Meeting date: Thursday, March 11, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 11 March 2021
Agenda: Business Motion, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Motion Without Notice, Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Biometrics Commissioner (Appointment), Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time
- Business Motion
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Point of Order
- Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill
- Portfolio Question Time
- Business Motion
- Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Motion Without Notice
- Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill
- Scottish Biometrics Commissioner (Appointment)
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill
The next item is a debate on motion S5M-24338, in the name of John Swinney, on the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill.18:32
It is my privilege to open the debate on the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill. It has been a very challenging bill on an immensely painful and difficult subject for all of us in Scotland and particularly for the survivors of historical child abuse, whose courage, tenacity and determination to see justice have brought us to our national Parliament today.
I thank the Education and Skills Committee and its members for the careful and thoughtful scrutiny that the bill has received, and I thank all those who gave evidence to the committee to inform and improve the content of the bill. The scrutiny by all members has undoubtedly strengthened the bill that I introduced to Parliament. The principal group who gave evidence are survivors and I address them directly at the outset of my remarks.
When I became education secretary in 2016, I promised survivors that I would listen with care to all that they said to me. As I listened, I began to understand the depth of pain and hurt that they had endured. I use the word “began” because I doubt that I will ever be truly able to comprehend their anguish. What I can do is fulfil the commitment that I made to survivors the day that I met them in the summer of 2016. I promised them that the Government would establish an effective inquiry, with judicial leadership, that would forensically investigate the awful experiences of children in the care of the state. That is now happening. I promised that the Government would legislate for a redress scheme, and we now find ourselves at the moment when that scheme will pass into law. It will be a redress scheme enhanced and improved by the engagement of members of Parliament from across the political spectrum. I am immensely proud that we have reached this moment and I thank survivors for their tenacious efforts, which have made this moment possible.
Across the political spectrum—members of Parliament know that I am a combative member of Parliament in every respect—we have seen constructive engagement on a number of intensely complex and sensitive issues. The process has given us a better bill and will give us a better redress scheme, of which Scotland can be proud.
The bill is for survivors. It is for Scotland’s children of the past, who suffered such cruel abuse and torment, and for the adults who they are today.
As a society, we are still coming to terms with the scale of the horror of abuse and the impact that it had—childhoods devastated, innocence stolen, trust betrayed and lives made heavy with burdens that no one should ever have to bear. We are also coming to terms with our inaction as a society, which exacerbated, perpetuated and prolonged that abuse. Children were neither heard nor believed. The structures and systems that we all rely on to protect us, promote our wellbeing and help us to thrive failed some of our fellow citizens when they were vulnerable children and needed our protection the most. For that, we are sorry. The Government is sorry, and I say to survivors that this should not have happened to them, and it was not their fault.
We will not let inaction characterise what we, as a nation, do now in respect of this acutely painful chapter in our past. Although we know that we cannot make up for what happened, we do not accept that it is a historical fact on which nothing can be done. We endeavour to record, investigate and learn from what happened, and the Scottish child abuse inquiry continues its crucial work.
We are supporting survivors to achieve their potential through future pathways and the survivors of childhood abuse support fund. Today, we will pass Scotland’s redress scheme into law and add it to that response.
We have developed a bill that will establish a survivor-focused route to redress. Survivors will now have a choice that did not previously exist to apply to the redress scheme for payments of up to £100,000. For survivors who were abused before 1964, that will, in fact, be their only option. They have no avenue for seeking payment through the courts. Redress applications, assessments and reviews will be swifter, more trauma-informed and more transparent than existing routes. The scheme offers a non-adversarial alternative to court. Liability will not have to be established, and survivors will be given practical support to obtain evidence and emotional support throughout the process, should they need it.
Funding for independent legal advice will be made available to all applicants throughout the entirety of the process. Under the scheme, survivors will be entitled to keep 100 per cent of their redress payment. They will not have to worry about having to pay hefty legal fees or other costs from their redress payment.
Crucially, our aim is to deliver redress not only as a Government scheme, but in a way that recognises the historical care landscape and the involvement of myriad public, religious and charitable bodies. Survivors have told us that that is important, and I consider that all those who have a responsibility for the feelings of the past have a responsibility to do the right thing today. The scheme sets out to be a national collective endeavour. Redress payments will reflect fair and meaningful financial contributions from organisations that were responsible for the care of children at the time when they were abused.
We know that, sadly, some survivors are no longer with us to apply for redress. They and their families have not been forgotten. The scheme makes provision for applications from next of kin when the survivor died on or after 1 December 2004.
The cabinet secretary has just commented on some survivors who are now elderly. The Government has already introduced the advance payment scheme, and at stage 2, we had some discussion about that and whether it could be improved in the short time before the introduction of the new scheme that will replace it. The cabinet secretary said that he would come back to me on that.
To date, the advance payment scheme has made 560 payments to elderly and terminally ill survivors. It will remain open until the statutory scheme can accept applications. I am pursuing an aggressive timetable for the establishment of the statutory scheme, which I hope will address the issue that Mr Gray is legitimately concerned about. We will open the scheme for applications as soon as possible before the end of this calendar year. We will begin the public appointments process and we will advertise for a chair of redress Scotland before the end of this month, and we will advertise for a chief executive in April.
The advance payment scheme was set up on the grounds of urgency in the public interest under common-law powers, which limits the scope of any changes that we can make to it. I will provide an update about that, and about progress towards the statutory scheme opening, before the summer recess if this Government is re-elected, but I will take steps immediately, before royal assent, to begin the preparations, assuming that Parliament will support the bill later this evening. I hope that that provides reassurance to Mr Gray.
