows that any person still working in the NHS or the Department of Health knowingly facilitated these crimes, will the Secretary of State assure us that they will now face the full weight of the law and that those who were negligent in respect of their public duties will also be held fully to account?

It is incomprehensible how this could have been allowed to happen over 55 years. Although it relates to a different era, there are serious lessons that we can learn, given that abuse continues in our health and care system today. Let me turn to those. The first area of concern relates to how victims of abuse are treated, particularly young people or people in the mental health care system. Sadly, there are still far too many instances of abuse in our care system and in mental health settings, and the real figure is likely to be higher because of under-reporting. Will the Secretary of State consider what more needs to be done to give people the confidence to come forward and the reassurance that they will be listened to? Is there a case for more training for staff in dealing with allegations of abuse?

The second area of concern relates to how public bodies carry out vetting and barring arrangements, make public appointments and manage their relationship with celebrity. Hospitals across the country have increasingly sophisticated fundraising operations and links with celebrity endorsers. Will the Secretary of State accept the Broadmoor report’s recommendation that no celebrity should be appointed to an executive position or given privileged access to a hospital or its patients and that they should be fully vetted if appointed to a non-executive position? More broadly, is there now a case for a code of conduct setting out the appropriate relationship that the NHS should have with celebrity or business backers?

On vetting and barring, figures obtained by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) show that the number of people barred from working with children as a result of committing a sexual offence against a child has dropped by 10,000, or 75%, in the past three years. These extremely worrying figures have come about as a result of changes to the vetting and barring arrangements. This raises the concern that there are people working in our health and care system now who may pose a risk to children. Will the Secretary of State look again at this issue, consult the Home Secretary, and urgently report back to the House on why these figures have dropped by so much in such a short space of time, and on whether they believe that the current child protection regime is strong enough?

The question arises of whether this process of inquiry 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. I, too, pay tribute to the work of Kate Lampard in assuring the quality of the reports published today, and we wait for her second phase of work, but questions remain about their independence given that each hospital has, in effect, investigated itself. There is also a question of whether this needs to be more independent of Government.

The Broadmoor report raises serious questions about the conduct of civil servants and Ministers in the Department of Health in how Savile came to be appointed to the Broadmoor taskforce. In evidence to the inquiry, the then Minister describes the main objective of Savile’s appointment as follows:

“The principal question was can Government break this hold that the Prison Officers Association has on the hospital.”

She went on to say:

“This task force was dreamed up and seemed like a very good idea and step forward Jimmy Savile who knew the place backwards and was more than happy to volunteer his time to do this. And we were happy to do it.”

That paints a picture of chaos in the Department and a complete absence of due process for a serious appointment of this kind. This is an extraordinary revelation. 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 hon. 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.

Mr Hunt:
I thank the shadow Health Secretary for the constructive tone of his comments. Many of the suggestions he has made are very sensible. We will take them away and look at them, but I will go through a number of them now. First, we will indeed make sure that all Savile’s victims get the counselling they need. I think that it has been made available to them, but it is absolutely right to double-check that they are getting every bit of help they need and that we are taking all reasonable steps.

I hope that what has happened today will be, in its own way, another landmark for all victims of sexual abuse in giving them the confidence that we are changing, not just as an NHS but as a society, into being much better at listening when people come forward with these very serious allegations. It hits you time and again when you read these reports how many people did not speak up at the time because they thought that no one would believe them. We are not going to change that culture overnight, but we have to be a society that listens to the small person—the person who might get forgotten and does not feel they are important in the system.

On the claims for compensation, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the first draw for those claims will come from the Savile estate. I hope I can reassure him, however, that, as we have said, the Government will underwrite this so that if there are any claims that are not able to be met by the estate we finance them from the public purse. We think it is important that we should do that, although his estate is the first place to start, for obvious reasons.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that if there is evidence that people have criminally neglected claims that were made at the time or behaved inappropriately—even if it is not a matter for the law and they behaved in a way that could make them subject to disciplinary procedures in NHS organisations—that should be addressed. We will urge all NHS organisations to look carefully at anyone who is mentioned in the reports. Of course, the police will, naturally, look at the evidence against any individuals, who of course have the right to due process, which everyone in the House would accept.

