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 John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I thank colleagues from all political parties for their thoughtful and substantial contributions to the debate, which I think will help us significantly in advancing the development of the bill and in the resolution of the issues on which there is not yet agreement.

The only place that I can start in closing the debate is with Jackie Baillie’s contribution—not because of the quiet banter that was going on during the suspension, which happened before Annabelle Ewing’s wise and thoughtful speech, but because of her comments about Helen Holland.

Helen Holland is one of the most remarkable people I have met in my life. I cannot begin to imagine the suffering that she has endured in her life; I cannot begin to fathom and understand any of it. However, she has devoted the past 20 years of her life to making sure that the world is a better place as a consequence of all the terrible suffering that she has endured. If there was ever an example to any of us as to how we should live our lives, it is how she has devoted the past 20 years of her life to the pursuit of justice, which is not really for herself at all but for everyone else. It has been the privilege of my life to get to know her and to be motivated by the spirit that motivates her.

Members have been generous in their comments about my personal commitment to the bill. My very high personal commitment to the bill, which is traced back to Helen Holland, is to make sure that I complete a task that she has been determined to complete. I pay warm public tribute to the many survivors who I have had the privilege to meet, but particularly to Helen for her determination in that endeavour.

Annabelle Ewing talked about the journey that we have been on. A few weeks ago, I gave evidence to the Scottish child abuse inquiry. I accepted—indeed, I offered this up to the inquiry—that I felt that we are getting to a place in which we are completing the addressing of the historical wrongs that have afflicted our society on these issues, with the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017, for which Annabelle Ewing was responsible; the apology that the former First Minister Jack McConnell made; the Apologies (Scotland) Act 2016; the establishment of the Scottish child abuse inquiry; the establishment of the advance payment scheme; and now the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill.

It has taken us too long to get here—I accept that point in front of Parliament today as I accepted it in front of the Scottish child abuse inquiry when I gave evidence to Lady Smith—but we are here and I am absolutely determined to ensure that we get it right now that we have arrived at this point.

One of the strong points that Annabelle Ewing made—Jamie Greene, Daniel Johnson and Iain Gray made it, too—is that the purpose of the waiver scheme is to provide an alternative to court. It is to provide a reliable, dependable route that saves survivors going through the ordeal of providing evidence in a court case in an adversarial setting where it may be difficult to address the issues and find the evidence to successfully win a court action. As it is an alternative to court, it does not require the same burden of proof that a court requires. I will come back to that point in a moment.

Crucially, Annabelle Ewing also made the point that the scheme must work in practice. In that respect, Iain Gray’s comments are important. We all want to achieve the same objectives through the bill. The heart of the matter is that we want survivors to have an alternative to court that secures a dependable outcome for them and we want organisations—providers—to make a contribution. We are all agreed on those points. However, we are not quite agreed on the mechanism by which we can enable those two things at the same time.

In the spirit of the fair contribution that Daniel Johnson made to the debate, in which he called on us all to live up to the hopes of survivors to do it properly—I am completely committed to doing that—I invite members to go into the next stage of the process with an open mind and to try to address the question that I have posed: how do we design a mechanism that enables us to secure contributions from providers and delivers an outcome for survivors? That is the spirit in which I am going into the discussion.

I have proposed that the way to do that is through a waiver scheme, but if there is a better idea, I am prepared to contemplate it.