I said at the time when the bill was introduced that there was no doubt in my mind that it was one of the most important pieces of legislation that the Scottish Parliament would consider in its lifetime. Since then, as the bill has progressed and as we have heard powerful and moving evidence, that belief has only strengthened.
Today is about actions, not words; it is about deeds, not promises. Today, we must fulfil our duty to our fellow citizens who have suffered. We must vote to pass this seminal piece of legislation into law.
Today, as individuals, as a Parliament and as a nation, we have the opportunity to stand with survivors, to see them, to hear them and to walk alongside them in a way that no one did during their childhood. Today, without compulsion and without agenda, I do that to fulfil the commitment that I made to survivors when I was appointed to my role in 2016. I know that that determination is shared by all members in the chamber, across the political spectrum.
We now have the chance to do something historic. Today, I hope that we will agree together, as a united Parliament, to take our next step in facing up to this dark chapter of Scotland’s history, to show survivors that we are now building on our words of sorrow with action. I suggest that we vote unanimously to do exactly that.
That the Parliament agrees that the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill be passed.18:42
I pay tribute to members of the Education and Skills Committee, which I joined only last year, to its convener and to our clerks and our adviser, for their help. I also pay tribute to the Deputy First Minister and his officials for their work in drawing together what is an immensely difficult and sensitive piece of legislation. I acknowledge the respectful and constructive way in which we are concluding that journey together.
I also put on record my thanks to the many organisations that gave evidence to us throughout the passage of the bill, and, more important, to the survivors of historical abuse: those who are already known to us and those who are unknown and are yet to come forward, who will, I hope, benefit from the scheme—they are those whom the scheme is aimed to assist.
To be honest, I have always had concerns about many aspects of the redress scheme, but I believe that the bill has come on a long journey. Is the bill that is before us, having been amended after today’s debate, now perfect? I do not believe so. Is that a reason not to support it? I do not believe so.
Mr Swinney and I have had some very robust exchanges in this place, and we might spar on many issues, but I respect the fact that he has spearheaded the bill throughout the process and has kept his commitment to the survivors. I am thankful for that.
I pay tribute to Mr Iain Gray, a member of the Education and Skills Committee who, I believe, may be making one of his last contributions in the chamber today. He has given many years of service to his Parliament, to his party and to politics. He entered this place when I was only 19—I hope that that does not make Mr Gray feel old—but I have sat here in the Parliament and in committee and listened in awe to his forensic analysis and his fair and effortless contributions, which we can all learn from and aspire to. I wish Mr Gray all the best in the future.
We have heard today that there are aspects of the bill that people are unhappy with. Whatever product we have come out with today—and it has been a difficult journey—I believe that we have been able to legislate for a scheme that will provide some victims, although not all, with both financial compensation and meaningful redress that, I hope, will go some way towards righting the wrongs of the past.
Back in the stage 1 debate, I said that the stark and very sad reality is that there is little that we can do to fully compensate those people. We cannot ever bury the memories of abuse that continue to haunt people—the people we deal with in our case work and the people we heard from throughout the bill process. No amount of money will ever undo that horror. For many people, this has never been about financial redress, although that might be welcome for some. It is about the symbolic step that Parliament has taken to right those wrongs, or to help right those wrongs. This is an important first step for many, but it will not be the end of that journey.
We should also be honest with each other. This scheme will not be for everyone, and it will not benefit everyone. I say that because, at the heart of the scheme and by its very nature, there are those organisations that participate in it, and that participation is required to validate it.
That takes me to the controversial points in today’s debate, which include the waiver, although that is not the only one. I believe that the scheme is not just about delivering financial compensation, although many pages in the bill are precisely about how money is paid, the circumstances for its being paid, the evidence threshold for that, and so on. It is not only about the money but about where the money comes from. It is about the fact that the contributions are meaningful, voluntary and forthcoming. Of course, the Government will have to underwrite much of it. I understand that the Government is funding the operational costs and the first tranche of payments up to £10,000. I understand that it is not a mandatory participation scheme. However, we needed a scheme that allowed individuals, authorities and organisations to come forward and make a meaningful contribution as their acknowledgment of their role in past abuse.
I also believe that, on the whole, organisations have approached the bill with enthusiasm, although not all of them have. As controversial as it might be, some have been more readily accepting of their role in historical abuse than others. I will not name and shame any of them, because we probably all know who they are. What is important is that we have a robust, reliable, fair and compassionate scheme. We cannot ignore the fact that organisations would be hesitant to come forward if it meant a blanket acceptance of liability, nor the fact that many of them are still going concerns that do great work in our communities.
I have had many sleepless nights over many of the issues with the bill. I sought to amend it in any way that I could to strengthen the rights of survivors as well as the responsibilities of the scheme to offer options and transparency to those survivors. I also tried to ensure, for the contributors, that we would never legislate for something that would undermine or affect their sustainability and that we would legislate in a way that ensures that their contributions are fair and meaningful.
Those are the terms that we have heard throughout—“fair and meaningful”, as well as “terribly difficult”. I will never forget the words of a survivor who gave evidence to us:
“Abuse never leaves a person. It is like a human shadow”.—[Official Report, Education and Skills Committee, 28 October 2020; c 29.]
It was a devastating response.
Let everyone who has contributed to the scheme’s formation, whatever we have agreed or disagreed on in this journey, hold our heads up high, because we have tried our best. We now pass the baton to those who will operate the scheme. We pass the product of that to those who will benefit from it. We offer them redress, and I hope that we offer them closure. If nothing else, we should hold our heads high, knowing that, whatever the petty or party politics that await all of us in the coming weeks, we never forget that the people who form the shapes around us on the walls of this chamber are the people we are here to protect, to support, to make amends to and to say sorry to.
