Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I understand and accept that relationship. We all want maximum participation in the scheme for the benefit of everyone: contributing organisations, the taxpayer and so on. We must make the pot as large as it can be, but there has been no evidence—the committee took none—of the link between the concept of the waiver and participation.

The real problem for the contributing organisations was the open-ended liability that would be placed upon them. The sums of money that they would have to pay up front have not been quantified to the committee, but those huge sums of money would come out of organisations’ working cash reserves and would directly affect their abilities to be on-going concerns. It was nothing to do with the waiver. I do not make that link in the way that the cabinet secretary does.

There is a conundrum there that needs to be resolved. Linked to that are the payment levels, which create a hierarchy of abuse. That makes some people incredibly uneasy, but is it necessary to compensate at higher levels with higher evidence thresholds? Again, the Government will have to contend with that. I do not think that the pound and pence value needs to be in the bill, because value changes over time, and I hope that the cabinet secretary will reflect on that.

I have limited time, but there are two other areas that I want to briefly touch on. One is the application process and who can apply. We want a survivor-centric approach to be at the heart of the bill’s operation. This must be an easy-to-navigate, inclusive process. That leads me to an important discussion about who should be eligible to apply to the scheme. There is a serious moral question about whether making a payment from the public purse to someone who has been convicted of the most heinous acts of violence, sexual violence or harm to children is fair or in the public interest. The committee rightly recognises that some offending behaviours can be rooted in trauma caused by abuse. Any survivor of abuse should therefore be eligible to participate in the scheme, but the bill itself cannot be the moral arbiter. My view is that it is right and fair that the awarding panel should make those decisions based on clear guidance and parameters and on individual evidence. That is a fair compromise, and one on which the committee reached consensus.

The final issue is that of an apology. “Sorry” is the hardest word, but an apology will go a long way. Helen Holland told the committee that, for some victims,

“an apology is the most sacred thing that could come out of this”.—[

Official Report

,

Education and Skills Committee

, 28 October 2020; c 10.]

Some victims even said that they would forgo money in favour of an apology.

There are other ways to support victims. The committee encourages those. We also encourage the Government to look at other countries’ schemes and I hope that the cabinet secretary will reflect on those asks.

This is a short debate on a big report. I end knowing that those who engaged with the committee have done themselves proud. It is not an easy bill. There is debate about what should be included in it and there are warnings from all sides about possible barriers to participation. There is much work to do: the cabinet secretary and the Government have a difficult task ahead of them.

My offer is that Conservative members are open to discussion, debate and amendment. We will go into stages 2 and 3 constructively. We will work across parties, with the Government, stakeholders and, not least, with survivors. We all want this to work, because it must. The work of the committee will continue, but the word of apology must now be translated into action.