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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

1.3 Did HMG take sufficient care to protect child migrants from sexual abuse?

Legal regulation

31. Section 31 of the Children Act 1948 gave local authorities the power to arrange for the emigration of a child in their care. Under section 32, the Secretary of State was empowered to put in place secondary legislation to govern the way in which voluntary organisations could migrate children.[1] However, no such Regulations were ever implemented by HMG during the migration era.[2] Part of the reason for this was apparently the favourable Moss report which convinced some HMG officials that no such Regulations were required.[3] Instead, beginning in 1957, individual agreements which set certain requirements were negotiated and signed by the CRO with the voluntary organisations.[4]

32. We have struggled to understand why Regulations could not have been implemented. Reliance could surely not have been placed on the Moss report for long, given that the Ross report which followed it was so damning.

33. We appreciate that British Regulations may not have been able to dictate the precise conduct of the receiving institutions (the second reason given by Mr Davies for the difficulties of implementation). However, they could, and should, have imposed strict selection processes and reporting obligations on the sending institutions. HMG accepts that such Regulations may have gone some way to lessening the likelihood of abuse and other maltreatment and increasing the likelihood of children feeling able to report abuse at the time.[5] 

The model adopted by HMG, of voluntary arrangements with the sending agencies, rather than enforceable Regulations, would never have provided sufficient protection for children in this context.

34. Mr Davies accepted that “With the benefit of hindsight, the difficulties in drawing up the regulations serve to highlight why the child migration programmes should have been terminated sooner than they were. If the regulations could not achieve protection for the children who were migrated, all of whom would be recognised by today’s standards as vulnerable, then they should not have been migrated at all[6]

35. We note that the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland’s report on its child migration module (2017) similarly concluded that the Northern Ireland Government had failed to fulfil its responsibilities for ensuring that children in the care of voluntary societies were treated in the same way as would be expected for those under statutory care.[7]


36. Effective reporting on the overall conditions was necessary, but we accept that it may not have been realistic to expect HMG to receive reports on every migrated child.

37. The reason the Home Office required full reports on the overall conditions was stated by a Department of Immigration official to the Premier of Queensland to be that: “The Home Office, by virtue of the powers given it under the United Kingdom’s Children Act decides whether British children may be allowed to settle in Australia and in what institutions. The aim is to ensure that child migrants will be settled under conditions as, if not better than, they enjoy in the United Kingdom”. Professors Constantine and Lynch confirmed that HMG expected that the quality of Australian institutions should be “at least as good” as those in this country.[8]

38. However, it is clear that there were no regular or systematic inspections by HMG of institutions in Australia: any such inspections were on an ad hoc basis.[9] These reports were often critical: for example a 1947 report from the UK High Commissioner noted that the conditions were “much below standard”.[10] The experts observed that post-War, the only two inspections by properly briefed and informed officials from the UK were the Moss and Ross inspections.[11]

39. Inspections were generally carried out by the Australian authorities and the results fed back to HMG, although these tended to focus on the material conditions of the children and did not necessarily consider their welfare.[12] HMG was aware of the limitations of the Australian reports, not least because HMG had also received highly critical notes and reports about institutions in Australia – from Mr Ross and Mr Rouse (as described in section B.4 above) – which conflicted with the largely positive reports received from the Australian authorities.[13] Home Office documentation also noted the difficulty in obtaining accurate information about the quality of care being received by the child migrants.[14]

40. There is no evidence of regular or systematic or routine inspections by HMG of institutions in Canada, New Zealand or Southern Rhodesia either.

41. HMG accepted, through Mr Davies’s evidence to us, that there does not seem to have been “sufficient supervision” by HMG of the child migration programmes;[15] and that there were opportunities for HMG to “review child migration and it seems not to have done”, meaning that opportunities to put in place a more adequate framework were lost.[16]

42. We also noted Mr Davies’s acceptance that HMG failed to ensure compliance with the Curtis Committee’s recommendations: “....the government fully accepts that it failed to ensure, as the Curtis Committee had recommended, that the arrangements and standards of care for those children in Australia were comparable to those in this country”. He also accepted that there had been a “failure to ensure that no further children were sent to the institutions that had been put on a ‘blacklist’ following the Ross Report in 1956 until evidence was received that the institutions had improved”.[17] 

We consider these to be understatements.

Failure to conduct proper post-migration monitoring of the conditions of care the children were receiving, despite that being in accordance with the expected practice of the day for the sending institutions, was a very serious omission.

This was especially so given the concerns that had been raised.

This omission was compounded by the failure to conduct a systematic review of the practice of migration at the key points when this was brought to HMG’s attention.

These points included post-Northcote, post-Ross and post-Picton.

The approval of institutions and sending agencies

43. As we have set out above, it was HMG’s role to approve the institutions which received child migrants as fit to do so. Professors Constantine and Lynch informed us that often these approvals were granted on the basis of Australian reports, and as explained above there was a basis for considering that these reports were not always reliable.[18] 

44. However, we have heard of other deficiencies in this process: for example, a CRO file from 1948 suggests that Pinjarra was approved without previously identified concerns being addressed and in the knowledge that the reports that had been received were “insufficiently specific”.[19] Similarly the Salvation Army institution at Riverview (Queensland) was given Government approval to receive child migrants in 1950, conditional upon receipt of a satisfactory report on the initial party of boys to be sent there. However, despite later receiving only a brief description of the facilities and no information about standards of care or conditions, in 1952, the UK government confirmed approval of Riverview.[20] 

45. It was also HMG’s role to decide whether to approve an organisation to migrate children and receive funding for the same. Yet we heard of deficiencies in this process too. Despite initial reservations about whether the Royal Overseas League (the League) should be approved as a sending organisation, and a lack of proposals for postmigration monitoring, on 19 October 1953, the UK High Commission indicated that approval had been given to the League. This was six years after the League had started recruiting and migrating children.[21] 

HMG failed to operate robust systems for approving both sending and receiving institutions, and so could not be satisfied that the institutions could take sufficient care of the children.