I call Iain Gray. I understand that this is, indeed, likely to be his last speech in the chamber.18:49
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I speak in support of the bill, which finally promises some redress for people whom we collectively let down so badly for so long. As children, they looked to us for care and we delivered them up to hurt, terror and torture, sometimes for years. Then, as the cabinet secretary said, for decades we refused to listen to them, but, in their courage, they would not be silenced.
The bill has taken too long to achieve, and it could have been better. I wish that we had removed the waiver on rights to civil justice, but the bill is a substantive acknowledgement—at last—of survivors’ suffering and our responsibility for it.
As Jamie Greene indicated, this is my final speech. He will be too young to know that it is actually not the first time that I have made a final speech in the Parliament. The difference is that, the last time, I did not know that it was my final one. [Laughter.] It is better to make that decision ourselves than to have the electorate make it for us.
I am glad that my final speech is about righting a wrong of the past. I am privileged to be one of the class of ’99, as I believe that, over 22 years, we have put right many such wrongs. I helped to take through the very first act of this Parliament—the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000—which supported families who had been stymied in their care for loved ones by cruel incapacity laws, some of which were 400 years old. We abolished a feudal system that, for 1,000 years, had excluded the people of this country from vast swathes of their own land, and we opened it up to all. We closed down the long-stay hospitals in which our brothers and sisters with learning disabilities had been imprisoned for generations. It has been a privilege to be just a small part of all of that and of so much more that the Parliament has done when it has been at its best.
On that unforgettable opening day in 1999, Donald Dewar said that the Scottish Parliament is about “how we carry ourselves”. I do not believe that he meant how we strut on the world stage or swagger along the corridors of power. He meant how closely we are willing to walk alongside those who need us most and how willing we are to stand with those who are hungry, who are hurting or who have no hope—not craving the limelight, but rather braving the darkness that it is our duty to try to dispel.
We have not always succeeded, of course. There are plenty of present-day wrongs that I will be looking to those members who come back in May to put right. After all, we opened up access to our land, but it is still owned by a tiny, wealthy, powerful elite. We liberated people with learning disabilities from long-stay hospitals, but into a social care system that fails them again and again. There were precious few food banks back in 1999. What were we doing that so many came to depend on them? Child poverty is rising. Drug deaths are Scotland’s shame. The Parliament’s best days are the days when we refuse to accept that we cannot change those things and we believe in our power to do that.
The Parliament that I leave is not the one that I entered 20 years ago. Following the Smith commission, on which I had the privilege of serving, it is one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere. I know that many members will continue to argue for its sovereignty, and that is their right. However, I sincerely believe that the pandemic has demonstrated the power of devolution, taking our own decisions here—some of which I agree with, others which I do not—about public health measures, schools, the national health service and how we support business. However, we do so while we are underpinned by being part of a bigger economy with a broader tax base, more borrowing power, greater research funding and greater purchasing power for vaccines and personal protective equipment. In any case—pandemic or not—our daily obligation is to use every power that we have, with all the urgency that we can muster, to right those wrongs of poverty and injustice.
I turn to that Donald Dewar speech again:
“A Scottish Parliament. Not an end: a means to greater ends.”
A noble end—like today: a measure of justice at last for survivors of abuse. It has been a privilege to be part of that.
It has been an especial privilege to represent East Lothian for the past 14 years, so let me place on record for the last time that East Lothian is the best constituency, the best county and the best part of Scotland in which to live or work. [Laughter.]
I could not have been part of any of that without the support of so many staff in Parliament, the Labour researchers and the staff in my local office—currently Chris, Ryan and John, but many others over the years, not least Pat and Simon, whom we miss.
Above all, my thanks go to my family, especially to my wife, Gil. I would never have been here without her encouragement nor have survived without her holding my hand through the ups and downs.
This bill is an up. It is a good bill—some light in a terrible darkness. We will support it this evening, and that will be me loused. Thank you. [Applause.]
I call Beatrice Wishart.18:56
I am not quite ready, Presiding Officer—I was quite taken by Iain Gray’s speech.
The bill has been a long time coming. The journey so far has been long and slow, and I am grateful for the perseverance of all those involved in working hard to reach this point.
As I said at stage 1, the responsibility to get the bill right weighs heavily on us all. The bill deals with a range of sensitive and complex subjects. We heard from witnesses at committee and from people who contacted us individually, and I hope that those who engaged with us during the process feel that their voices and their concerns have been heard. I and other members of the Education and Skills Committee care deeply that applicants are treated and considered with respect and dignity.
Daniel Johnson made the key point that it is important that survivors are not retraumatised by the redress Scotland process, and I very much share that view.
As we look ahead to the processes that will now begin, it is vital that we ensure that all who engage with the non-adversarial redress scheme are able to make informed choices, to make sure that their voices can stay strong.
In evidence to the committee, Helen Holland from In Care Abuse Survivors said:
“Survivors have waited a long time for this coming and—quite frankly—many have already made that choice for themselves. We have members who are going down the civil court route; equally, we have members who are patiently waiting for the redress scheme to open. It will never suit everybody”.—[Official Report, Education and Skills Committee, 27 January 2021; c 12.]
Therefore, this afternoon I was happy to support Jamie Greene’s amendments that strengthen the duty on the Scottish ministers to ensure that survivors have the opportunity to make full and informed choices.
