The Government have enormous sympathy for those who suffered appalling abuse while resident in the institutions covered by the report published in January. Although this is a devolved issue and therefore the responsibility of the Executive, the Government understand that work on an independent investigation promised to victims is under way. We will continue to work closely with the Executive to ensure that the victims of today receive the help and support they need to address the trauma of the past.
The report carried out by the University of Ulster and Queen’s University shone a bright light on the truly heart-wrenching abuse suffered by women and girls over six decades in Northern Ireland. What confidence can the Minister give to those victims, some of whom might be watching, that politicians across these islands will do everything that we can to address the staggering injustice that they suffered?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight the report. The UK Government understand the importance of ensuring that those individuals who suffered appalling abuse while resident in certain institutions in Northern Ireland receive the recognition and answers that they deserve. That is why, for example, in the absence of the Executive, the Government delivered the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 to help secure a redress scheme for victims of other specific institutions. We understand that work on the independent investigation promised by the Executive is under way, with an expert panel appointed in March to establish the terms of reference. While it is right that we wait for the findings of that investigation, the UK Government are committed to working closely with the Executive to help victims and their families get the help and support that they need.
We know that girls as young as 12 were sent to the mother and baby homes and the Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland and that the research report revealed the painful neglect and abuse suffered by many. While an expert panel discuss the next steps, what confidence can Ministers provide that the lived experience of victims will be heard loud and clear in the months and years ahead, and that whatever support is necessary is provided from Westminster?
The Government acknowledge the shocking findings of the report published in January around the considerable cross-border movement of women and, as the hon. Gentleman said, children. The Government understand that the Executive have begun work on their independent investigation, with the expert panel appointed in March. We will work with them to ensure that this issue is followed up effectively, but we want to await the outcome of their work in the devolved space.
I thank the Minister for his response. Given the long-lasting impacts that mother and baby homes have had on victims and their families, and still to this day the incredible sense of injustice, can he ensure that all investigations and examinations into the mother and baby homes will include consultation with survivors of the homes, who have experienced real hurt and trauma? Will the Minister clarify that no further action, which is truly critical for closure, should be taken without their full involvement and permission?
The hon. Gentleman rightly recognises the importance of ensuring that victims and survivors are fully involved in any investigative or review processes in order to best ensure that they get the acknowledgement, support and answers that they deserve. Further to the points that I have made previously, I also understand that the Victims and Survivors Service is continuing to work with victims and survivors to identify the support and services they need, with a dedicated website and phone line to enable victims and survivors of the institutions to participate in the co-design process. As I said, we are prepared to work with the Executive on this issue.
In total, more than 14,000 women in Northern Ireland went through these so-called mother and baby homes. As other colleagues have said, a recent landmark report has revealed a shocking culture of neglect and abuse suffered by those vulnerable women over six decades. We know that an expert and widely respected panel is co-designing the next stage of the inquiry into the scandal, so does the Minister agree that the inquiry must be effective, robust and, crucially, meet the needs of victims who have had to wait far too long to receive justice?
I absolutely agree. As the hon. Lady said, a well-respected panel is working on this issue. We want to ensure that any support that we can provide is available and that the work is taken forward in the devolved space. What has been identified in the report is truly shocking. It is important that the panel makes progress swiftly, and we certainly stand ready to support it.