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 Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I thank the Scottish Government and the Education and Skills Committee for their work on the bill, and I thank all the survivors who helped to shape it.

The bill is incredibly important and significant, because the provisions that it seeks to create for survivors of child abuse have been a long time coming. For many survivors, providing redress signifies a step forward in their on-going recovery. The redress payment signifies far more than just the giving and receiving of compensation. It represents the justice that survivors have been seeking for decades.

Since I was first elected as MSP for Dumbarton, back in 1999—I was young then, Presiding Officer—I have been working with an incredibly brave woman, who has already been mentioned in the chamber today, called Helen Holland. Helen is a constituent of mine who, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, faced unimaginable abuse and neglect at the hands of nuns and other care workers at Nazareth house in Kilmarnock. The stories that Helen has shared over the years about her time in care are harrowing, and she still suffers the lasting effects of her experiences each and every day. For many survivors, simple daily tasks are difficult, and some are still affected by the deep trauma of their past. Over the past 20 years, Helen has spent her time fighting to ensure that no child in care ever goes through what she and so many others did.

In 2000, Helen worked with others to found INCAS, which supports survivors of in-care abuse. The organisation was set up because there was nowhere that survivors could turn to for practical support and help at the time. More than 120 survivors went to INCAS’s first gathering. Since then, the organisation has grown and grown, and it continues to provide support and therapy for people who are still struggling to cope. It also campaigns for justice for survivors. It has been at the forefront of the fight for redress, and its continued efforts will result in many survivors receiving long-overdue justice and recognition.

When I spoke to Helen a couple of days ago about today’s debate, she told me that, although the bill is very welcome, amendments are needed if it is to truly support survivors. Therefore, I welcome the cabinet secretary’s indication that he is listening and willing to lodge amendments.

As Iain Gray has already explained, the waiver in the bill presents a number of problems. By signing the waiver, survivors would be agreeing not to start or continue any civil legal action on their abuse against the Scottish Government or, indeed, any other care provider. I understand that the Scottish Government is trying to incentivise care provider participation, but the waiver as it stands perhaps does the opposite of what we want it to do. It is wrong to deny survivors an informed choice. Surely that could be easily resolved if the bill was amended so that the courts were directed to deduct from any future damages awarded the amount already paid to the survivor by the Scottish Government or the relevant care provider.

Many survivors simply cannot cope with going to court and being forced to relive their unbearable levels of suffering. Because of the historical nature of the abuse, many survivors are now elderly and have long-term mental health problems; indeed, some of them have terminal illnesses. It is right that they should receive a redress payment while they are still able to do so, but it is not right that they should be forced to sign away their right to pursue the matter in the courts. Allowing survivors to seek informed advice from a legal representative on any future action that they may wish to take is probably the most straightforward and obvious way of ensuring that justice is truly served for them.

The second area of concern that Helen raised with me is the payment amounts that are set out in the bill. Helen and, indeed, all the survivors whom I have met will say that it is not about the money. No amount of money will ever be adequate compensation for what they went through, but there are significant inconsistencies between the maximum amount that Scottish survivors can receive and the amount that Irish survivors, for example, receive. They are different countries with different legislative systems, but abuse is abuse, and abuse should not be of less importance because of the country, especially if the abusers were the same people.

Helen told me about two sisters. One was sent to a home in Ireland and the other went to a home in Scotland. Both were in Nazareth house homes, and they were abused by the same individual over a number of years. However, the sister in Ireland has received 200 per cent more in compensation than the sister in Scotland is likely to receive. That is because the block payments in Ireland range from €50,000 to €350,000, whereas the range in Scotland starts at £10,000 and rises to a maximum of £80,000. Given that the only difference in many cases is the country in which the child was abused, it is vital that more consistency is created in the amounts that are paid out.

As we have heard from colleagues in the chamber, there is also an issue to do with the structure of the block payments. The payments, which are set in blocks of £10,000, £20,000, £40,000 and £80,000, are decided according to the severity of the case. However, as others have said, the level of proof that is required is not clear, and there appears to be no flexibility in the level of award. That is unfortunate, and I hope that it will be addressed at stage 2.

It is 21 years since I met Helen Holland. It has taken a very long time to get to this stage. As Iain Gray said, there was an apology to survivors from Jack McConnell in 2004. We have had the removal of the time bar and the public inquiry, but it would be another 16 years before a redress scheme was before the Parliament. Today is very welcome, and I commend John Swinney for his efforts in ensuring that that has happened. It is time for justice for survivors, and I urge support for the bill.