I beg to move,
That this House has considered the former British child migrants payment scheme.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, on this very important issue. This is not the first time that we have debated the issue in this place, and I am very pleased to say that since the last time that we had a debate on it, the Minister has managed to get the Government to move, for which we are extremely grateful. Former child migrants across the world have contacted me in the last few months to talk about how grateful they are for that movement. However, there are outstanding concerns and worries, and as the Minister knows, many of the people affected are getting older and so time is of the essence.
It is almost a year since the report by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse—IICSA—shone a damning spotlight on the severe sexual, physical and emotional abuse experienced by many of the thousands of child migrants sent abroad unaccompanied as a result of the policy of child migration practised by successive post-war Governments. The report exposes the harrowing abuse that took place before the children travelled, during the journey and after they migrated. It often continued for years and took place at the hands of more than one perpetrator. For some children, the most devastating aspect of the experience was being lied to about their family background and even about whether their parents and siblings were alive or dead.
The experience that many of the former child migrants had has had a lifelong impact on their physical and mental wellbeing, their educational attainment and their future employment prospects. The child migration programmes effectively ended some people’s lives just as they were beginning. Over the last few months, I have also been contacted by many of the partners and children of former child migrants to talk about the impact that there has been on them, too. This is not just about children losing their parents and parents losing their children; it is about generations being separated—grandparents being separated from grandchildren and young people growing up and not knowing any family beyond their parents at all.
While acknowledging the failures of the institutions, including charities and churches, that were involved in the process of migrating children, the report, as the Minister knows, overwhelmingly concluded that Her Majesty’s Government were primarily to blame for the existence of the programmes after the second world war and that successive British Governments, of all political persuasions, allowed them to remain in place despite a catalogue of evidence showing the treatment that children were receiving. That is surely one of the most shameful periods in British history.
However, things went silent until well into the 1980s, when Dr Margaret Humphreys and the Child Migrants Trust sought to bring the matter to public attention. The policy position maintained throughout the 1990s and 2000s was that the Government may have been aware of
“allegations of physical and sexual abuse”,
“any such allegations would be a matter for the Australian authorities”,
as former Prime Minister John Major put it. It was not until 2010—it was nine years ago to the day on Sunday—that then Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly apologised to former child migrants on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government and established the family restoration fund, which was endowed with £6 million to help former child migrants to reunite with their families in Britain.
Despite that scheme, IICSA found last year that the UK Government had failed to provide adequate redress to the more than 2,000 surviving former child migrants and it recommended that financial redress be established without delay, with payments beginning within 12 months; the relevant date is 1 March 2019. The report recommended an equal award for each applicant, on the basis that they were all exposed to equal risk of abuse. Given the age and ill health of surviving former child migrants, it stated that action was urgently needed. However, it took the Government almost 10 months to publish a formal response to the recommendations. During that time, 36 former child migrants died, meaning that they would never see the justice that they so badly deserved or the redress that they were owed.
When the Government did publish their response, they accepted the recommendations on financial redress, for which we are extremely grateful, and confirmed that they would establish a scheme to ensure that each surviving former child migrant receives an ex gratia payment as soon as possible. It was also very welcome that the Government acknowledged that the delay in establishing the scheme had had a major impact, and stated at the time that they would accept claims in respect of any former child migrant who was alive on 1 March 2018, when IICSA’s report was published.
I was alerted to the fact that the scheme had happened by the Minister’s office. I was alerted to the fact that the details of the ex gratia payment scheme had been published via the Child Migrants Trust. The details appeared on its website on 31 January 2019. It was stated that each eligible former British child migrant would receive £20,000 and that the Child Migrants Trust would support applicants in establishing their identity as former British child migrants. I understood that payments would then be administered by the NHS Business Services Authority.
I have a number of questions for the Minister, which I sent to her in advance; I hope that that will help her to answer them today. They are not my questions, but questions that have been raised with me by the many former child migrants who survive around the world. As the Minister can imagine, they were delighted when details of the scheme were published, but that delight quickly turned to anxiety because many of the details are not currently in the public domain.