During the bill process, the issue of the waiver was one of the most difficult to reconcile—this afternoon’s debate has highlighted that, too. As others have pointed out, based on the evidence that we heard, there are fundamental difficulties with the waiver. However, I appreciate that many have thought hard about how to square the circle, and I very much recognise the work of the Deputy First Minister and his team, who continued to engage with the committee about it.
Although I have listened carefully to all the views expressed, I continue to have reservations about the waiver. However, I believe that the scheme as it now stands, with its ability to ensure that survivors can reach a full and informed position ahead of any decision about a waiver, will help.
At stage 1, I noted that organisations cannot and should not be expected to provide an open cheque book for payments. That would not be productive or practical. This week, providers sent a briefing to members in which they sought assurances from ministers about sustainability and that there would be no detriment to their financial viability and present-day care services.
Organisations that are doing good work now should have a way to continue that work, and Iain Gray’s amendments offer protection to participating organisations for the sustainability of their services when they make fair and meaningful contributions. However, it is imperative to properly and honestly acknowledge the past. Financial redress will play a critical part in that but, as we heard repeatedly in evidence, a full, proper and sincere apology might be more valuable.
At the centre of the work on the bill are people—people whose lives were shattered during their childhoods. That experience has shaped their lives and life opportunities and, in many cases, has affected the lives of their families, too.
Victims/survivors have waited a very long time for this historic redress bill and I know that many will find great relief in its passing, so I am very pleased to confirm the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ support for it.19:00
I will not tell Iain Gray how old I was when he was first elected to Parliament, but I thank him for how much I have learned from him, particularly on the Education and Skills Committee over recent years.
I turn to the bill. At stage 1, I said that the bill was always going to be a painful experience for many survivors, even if they—rightly—wanted it, and that has proven to be the case.
I pay tribute to the survivors—groups and individuals—who fought so hard and for so long to bring us to this point, and to those who shared their experiences and relived their trauma in the process of explaining why redress is so necessary. Their bravery and dignity have been astonishing, and their contribution to the process has had a profound impact on the bill. I know that the scheme is not exactly one that survivors would have chosen—it is not what I would have chosen either—but it is far better for their engagement over recent months and years.
We all support the bill’s principles, but I will be honest: I seriously considered whether I could vote for it in its final form. I was never going to vote against it, but I struggled with the question of proactively approving a bill that contains a waiver scheme that I know causes so much anguish. I spent our unplanned technical break on the phone with colleagues and those we have worked with throughout the process, weighing up what the right choice would be.
It is not so much a question of effective public policy making as it is a question of ethics. At every stage of the process, I have argued for the principle that the scheme should not restrict survivors’ right to pursue justice through civil proceedings, and I am bitterly disappointed that the amendments that would have addressed that were rejected. However, for the sake of avoiding doubt being cast on the scheme, the Green MSPs will all vote for the bill at decision time tonight.
I am not angry at colleagues in Parliament or Government for how the bill has turned out. I am deeply frustrated, but I appreciate that it was never going to be easy, and I thank the Government in particular for the sincere effort that it has made to work with us to explore alternatives and for the collaborative approach that it took to the bill as a whole.
I reserve my anger for some, however. Although a number of potential contributors, such as Quarriers, engaged consistently and constructively with Parliament throughout the process, others chose not to. Parliament is supposed to take decisions on the basis of the evidence that is submitted to us, but the process has been accompanied by the strong implication that the organisations that might end up being significant contributors to the scheme are the most insistent on the inclusion of a waiver, without those organisations being willing to go on the record and make that case. That is cowardly behaviour and, if it is by those that I suspect it is, it is absolutely no surprise. If it becomes known that those organisations decide not to contribute to the scheme, despite the waiver’s inclusion, I intend to use the privilege that this Parliament affords—and which I hope still to have—to name them. For now, I am content to trust the Government and its sincere efforts to ensure that fair and meaningful contributions are made.
Nothing that we ever do can right the wrongs of child abuse. No effort of Parliament or Government today can reverse the failings of our predecessors, but, as the cabinet secretary said, we can and should do all that we can to bring some modicum of justice to survivors.
The scheme represents one avenue through which we will do that. The parliamentary process has made the redress scheme more trauma informed, more supportive of the needs of survivors and more accessible, including to survivors’ next of kin. I am proud to have played a small role in that.
I finish as I started, with my profound thanks to the survivors and their supporters, who have worked with us to make the bill, at the end of the process, better than it was at the start.
We move to the open debate, with speeches of up to four minutes, please.19:04
I, too, pay tribute to Iain Gray. He and I share convenership of the cross-party group on science and technology, and one of the highlights of that was a visit to CERN a few years ago. That appealed to the geek in me, but I know how much Iain enjoyed the experience, as a former physics teacher and physicist. I wish him many more adventures of that type in future.
At stage 2, I moved amendments to put the principle of dignity, respect and compassion in the bill. I thank all committee members for the dignity, respect and compassion that they have shown in their approach to the bill process, which has been evident in the debates that we have had today.
The burden of responsibility as a committee convener has rarely weighed as heavily on my shoulders as it has done in our deliberations on the bill, and rightly so. As MSPs, committee members and citizens, the duty to do right by those who have been affected by childhood abuse at the hands of those who should have been their protectors, nurturers and the ones to care for them is of paramount importance. That applies not just to the Government and the Parliament but to our whole country.
Nothing that we do today can take away the pain that has been endured over decades, but I hope that the victims/survivors can reflect that, today, their voice was heard, listened to and acted on. As members have said, the bill has been a long time coming, from the acknowledgement and apology by the then First Minister Jack McConnell to the establishment of the Scottish child abuse inquiry, which was set up by Angela Constance with the involvement of the cabinet secretary.
