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 Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

I, too, am pleased to be speaking in the stage 1 debate on the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill; the bill has been described as technical, but it is also complex.

At its heart, the bill is about vulnerable children who were abused while in residential care settings and who have had to live with the consequences of that abuse. I thank all the victims/survivors who engaged with and gave evidence to the committee, either in person or by writing to us. As other members have done, I add my thanks to the unseen but important committee support team that has enabled us to reach this stage.

I also thank colleagues on the Education and Skills Committee and convener Clare Adamson for her leadership. The committee worked in a spirit of co-operation with the aim of meeting the needs of victims/survivors, and ensuring that it did so with dignity, respect and compassion. The responsibility weighs heavily on me, as I am sure it weighs on all of us.

The bill aims for a trauma-informed, non-adversarial process that acknowledges the abuse and provides redress through a fast financial payment. It should be noted that, for some victims/survivors, meaningful and individual non-financial redress is as important—perhaps more important in some cases—as receiving any payment.

As we have heard this afternoon, there are continuing concerns about the waiver in the bill. The Scottish Government has suggested that the waiver is necessary to incentivise contributions to the redress fund from organisations that were responsible for the care of children, but the evidence from some care providers and survivors indicates that it will not function in the way that the Government intends.

By signing a waiver, survivors will give up the right to pursue civil justice. As the stage 1 report indicates, the evidence heard by the committee from the victims/survivors is that the waiver would restrict their choices and should be removed.

The cabinet secretary has suggested that no other redress scheme anywhere in the world has been identified in which providers make contributions but receive no waiver. That is not a reason not to establish an alternative method that is suitable for this redress scheme. The Scottish Human Rights Commission suggested a different approach by proposing an offsetting option rather than a waiver.

It is clear that survivors do not seek double payments by accessing both the redress scheme and civil action. Obviously, that would not be equitable. In the written evidence that she provided to the committee, Dr Maeve O’Rourke from the National University of Ireland Galway stated:

“In forcing survivors to choose between a guaranteed financial payment and accountability, the waiver arguably emits a message to survivors themselves and to the general public about survivors that they are interested in money above all else. This is simply untrue and degrading to survivors.”

I remain unconvinced that the waiver scheme is appropriate. In fact, it goes against natural justice and it will not work.

Beyond the waiver, views differed about the payment levels and tension exists in relation to institutions and their financial contributions. Institutions and charities want to contribute and they are committed to the survivors and the important process of national healing and reconciliation. However, some have said that they cannot sign up to an open-ended chequebook and the estimated figures.

The modelling of the overall cost of £408 million is on the basis of 11,000 payments to victims/survivors, with a further 1,000 payments to next of kin. It is in nobody’s interests to lose institutions or charities that are carrying out good work now because contributions for past wrongs become unsustainable. Financial risk has to be managed and charity law has a role to play in that, too.

Viv Dickenson of the Church of Scotland social care council said that the level of contributions being asked for was predicated on contributions being backed up by insurance. That may be a dangerous assumption to make. Charities have said that they do not have spare cash lying around. The scheme has value only if it works. There needs to be clarity about what institutions are being asked to contribute and about the process, if it is to be affordable for them.

Another issue that must be ironed out is the qualifying age. The qualifying age for the advance payment scheme was 70 years old; it has been brought down to 68, but a written submission asked for it to be reduced to the state pension age.

Finally, the bill must be properly trauma informed. In that light, the way in which the scheme deals with applicants with criminal convictions must reflect what we know about the impact of adverse childhood experiences. Some evidence has shown that those with significant ACEs can be 20 times more likely to be incarcerated at some point in their lives. The scheme cannot be ignorant of the relationship between its subject and the impact of that trauma.

There is work to be done, but today I and the other Scottish Liberal Democrats are happy to support the principles of the bill.