First, many former child migrants are very concerned about the lack of involvement that they have had in the Government’s response to IICSA and the development of the payment scheme. I do understand that the Minister was alive to the possibility that some of the former child migrants needed to see justice and see it quickly, but it would be very helpful if she could tell us what consultation has happened with former child migrants. The president of the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families wrote to the Home Secretary on 10 January to voice concerns that there had been no consultation with survivors of the programmes and to request a meeting regarding the Government’s response, but to date no response has been received to that letter.
This Minister will be aware, because I have raised it many times in the House, including with the Prime Minister, that there has been confusion about which Department was responsible for this issue in the past. That has been one of the problems that the former child migrants have had. It seems to me that those people who have spent decades feeling and being ignored by the British Government are entitled to a speedy response from their Government now, when they are seeking answers towards the end of their lives. I would be grateful if the Minister would acknowledge those concerns and agree to meet representatives of the international association of child migrants and the Child Migrants Trust to discuss these issues further.
I have also been asked to raise concerns about the payment amount. It is unclear how the figure of £20,000 was reached. IICSA’s report stated that any financial redress scheme should make a
“real, immediate and lasting difference to the lives of the former child migrants.”
Without any consultation, can the Minister be confident that the £20,000 amount lives up to that recommendation? Could she tell us how it was arrived at? By comparison, the average payment issued to claimants under the recently established Australian scheme, which is open to former British child migrants, is the equivalent of £43,000, with a cap at £82,000.
The Government did respond to a question that I tabled on the methodology that was used and stated that the methodology was based on the Northern Ireland historical institutional abuse inquiry, which in 2018 had recommended the amount of £20,000 for former child migrants sent from Northern Ireland. However, I have been unable to find any information from the Northern Ireland Executive about what methodology was used and how this figure was calculated, so I would be very grateful if the Minister could explain how the amount was arrived at.
I would also be grateful for some clarity about the tax arrangements, because there is little detail on the Child Migrants Trust website and the Child Migrants Trust is unclear about the process. Will the payment be taxable in the UK or in any other country where the claimants live and will receive payment? After all this time, and many broken promises, there is not a great deal of trust out there—there is a huge amount of anxiety. At the very least, the former child migrants who have suffered appallingly at the hands of successive Governments are entitled to know from this Government what they will actually receive and whether the payment will affect any other benefits that they are receiving.
On the application process, I am aware from my work with the Child Migrants Trust that it has excellent contacts throughout the child migrant community and an established track record in verifying child migrants for eligibility for the use of its services and for redress schemes in other countries. I can well understand why the Government were keen to ensure that it took a central role in the process, but I am concerned about whether it has the capacity to administer the new scheme, particularly in the timescale set out by IICSA, which would give it only a few days to process the applications.
There is also concern about the Child Migrants Trust’s ongoing capacity issues. As I understand, it has not been offered any additional resources to deal with the increased workload. It has already received hundreds of inquiries about the scheme and, with an estimated 2,000 potential claimants, it is important that it has the resources to handle claims in an efficient, thorough and sensitive way to ensure that the people who are eligible for the payment actually get it.
Given that the payment scheme is likely to introduce new former child migrants to the work of the Child Migrants Trust, it is anticipated that there will be an increase in demand for its other services, such as the family restoration fund and counselling. Will the Minister look at the trust’s long-term funding to make sure that it can do what the Government have asked it to do and continue to provide vital ongoing services to former child migrants?
There are concerns about the eligibility criteria. I have been contacted by several individuals who were migrated with a family member or guardian present on their journey and who may not be eligible under the scheme. The Government have stated that
“children who went overseas with their parents or guardians, or were sent overseas”
with apparent permission from
“their parents or guardians, are clearly in a different category: they were not the responsibility of local authorities or Government organisations in the United Kingdom and their parents or guardians made the arrangements voluntarily.”
