Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 24th March 2022.
I call Alan Chambers to move the Further Consideration Stage of the Preservation of Documents (Historical Institutions) Bill.
Members will have a copy of the Marshalled List of amendments detailing the order for consideration. The amendments have been grouped for the debate in the provisional grouping of amendments selected list. There is a single group of six amendments that deal with definitions, and we will debate the amendments in turn. I remind Members who intend to speak during the debate on the single group of amendments that they should address all the amendments on which they wish to comment. Once the debate is completed, any further amendments will be moved formally as we go through the Bill, and the Question on each will be put without further debate. If that is clear, we will proceed.
Clause 2 (Meaning of “relevant document”)
We now come to the single group of amendments for debate. With amendment No 1, it will be convenient to debate amendment Nos 2 to 6. Within the group, amendment No 6 is consequential to amendment No 2. Members may also wish to note that amendment No 4 is a paving amendment to amendment No 5. I call Paula Bradshaw to move amendment No 1 and to address the other amendments in the group.
In page 2, line 12, at end insert—<BR/>
“(da) a body involved in the removal, retention, storage, use or disposal of human tissue from deceased persons,”.
The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:
No 2: In page 2, line 22, leave out “1995” and insert “2021”. — [Ms Bradshaw.]
No 3: In clause 3, page 3, line 5, at end insert—
“(ha) the removal, retention, storage, use or disposal of human tissue from deceased persons,”. — [Ms Bradshaw.]
No 4: In clause 4, page 3, line 19, leave out from “L or” to “(3)” on line 20 and insert “, (3) or (3A)”. — [Ms Bradshaw.]
No 5: In clause 4, page 3, line 30, at end insert—
“(3A) An institution falls within this subsection if it was a public body or voluntary organisation that facilitated arrangements for the adoption or fostering of children.” — [Ms Bradshaw.]
No 6: In the long title, leave out “1995” and insert “2021”. — [Ms Bradshaw.]
Amendment No 1 is similar to amendment No 3. Members will probably be aware that, in the past couple of years, there has been some media attention on the at least 27 babies' bodies that were bequeathed by mother-and-baby homes to Queen's University for medical research. It is our understanding that that was done without the mothers' consent. I would like Members to support me in amendment Nos 1 and 3, because those babies deserve to have their voices heard through any records held by Queen's University or any other body that may have taken the babies' bodies into its possession.
From the research done by Queen's, which was published in January 2021, we know that there is evidence of very high mortality rates among the babies born in the mother-and-baby homes. I hope that, when we come to the public inquiry stage, the records that are held will help to tell the story of how and why the babies died prematurely. Hopefully, that information will be forthcoming and will bear testimony to the harsh treatment of the pregnant women and their children.
I draw Members' attention to an article in 'The Times' from July 2021, when the story made the headlines. On the anatomical donations, it states:
"Queen's said its records are based on a mortuary technician's log and 'do not represent an official university record'."
My concern is that, if those are not properly preserved and safeguarded, they could become unavailable.
I also draw Members' attention to the Commission of Investigation's fifth interim report in the South. Obviously, that report does not relate to here, but it states that many of the stillborn infants whose bodies were donated in the South had with them a note saying, "Not to be interred". In some ways, therefore, there is concern that those infants may not even have been buried and may be:
"preserved as 'wet specimens' for display purposes in medical schools".
We have to speak for those babies. Through amendment Nos 1 and 3, we can give them a voice in the inquiry, that was recommended by the truth recovery design panel. I will leave that there.
I will speak to the other two sets of amendments that I will not move. On amendment Nos 2 and 6, which deal with extended timescales, I put on record that I am concerned that some institutions were operating on a cross-border basis well into this century — into 2006 — and that some of the records relating to the movement of those children might not be preserved. However, anyone who knows how hard I have worked with birth mothers and their children over the years will know that I do not want to do anything that could jeopardise the Bill, so I will not move those amendments; I just place on record that I am not entirely convinced that the timescale that is laid out in the Bill covers everything that a subsequent inquiry would need.
