Professor Vernon Bogdanor
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to this seminar on Public Inquiries, which is being held jointly by Gresham College and the Institute of Government.
Before discussing the subject matter of today's seminar, I would like to introduce the panel, and we have a very distinguished panel here. I would like to begin with Lord Bichard, who is particularly well-known, better-known perhaps, as Sir Michael Bichard. He was Chief Executive of two local authorities and Head, for some years, of the Benefits Agency, which I always thought was a hot potato if ever there was one, but there were no problems or scandals during his period there, which I think must be counted a great triumph. He then became Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education and then was, until recently, Head of the Institute of Government, and recently made a life peer. However, I think he is primarily here today because of his experience as Chair of a particular Inquiry, the Soham Murders Inquiry of 2004 into the tragic deaths of those two poor little children. He is also chaired a number of other bodies, but I think particularly interesting today will be his experience as Chairman of the Soham Inquiry.
Also with us is Lord Laming, whose career has been spent in the Social Services. He began as a probation officer, and became Head of the Social Services in Hertfordshire County Council, and held a number of other posts in the Social Services. Again, his relevance here is primarily that he's been involved in a number of inquiries, primarily relating to children who have been abused or ill-treated in some way, particularly the Victoria Climbié Inquiry which lasted from 2001 until 2003.
Lord Butler, who may perhaps be better known to many people with long memories as Sir Robin Butler, was Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service for nine tumultuous years. From 1988 to 1998, he served under three very different Prime Ministers - Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair - and I think he probably regards one of his greatest triumphs as the transition of Government between John Major and Tony Blair. This was the first time there'd been a change of political colour in the Government of the country for 18 years but he oversaw this with great success, which was a great tribute to the Civil Service. He then became Master of University College Oxford, but his relevance to the topic we are talking about today is that he was Chairman of the Privy Council's Inquiry which reported in 2004, established by Tony Blair, to review intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in relation to the war in Iraq.
Finally, Lady Justice Smith, has been a Lady Justice of Appeal since 2002, and her particular relevance here is not so much her very distinguished legal career, but the fact that she was Chairman of the Harold Shipman Inquiry from 2001 to 2005.
I would like to just say a few brief words about the topics of inquiries before asking Lord Bichard to begin the proceedings.
There are of a number of different types of inquiries, but the ones we are mainly concerned with are of an investigative type, when something has gone very seriously wrong on some matter of government or administration, and then an inquiry is established, sometimes chaired by a judge, sometimes not chaired by a judge, sometimes with one person conducting the inquiry, sometimes with a number of people conducting the inquiry.
There have been a number of these inquiries since the War, and if you go back no further than the 1960s, those who study history may be familiar with the Denning Inquiry into the Profumo Affair, which has given salacious entertainment to generations of undergraduates studying British Government. In the 1970s, we had an inquiry by Lord Widgery, the Lord Chief Justice, into Bloody Sunday, and that I think was thought to be an inadequate inquiry because we then had another inquiry into Bloody Sunday, the longest lasting inquiry we have ever had, under Lord Saville, which reported earlier this year. After the Falklands War, we had an inquiry of Privy Councillors, chaired by Lord Franks, which seemed to exonerate the Government, though critics said that was because the Government applied spin to it. The Iraq War, has given rise to not just one inquiry, like the Falklands War, but no fewer than three inquiries: there's been, first, the Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly; and then there was the inquiry chaired by Lord Butler, an inquiry of Privy Councillors, into the question of the use of intelligence in the Iraq War; and thirdly, we have an inquiry, which is still continuing, under Sir John Chilcot, into the rather larger issues about the war itself.
All of these inquiries are of different kinds, but they have two main purposes: to ferret out what went wrong; and to give some legitimacy to action taken to resolve the problems.
Critics of the inquiries say that they can be somewhat unfair because, although they are inquisitorial rather than prosecutorial in nature, they can affect people's reputations very, very considerably, and that perhaps was particularly so during the inquiry chaired by Lord Bichard into the Soham Murders. That was very unusual because it did not blame just institutions and procedures for what went wrong. It specifically mentioned the Chief Constable for Humberside, who was singled out as having to take, and I quote, 'personal as well as corporate responsibility' for the failings, in particular to warn people in Cambridgeshire about the record of the murderer of the two children. After that, the Home Office ordered his suspension, although the Chief Constable did not immediately resign, and that raised all sorts of large questions about the relationship between Government, police authorities and local authorities, which are perhaps relevant to the question the present Government is pursuing with regards the direct election of police commissioners. This raises very important issues I think about the rights of individuals in relation to inquiries, and therefore, I will ask Lord Bichard if he will tell us about his experiences in that regard.
Copyright Vernon Bogdanor, 2010