On the specific point about the behaviour of one Minister and what it suggested about the motivation for Savile’s approval for his job at Broadmoor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who was Secretary of State at the time, has said that that behaviour would be indefensible now and that it would have been indefensible at the time. I agree with him. Everyone must be held accountable for the actions they took.

We are doing a great deal to make sure that all NHS staff are trained to feel more confident about speaking out. The Mid Staffs whistleblower Helene Donnelly is now working with Health Education England to see what needs to change in the training of NHS staff in order to change that culture.

On the new disclosure and barring scheme, we are already doing work to examine the reason for the drop in the number of people who are being barred from working with children. The Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) is looking into that. I have given this a lot of thought and it is important to say that in the current environment, were we to have another Savile, it is likely that the disclosure and barring scheme would bar him from working with children and in trusts, but that is not certain because he was never convicted of a crime. The Criminal Records Bureau checks would not have stopped that, but it is possible for the disclosure and barring scheme to prevent people from working with children and vulnerable adults even if they have not committed a crime. For example, their employment track record may show that they were dismissed for doing things that raised suspicions. It is also important to make the point—I think everyone in the House will understand this—that it is not possible to legislate to stop all criminal vile activity. What we depend on for the disclosure and barring scheme to work is a culture in which the public and patients feel able to speak out and staff listen when they do so, in order that these things surface much more quickly.

Finally, 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.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con):
May I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the victims? They were not silent. What today’s reports show is that very many people witnessed—even directly condoned—some deeply inappropriate behaviour. How could it ever be acceptable for a celebrity to be able to watch female patients showering? Will the Secretary of State join me in sending a message to NHS staff that they should always raise concerns if they witness such behaviour and that they will be protected if they do so?

Mr Hunt:
I am absolutely happy to do that. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend’s comments. The NHS needs to move to a system where it is the norm rather than the exception to report, and where NHS staff feel comfortable that reporting any concerns is an absolutely normal part of their job. She is right to say that one of the most disturbing things in the reports is the clear evidence that some people helped Savile in what he did—for example, that people were escorted to his private room in Broadmoor—which is very shocking. That is why it is very important that everyone is vigilant. I totally agree with what she said.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab):
The only people who emerge with any credit are the victims, and we need to support them. However, I was slightly stung by the Secretary of State’s comment about the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). If the right hon. and learned Gentleman thought that the actions of the Minister—it was Edwina Currie, if I remember rightly—were inappropriate then, as they would be now, will he apologise for his stewardship of the Department at the time, or will the Secretary of State look at the Minister’s conduct and come back to the House to explain how it was possible?

Mr Hunt:
I hope that I have gone some way to meet the hon. Lady’s concerns because, on behalf of the Government and the NHS, I have offered a full apology to all the victims for what happened, and I have accepted that there were failures at many levels. It is very important to say that the reports show that there was no evidence that Ministers or officials were aware of any sexual abuse by Savile. I pointed to the comments by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe because I wanted to make it clear that this Government are not defending actions which, as he has said, were indefensible then and would be indefensible now.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con):
I commend my right hon. Friend for his measured statement. Indeed, 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.

Mr Hunt:
I commend my hon. 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.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab):
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for his considered response. In relation to the scale of the abuse—with ages ranging from five to 75, and involving 28 hospitals—lessons need to be learned about the systematic failure not just within the NHS, but within other institutions. Will the Health Secretary have discussions with the Cabinet Office and others to make sure that appropriate lessons are learned?

Mr Hunt:
Absolutely. I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are taking a cross-Government approach—across a range of Departments, but particularly the Department for Education and the Home Office—and that the Government as a whole will draw the lessons from this whole horrific series of episodes to make sure that we have a joined-up approach.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD):
I agree with the Secretary of State that our first thought has to be for the victims, and that in future we must listen to the powerless and not block inquiries. If we go back to 2011—before Savile died—an American journalist, Leah McGrath Goodman, was banned from coming to the UK to investigate child abuse, including by Jimmy Savile. Even more recently, she was arrested at the airport on 5 June, while coming to an inquiry. Will the Secretary of State speak to his colleague the Minister for Security and Immigration to ask why somebody in the UK Border Agency seems to be aiming to inhibit one of the inquiries?