I worked with haste with the Bill Office on amendment Nos 4 and 5. We had Consideration Stage on Monday evening, and we had until 12.30 pm on Tuesday to submit amendments. The Bill Office and I came up with a clause about other institutions. We were not sure whether that was in the right part of the Bill. Again, I do not want to move anything that could have unintended consequences. I spoke at length with departmental officials — I appreciate the time that they gave me — about that issue. They agreed with the sentiment, and they stated that they will prescribe the intent of the amendments in any resulting guidance.
A live issue today, and one that speaks to the amendment, is support for those who were in foster care. One of the members of the truth recovery design panel, Professor Phil Scraton, emailed me today about the intent of the panel. With Members' indulgence, I will read that into the record:
"The ... panel was not commissioned to investigate the operation of the foster care system, but to focus on the operation of the mother and baby institutions, Magdalene Laundries and workhouses. However, our detailed recommendation is to secure: a dedicated records facility; preservation of all personal records held by state, religious institutions and non-governmental organisations; full access to all information held by institutions and agencies regarding the operation of the 'care' system; and necessary research and advocacy support, should include those fostered via state and religious organisations. Appropriate redress, reparation and compensation should extend to those who suffered abuses in foster care."
I will leave it there. As I said, I am moving only amendment Nos 1 and 3 today.
I will briefly address amendment Nos 1 and 3. The priority of the Committee is that the legislation provides for the preservation of any document that may provide information on what happened to individuals in these institutions and, in the case of children born in them, what happened after they left. That requires the widest possible interpretation. I do not want to see any victim or survivor at a disadvantage because we failed to include the relevant category of document in the legislation.
The Committee has engaged with victims and survivors who are concerned about the fate of individuals who died in those institutions. In this case, it concerns the transfer of bodies for anatomical study, some of whom were infants. The Committee has called for an independent investigation into those circumstances. For that reason, the inclusion in the legislation of documentation relating to the disposal of bodies from those institutions is essential. As an extension of that principle, while it has not been discussed in detail by the Committee, it would make sense for amendment No 5, and, therefore, amendment No 4, to stand part of the Bill, but I emphasise that we, as a Committee, did not discuss those amendments as they came late in the day.
We look forward to the Bill's passing its Final Stage later today.
I welcome amendment Nos 1 and 3, which, hopefully, will be included in the Bill. I put on record my appreciation to the proposer of the Bill, the Health Minister and the officials in the Health Department who worked with all of us who worked closely with the victims and survivors organisations, mothers and babies, and adopted children. It is really important that we get this right, so, given the short time frame, it is good that Members looked to see what amendments could be tabled to ensure that, as other Members have outlined, we do not leave anybody out but make sure that everybody whom it is humanly possible to include in the Bill be included and that all documentation that can be protected be protected.
Amendment No 1 makes provision for records kept by:
"a body involved in the removal, retention, storage, use or disposal of human tissue from deceased persons".
That is an important amendment. As has been outlined, it recently came to light that the remains of residents, including babies and children from mother-and-baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses, were donated to Queen's University Belfast for an anatomical study. Those records must be recovered and used for the upcoming inquiry. Parental consent was not required for those donations, so many families may not know where their loved ones were taken to, what happened to them and where they were buried. That fits into the wider issue of burials, which is covered by the Bill. The matter should be handled in the most sensitive way possible, as it is likely to reveal yet another tragic element of this scandal and how the state and institutions treated women and children.
Amendment No 3 is, obviously, consequential to amendment No 1, and it, again, makes provision for the retention of records regarding:
"removal, retention, storage, use or disposal of human tissue from deceased persons".
I think the same about this amendment as I do about amendment No 1, which I spoke about, and I fully support both amendments.