As the convener of the Education and Skills Committee, I extend my thanks to the victims/survivors who, as individuals and as victim/survivor groups, engaged with the committee. Their submissions and evidence were incredibly brave and compelling and were vital to our consideration of the bill. I also thank Professor Andy Kendrick, whose experience in the area was insightful. He was direct and informative in our deliberations throughout the process and we really appreciate his involvement.
I know that not everyone will be content with all the elements of the bill. It gives the only redress that is available to victims/survivors for whom the abuse happened before 1964; it gives compensation without the need for court proceedings; and it will offer a new choice for many victims/survivors for whom the court is not an available option or is not one that they wish to pursue. Victims/survivors are at the heart of the bill, and their tenacity, perseverance and resilience are admirable and incredible, given their experience of being disbelieved and having doors shut in their faces as they pursued recognition of their life experience and what they had endured, and the data and evidence to support that. They are to be commended.
I will finish with the voice of one contributor. It is the person who Jamie Greene quoted earlier, so they obviously had the same profound effect on him as they had on me. They said:
“Abuse never leaves a person. It is like a human shadow: sometimes it is behind you, and you can forget that it is there for a little while and get on, but then it moves to the side, at eye level, and you are conscious that it is there, so it starts to have an impact. However, there are other times when that shadow is right in front of you and, no matter how strong a survivor you are, you cannot ignore it and you have to deal with it.”—[Official Report, Education and Skills Committee, 28 October 2020; c 29.]
Nothing that we do today will change that for survivors, but I hope—and they trust—that it is a great marker for Scotland that we pass the bill today.
Johann Lamont is next. This will be Ms Lamont’s final speech in the chamber.19:09
Thank you, Presiding Officer—just when you have heard from one former Labour leader, another one pops up to say goodbye. We would have quite a lot of them if we put them all in a row, I guess. It has been a great privilege for me to work with Iain Gray and to see his commitment and passion in every moment of public service that he has given. I do not aspire to a speech of the quality of the one that he has just made, but I recognise that we should all aspire to that scale of commitment to tackling injustice in our communities.
The bill is an important piece of legislation. I have to say that I am very disappointed that it falls short of what it might have been, but some progress has been made, and that should be welcomed. I note John Swinney’s commitment. I am not like John Swinney—I am not combative—but I recognise that, in this area, he has tried as hard as he can to work with people across the Parliament who want to make a difference.
In this debate, we should remember the suffering, abuse, neglect and fear that lie behind it. The bill represents historic failure—failure to understand the vulnerability of young people who were put into care; failure to understand the predatory nature of some adults; failure to understand the lengths to which predatory adults would go, and still go, to access vulnerable children; and failure over many years to listen and understand.
The bill also represents hope, because it reflects another stage in the journey of this Parliament and our country towards understanding the nature of abuse, its prevalence, its impact and its lifelong consequences. The bill represents a challenge to us, as a country, to be alert, to be determined, to do all that we can to protect young people and to expose those who would do them harm.
Although the bill focuses on the horrors of in-care abuse—the state delivered into the hands of abusers young vulnerable people who were unable to challenge those who stole their childhood from them, and then it refused to listen to those who dared to speak up—we must also understand the scale of abuse that is visited upon young people in their own homes and communities. We must remember the adults who live with the consequences right now, and we must remember that the support that they need is still under pressure.
If this Parliament is about anything—if politics is about anything—it must be about giving a voice to those who are denied it. It must be about understanding the truth and the reality of the barriers placed in front of people that deny them their potential. It is about understanding inequality in all its forms. Seeing that is the main purpose and focus of politics.
In considering the bill, we see that process in action. It was in 2000 that Anne McDonald, on behalf of Kingdom Abuse Survivors Project, lodged a petition in Parliament that asked that we understand the psychological and health needs of adult survivors of child sexual abuse, and that there be a national strategy for survivors that recognised the importance of raising awareness and ensured that services were provided. That was followed by the establishment of a cross-party group on adult survivors, and my friend Marilyn Livingstone, who was an MSP at the time, showed great passion in driving that work forward, along with Anne McDonald and others.
In 2002, a petition was lodged by Chris Daly that sought a public inquiry in order to raise the issues of survivors in care. That revealed the horror of how poorly served and poorly understood in-care survivors were. Progress in legislative terms, in policy terms and in investment terms followed on from that—not least the public inquiry, the testimony from which is still shocking.
Progress has been made, and that should be celebrated, but none of it would have happened without survivors finding their voices and without the Parliament having a route, through the Public Petitions Committee, for real access. We owe a debt of thanks to survivors and to those who have made it their life’s work to support them. We should celebrate the work of the Public Petitions Committee, and it has been my privilege to be its convener during this parliamentary session. The people of this country determine the committee’s agenda—no one else. The work that has been done through that committee has been powerful, and I know that that will continue to be the case.
Critically, those voices were challenging and difficult. Those who had direct experience demanded more from all of us. That is a lesson for us, too. We should celebrate the difficult voices rather than circumvent and silence them, even if that would make life easier.
As I face the final period in my time as a politician, I recall the aims that the Labour Party, my party, had for this place: to bring power closer to people, to protect people, to see a real sharing of power and to ensure that the priorities of people in our communities were reflected in the work of Parliament. I speak as a Glaswegian and as a Glasgow islander in saying that I recognise that the centralisation of power, which we have seen over the last period, is not our friend, and that needs to change.
