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 Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

In closing for the Scottish Conservatives, I record my gratitude to the survivors who gave evidence to the committee and bravely came forward to tell their stories.

Members from all parties have made excellent, poignant and thoughtful contributions to the debate. As my colleague Brian Whittle pointed out, this is a difficult subject for some of us who have constituents who have been affected.

I thank the Education and Skills Committee for its work on this important step in redressing historical child abuse. Jamie Greene rightly said that no compensation can make up for the dark times experienced by survivors. However, members have acknowledged that we are taking a positive step for victims who suffered years of abuse that was largely ignored and swept under the carpet.

I am also pleased to hear the Government’s commitment to work with Parliament to get the bill right for those who were failed as children. Scottish Conservatives will work with the Government as the bill progresses.

Not only will the bill deliver fair and accessible forms of financial and non-financial redress for survivors, but it marks our recognition of the abuse and harm caused to the youngest in society, which should never have been tolerated.

The detailed text of the bill will be set out in the coming months. It is encouraging that we have much common ground to work on. First and foremost, we feel that we must do what is right and appropriate for victims and survivors. That is why Scottish Conservatives will support the bill.

The choices to be made by victims and survivors must be at that heart of the support mechanisms that the bill creates. I am glad that the committee noted that victims and survivors should

“be treated with dignity, respect and compassion”.

Those words should form the foundations of the bill.

We also welcome the Government’s commitment to establishing the survivor forum that John Swinney mentioned in his opening speech. Given the difficult circumstances that many survivors have faced for many years, it would be wrong not to make that a driving force behind the bill.

Support must be better tailored to what victims and survivors would find most helpful. We welcome the redress scheme that is set out in the bill, as it is designed to be far more accessible than the process of taking a case through the civil courts. We know that civil and criminal court cases can cause survivors harmful memories. As many speakers have said, it is vital that we ensure that the process is less arduous and damaging for survivors of abuse.

We welcome the inclusion of next of kin in the redress scheme. There seems to be unanimous agreement that, in certain cases, even if the requirement to take a case to the civil courts is removed, it is difficult for an individual to access support. The Law Society made an important recommendation in that regard, particularly for those who might find it difficult to seek redress, such as adults with incapacity.

That issue has not been mentioned in the debate as much as I thought that it would be. Adults with incapacity might have difficulties in relation to some aspects of making and processing an application for a payment, but they should not be excluded as a result. One way to address that issue would be to appoint a guardian or intervener under the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, to allow an application to the redress scheme to be made on someone’s behalf.

I turn to what is included in the bill’s definition of abuse, which is another point that has not been mentioned in the debate as much as I expected it to be. Probably because I am not a member of the Education and Skills Committee, that caught my attention more than some of the other points that members have made, which I will summarise at the end of my speech.

Many stakeholders have expressed concerns about the omission of certain terms from the definition, but the one that has come to the forefront is the omission of corporal punishment, which in days past was commonplace in many settings, such as schools and children’s care homes, with teachers and care staff abusing their power. Because corporal punishment was permitted at the time, people who experienced it being used in an abusive way might feel discouraged from coming forward.

I understand that the cabinet secretary has given assurances regarding the redress Scotland panel taking a one-size-fits-all approach, and that it will consider whether corporal punishment should constitute abuse and whether redress should be considered for that. However. I agree with the committee that it is vital that the Government reflects on the wealth of compelling evidence on that point and addresses stakeholders’ views in forming a robust and encompassing definition.

Many members have spoken about the importance of the waiver and of the balance that must be achieved for the future viability of organisations. I am sure that that will continue to be a subject of debate, but we are here to encourage, not discourage, debate and participation. That is the approach of not only survivors but of members to the bill.

Jackie Baillie, Iain Gray and my colleague Jamie Greene are concerned that the waiver is a disincentive and said that they had heard evidence to that effect. The key issues of affordability and sustainability have also been raised. We must be able to attract contributions from organisations, and it has been suggested that the Government must look at that issue carefully if it is to get cross-party support on it at stage 2.

My colleague Oliver Mundell expressed his wish to see all evidence being taken at face value, which is an important point. There should be a presumption that those who come forward are telling the truth.

The committee suggested that, instead of fixed payments, payments should be made in bandings. As Jackie Baillie said, abuse is abuse, and there should be more consistency in payments, as well as in relation to the level of proof required.

Many members raised the requirement on survivors to make key decisions regarding offers of redress in a short timescale.

There is a lot to work on with the bill, but the Conservatives will vote to support its general principles at stage 1. John Swinney deserves grateful thanks for his pursuit of the bill, as everyone who has spoken in the debate has mentioned. We take our hats off to him.

We echo the calls in the committee’s recommendations and we look forward to making amendments to the bill at stage 2.