Several people have contacted me to say that they disagree with that position. They say that from the early 1960s, some child migrant schemes arranged for children to be accompanied on the journey by migrating parents before being taken into a child migrant institution. Once in an institution, they were treated in exactly the same way as other children and exposed to the same risk of physical, sexual and psychological abuse as every other child.
Others have pointed out that excluding those
“sent overseas by their parents or guardians”
could be problematic. They tell me that after 1946, the British Government required all British child migrants to have the signed approval of their parents or guardian before they could be sent. IICSA heard evidence of some cases where carers illegally signed those approvals, but the authorisations were overwhelmingly signed by parents or guardians. By signing their approval for children to go, are the parents now deemed to have effectively authorised them to be sent and if so, will those children be ineligible for payment?
There is an urgent need for clarity and detail about the eligibility criteria for the scheme to ensure that the maximum amount of people put at risk by the programmes can receive the payment. Those who are deemed ineligible are entitled to a clear and sensitive explanation for that decision.
I am concerned about the way that the payment scheme was announced and the amount of promotion that has taken place. As I understand, the details of the scheme were announced solely in the form of a note published on the Child Migrants Trust website. There was no oral or written statement to outline the details of the scheme to Parliament and there was no press release from the Department of Health and Social Care, despite the scheme potentially costing a significant amount of public money. The details of the scheme are still not published on the Department’s website or on gov.uk.
It seems that the job of raising awareness of the scheme has fallen completely on the shoulders of the Child Migrants Trust, which is doing an excellent job of using its networks to promote the scheme, despite no extra resources having been committed to help it. In answer to a question that I asked about the establishment of a communications strategy, the Government indicated that they had publicised the scheme through the high commissions of receiving countries. Can the Minister provide further details about that work and what it hopes to achieve? Can the Minister also tell us what the Government’s future communication strategy will be?
The future funding of the Child Migrants Trust and the family restoration fund is a key concern. The Minister will be familiar with the work of the family restoration fund and its life-changing impact. It has been funded by successive Governments, including this one, and it continues to make a real difference. Since it was established in 2010, it has facilitated 1,248 visits. The IICSA report states clearly that
“the establishment of the Redress Scheme should not be used as a reason for reducing funding for the Child Migrants Trust or the Family Restoration Fund”.
In the Government’s response to the report, they seemed to agree and recognised
“that the Family Restoration Fund continues to provide a valuable service.”
However, they also stated that they
“will continue the Fund until the end of the scheme, by which time the Fund will have provided over £8 million to support reunions, over more than a decade.”
When I asked about future funding for the family restoration fund, I was told that it was a matter for the upcoming spending review, which has caused real concern that it will cease to exist after its funding ends later this year. The Minister previously extended funding in 2014 and 2017. The fund should not end until there is no further demand. In fact, the findings of the IICSA report underline how vital all the services provided for former child migrants are. It would be unfair if child migrants applying for the payment scheme in 2019 could also apply for restoration fund support but those applying afterwards could not benefit from that service.
The Minister and I have had public and private conversations about the raw emotional impact of the scheme on child migrants. I am grateful to her for listening to our concerns about the timing of the announcement that compensation would be made and for making sure that no bad news was delivered just before Christmas when many people are struggling to cope.
The Minister will be aware, however, that even such a positive announcement can open up some difficult emotions for people who are dealing with it, which might bring them into contact with services for the first time. This may be the moment when, after a lifetime apart from their families, people think that they need and wish to seek support as they come to the end. A clear commitment from the Minister that the money provided for the redress scheme will not be used as an excuse not to fund the family restoration fund, and a longer term commitment to the fund, would be extremely welcome.