Mr Hunt:
I am afraid that I do not know the details of that particular case, but I will look into it and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab):
Is not one of the wider problems our perceptions of how a sexual predator looks and acts? When men like Savile are arrested, the usual reaction is shock that such a nice man could abuse children, but sex predators are not men in dirty raincoats; they come from all walks of life and all professions. That perception means that children are not being heard. Will the Secretary of State make preventing as well as detecting child sexual abuse a public health priority? It is only through a better informed public, more aware of how predators such as Savile behave, that we will be able to protect children from abuse.

Mr Hunt:
I completely agree, and that is one of the big lessons. The shadow Home Secretary was absolutely right to say that this issue raises serious questions about the nature of celebrity in our society. One of the reasons that totally inexcusable things happened—such as being given the keys to Broadmoor—was that somehow on the basis of Savile’s image people made wrong assumptions about him. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. One of the things that will change as a result of this investigation is that people will be more willing to challenge those who previously were not challenged. But there is a long way to go.

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con):
I totally agree with the Secretary of State’s belief that there should be more openness, and an increased sense of need to report concerns, but is he satisfied that, particularly with regard to NHS staff who may report concerns or whistleblowers, there is enough protection within the system to encourage more people to be more open?

Mr Hunt:
No, I am not. That is why earlier this week we asked Sir Robert Francis to do a follow-up review to his public inquiry to determine what else needs to be done to create a culture of openness and transparency in the NHS. We have come a very long way as a society in terms of our understanding, but there is more work to be done. It is also very important, as I said in my statement—I know everyone would agree with this—that we do not undermine the brilliant work done by volunteers in hospitals and that we do not create a kind of bureaucratic morass that makes it impossible for that really important work to be done. However, I know we can do better than we are at the moment and important lessons need to be learned.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab):
The Secretary of State has been very gracious in his apology given that he was not Secretary of State at the time. Might I make one further practical suggestion? Will he speak to the Prime Minister about perhaps appointing a Minister to co-ordinate all these reports across the public institutions?

Mr Hunt:
I reassure the hon. Lady that that responsibility lies with the Home Secretary, and the Home Office has a cross-governmental committee that will bring together all the lessons from all the reports. My first priority is to ensure that we are doing everything we can to make NHS patients safe, but there are much broader lessons to be learned. That is being led by the Home Office.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con):
Does my right hon. Friend agree that what has happened is absolutely abhorrent and that it sends out a strong message to everyone in society that even a celebrity is not above the law of the land? May I also praise the work of Kate Lampard and her team in bringing this forward?

Mr Hunt:
That is absolutely right. Celebrities have never been above the law of the land, but what is clear from the report is that even though that is the case legally, in practical terms they were above the law because they were able to get away with things for a very long time that ordinary people would not have been able to get away with. That is why this is such a big moment of reflection for us. I know that everyone in the House will want to think hard about what we need to do to change that culture.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab):
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 1970s, 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.

Mr Hunt:
I know that the hon. 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.

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con):
As a former member of the medical staff at Stoke Mandeville hospital and now as the Member representing Broadmoor hospital, I have many questions, but let me concentrate on one. In appendix 2A part V, there is a letter about Broadmoor from Jimmy Savile to the Department of Health. It is headed “National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville”, and it is signed “Dr Jimmy Savile”. Indeed, the content of the letter is deeply unprofessional and remarkable, and it was copied on to a series of people, including the then Secretary of State. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that each of these individuals has been investigated in respect of their response to this correspondence, as I cannot believe that people could have received it without being deeply concerned about this vile man’s involvement in a high-security hospital?

Mr Hunt:
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We received the reports only this week, but I will certainly take this away with me and look into exactly the point he makes.

