My Lords, the Government welcome the inquiry’s interim report and appreciate the work that has gone into it. We are carefully considering all its recommendations and will publish our response shortly.
My Lords, eight years ago, Gordon Brown issued an apology for the mistreatment of migrant children sent to Australia and other parts of the Commonwealth between 1945 and the early 1970s, many of whom suffered serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its report last March calling for redress within 12 months. Australia established a scheme within six months. In July, the Minister for Mental Health and Inequalities promised a response before the Summer Recess. None has been published. How long will it take this Government to accord justice to the many victims of such shocking mistreatment?
The noble Lord is absolutely right: a response is required and will be forthcoming very shortly. On top of that, the Government are acutely aware of the age and declining health of so many former child migrants. We are, as I say, committed to providing a considered response to the inquiry’s recommendations as soon as possible.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that every week the Government delay in taking a grip on this issue means more young people having their lives destroyed? When they are considering their response, will the Government take account of the mounting evidence, added to only this week by evidence about the Catholic Church, that unless people are forced to report child abuse to external agencies, and report only within the agency concerned, very often these organisations will cover it up because they are afraid of reputational damage? Will the Government take that into account?
I totally accept the noble Baroness’s point—I have just made it myself—that nobody wants to see any further delay, certainly given the age of some of these former child migrants. On reporting sexual abuse to external agencies, the noble Baroness is absolutely right: unless there is a proper system of support for these allegations, there is then further opportunity for internal cover-up.
My Lords, could the Minister comment on an item on the front page of today’s Times, which reports that a child-abuser in prison was able to stake his claim to parental rights to the child of the victim, to her astonishment. Is Rotherham Council part of the problem, or do the guidelines need to be changed?
That report is extremely distressing for the individuals concerned and for all of us. I know that the relevant government departments here—the DfE and the MoJ—and the local authority will work urgently to understand the facts of this case and to implement any changes needed to the law or procedure. I thank the noble and learned Lord for raising this matter, because it is something on which I think we all agree.
My Lords, the Minister will have heard the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talk about delays, but this delay pales into insignificance compared with the delay in the implementation of the Hart report in Northern Ireland, which investigated historical institutional abuse. That report has been sitting on the table for years. It has unanimous political support from every party in Northern Ireland—not a single politician is not in favour of its implementation—but, because of the current crisis and the failure to take any action, the victims are being revictimised all over again. I invite the Minister to appeal to her right honourable friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands to ensure that the Hart report is implemented and that those people are given justice.
I certainly will elect to bring the noble Lord’s points to the attention of my right honourable friend. Of course, a particular set of circumstances in Northern Ireland means that certain things do not go smoothly, and this is perhaps one of them. However, I will certainly take back the noble Lord’s points.
My Lords, do Ministers accept that, in organising its inquiries and hearings, the IICSA has a duty to protect the reputations of persons who have been accused of sexual offences but not found guilty in a court of law? Or is it the Government’s position that IICSA should be free to undermine the reputations of whole families by the way it conducts its inquiries?
The noble Lord is right that many of the children who went to Australia were apologised to by the Australian Government, and indeed the Australian Government issued compensation to some—I do not know whether it was all—of those involved. Certainly, we will consider all those things in the round when we respond to the inquiry review.
My Lords, the Home Office is providing a consolidated report on behalf of all the government departments involved. My noble friend is absolutely right to point out that we need to issue our response very soon, but we want to respond in a very considered way and there are quite a lot of recommendations to be considered.