All over the world, people are watching this debate who were taken from their families at the beginning of their lives. They have had to fight all the way to survive and for justice. There have been many moments in their lives when we collectively, as a country, have fallen well short of what they deserved from us by kicking the issue into the long grass and denying them the justice and support that they were entitled to. That has caused them severe harm, but they are still there—fighting and campaigning. As we bring this shameful chapter in British history to a close, the least that we can do is issue them with the payment, the clarity and the support that they deserve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
First of all, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for securing this debate, for her excellent contribution to it and, of course, for her campaigning on this issue over many years. We have seen today her continuing tenacity, and the importance of continuing to raise these vital matters on behalf of the victims. She described the inquiry report as damning, and said that it exposed harrowing abuse and that this issue was exacerbated by the lies that were told about it. She is right that this was a shameful episode for our country.
My hon. Friend was also right that the issue went beyond the abuse that people suffered; they were also wrongly separated from their families for generations. Think about what it would mean for someone to be separated from their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It is very difficult to appreciate just what kind of hole that would leave in their life, and it is also very difficult to appreciate just how harmful that is. I add my voice to hers, and would like to show my appreciation of the courage of those who have been affected by the child migration programme: the 130,000-plus British children who were deported without their consent—sometimes, as we know, even without their parents’ consent—and the estimated 4,000 unaccompanied child migrants who, as we have heard, experienced sexual, physical and emotional abuse as a result of this devastating policy, which was practised by successive post-war Governments until 1974.
As was highlighted by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse report on the child migration programme, and in the accounts that we have heard today and in previous debates, these children suffered abuse before, during and after their migration, often over a period of many years and sometimes at the hands of more than one perpetrator. As we know, for many of them, that has had a lasting—indeed, lifelong—impact on their physical and mental wellbeing, their educational attainment and their employment prospects—in effect, their whole life. No one can fail to be moved by the personal accounts that we have all heard from those who suffered abuse, and I am sure that we are all united in our desire to do everything we can to put right those wrongs, as far as it is possible to do so.
There is no doubt that the victims of the child migration programme suffered for too long at the hands of successive Governments, and that successive Governments chose to turn a blind eye. Of course, these people also had to wait far too long for an apology. It saddens me that that took until 2010, when Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister, formally acknowledged that successive Governments had failed in their duty of care.
Gordon Brown also established the £6 billion family restoration fund to help former child migrants to reunite with their families, so that they could build relationships, be involved in significant family events, or even urgently visit relatives at times of crisis. However, as we have heard from last year’s inquiry, despite this scheme, the UK Government have failed to provide adequate redress to the more than 2,000 surviving child migrants.
I am sure we all agree that victims have been let down all their lives by successive Governments missing opportunities to take action over the years. It is with regret that we note that it took more than nine months for the Government to respond to the inquiry report, especially given that the inquiry stressed the importance of urgent action because of the age and ill health of some of the surviving child migrants.
I welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that the delay in establishing the scheme was unacceptable, and that they will accept claims on behalf of former child migrants who were alive when the report was published last March but subsequently passed away. The report recommended that financial redress be established without delay, and that payments be made within 12 months. As we know, that would be by this Friday, 1 March. I share the frustration felt by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan about the details of the ex gratia payment scheme having been published only on 31 January, and only on the Child Migrants Trust website. As she acknowledged, although the trust has excellent contacts throughout the former child migrant community, we need to learn from the Government whether there are any further things that they can do to publicise the scheme, to ensure that nobody is overlooked.
I share my hon. Friend’s concern that former British child migrants have raised legitimate points about their lack of involvement in the development of the payment scheme. In any case of abuse, it is absolutely vital that the victims’ voices be heard. In this case, they were not heard at the time of the abuse and they have not been heard since; it is important that they are heard throughout the whole inquiry process, which includes the determination of the payment to be made.
I hope that the Minister will say whether she is confident that the £20,000 figure will provide adequate redress. As my hon. Friend said, so far there has been little clarity about how that figure was arrived at. People absolutely need transparency at all times, not least when they have suffered in the way that we have heard about today.