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab):
I thank the Secretary of State for allowing me early advance notice of the report relating to St Catherine’s hospital in Birkenhead. Much more importantly, may I associate myself with the apology that the right hon. Gentleman gave to my constituent and others. He will know that that hospital has been bulldozed and that we now have a fine community hospital. To bulldoze these practices within the NHS, will the Secretary of State consider and come back to me later on these two issues? First, it took my constituent 48 years before she was believed and 50 years before she received an apology. What steps are we going to take to ensure that justice is provided much more quickly? Secondly, Jimmy Savile was escorted around St Cath’s Birkenhead by officials, who witnessed him jumping into bed with a young patient and thought it funny. All the rules in the world provide some defence, but how do we get people to exercise judgment—whatever the rules say, whatever the circumstances and whoever does it—and say that this behaviour is not acceptable?

Mr Hunt:
I would like to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman’s comments; I share his disbelief and shock that it has taken so long. In some ways justice will never be done, because Savile died before it could be served on him, which is one of the biggest tragedies of all. I agree: there was a major lack of judgment, some of it because of the different attitudes prevailing at those times. One of the big differences today is that we make links between what is disgusting but not illegal behaviour and potential abuse in a way that did not happen in those days. I want to share with the right hon. Gentleman what most shocked me personally in the reports, and it was the way in which Savile interfered and abused people who had just come out of operations and were recovering from them. The fact that Savile was able to do that, without being supervised, is shocking and when those people spoke up about what had happened, they were not believed. That is one of so many lessons that need to be learned; I know that everyone wants to learn them.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con):
It is clear from the Portsmouth report that there were incidents with no corroborative evidence of the abuse. In one local case, the complainant was unconscious at the time of the alleged incident and learned of it from a hospital cleaner who witnessed it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that “no proof” is not the same as “it did not happen”, that his welcome words of apology should apply to all those who think they may have been abused and that we need a clear process for how such unprovable complaints can be dealt with?

Mr Hunt:
Absolutely right. The case that my hon. Friend mentions was a real tragedy because that person suffered very real psychological harm in subsequent years as a result of what they were told by the cleaner. There are two points. First, we cannot necessarily corroborate, but we can see a pattern. What is impressive about these investigations is the fact that the investigators say time after time that although it is not possible to prove that these things happened, they believe that they did because the evidence was credible. On one or two occasions, they say that they are not sure, but in the vast majority of cases, they thought that the evidence was credible. Secondly, there will continue to be times when offences are alleged, but it is not possible to prove them in a court of law. The big lesson to be learnt is that that does not mean no action should be taken. We must do what it takes to protect patients.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP):
I appreciated the right hon. Gentleman’s statement. Does he agree that the fear of litigation by NHS practitioners appears to be one of the reasons why the system does not lend itself to the provision of a good listening ear, and, indeed, one of the reasons why a compassionate response to that listening is not always forthcoming? What practical steps can be taken to ensure that, at an early stage, practitioners actually listen to complaints?

Mr Hunt:
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that we need to change the balance in the NHS, so that the safest thing for people to do if they want to avoid litigation is to report concerns rather than sitting on them. That is an interesting lesson that has been learnt in other industries, such as the airline industry, and I hope that the follow-up review by Sir Robert Francis will help us to understand it better.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con):
I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said about the reports. In his statement, he referred to the importance of the changes that have come about over the past few years, both under this Government—and there are more to come—and under the last Government. Many of those changes have derived from advice given by specialist police forces or by teams within police forces.

The Association of Chief Police Officers runs courses, and collects expertise for the purpose of those courses. Its aim is to catch the individuals concerned, to help those who have been attacked by them and to monitor those individuals after they have been put on the sex offenders list. Does the Secretary of State think that it would be useful to ask ACPO whether it could provide any more advice for the Government to consider? I know that the Metropolitan police’s Jigsaw team is currently considering changes that would help it to monitor and control sex offenders once they have been detected and put on the list.