This will be my last speech here, unless something winds me up before 23 March—[Laughter.]—and it feels fitting to be in a debate, regardless of my reservations, that reflects what I feel is at the very root of good politics and at the very heart of the purpose of politics. Politics should be about the heavy lifting of understanding problems and then addressing them. I was so proud of my party in legislating for this Parliament and for being strong on women’s representation, which allowed me to be a candidate. I would not have been here otherwise. I am proud beyond measure, as a Labour and Co-operative member, to represent Pollok and my city and to play my part in speaking up for my constituents, Labour values and co-operative solutions. I am proud of the work of my staff, particularly Celine Lauter, who has worked with me from the very beginning, and of all that they have done to connect our politics directly to what is happening to constituents in our communities.
I thank my party, my colleagues, my staff and my friends, including colleagues across the chamber—those with whom I agree and those with whom I disagree. Please believe that I do not reserve my argumentative nature for the opposition. I thank my husband for all his support, despite his continued belief, as a councillor, that all of us in here are equally culpable for the decisions that have seen councils stripped of the funding that they need to deliver the services that people need and must have.
I thank my children, who I think feel more than a little duped by my persuading them as children that attending surgeries at the Labour rooms in Cardonald was actually a treat. I am grateful to all my family members, who have kept my feet on the ground.
However, it is different now. We are now in terrible times and fearful for the future, and the consequences of these times, although largely unknown, will, I am sure, amplify the inequality that people in our communities already suffer. Survivors and others who seek support are often told that we cannot afford it. These people will often say that there is always money for some things. My plea is that, in the next Parliament, those with the privilege to make decisions understand that and meet the exhortation of the American politician who said:
“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Now, more than ever, politicians must not settle for signals. This Parliament must be the place to test all the good choices. It must not settle for the ones that look best on a leaflet but make choices that will match in people’s lives the aspirations that brought me and my fellow 99ers to this place. That would be wonderful. It has been a privilege. Thank you. [Applause.]
The last contribution in the open debate is from Rona Mackay.19:18
I congratulate Johann Lamont and Iain Gray on their very moving speeches. It is not an exaggeration to call them titans of the Labour movement. I wish them very well.
The bill that we are debating today is life changing for people who were abused in childhood. Those of us who have not experienced vile abuse will probably never understand what the bill means to those who have.
The bill is not just about money; it is about much more than that to survivors of abuse. It is recognition that the institutions in which they were abused owe them a debt, and that many had their childhood innocence taken from them violently and their future prospects and relationships ruined: their lives were ruined.
The bill is the result of the brave and tireless advocacy of survivors of historical child abuse in care, and is a reflection of the Government’s and the cabinet secretary’s absolute commitment to address properly what they experienced.
As a member of the Education and Skills Committee, I can say that the evidence that we heard was harrowing and emotional. Every brave survivor who spoke out somehow found the strength to speak up for themselves and for those who could not, in order to ensure that what happened to them will not happen to anyone else.
Of course, as we have heard, there were contentious issues—in particular, the waiver. There was a good debate on that today, which I will not attempt to rehearse, other than to say that I was sceptical about the waiver at first but now associate myself with comments that were made by Jamie Greene and the cabinet secretary on it.
I will cut my speech short, because it has been a long day.
Amendments that were lodged by my colleagues and which we have passed today are helpful and add considerably to the bill. My amendment at stage 2 has ensured that anyone who suffered corporal punishment, albeit that it was legal at the time, will be eligible if excessive force was used, as it often was, and that each case will be judged individually.
The Scottish Government committed to introducing legislation that would be passed by the end of the parliamentary session. With the support of Parliament at decision time, that is what we will do. As others have said, redress is not a magic bullet, but if it gives survivors some comfort by way of an apology and recognition from the institutions that violated them, we should all be pleased to vote for the bill.
We now move to closing speeches.19:20
In summing up the debate, we can all start from the position that was well outlined by the cabinet secretary, Jamie Greene, Iain Gray, Johann Lamont and others, which is that the bill is motivated and driven by a profound sense of the need for justice, and by an extreme emotional connection to the very real harm and abuse that was done to so many people.
I will broadly repeat remarks that I made when I spoke in the stage 1 debate. We are dealing with a situation in which there were children who needed care and families who needed help. The state had to step in, but rather than delivering that help and care, the state delivered children into the hands of abusers who tortured them. In many cases, those children were delivered into the hands of the state by parents who did so willingly because they felt that the state could do a better job than they could, which only makes that horrific set of circumstances worse.
The state let them down, so we, as a Parliament, have a duty to provide some form of justice—albeit that it can never be a truly adequate form—for the people who suffered in that horrific way. The bill is undoubtedly an important step towards that. I associate myself with the cabinet secretary’s remarks and with the aim, which is largely being delivered by the bill, of providing people with a straightforward and flexible route to gaining the justice that they would not otherwise have. For many people, that justice would otherwise be unobtainable.
That is not to say that the bill is perfect. A number of issues have continued, but it has undoubtedly been improved by the work of the Parliament. I note the remarks of many members, including Iain Gray and Ross Greer.
However, I am not entirely convinced that the waiver will achieve what it sets out to achieve. In previous stages of the bill, we debated whether it will provide the financial certainty and assurances that might be required because of how insurance works for many organisations.
I also believe that the caveats in the reporting mechanisms that have been added improve the bill. The clarity that is provided for applicants and the requirements to inform applicants of the nature of what they are undertaking make the bill better. Ultimately, improved oversight and accountability, in relation to separation of the chief executive and the chair, and the survivors’ forum being put on a statutory footing, undoubtedly improve the bill.