My hon. Friend also asked reasonable questions about the taxable status of these payments, and so on. I hope that the Minister can respond to those questions, so that former child migrants do not suffer any more uncertainty about whether they will qualify for the scheme. I hope that he will also provide clarity about the eligibility criteria, as my hon. Friend requested, because there were child migrants who were sent to the receiving institutions with permission from parents or guardians, but as my hon. Friend clearly set out, no matter the vehicle by which children arrived at those institutions, the abuse that they suffered within them was the same. We hope that there will be no further delay to victims of the child migration programme receiving the redress they are entitled to. Will the Minister say whether she is confident that the Child Migrants Trust has the resources to administer the scheme? If it does not, what further measures will be put in place?
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns that the Government’s pledge to continue the family restoration fund until the end of the redress scheme does not meet the inquiry report’s expectation that the continuation of the scheme will not lead to reduced funding for the Child Migrants Trust or the family restoration fund. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to provide reassurance that the Government will continue to provide funding until the family restoration fund is no longer needed.
In conclusion, as a politician, it angers me to hear the inquiry’s conclusion that the main reason for the failure of Her Majesty’s Government to take action to end the child migration programme after the second world war—despite the evidence of ill treatment and abuse, including sexual abuse—was politics. I hope that in today’s politics we are a very long way away from that place—a place where the importance of continuing relations with other Governments and with charitable organisations, and the need to avoid reputational risk, was prioritised over the wellbeing of our children. The politicians of today may have our differences, but we must never again allow the suffering of children and their search for justice to be subservient to the politics of the day.
Unusually, due to important parliamentary business elsewhere, we will have the Opposition spokespeople in a different order. We have heard from Her Majesty’s official Opposition; now we will hear from Stuart C. McDonald for the Scottish National party.
Thanks very much, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I genuinely thank you for offering me the opportunity to speak very briefly.
Clearly, it will be difficult for me to sum up a debate that I have only heard a tiny fraction of, but I congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing it. She secured a similar debate something like seven or eight months ago. She has done Parliament a favour by drawing attention to this issue; most importantly, of course, in doing so, she has helped the survivors of these horrible child migration programmes. I thank her for bringing this issue to Parliament once again.
As well as the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, which we discussed last time, there is the inquiry established by the Northern Ireland Executive and chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, who has also reported in detail on the child migration programmes, and the Scottish child abuse inquiry under Lady Smith, which is ongoing. As was well discussed and well established in our previous debate, even if they are looked at by the standards of the time, these programmes were appallingly ill-conceived, and the actions and supervision of those involved fell drastically short of the standards that were expected. Concerns about the programmes were ignored, and little effort was made to ensure that the children being “exported”, to use that horrible term, were safe.
The conclusions of the IICSA report were stark: successive Governments had failed to respond properly to concerns that were raised, and the programmes were allowed by successive British Governments to remain in place, despite a catalogue of evidence showing that children were suffering ill treatment and abuse, including sexual abuse. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), talked about some of the reasons why these programmes were allowed to continue, including politics, which chimed with what we discussed last time.
After the Ross report in 1956, nothing was done. It is stomach-churning to read the IICSA report’s conclusion that that was because of the patronage of persons of influence and position. It is clear that in some cases, the avoidance of embarrassment and reputational risk was more important than the institutional responsibilities towards migrated children. That is a truly damning indictment of successive Governments.
Both the Northern Ireland and the IICSA reports recommended compensation payments for those who had been sent abroad under the child migration programmes over and above any compensation for other wrongs and abuses suffered. The Government’s announcement of the compensation is very welcome indeed, and it is only fair to reflect on the fact that it has been welcomed by groups working on behalf of survivors, including the Child Migrants Trust and the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families, and also by former child migrants themselves, who have given evidence to the inquiry.