Mr Hunt:
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Of course we need to co-operate very closely with the police service, and the Home Secretary is doing a huge amount of work to establish what needs to be done to increase conviction rates for sexual offences. The point for the NHS to consider, however, is that the disclosure and barring scheme will only work properly if NHS organisers comply with it—as they are obliged to do—and report incidents, because that enables other NHS organisations to find out about them. I am not satisfied that the levels of compliance are as high as they should be.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab):
I feel that our concern for victims must lead us to ask whether the actions of Ministers, or managers in the NHS, caused the pain that they suffered. That is one of the things that we can still do. Beyond compensation, there is accountability, and there must be accountability.

I must tell the Secretary of State that I do not think it was enough for him to say that behaviour was indefensible. Colleagues of his were Ministers at the time of that behaviour, and they must be brought to book for their actions. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham): we should focus on the fact that that appointment of a disc jockey to a hospital position was not appropriate. In some respects, that individual would have carried more credibility because of his appointment, and that is why I think that accountability is important.

I also think that, in future, children and vulnerable patients must be protected from certain people who have access to wards. It is not good enough to talk about bureaucracy. Volunteers, celebrity fundraisers and business backers must be subject to checks before being given access to hospitals and to wards, and they must expect to be subject to those checks. The present arrangements must change.

Mr Hunt:
We do need more robust checks. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that I have apologised to all the victims and have said that if some of the reasons given in the reports for Jimmy Savile’s appointment to one position were as the reports claim, that was indefensible. Moreover, the Secretary of State who was in office at the time has said that it was indefensible. I think that that is accountability.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
The Secretary of State has been good enough to apologise on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government and the NHS. Given that Jimmy Savile’s celebrity status was largely due to his employment by the BBC, are we not owed a big apology by the BBC, now that the report has been published?

Mr Hunt:
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Today’s report is about the NHS and that the BBC report is ongoing, as is the report being done by the Department for Education and the work being done by other Departments. We have to wait for the BBC to make its own statement on the matter, but my priority now is for NHS patients, and the reason that I wanted to go at speed on this was to make sure that any changes we need to make now, we do so.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab):
The Secretary of State says, quite understandably, that we cannot undo the past, but there are several people culpable in this affair who are still drawing substantial NHS pensions. Why does he not consider docking their pensions, as a consequence for their behaviour and as a clear warning to others?

Mr Hunt:
I do not rule that out at all. If someone has behaved in a way that is in breach of either the law or the regulations that were in place at the hospital in which they worked, and there is a way to have legal redress such that things like pensions can be docked, I think that they should face the full consequences of that.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD):
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 Her Majesty’s 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?

Mr Hunt:
I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that we have a Home Office committee, chaired by the Home Office Minister from her own party—the Minister for Crime Prevention, the hon. 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.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab):
Jimmy Savile visited the Royal Victoria infirmary in Newcastle on a number of occasions—generally, it appears, around the time of the great north run. The Newcastle hospital trust’s investigation concludes that nothing untoward happened and there was constant supervision, but it refers to an NSPCC investigation that had access to other witnesses, which suggests that unsupervised access did occur. That is obviously a matter of huge concern for everyone who put their trust in the RVI, whether as a patient or as a child. Is not my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) right? It is not up to them to try to draw what could be horrendous conclusions from these somewhat conflicting reports. Do we not need an overarching independent inquiry?

Mr 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. One of the things that I hope will be a consequence of today is that if there are any victims who were abused at the RVI, they will use today as some encouragement to come forward. I have given instructions and I am absolutely clear as Health Secretary that I want every single one of the concerns of anyone who comes forward to be investigated thoroughly—as thoroughly as all the ones that are tragically coming to light today.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con):
It is astonishing that this catalogue of abuse was allowed to happen and that no action was taken at the time. I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement, both for the way he has delivered it and for the content, but can he elucidate for the House what specific changes he foresees in legislation, although legislation has moved forward, and any specific changes to procedures that now need to be taken as a result of the publication today?

