Sunday, 7 December 2014

Mark Sedwill evidence to HASC - 3

The next questions relate to Kincora and then to the possible conversion of this inquiry to a statutory public inquiry.
Q20   Dr Huppert: Can I move away from the question of the appointment of the chair? Important, but I think we have explored that in the letters quite well. Could you help me to understand some of the process points, and particularly to unpack some of the comments made about the relationship with the inquiry that Sir Anthony Hart is doing into Kincora, the inquiry that is being done in Northern Ireland and abuse there at Kincora Boys’ Home in particular? I pressed the Home Secretary on this and she said that she would make sure that nothing happens to allow any information on individuals to slip through the cracks. She did not quite confirm that the inquiry in Northern Ireland will get all the Security Service co-operation that is needed. Have you thought about how this will be ensured: that the Home Secretary’s aim, which is right, is delivered?
Mark Sedwill: We have. There is not much I can add—I do not think there is anything I can add in public—but I think that the Home Secretary was signalling in that remark that we will ensure that nothing does fall between the cracks and the right procedures will be in place with all of agencies that might be involved.

Q21   Dr Huppert: The information that he needs will go to Sir Anthony Hart?
Mark Sedwill: Either to him or to this inquiry panel, but if it relates obviously to Kincora, I think exactly what the Home Secretary was setting out, yes.
Well, he managed to say absolutely nothing at all in those two answers. We are no wiser as to how (if at all) the inquiries will be coordinated and how (if at all) the NI inquiry is going to get Security Service cooperation regarding Kincora. Huppert seemed satisfied with this, if indeed he even noticed that no information had been provided.
Q22   Dr Huppert: Thank you. Again, just briefly, the Home Secretary has left open the option of converting this into a full inquiry. That decision is up to the chair of the panel, but presumably you would have comments on it. When do you think you would want to see that happen?
Mark Sedwill: It is not up to the chair of the panel. We need to appoint the chair. The chair then needs to reach a view and then the Home Secretary would—
Dr Huppert: But the Home Secretary has said she would implement the chair’s decision?
Mark Sedwill: Yes, but that is the formality of it. Obviously we will see what the chair says. I think a lot of this is one of the topics that are being discussed in the various meetings the Home Secretary has been having with the survivors’ group. She set out in the House the reasons for making it non-statutory so far. We will obviously have to see what the new chair, and indeed the panel as a whole, concludes once the whole panel is in place and then I would offer my advice to the Home Secretary in the light of that.
This is explosive. Notwithstanding what Theresa May has said in the Commons, Sedwill is saying that it is the Home Secretary's decision whether or not to convert the inquiry into a statutory inquiry, that she has no obligation to do so even if the chair requests it, and that he will formulate his advice to her depending on what the (as yet unappointed) chair says. This looks a very long way from the more or less automatic acquiescence to a request which is what May suggested would happen in her statement in the Commons. What on earth is going on here?
Q23   Chair: Thank you. Let us just look at this timetable. The Home Secretary has asked this Committee to conduct a confirmation hearing. We have rejected the idea of sending nominees, because we felt that was inappropriate. You understand the reasons?
Mark Sedwill: I do understand, Mr Chairman.
Chair: When do you expect to send us a name?
Mark Sedwill: We have not set a precise timetable yet and, as I say, the Home Secretary is still having these meetings and so she does not want to set that out until she has done that. I know she is before you in a couple of weeks and will be able to say more about it then. Our objective is to be able to send you a name certainly in the New Year. I would not anticipate it would be before that. As I mentioned, there have been a lot of suggestions so far; there might yet be more. We will have to assess all those. There are three sets of criteria: their experience and capability, their availability and willingness to take the job, and—to go to your first question, Mr Chairman—of course, the due diligence issues.
Chair: So by the New Year?
Mark Sedwill: Then one of the issues that the Home Secretary is still considering and discussing is how to involve survivors’ groups or their representatives in honing down that list so that she makes a fully informed choice at the end of the day.
So they have no idea when they will have a new chair, but certainly not until the new year. While I accept that they have to be a bit more thorough this time because of the mess they made the last two appointments, the problem is that the longer they take, the more people will believe that the delays are deliberate and intended to cause the inquiry to fail.
Q24   Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Sedwill, how easy or difficult do you think it is going to be to find a chairman of such eminence to chair this panel, who has not in the past had some dinner or a discussion with somebody who is historically part of the establishment?
Mark Sedwill: Ms Fullbrook, you put the conundrum very well and that was on our minds throughout the process for selecting the first two candidates. We were trying to navigate that. The scope and scale of the inquiry is such that we always felt that what we were looking for was a chair obviously without any conflict of interest in the sense of the Act, but with the right qualities to conduct a professional and thorough inquiry, relying on the expertise of the panel, and for every member of the panel, as I suggested a moment ago, to know that they would at some point very likely encounter an institution or individual they had some kind of contact with before, and to conduct themselves accordingly. The question is not whether there is any kind of relationship; it is whether you can conduct an inquiry, just as this Committee and others do, when the person sitting on the other side is someone in the institution you have had a relationship with before. As I say, for the chair in particular, what we had not appreciated until the problems arose was the extra test that we needed to apply. But it is going to be challenging and there is not a consensus yet among the survivors as to who that person might be, but our aim is of course to build a consensus and earn their confidence.
The question was a silly one. The problem is not finding somebody with no connections to "the establishment", but in finding somebody with no significant connections to somebody who it is already known is likely to be questioned about an alleged cover up. And obviously Sedwill felt more comfortable with this. He gave by a substantial margin his longest answer of the session so far: 235 words.

Q25   Chair: Just a final question on this area. You set up the Wanless and Whittam inquiry and the report made some recommendations. You have accepted those recommendations. In respect of recommendation 3, has that begun immediately: there should be a system within the Home Office of recording what information is sent to the police and then a formal procedure of confirming what the result of that reference is? It is just that we are concerned.  We know with these reports that they sit on desks. We want to see this happening now. Have you written to the chief constables, have you told the heads of your Departments that they have to start this now, or is there a process that you have to wait for?
Mark Sedwill: The short answer is yes, and indeed, we have agreed with the national policing lead the protocol by which—
Chair: You have told them to start it now?
              Mark Sedwill: That is done. That agreement is reached.

              Chair: Today? Which day?

              Mark Sedwill: The protocol with the national policing lead was agreed a few days ago. We have been talking to him since the recommendations came out. We took the internal actions immediately, the other recommendations immediately, some of which of course had already been implemented. That process is already in place.
And with that they moved on to other subjects unrelated to the inquiry.

No comments:

Post a Comment