However, we cannot treat this as finished business. We must continue to listen to survivors and respond to their needs as and when they identify them, and we must recognise that there is limited scope for the bill; it merely deals with the state. There are many situations in which other institutions encouraged or coerced children into care, then abuse was done. Those situations are not covered.
Likewise, there are situations in which parents voluntarily offered their children to institutions, such as mental institutions, when today those children would be considered as simply having additional support needs, and they suffered for years. I speak—I wish that I could go into more detail—informed by the experiences of a close family member. That is an injustice that the bill cannot address, but I hope that future Parliaments will.
Ultimately, this has been a case of Parliament doing its job as it should. There has been robust scrutiny, the Government has responded and we have done our job well. However, I question whether that will always be the case. We are about to have a new Parliament; elections will bring a new composition to the chamber and we must question whether Parliament is well enough structured to provide the robust scrutiny that is needed to make better legislation.
I realise that I am slightly over my time, but I must acknowledge the contributions of my colleagues Iain Gray and Johann Lamont, both of whom spoke very well for themselves, and both of whom I have known for a long time. I came to know them as a young Labour activist. Iain Gray was my MSP when I was the youth and student officer for Edinburgh Pentlands constituency Labour party, and I got to know Johann Lamont subsequently.
There are a great many things that make becoming an MSP fulfilling and a great thing, but something that I did not expect was that one comes to know as colleagues and friends people whom one had previously regarded only as political figures. That is undoubtedly the case with Iain and Johann. Despite the fact that we will no longer be colleagues with offices on the same corridor—I hope to be re-elected, but this will hold even if I am not—I hope that they will continue to offer their good guidance and counsel. I thank them both, not only on my own behalf but, I hope, on behalf of all Labour members, for their years of service and their contributions, both to the Labour Party and to the Scottish Parliament. We all owe them a great deal of thanks.
I have been very lax with the timings tonight. Please do not take advantage, Mr Whittle. You have up to five minutes.19:26
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on what is a very important bill. We have tackled some extremely difficult topics in the lifetime of the Parliament. Over the past couple of days, we have considered the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. Another recent one was the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill, in which we looked at the medical examination of people suffering from sexual abuse and now we are looking at the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill. This is not to say that I think that the bills are without flaws, but it is a credit to the Parliament that we have not shied away from debating and tackling such issues very passionately.
I say at the outset, for the record, that I struggled with some of the votes today. It struck me that we were debating financial redress and not paying enough attention to emotional redress that might require a civil action after accepting a redress payment. We get marshalled lists and I was sometimes uneasy with the way in which we were considering voting. Today’s debate was not political. I recognise the desire of everyone in the chamber to get this incredibly important bill absolutely right. I do not think that we have done that and the bill will need to be changed again in the next parliamentary session.
Sexual abuse, specifically child sexual abuse, has been swept under the carpet for far too long, leaving victims without the support that they so desperately need. As many of my colleagues are aware, I have been working on the issue with a constituent over a number of years. It is fair to say that my understanding of the trauma suffered by my constituent over a prolonged period of time as she seeks justice and redress means that my discomfort and disquiet about the way that victims are retraumatised and open to suffering secondary abuse continues to rise.
Organisations that have been brought into question include local government, the education authorities, the police, the church, support services and the Scottish Government. We should not shy away from scrutinising any of the actions that those organisations were involved in. I have asked the Cabinet Secretary for Justice for a meeting on that topic and he has agreed. I hope that we will get the opportunity to have that meeting prior to the dissolution of the Parliament, so that at least we can have some notes to take forward into the next parliamentary session.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority already has a redress scheme in which the decision is based on the balance of probability. That is different from a criminal court, which decides on the basis of something being beyond reasonable doubt, and means that victims do not need to wait for the outcome of a criminal trial if there is already enough information with which to make a decision on the case. The bill requires that the victim waive their right to future civil action. Any payment from a civil action taken after the CICA award, however, requires that the CICA payment be reimbursed. I contend that the bill is flawed in that respect and that it should not have imposed a ban on future civil action. Why would a victim not just approach the CICA? That will be a matter for future Parliaments to address.
Furthermore, I contend that many of the support organisations for survivors are too close to the Government in that they receive their funding directly from central Government, potentially impacting their ability to be autonomous. As I have said before, record keeping is woefully inadequate, especially in local authorities—there does not seem to be any requirement for them to record potential cases of abuse in local authority-run facilities.
However, in conclusion, the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill, along with the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill, is welcome and long overdue. We are trying to ensure that it is the best that it can be for all those who have been victims of such a horrendous crime and have to carry that burden throughout their lives, but I fear that the bill will need to be amended. Financial redress will not heal the wounds but will perhaps give them the comfort that their voices have been heard and that there is an acceptance that they have been victims.
I finish by recognising Iain Gray’s contribution to the Parliament. I have always enjoyed his speeches in the chamber. I have not always agreed with him, but he has always been thoughtful and I know that he will be missed, as will Johann Lamont, who also gave her final speech. It has been a privilege to serve on the Public Petitions Committee under her stewardship. I really enjoyed the occasions when we managed to be a tag team on certain petitions, especially in challenging the Scottish Football Association—that was particularly fun. She leaves here having delivered a passionate speech with as much fire as she ever has had. Both Iain Gray and Johann Lamont will be sadly missed.19:32
I am grateful to colleagues for their engagement on the bill and for the recognition that the Government has tried to engage constructively on all the issues. Much credit goes to the bill team who have supported me superbly during the passage of the bill. It is an immensely complex bill with difficult issues and I have been fantastically well served by the civil servants who have acted on my behalf and engaged in a great deal of dialogue with members.
