As convener of the Education and Skills Committee, I welcome the opportunity to highlight its views on the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill. Before I do so, I thank everyone who took time to share with us their views on the bill, whether in evidence or privately. I also thank our adviser, Professor Andrew Kendrick of the University of Strathclyde, who so generously shared his expertise with the committee throughout the stage 1 process; the committee’s clerks and the Scottish Parliament information centre staff for their endeavours; and, indeed, the committee’s members, who throughout the process have approached it with sympathy, sensitivity and compassion.
I feel that I can speak for the whole committee when I say that we recognised that victims/survivors campaigned for such a bill for many years, including some who are no longer here to see it become a reality. We know that that has involved working constructively with both the Scottish Government and care providers who were responsible for historical child abuse. In particular, we thank victims/survivors for doing so, as that has allowed us to reach the point where we believe that we have a straightforward, easy-to-access scheme that will play a vital role in helping victims/survivors to obtain the redress remedy to which they are entitled.
The bill creates a new way for victims/survivors of historical abuse to seek redress. It recognises that civil litigation is not for everyone. For many victims/survivors, making their way through an adversarial system and reliving their childhood experiences is not something that they will feel able to do. Consequently, the committee supports the bill’s intention to create an accessible alternative. As the cabinet secretary highlighted, for victims/survivors of abuse that took place before 1964, the scheme creates a route to redress that would not otherwise have existed, which is particularly welcome.
I turn to some of the issues addressed in the bill. The need for dignity, respect and compassion was a theme that the committee picked up, and it was also a key theme in the evidence that we heard. We need to ensure that victims/survivors who access the redress scheme are treated with dignity, respect and compassion throughout that process. Victims/survivors themselves spoke very clearly about the dehumanising effect that abuse had on them, and of how it had impacted on their families.
In our stage 1 report, the committee asked the Scottish Government to include in the bill a statement that would recognise the need for the principles of dignity, respect and compassion to be applied across each element of the redress scheme—from the application process, through to the support provided to access care records and the issuing of apologies from care providers. We welcome the fact that the Government has gone some way towards recognising that need, and indeed has agreed to some of our recommendations being put in place.
I cannot cover the whole bill, because I will soon run out of time, but I will turn to the waiver and the fair and meaningful payments. The bill encourages care providers whose organisations were responsible for historical child abuse to make a fair and meaningful contribution to the redress scheme. A victim/survivor accepting a redress scheme payment will be required to waive their right to take future civil action against any contributing organisation. Victims/survivors viewed the waiver as restricting their rights and suggested that an off-setting payment might be a better model.
Care providers raised concerns that there is currently no way of them knowing how much their overall contribution to the scheme would be. They also pointed out that their trustees could not agree to participate where that would breach their duties to safeguard the organisation’s longer-term financial viability. It was also unclear whether insurance providers would commit to making a payment on their behalf, undermining the case that the waiver would encourage organisations to contribute. In its report, the committee suggested that further work on those provisions was required ahead of stage 2. We note the Government’s very detailed response to our report—in a short turnaround—and I welcome the news that a waiver will not be given unless the body is a contributor to the scheme. We look forward to discussing those issues at stage 2 and seeing how we can develop them with the cabinet secretary, as he has indicated that he is willing to do.
The committee heard from many victim/survivors that a meaningful apology was a vital element of the redress scheme.
Eligibility for the scheme is another important area. Although the committee welcomes the aims of the bill, we heard concerns from victims/survivors and other stakeholders about aspects of eligibility criteria including qualifying dates and the definitions of relevant care settings and abuse. To qualify for a payment under the proposed redress scheme, a victim/survivor must have experienced abuse in a relevant care setting before 1 December 2004. In contrast, the Scottish child abuse inquiry can consider abuse that occurred up to 14 December 2014. We could see no justification for the disparity between those two dates and suggested that they should be aligned. We take on board the cabinet secretary’s comments in response to that and in the chamber today.
Some settings and circumstances are currently excluded from the definition of “relevant care setting” and we heard evidence on how that would affect eligibility for the scheme. While recognising that there was a need to clearly define the limits of the redress scheme, the committee believed that there should be scope for redress Scotland to be able to consider some cases on an exceptional basis and recommended that the Government should revisit the eligibility criteria and relevant care settings in the bill in advance of stage 2. We welcome the acknowledgement that Scotland placed some young people in care settings across the border and that that issue will be considered.
The bill clearly defines the kinds of abuse that can be considered under the scheme and stakeholders expressed concern at the apparent exclusion of corporal punishment from the definition of abuse, where it was considered lawful at the time. The concern was that that would deter some victims/survivors from applying to the scheme. The committee was grateful for the cabinet secretary’s clarification that there would be no blanket ban on including corporal punishment as a form of abuse and that, when assessing claims, corporal punishment would be considered in the full context in which it was used. I look forward to working with the cabinet secretary to understand how victims/survivors can be informed of that to the fullest possible extent, so that no one is excluded from applying to the scheme because they think that the abuse that they experienced would not be considered.
I also welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments on the levels in the scheme. Currently, the bill sets out two different kinds of payment that can be made to victims/survivors: a fixed-rate payment of £10,000 and individualised payments set at £20,000, £40,000 and £80,000. There were concerns that there were large gaps between the levels. It was unclear how that would be decided by the administrating panel and how fair that was. I welcome the Government’s willingness to consider those levels again before stage 2.
Redress Scotland will be a new non-departmental public body—an NDPB—which will administer the scheme, and decision making will be guided by an assessment framework. As I am running out of time, I hope that some of the other areas will be picked up by my committee colleagues—