It is important to hear more from the Government. A statement would have been ideal. We need to know much more about the detail. How has the compensation been calculated? What is the timing? How are folk to apply? Will the Government continue to work with all the groups to ensure that the compensation scheme operates smoothly and reaches as many survivors as possible? After the Windrush scandal, there have been welcome announcements about compensation and redress, but the proof is always in the pudding, and there have already been trials and tribulations in getting that up and running. We do not want that repeated here.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I apologise once again for not having been able to play a full part in the debate, and I again thank the hon. Member for Wigan for securing it.
I would normally start by saying that it is a pleasure to engage in the debate, but to be honest this has not been the most comfortable of subjects on which to speak on behalf of the Government. As we have heard, this was a shameful episode in our history, and all the more shaming that it was under successive Governments of different colours. I think everyone in the room would wish to dissociate themselves from that kind of behaviour.
However, I congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on bringing the matter to my attention, again. She has been my conscience on this. Quite rightly, because, as she mentioned, we had the recommendation almost a year ago and it took time to get cross-Government agreement on how to take it forward. Having got that agreement, it was my desire that we make progress with the implementation but, by definition, that has left a number of questions unanswered. I hope that some of the points I make today will answer some of those outstanding questions and settle any anxiety that the child migrants have. Ultimately, they have not been dealt the best cards over the years and it is important that we do our very best to redress the situation. I pledge to continue to do my best in that regard.
The hon. Lady rightly highlighted that there was confusion about who owned the policy, and that is one reason it has taken so long. This all came about because of the child abuse inquiry, which sits under the Home Office, but historically the Department of Health has had responsibility for child migrants generally, and that led to the confusion. I really hope that we can settle the matter more formally, so that we can have more certainty for the child migrants. While I am in this place, the hon. Lady can rest assured that she can always nag me if things go awry, and history tells me that she will. All power to her elbow for doing that, because it is important that we do this right.
Once we had made the decision to make the payments, it was important to make the announcement quickly, not least because some of the individuals are elderly—I am advised that the eldest is 102. Speed is of the essence, to ensure that everyone can get some enjoyment from the payments.
The hon. Lady has once again demonstrated her commitment to ensuring that the welfare of those children is not forgotten; we should never forget what was done in our name. The policy was misguided and wrong, and has caused suffering and distress. The conclusion of the child abuse inquiry was that payment should be made not because people were exposed to abuse—compensation exists for that—but because of the very fact that organisations of the state sent the children away without consent. It is in that spirit that we have adopted the recommendation, recognising that organisations of the state exposed the children to harm, regardless of whether any harm materialised. As a consequence, we have taken the opportunity to announce the payments.
All Members have made very fair points about how the scheme has been communicated. That came about, again, because of the speed with which we wanted to make the announcement. It is also worth noting that the Child Migrants Trust has extremely good relationships with the affected people, so although it was not bells and whistles, we were, in a way, using the right channels to get to those who needed to know. However, we will reflect on what has been said and consider whether and how best to disseminate more information, recognising that not all those affected are necessarily in contact with the trust and it might be a pleasant surprise for them to know about the scheme.
As I mentioned, the payments are on the basis of being exposed to risk; they are not compensation for abuse. We have announced that each former child migrant will receive £20,000 in recognition of that exposure. It is only fair that, in recognition of the passage of time since the recommendation, we backdate the payments to 1 March 2018. As the hon. Lady mentioned, a number of the individuals have passed away since that date, and we will honour any claim made in respect of a deceased migrant.
The wider communication of the policy is important precisely because of that group of people who have passed away. I imagine that their relatives would be much less likely to look at the Child Migrants Trust website and much more likely to look at gov.uk or the Department of Health and Social Care’s site. If the Minister would at least consider putting something on the Government’s website, that would be helpful.
I will take that point away. Part of me thinks that it will be appropriate to do that once we have all the details written down; none the less, I will reflect on what the hon. Lady says, because she is right. The very act of making the payments is in itself an acknowledgement that the Government have failed their own citizens. If individuals are no longer here to enjoy the benefits of the payments, they would have wanted their families to do so, and we need to make every effort to ensure that they can.