Members have commented on the fact that the bill has been improved since its introduction. Daniel Johnson commented that Parliament has exercised properly and fully its effective functions in the scrutiny of the bill. I accept that point: the bill is stronger as a consequence of the challenge of the committee’s stage 1 report, the robust scrutiny at stage 2 and the decisions that we have made today.
If I were to select one part of the bill that has been strengthened, I would pick section 11A, which was introduced at stage 2 by a proposal from the convener of the Education and Skills Committee. The bill was drafted and we did not include some important words on the face of the bill, because we thought that it probably did not need to be said. Section 11A is entitled “Principle of dignity, respect and compassion”. The convener asked us to include those words in the bill, recognising that any individual who comes into contact with redress Scotland—I do not know why it is restricted to redress Scotland—
“should be treated with dignity, respect and compassion”.
We can all sign up to that. I am grateful to the convener for that enhancement to the bill.
I am also grateful to Ross Greer, Beatrice Wishart and Jamie Greene for their remarks in the debate. They have acknowledged that the bill does not contain all the provisions that they would have liked to see in it but, despite that, they will support the bill because of what it does to address the issues and concerns of survivors. I acknowledge that that might be particularly challenging and difficult for Ross Greer, and I am grateful that he has signalled his support for the bill this evening. That will matter, because it will ensure that the bill commands confidence within the survivor community.
I have thought long and hard about the issues that are involved in the bill. I have been prompted to do so on many occasions, but I was particularly prompted as I prepared to give evidence on behalf of the Government to the Scottish child abuse inquiry, which is chaired by Lady Smith. That forced me to look back at the history of the Parliament and its actions in the past 22 years. The moment that we reach tonight started with one important contribution, which was a product of the Parliament’s arrangements that were legislated for in the Scotland Act 1998 and the work of the consultative steering group—the public petitions process. That is where it all started and it is incredibly fitting that Johann Lamont makes her final speech tonight as convener of the Public Petitions Committee, which she has led, as she has led everything that she has done, with tenacity.
The public petitions process sums up for me one of the biggest differences between the two Parliaments in which I have served. At 10.30 at night in the House of Commons, if a member of Parliament wanted to present a petition, they stood up, presented it and read it out, then walked down to behind the Speaker’s chair and dropped it in a bag behind the Speaker’s chair. Nothing more was ever heard about it. Here, we bring petitions in the front door, people such as Johann Lamont get unleashed on them and what happens? Over the course of 20 years, people whose voices were never heard have been heard. I pay tribute to Johann Lamont for that. She mentioned Marilyn Livingstone, who was an equally tenacious champion of the survivors of historical abuse. Frankly, they believed the people concerned and made sure that their voices were heard.
When people criticise this Parliament and say all the things that they do about the place, they have to remember that it has embraced the petitions process, which started with an early petition on this subject, which not many people had been willing to encounter or engage with, and we have made big progress.
Former First Minister Jack McConnell stood where I stand now and gave a remarkable apology on behalf of the people of Scotland to recognise the suffering of individuals. It was not perfect; Lord McConnell would accept that it was not perfect, but members of Parliament of all persuasions over the past 22 years have made sure that these historical injustices were addressed.
Iain Gray made his concluding speech tonight. I am feeling slightly off the hook, but there are education and skills questions on the final day of term if he feels like having an extra finale—I would not like him to pass up any opportunity to challenge me on any of the issues. Iain Gray said that all this could have been done sooner, and he is right. That was one of my other reflections when I was preparing to give evidence to Lady Smith. I have served in government for 14 years, and I look back and think that this could all have been done sooner. I regret that it was not done sooner.
What Parliament has heard tonight in the contributions of Iain Gray and Johann Lamont are two quite exceptional speeches, not surprisingly. It is not surprising because of their contributions to Parliament and because they are both long-serving, experienced and distinguished members of Parliament, who have served the people they represent with distinction. It is a particular pleasure for me, as a member who was elected with them in those heady young days of 1999, to pay tribute to them this evening for their service and to commend them for all that they have done in their long and distinguished service in this Parliament.
As I draw my remarks to a close, I am struck by something that we may have become accustomed to by now in the parliamentary chamber, a year into Covid. Something is missing—there are no members of the public in the gallery. Jamie Greene made reference to the symbols of the people that are around us. Tonight, the gallery should have been full of members of the public who have suffered. They should have been here tonight to hear and see the Parliament doing what it is about to do: putting into law a scheme that, in the terms of Brian Whittle’s argument, addresses some financial issues but is also part of what, I would contend, the Parliament has done for more than 22 years, which is to face up honestly to the darkest bit of the history of our country. Members of all political persuasions have faced up to it honestly and have said that we have to rectify that wrong.
Tonight is a landmark moment in that process. There have been many others, such as Lord McConnell’s apology; the first time the Public Petitions Committee heard from the petitioners on the subject; the moment when we passed the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017; and Angela Constance’s announcement of the Scottish child abuse inquiry. Those are all landmark moments, but they happened because this Parliament, for all its critics, was prepared to face the darkness of our country’s past.
Members of the Scottish Parliament—those who are planning to come back after the election and those who have given distinguished service to make these events possible—should be rightly proud of what has been achieved. However, the people who should be proudest, I hope, are watching online—survivors, in their homes, understanding that this moment has happened only because of their bravery, their courage, their tenacity and their determination to say to their democratic Parliament, “We need you to shine a light into the darkness of this country’s past and to confront it.” I am so proud that our national Parliament has done that.
That concludes our debate on the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill. There are a few items before we turn to decision time.