Mr Hunt:
I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not try and predict what Kate Lampard’s recommendations are before she makes them, but I think the obvious question to ask is whether we have the procedures in place that ensure that someone like Savile would not be given the keys to an institution in the way that he was? I do not believe that would happen today. My understanding of the way that NHS organisations work is that it would be impossible for someone to be given the freedom of a trust in the way that he was at Broadmoor, but I do not want to take that as a fact. I want Kate Lampard to look at that, so that we can be absolutely sure that it would not happen. I think the other obvious area for her to consider is the functioning of the disclosure and barring scheme, and to make sure that it really is set up in a way that would make it more likely for us to catch someone like Savile. Again, I think it is likely that he would be caught by the DBS, but I would like Kate Lampard to look at that and give me her views.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab):
I am not sure that I share the Secretary of State’s view about Jimmy Savile being caught by the procedures now in place through the DBS, but I want to ask him this: under changes introduced by this coalition, a regular volunteer at a children’s hospital—acting, for example, as a reading volunteer on the ward—will not require a Criminal Records Bureau check, and given the harm done by the revelations about Jimmy Savile, I am sure that will cause concern to millions of parents around this country. Does the Secretary of State share that concern, especially in the light of the NSPCC’s comments this week that the pendulum has swung too far towards the abuser by the changes that his Government have introduced?

Mr Hunt:
I do not agree with that. The CRB checks that were introduced by the last Labour Government were a very important step forward when they started in 2002 but what is also important, as I am sure Labour recognises, is that they have limitations, because they identify whether someone has a criminal record. Jimmy Savile was never convicted of a criminal offence, so CRB checks alone would not have stopped this abuse. That is why we need a broader system, which is what the disclosure and barring scheme is intended to be. It is deliberately set up as something that is risk-profiled, so the higher the risk, the higher the standard of investigation, but that is one of the things that Kate Lampard will look at and we need to listen to what she says when she gives us her final report.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con):
I was grateful for the opportunity early this morning to look at the thorough report of Jimmy Savile’s visits to Odstock hospital. At Odstock, although it seemed that Mr Savile visited, the report concluded that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. However, one recommendation was that the Department of Health issue national guidance on VIP policy and VIP visits. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he will look at that, so that all hospitals, including the successor to Odstock, Salisbury district hospital, can have a reliable policy in place?

Mr Hunt:
I think that is a very sensible suggestion. I want to wait until Kate Lampard gives her final report in September, so I do not want to pre-empt what she says, but certainly, one of the blindingly obvious things that jumps out at us from these reports is that too generous treatment was given to someone on the basis of that celebrity status, and we definitely need to learn lessons. As I am sure my hon. Friend would appreciate from his own constituents’ point of view, the fact that there is no evidence of abuse sadly does not mean that there was no abuse, and that is why it is really important for us to remember that there may well be many people who are not mentioned today who have been quietly suffering for many years. I hope today will give them encouragement to come forward.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab):
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the report from Wythenshawe hospital this morning. For me, the shocking revelation that I noted was that it was an open secret among patients, as early as 1962, that this man was doing what he was doing—and I quote:

“a dirty old man up to no good”.

If there is one good thing that can come from this for the nation, it is that we implore all institutions, both governmental and in civil society, to keep their child protection, safeguarding and recruitment selection procedures up to date and under review.

Mr Hunt:
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and touches on a matter that we have not touched on so far this morning. Recruitment is a very important area that we must get right in this process, and I wholeheartedly agree with what he said.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab):
Today will be an emotional day for victims and their families as the report is published. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how victims have been supported and informed about the publication, particularly today and in the run-up to today, and how they will be kept informed as subsequent actions are carried forward? In particular, what efforts have been made to inform and support those who are most vulnerable, such as those with learning difficulties or who are severely mentally unwell, perhaps as a result of the abuse they suffered many years ago?

Mr Hunt:
The hon. Lady is right to raise that issue, and the guidance that I have issued to NHS organisations today makes it clear that I want to give maximum protection not just to the victims identified in these reports, but to people going forward. That is the least we owe them.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab):
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?

Mr 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.