As I have said, this is not compensation; it is a payment for the fact that the individuals were deported by organisations of the state and were put at risk of harm. There are other routes to compensation for migrants who suffered harm or injury and this payment is in addition to and does not interfere with that; it does not affect the rights of any individual to pursue avenues of compensation. The scheme provides for an equal award for every applicant, regardless of income. Essentially, we want to make it simple, and to get the payments out to those affected.
Setting the amount was difficult, because it is impossible to put a figure on the costs, the damage and the harm; in that sense, it is difficult to come up with any calculation. But we have engaged with the Child Migrants Trust, which many migrants trust to represent their views, and have consulted it on the design of the scheme. We did not want to go through a formal consultation process for exactly the reasons we have discussed: we wanted to act promptly and in a way that would get the money out as soon as possible. In setting the sum at £20,000, we have taken note of the recommendation of Sir Anthony Hart’s report into institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. He recommended that the payment should be a sum sufficient to recognise the injustice that young children suffered through being sent to a far-away land and losing their sense of identity as a result. He recommended the figure of £20,000, and on that basis, we considered it to be an appropriate figure for a UK-wide scheme. Again, it is important that we do not have any discrimination between the four nations; it is right that we deliver this scheme in a way that is consistent across them.
It would be helpful to those child migrants if we could get some clarity about why Sir Anthony Hart came up with that amount. The aim is not necessarily to question that amount, but if we are seeking to put a figure on the level of harm and dispossession that was caused, those child migrants would appreciate—and indeed are entitled to—an explanation of how the amount was arrived at. If the Minister’s office could help us find out how that figure was arrived at in Northern Ireland, that would help many of those child migrants to put together an important piece of the puzzle.
That is a fair challenge. With the caveat that any figure would not be adequate to compensate for harm, some methodology about why that figure was arrived at would be helpful.
The issue of eligibility has been raised on a number of occasions. The only condition that needs to be met is that a claimant is a former British child migrant sent from the United Kingdom and Crown dependencies before 1971, meaning anyone who was below school leaving age and was sent by a church, state, voluntary or other organisation to one of the receiving countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia. However—to answer one of the hon. Lady’s questions—they must not have been accompanied by an adult family member or guardian, sent by an adult family member or guardian, or sent to live with a member of their birth family, because this payment is rooted in the fact that these were people who were sent by organisations of the state. I recognise the point made by various hon. Members that those sent by family members may also have been exposed to abuse, but again, the scheme does not alter those people’s routes for seeking compensation in other ways. This scheme is the Government taking responsibility for decisions made in their name, rather than for those made by families.
We have kept the eligibility criteria as simple as possible, to make the process of claiming the payment as simple as possible. Those eligibility criteria are the same as those being used for the family restoration fund, and are the same criteria that the Child Migrants Trust has used over many decades to determine who can access its services. Clearly, we want to make the application process as simple as possible, and as the hon. Lady has mentioned, we have asked the Child Migrants Trust to act as the first point of contact for child migrants who wish to apply for payments. I have heard the hon. Lady’s points about resource: we are in close contact with the Child Migrants Trust and give it support as appropriate. I hope, given the extensive network of contacts that the trust has, that this work should not prove massively onerous; in fact, in some respects, it may be helpful to the trust’s wider work.
We will of course continue to engage with the Child Migrants Trust, especially given that we want to be sure that in rolling out this scheme, we are getting to as many people as possible and doing it as efficiently as possible. I do not think anyone is better placed to advise us than the Child Migrants Trust.