Selection and consent

46. The Home Office was not directly involved with the selection of children, but it did publish guidelines on selection to be applied by the voluntary societies.[22] We heard from Professors Constantine and Lynch that the guiding principle relating to selection at this time was intended to be “whether emigration [was] best suited to the child’s individual needs”, rather than whether the child was simply suitable for emigration.[23] 

47. As a result, during the post-War period, HMG frequently requested information about the methods of selection from the voluntary societies. Home Office representatives were also sometimes invited to attend selection meetings and meet children who were to be migrated, although there is no evidence that this was done systematically.[24]

48. Professors Constantine and Lynch stated that the primary evidence does not permit any conclusion as to whether these guidelines were, in practice, consistently applied.[25] However, as we have set out above, this voluntary scheme, which was intended to encourage the use of proper selection processes was never going to provide appropriate protection for the child migrants. This is illustrated by the many examples we have seen of apparently poor selection processes and consent for migration of those in voluntary society care not being properly obtained.

49. As part of the selection process, the Home Office was more closely involved in issues related to consent. Approximately 400 children were migrated from local authority care. Such children required the consent of the Secretary of State before they could be migrated.[26] There is evidence to suggest that local authorities were concerned about the standard of care that the children would receive in Australia.[27] We have seen evidence that consent was withheld in some cases because of concerns about the child’s welfare, although it is unclear how many such cases there were.[28] 

50. Sometimes, the Home Office intervened in particular cases notwithstanding that consent had already been given by local authorities. However, it is not clear from the evidence that the Home Office was aware of the details of all cases, or even that the case papers were necessarily always provided to the Home Office.[29]

Enforcement of the maintenance agreements

51. Maintenance agreements were first signed between the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and various organisations in 1957. Post-Ross, these included specific requirements about information to be sent with the children, staffing levels/experience, boarding out, checks on private home placements, community involvement, and the maintenance of adequate standards of comfort, as well as the provision of information to HMG about compliance with these requirements.[30] However Mr Davies accepted that the pre-conditions in these agreements “were not used effectively to enforce policies and standards for child welfare and child safety”.[31] 

HMG continued funding organisations under these agreements despite the absence of any reports capable of showing that the requirements were being met. We regard this as another key failing.

Conclusion on sufficiency of care

Based on all the evidence set out in this section it is clear to us that the policy of post-War child migration was fundamentally flawed. 

HMG failed to regulate the voluntary agencies properly. It failed to ensure that there was a robust system in place for approving the sending agencies and the receiving institutions. It failed to ensure it had accurate and up to date information on the care the children were receiving in the institutions. It failed to enforce the maintenance agreements that were signed.

Overall the manner in which the schemes were operated meant that there were insufficient measures in place to protect the children from a range of risks, including of sexual abuse.

Then when HMG did come to know about sexual abuse of child migrants, it allowed the programmes to continue.

We are clear, therefore, that HMG did not take sufficient care to protect child migrants from the risk of sexual abuse.




  1. Davies 19 July 2017 135/12-22.
  2. Davies 19 July 2017 136/5-21.
  3. Davies 19 July 2017 137/3-8.
  4. Constantine 19 July 2016 86-88.
  5. HMG Closing Statement, para. 4.
  6. DOH000097_021, para. 43.
  7. Constantine 10 March 2017 135-137.
  8. Constantine 19 July 2017 77/17-25.
  9. Davies 19 July 2017 150/6-12 and 151/1-4.
  10. CMT000378.
  11. EWM000452_011.
  12. Davies 19 July 2017 149/2-8 and Constantine and Lynch 10 July 2017 148.
  13. Constantine and Lynch 10 July 2017 124-180.
  14. DOH000077; DOH000081_009.
  15. Davies 19 July 2017 125/22-25.
  16. Davies 19 July 2017 124/17-22.
  17. DOH000097_021, para. 43.
  18. Constantine and Lynch 10 July 2017 149-153.
  19. DOH000025_005-006; DOH000026_002.
  20. EWM000459_003; EWM000402_027.
  21. Lynch 11 July 2017 60/9-21; 60-61; 63-65; EWM000402_030.
  22. Constantine 19 July 2017 64
  23. Constantine 19 July 2017 64/13-20.
  24. Davies 19 July 2017 130/9-16.
  25. Constantine 19 July 2017 68/13-18.
  26. Davies 19 July 2017 131/11-16.
  27. Davies 19 July 2017 132/7-14.
  28. Davies 19 July 2017 133/6-13.
  29. Constantine 19 July 2017 66-67.
  30. For examples of the Barnardo’s agreement see BRD000034_121; for the Fairbridge Society see PRT000028_009-011;l for the Salvation Army see SVA000036_035; generally see EWM000278_229-231.
  31. DOH000097_022, para. 44.
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