Orders of the Day — Child Migrants

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:16 pm on 22nd November 1993.

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Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea 10:16 pm, 22nd November 1993

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to go a little further than it is in my power to go. I am sure that the organisations to which he referred will have heard his request that the records be passed to me and to my department. I hope that they will also have heard the lead that perhaps I have been able to give in terms of openness with those files, but it is on privileged access and we must protect the interests of individuals who may not wish their names to be known. I will leave it by saying that I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said and no doubt others outside the House will have heard, too.

The Government support the work of the British Child Migrants Trust and the Australian Government support work in that country. Government funding for the current year is £25,000. Total funding has so far been £45,000. Like all funding for voluntary organisations, we expect the Child Migrants Trust to seek other funding sources and it has been most successful in doing just that. The Government grant currently contributes to about one third of its expenditure.

A further application for a three-year section 64 grant is now being considered, together with similar applications from many other voluntary organisations. The House would not expect me to give any specific funding commitment today either to the British Child Migrants Trust or to any other voluntary organisation working in that area, but I will of course take into account the views that were expressed by the hon. Member for Wakefield and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the visit to Australia by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I simply say that, although my right hon. Friend has taken a close interest in the problems of former child migrants, in that brief visit she did not need to mention the subject because it was a matter that I was raising directly with my opposite number in the Australian Government. Happily, as a result of that, we have agreement with the Australian Government that our officials can work together to seek co-operation and to further the work.

Lastly, the hon. Gentleman rightly paid tribute to Margaret Humphreys on being awarded the Order of Australia medal. I join him in congratulating her on that. The hon. Gentleman referred to other organisations. Following his meeting with my predecessor, contact was made with other organisations in an attempt to get them working together with the trust, given all the problems that there may be in encouraging that to happen. Many of them, such as Barnardo's, the Children's Society, the Catholic Child Welfare Council, the National Children's Homes and Fairbridge have contributed to giving us all a much clearer understanding of the history of these schemes than we would otherwise have had.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the measured way in which he introduced the debate and for the way in which he clearly accepted the high standing of those organisations today. Nothing that we say today must undermine that in any way. Many former child migrants are grateful to those organisations for reuniting them with their families and their roots and that remains our closest wish as well.