I will turn to the other amendments, which are not being moved. Amendment Nos 4 and 5 were well intentioned. Their proposer, Paula Bradshaw, outlined their intention, which I think was right, good and proper for ensuring that we do all that we can to include everybody, everything and every piece of information that can be included. An important point is being made, particularly in amendment No 5, to remind us that children were adopted and fostered by organisations that were separate from the institutions, including state-run organisations such as social services. Many independent adoption agencies were involved in the illegal adoption and trafficking of children, and it is important that that is not forgotten. However, I feel that that element may already be covered in clause 4(3) of the amended Bill, which provides that:
"An institution falls within this subsection if it was an institution in which a voluntary organisation provided residential accommodation for women or children, took decisions about the women or children and", as paragraph (d) states:
"provided such other service as may be prescribed".
It is my understanding from my reading of that subsection that the line:
"a voluntary organisation ... took decisions about the women or children" can have that practice read into it. Furthermore, if that does not hold up, paragraph (d) allows the Department to make regulations that can specifically mention the public and statutory organisations that facilitated adoption and fostering.
I appreciate that Paula Bradshaw has said that the Department has given some assurances on that. Given the work that the departmental officials and the Minister have done with us on that, I believe that their intentions on the Bill are good, so I am hopeful that we will get the right outcomes. On that basis, it is right and proper that the Member is not moving either of those amendments for fear of unintended consequences and because we believe that it may well be covered in guidance that will make it better in the long run.
I will now refer to the last point that Paula Bradshaw made about fostering. I am sure that many of you will have heard Maria Arbuckle, and I have to say that this is not the first time that I have listened to Maria's story about being fostered and what she went through as a foster child. She speaks on behalf of herself, her siblings and others, and, when she tells her story, it is horrendous to listen to. It is very difficult to understand how anybody who would take children into their care to look after them and supposedly show them compassion and love and to look after children who have already been through some of the most difficult circumstances that life can ever throw at a child would then abuse them, let them down, neglect them and cause them serious mental, physical and, in some cases, sexual abuse.
As Maria said, she has been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder — not surprisingly, given what she went through. I also listened to Professor Phil Scraton, who has been excellent on this subject. We all know that what came out of the panel was excellent and is what we will, hopefully, deliver for all the victims and survivors of mother-and-baby institutions. If there is a way that we can include the children who were fostered out and ensure that they are included in the inquiry and redress scheme, it is incumbent on us to do so.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, let us deliver for these people as quickly as we possibly can in the most compassionate fashion that we can. They have been through enough. Maria has been through four cancer diagnoses. These people, very often, are in circumstances where they may not have a long life expectancy, so it is important that we deliver for them as quickly as possible. For the record, that is why I am glad that this Bill has been brought forward, through accelerated passage, to ensure the preservation of records. It was important to do so, and I welcome the support of everyone across the Chamber for Alan Chambers's Bill.
I speak as my party's health spokesperson on the Further Consideration Stage of the Preservation of Documents (Historical Institutions) Bill. I will keep my comments brief and specifically on the amendments before the House. My party and I will be supporting amendment Nos 1 and 3 proposed by Ms Bradshaw. These amendments bring information on the use and disposal of human tissue relating to a deceased resident of an institution into the scope of relevant information and relevant institutions set out in clauses 3 and 4. Presumably, it will extend to hospitals, research and teaching organisations, coroners and pathologists, particularly where their work touches on residents or babies born in these institutions who have later died.
I thank my Committee colleague Paula Bradshaw for outlining the detail of her thoughtful amendments on what is an incredibly difficult and emotional area. I agree with her that it is very appropriate that documents relating to the remains of those babies — the bodies of the 27 children donated to Queen's University for medical research is a very stark example — are preserved. I am glad that we have been able to debate that today.
I also put on record my thanks, once more, to the sponsor, Mr Alan Chambers, for bringing forward this private Member's Bill. I look forward to the Final Stage this evening.