The trust will reach out to all those who it has supported in the past to help them to apply for the payment. I know that it has already promoted the scheme widely, and it has also contacted all of the known sending agencies—those organisations that were responsible for sending children. We are aware that there has been extensive coverage in the Australian media, but we will look at where there is a need for further active communication, and how best to do that. We expect the high commissions in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Zimbabwe to have extensive contact programmes, making sure that they are using their networks to make people aware of the scheme. Those former child migrants who have not previously been supported by the Child Migrants Trust will need to go through a separate application process, but the trust has given undertakings that it will help those people to do so. We have evidence that a number of child migrants who were not previously in contact with the trust have made contact, which is an indication that the message is going out. We have put some details of the scheme on the Government’s website, but I will make sure that we keep that website properly updated so that it is signposting people to where they can access help.
The hon. Member for Wigan is right that although the Child Migrants Trust will accept applications, the actual application payments will be made by the NHS Business Services Authority. The aim is to make those payments within 60 days, but more quickly if at all possible: we are determined to get these funds to those who should benefit from them as quickly as possible. Some reference was made to tax and benefit issues, and I am clear that every one of those beneficiaries should receive that £20,000 in its entirety, free of tax and separate from benefits, but that is not entirely in our gift. We are having conversations with overseas Governments about that issue, and we will also look at what needs to be done for those who are resident here so that they are not adversely affected.
Again, part and parcel of having made an announcement very quickly and then trying to get a scheme going is that we do not have firm answers on all of these subjects. I assure the hon. Lady that I am determined that these people should get this sum in its entirety, and I will do my best to make sure that that is the case. It should be noted that the majority of recipients live in Australia, with significant numbers living in other countries and only a very small number living in the UK. Experience tells us that the Australian Government are sympathetic to this group of people, so I hope that we can make representations that are received sympathetically, even though we have no power to dictate the tax, welfare and benefits arrangements of other countries.
I hope that hon. Members are reassured by some of the details that we have announced. Clearly, the scheme is not as buttoned down and finished at this stage as we would like it to be, but the fact that we have proceeded to implement this decision as soon as it was taken is an indication of how committed we as a Government are—and, in fact, all political parties are—to putting right a wrong that, frankly, has been a cause of shame for so many of us. Nothing can repair the damage that has been done to those individuals. We can acknowledge it, we can apologise, and we can make these payments, but the most important thing that all of us in this room can do is to make sure that nothing so unjust ever happens in the name of the state again. At a time when some of our colleagues are distracted by other issues, this debate is a reminder of why so many of us got involved in politics in the first place—to fight for justice, to right wrongs, and to champion the rights of people who perhaps have not had them championed before.
I will conclude by again congratulating the hon. Member for Wigan, who has been dogged in her determination to do right by this group of people. In doing so, she has made my life uncomfortable from time to time, but I thank her for it, because that is what this place is all about. We will make sure that we deliver as we have promised.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that comprehensive response and for taking so many interventions. I am grateful to all the Members who have spoken in the debate. I have given her a hard time over the past year or so, and she has taken it on the chin and responded. It was she who came to this place and said that it was incredibly difficult to get things through Government with everything going on with Brexit. I have seen that for myself—we have all seen it—and I know she has fought hard to get us here. I thank her on the record for that and for her ongoing commitment to try to resolve the outstanding issues.
There was one issue about the family restoration fund that I might write to the Minister about to try to get some more clarity, given the uncertainty about the ongoing nature of that scheme. I was glad to hear about the level of urgency within Government to try to resolve some of the issues and the ongoing commitment to meet and work with the Child Migrants Trust as we move forward. I suspect that this debate will not be the last time she hears from me on this subject.
I am reminded by the Minister’s closing remarks that far too many people do not have a voice. I hope that those who have been watching today—the people affected and the families of those who are sadly no longer with us—will feel that at least they have had a voice today because of the efforts of some of us here in this room. I hope we have reassured them that they will continue to have a voice going forward. The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse was established by the Prime Minister, the then Home Secretary, to learn the lessons from the past and ensure that such things never happen again. It seems to me that that cannot be done without seeking to right some of those historic injustices. We have made a small step forward to keeping children safe in the future here today.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the former British child migrants payment scheme.