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 Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I begin by expressing a hope that, collectively, we live up to survivors’ expectations and that we meet their needs.

It is difficult to articulate the injustice and suffering that the bill seeks to address. Over generations, countless children were placed in the care of authorities and organisations where they were supposed to be kept safe, looked after and cared for. Instead, they were abused, exploited and preyed upon.

Not only was that not prevented, but in many cases it was ignored and covered up.

As many speakers in this afternoon’s debate have commented, we have been on a very long—perhaps too long—journey. We heard apologies from the former First Minister, Jack McConnell, and they were repeated by the Deputy First Minister. We have also seen the creation of the independent child abuse inquiry. The debate is an opportunity for us to repeat those apologies and acknowledge the seriousness of what occurred in the past.

The debate also provides us with an opportunity to collectively take an important further and, I hope, final step. We must go beyond simply acknowledging the abuse and the wrongs that were done in their generality. We must seek to ensure that survivors have their personal experiences acknowledged and receive an apology and justice for the wrongs that were done to them as individuals. I will reflect and reiterate the Deputy First Minister’s comments, because I think that it is vital that we treat this as a genuine, collective endeavour and responsibility. There is a duty on all of us—not on any particular party—to live up to the expectations that so many survivors quite rightly have.

The creation of redress Scotland aims to create the means for survivors to seek justice in a way that is more straightforward and less burdensome that that of pursing a claim through the civil courts. Its creation also recognises that many might find it difficult to evidence their experience to the level that would be required in the courts. It is the right approach.

Experience in other countries tells us that we must avoid adversarial processes such as those that might occur in the courts. It also tells us that it is important to ensure that survivors are helped to make their claims, rather than having to fight for recognition, particularly given that so many have been fighting all their adult life for recognition and redress.

Labour will support the bill at stage 1. However, it is important that we highlight the areas that must be improved so that the bill achieves its aims as effectively as possible and provides justice to survivors.

As many speakers—Iain Gray, Jamie Greene, Rona Mackay, Beatrice Wishart, Alex Neil and Kenny Gibson—have noted, the waiver is the central issue that we must address. It is fair to say that we understand the intent behind the waiver, which is to incentivise organisations and maximise the number that participate by protecting them from further claims in the civil courts. However, the provision is deeply problematic for two reasons.

First, as Ross Greer, among others, set out, in the eyes of many survivors, at best, the waiver provides them with an invidious choice between compensation through the scheme or going through the courts; at worst, it is a removal of their rights.

Furthermore, and perhaps more fundamentally, I do not believe—nor do most members—that the provision does what it sets out to do. It does not provide an incentive for participation, because it is likely that participating organisations will not be assisted by their insurers in making payments, whereas they would get that assistance if they were taken to court. Bluntly, based on crude financial calculations, providers will be worse off if they participate in the scheme than they would be if they were sued. That is the blunt and simple reality that many of providers will face, and it is the basis of their concerns.