A number of Members have already referenced the work of the panel. I place on record my thanks for the work that they completed, not just in publishing the report and the recommendations but the engagement process that they facilitated to allow us to get to this stage today, where we are seeing that continued all-party support for their work and the outworkings of the Bill. I fully appreciate that the timescale for the Bill's passage has been extremely tight, allowing little time for detailed scrutiny or the production of amendments. However, that should not prevent the House from striving to ensure that the Bill remains fit for purpose, as was the intention of its sponsor, Mr Alan Chambers.
I do not consider that all the amendments that were tabled for today will achieve what they were intended to achieve, and, for that reason, I set those out. I am grateful to Ms Bradshaw for her reconsideration of the implications of a number of her amendments, her detailed engagement with departmental officials and her indication that she does not intend to move amendment Nos 2, 4, 5 or 6.
Amendment Nos 1 and 3 relate to and rely on each other and, as Ms Bradshaw has explained their purpose, I now understand that they were prompted by a freedom of information request that was submitted to Queen's University Belfast, the purpose of which was to establish whether the bodies of children had been donated by mother-and-baby homes, workhouses or hospitals to the university. According to information published in the media, the response to the request indicated that the bodies of at least 27 children were donated to Queen's University Belfast for medical research in the middle decades of the 20th century. It was also reported, however, that the number may have been higher. On the basis that the information was found to be held and then disclosed under freedom of information legislation, it could be argued that it is unnecessary to include the provision. That having been said, it is, of course, a significant matter, which I accept is likely to be of significant interest to a future statutory inquiry.
If amendment Nos 1 and 3 had been tabled at Consideration Stage, that might have given Members the opportunity to examine them and make any necessary adjustments. Members will note that both amendments refer in very broad terms to "deceased persons". Their intention may have been more accurately captured by making the connection with residents of the relevant institutions or their children, but, given the stage that we are at, Members will need to decide whether to accept the amendments as drafted. Unfortunately, the alternative is for amendment Nos 1 and 3 to be voted down and for the prescribing power at clause 2(3) to be used, in conjunction with the prescribing power at clause 3(3), to deliver what the Member intends. That having been said, I am content, on balance, to support amendment Nos 1 and 3, given the significance of the information that they seek to require be given.
The Member indicated her intention, on further consideration of the matter, not to move amendment Nos 2 and 6, for which I am grateful. We are trying through the Bill to capture information relating to the institutions, not just information held by them. Although information held by them is captured by the duty at clause 1 to preserve and not destroy, it matters not that the information was created before or after the relevant period. What matters is that the information relates to the women and children or to the institutions themselves during the period in which we know that they were in operation. Members will note that some time to allow for the full winding-up of the institution has been built into the definition of "relevant period".
Reference has been made to institutions in the Republic of Ireland, to which we know that some women went. Although the reach of the Bill cannot extend beyond this jurisdiction, any relevant information relating to a woman or child held in this jurisdiction that was created either by the institution in which they resided between 1922 and 1995 or by the persons or bodies listed at clause 2(3) is captured by the duty to preserve and not destroy at clause 1. That includes relevant information that may have been created after 1995. Members will note that information relating to a resident's departure from a relevant institution is specified at clause 3(3)(b). Information relating to the care and accommodation of children when they were separated from their mother is specified at clause 3(4), because that should be read in conjunction with clause 3(5).
I turn now to amendment Nos 4 and 5. I am grateful to Ms Bradshaw for indicating that she does not intend to move them. Again, I would not have been able to support them, because, in my view and that of departmental officials, they are technically incorrect. That is largely to do with their positioning in the Bill. Both amendments are to clause 4, which provides a definition of "relevant institution". All the other definitions in the Bill are related to that definition. Clause 2, which defines "relevant document", refers in a number of places to "relevant institution". Clause 3, which defines "relevant information", likewise refers in numerous places to "relevant institution", or simply to "institution".
