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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

1.4 What has HMG done in the post-migration period?

52. After 1970, those children who had been migrated generally remained where they were – the sense from the evidence is that they were simply languishing in the conditions about which we heard. We heard no evidence of efforts made to seek the return of the children. Matters seemed to go “silent” until Dr Humphreys and the CMT sought to bring matters to the public attention in the late 1980s.

53. HMG accepts that it had knowledge that some former child migrants reported that they had been the victims of sexual abuse from at least 1989, the date of the first application for funding made by the CMT (although as we have noted earlier, the Lost Children of the Empire article from July 1987 referred to allegations of sexual abuse).

54. Beginning in 1989, HMG began to provide financial support to the CMT. With the exception of two years in the early 1990s, HMG consistently provided funding to the CMT from 1989 to the present day.[1]

55. Nevertheless during the 1990s, HMG maintained the policy position that any allegations of abuse were the responsibility of institutions and authorities in the place in which the abuse took place. That position was expressly stated in Parliament. The issue of compensation for former child migrants was raised for the first time during Prime Minister’s Questions on 14 July 1993, by David Hinchliffe MP. The Prime Minister at the time was John Major (Sir John as he is now). In his testimony, which was read to us, Sir John confirmed that he responded to Mr Hinchliffe that he “was aware that there were allegations of physical and sexual abuse of a number of child migrants some years ago in Australia, but that any such allegations would be a matter for the Australian authorities.”[2] 

56. We have seen further Parliamentary exchanges and briefing papers which make clear that HMG maintained the position, during the 1990s, that it was not responsible for compensating, or otherwise providing redress to, former child migrants who had suffered abuse. In a briefing note dated 24 September 1996, and prepared for a meeting between the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and the Australian Select Committee on Child Migrants on 1 October 1996, the policy position is stated as follows: “It is important to resist the temptation to apply modern standards and values when considering a policy that dates back more than a century. HMG does not, therefore, consider itself in any way responsible for the proportionately small number of cases in which the scheme failed to live up to its objective.”[3] 

57. However, the HMG material within the National Archives (which we have referred to throughout) made both the allegations of abuse and HMG’s ongoing role in the migration programmes clear.

This continued insistence by successive governments that any abuse abroad was not the responsibility of the British government was wrong.

It was wrong because it was factually incorrect: during the migration era HMG had itself accepted that it had an ongoing responsibility to the children; it had stressed the need for the voluntary organisations to monitor the children; and the children remained British. All of this was apparent from HMG’s own archive material.

It was therefore irresponsible for HMG to take the position that it did not share in the responsibility for what happened to the children.

Such a defensive policy position, which sought to deny responsibility for the children and deflect it to others, was understandably offensive to the former child migrants.

58. In 1996 and 1998, HMG participated in two inquiries examining the phenomenon of child migration. The first was that of the Western Australia Select Committee; the second was that of the Health Select Committee (in the UK).[4] 

59. In response to the findings and recommendations of the Health Select Committee in 1998, HMG increased the amount of funding it made available to the CMT.[5] We heard evidence from Mr Davies that HMG’s position, at the time, was that the most pressing need was to provide some form of assistance to former child migrants that would enable them to be reunited with their families.[6] HMG did not, at the time, consider the question of more generalised compensation or apology.

60. However we heard evidence from former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Dr Gordon Brown, that in the years between 2007 and 2010, he was briefed in detail about the scale of the child migration programmes, and the abuse that former child migrants had reported.[7] Following discussions with the Department of Health and Mr Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia at the time, it was decided by HMG that a formal, public apology should be given to former child migrants.[8] In February 2010, therefore, then Prime Minister Brown publicly apologised to former child migrants on behalf of HMG. We heard from Mr Davies that HMG remains fully committed to that apology.[9]

61. In 2010, HMG also established a Family Restoration Fund – a fund that aimed to help former child migrants to reunite with their families in Britain. Unlike previous funds made available to the child migrant community, this fund was administered by the CMT.[10] It was initially endowed with £6 million. HMG confirmed before us that it would continue to fund the CMT and that a further £2 million would be added to the Family Restoration Fund.[11] It has not paid compensation for sexual abuse to individual child migrants.

62. We heard evidence about the support and reparations that have been provided abroad. However, our concern is with the institutions based in England and Wales and what they have provided.

We accept that HMG has established and funded several initiatives to support child migrants.

Nevertheless we consider that HMG should make specific financial redress to individual child migrants for its failings, which meant that the child migrants were exposed to the risk of sexual abuse.

We address this further in Part D.

References

Footnotes

  1. Davies 19 July 2017 156/8-21.
  2. Major 20 July 2017 3/19-23.
  3. Major 20 July 2017 9/19-22; INQ000720_004.
  4. Davies 19 July 2017 158/18-25.
  5. Davies 19 July 2017 13-25.
  6. Davies 19 July 2017 169/10-20.
  7. Brown 20 July 2017 16/2-16.
  8. Brown 20 July 2017 25/5-24.
  9. Davies 19 July 2017 120/9-15.
  10. Davies 19 July 2017 165/1-8.
  11. Davies 19 July 2017 121/1-4 and Brown 25/18-24.
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