The definition of "relevant institution" is intended to capture the places where women and their children resided, received care, worked, gave birth to children and had decisions taken about them. Other persons or bodies with a connection to the institution but external to it are captured at clause 2(3). They include, for example, the health and social care trust that may have arranged children's care subsequent to their separation from their mother, an adoption agency — statutory or voluntary — that was involved in making the arrangements for child adoptions, a resident's parent, a GP and a member of the clergy who communicated with the resident or with an institution.
Amendment Nos 4 and 5 sought to capture a body that has a connection to a relevant institution but is external to it. My understanding is that those amendments were intended to capture, for example, a church institution that facilitated a child's adoption or foster care. A statutory body undertaking that function is already captured under clause 2(3)(d). Clause 2(3)(d) will also capture a non-statutory body that held some responsibility for the health, care or welfare of a woman or her child. While I support the intention behind the amendments, I cannot support the way they have been drafted — helpfully, the Member indicated that in her speech — because, in our opinion, they corrupted the definition of "relevant institution" and ran the risk of rendering the Bill incompetent. If necessary, as the Member also indicated in her interaction with my officials, the prescribing power at clause 2(3) can be used to capture the intention behind that.
Once again, I am grateful to Members for their input to the Bill and, in particular, I extend my thanks to Ms Bradshaw for her reconsideration of the four amendments before us today, but also for the two that she has moved that we are able to support.
The proposer of today's amendments and the Minister have already spoken in detail on the intent, but also the possible implications, of each of the possible changes before us, so I only intend to make a few brief remarks.
First, I thank Members again for their ongoing interest in and support for the Bill, as well as for making themselves available to facilitate the very short timescales involved. It is not easy having so many stages in such a short time frame. However, the approach of the House so far is a testament to the collective recognition of what the Bill is trying to achieve and why it is so important.
I thank Ms Bradshaw for her sensible approach in not moving a number of the amendments, as well as her decision not to seek support for some others. Whilst I, of course, welcome her interest in trying to help make the Bill stronger, it is very important that the Bill is not unintentionally undermined either through a fundamental change to its intent of applying to historical institutions or by introducing legislative deficiencies at this very last stage. Nonetheless, today's debate has allowed the House to put a number of points on the record, and that is important. Having spoken to the Minister before today's debate, I am very confident that, due to our not ultimately introducing some of those changes, the Bill remains a competent piece of legislation and will still very much deliver what it was always intended to do.
Again, I thank the House for its continuing support for and helpful scrutiny of the Bill. I look forward to the Bill's, hopefully, reaching its Final Stage later this evening.
I will touch on some of the comments that were made in the course of the debate. I very much welcome the comments of the Chair of the Executive Office Committee, particularly in relation to the Committee's determination or thoughts on an investigation into this issue. Hopefully, that will be a very worthy piece of work in the next mandate. Ms Dillon talked about the sensitivity around the burials. Obviously, we all get that sense. She spoke well about Maria Arbuckle and the need for those people who suffered abuse while being fostered to be captured in the recommendations and actions going forward from the panel's report.
Pam Cameron, the Deputy Chair of the Health Committee, agreed with me that it is right and proper that the records of those young children are preserved so that their voices can be heard in the inquiry.
The Minister acknowledged the very tight timescales that we have all worked under, not just with this Bill but over the course of the last two weeks, to get some legislation over the line. I always wanted to get things into the Bill, but I would never want to do anything that would have rendered it incompetent.
As the Bill sponsor acknowledged, this and the previous debates have allowed us to get some points on the record so that, hopefully, when officials come to look at prescribing the guidance, they can reflect on what is in Hansard.
I will leave it there.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No 2 not moved.
Clause 3 (Meaning of “relevant information”)
Amendment No 3 made:
In page 3, line 5, at end insert—<BR/>
“(ha) the removal, retention, storage, use or disposal of human tissue from deceased persons,”. — [Ms Bradshaw.]
Amendment Nos 4 and 5 not moved.
I will not call amendment No 6 as it is consequential to amendment No 2, which has not been made.
That concludes the Further Consideration Stage of the Preservation of Documents (Historical Institutions) Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.
Members should take their ease for a few moments.