Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 206)

WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 1998MRS M HUMPHREYS, OAM, MR I THWAITES, MR DSPICER, THE HON MRS J TAYLOR, MR M DALTON, MR J HENNESSEY, MR N JOHNSTON and MRS P IRELAND.

Chairman

200. I began the session by asking a fairly basic question about why this whole area has been a kind of secret, a political secret. Before we conclude, may I put to you a question which I put to the Department of Health last week when we had them here as witnesses? I gain the impression, rightly or wrongly, that there has been some attempt at a fairly high level to keep this matter quiet in Britain. I do not want to be specific about who may have been involved in that. I wonder whether you, before we conclude, would like to be specific as to what your thoughts are on that particular issue. I am putting this primarily to Mrs Humphreys and her colleagues from the Trust.

(Mrs Humphreys) I can only answer it with a question. The question is: why are we here 10 years down the track when so many child migrants 10 years ago had such hope, such possibilities of knowing who they were, of being given their identity, meeting their families. I am answering it in this way. The question is: why have we not been funded? That has to tell us something on this issue where 10 years have passed and we are sitting here.

201. Are we making assumptions? Do we have any concrete evidence that efforts have been made, possibly by churches, by agencies, in respect of the Government, successive Governments, to avoid this matter being looked at and avoid the acceptance of responsibility for what has gone on here? Do we have any concrete evidence?

(Mr Spicer) It would be rather naive, would it not, to approach this without having an assumption that networks are operating within the areas which would normally address these things. I do not think we have evidence of specifics and I really have to repeat Mrs Humphreys' question. Why has the issue, when it has touched the hearts of the population—and we know that because whenever there is an issue of publicity concerning this matter, we get deluged with enquiries and information, not just from families of former child migrants but from the general public who cannot believe that these things were happening ... Those of us from a generation where we may well have been sent, could recognise circumstances in which our families might well be persuaded by people they considered to be in positions of authority that this was a better option. So we all feel it could have been us to some degree and to some extent. You are quite right, you have to ask why it has not been seized upon as an issue. I referred to it as an issue of injustice previously because at the heart of it there are so many issues of justice in relation to this special group of people which have to be dealt with. Why has it not been seized upon, taken up and dealt with within a fairly short period of time, which it could have been with appropriate funding once the issue was drawn to the attention of governments, principally by Mrs Humphreys, but of course the other people associated with the Trust.

202. Before we conclude, I am conscious that some of the witnesses may wish to add points on areas we have not touched upon which perhaps you thought we might touch upon and you feel are important. I know Mrs Taylor has not been brought in so far and she may wish to make a short statement. Could I appeal for them to be short statements because obviously we should like to conclude fairly soon?

(Mrs Taylor) I was really here in case anyone wanted me to say why Nottinghamshire County Council was involved in this.

Dr Brand

203. We are just grateful; we do not question it.

(Mrs Taylor) You have heard the stories today. If someone came to you and said these are the problems, what should they do about it, you cannot walk away and Nottinghamshire County Council has not walked away. I have to say you know as well as I do the pressures on local government at the moment. At the moment there are nearly £50,000 in Nottinghamshire County Council's budget to assist the Child Migrants' Trust. Last year, because of lack of funding from anywhere except the pittance from the Department of Health, they found £95,000. A local authority, even Nottinghamshire County Council, cannot keep on finding those resources. To ensure the extra work—and you must be aware of the extra work that this inquiry has involved the Trust in—we had to go cap in hand to Nottinghamshire County Council to give us the money to assist your inquiry. They were very generous and have done so but there is a limit. The work of the Trust has to continue. It has to continue. As you have heard, it is the only independent group dealing with this work. We cannot continue being the conscience of the United Kingdom. The Government has to take on adequate funding. Let me tell you that our funding is totally inadequate for the work which needs to be done but at least it keeps the Trust ticking over. The funding we give is totally inadequate. I just make that plea on behalf of Nottinghamshire.Dr Brand: May I put my appreciation for the efforts of Nottinghamshire County Council on the record? It really contrasts tremendously with either the conspiracy or the complacency which is demonstrated by the Department of Health, which we touched on last week.

Chairman

204. Do any of the witnesses wish to add anything at all before we conclude?

(Mr Hennessey) Just another photograph which I forgot to give you. That is a photo of the first migrants. You will be able to pick me out in happier days.

205. We shall be happy to look at it.

(Mr Hennessey) The sad part of it is that two of them have committed suicide, two of them have passed away never having had a chance to come back home.

 (Mrs Humphreys) I should like to finish our evidence on this note and to say that my plea to this Committee is perfectly simple. It is time to start treating former child migrants as first class citizens who deserve a first class service. Here I have a letter which has been written by MatthewDalton's daughter. I do not intend to read it out at the moment but I should very much like you and your Committee to read the message which Matthew's daughter has sent to all of you.

206. We can possibly have that published as evidence if she would be prepared to allow that.

(Mrs Humphreys) Yes, she would.[1]

(Mr Spicer) May I say something and this is credit to the people who have worked for the Trust during the period of time since its inception? It has obviously often been at enormous personal cost. Members of staff have worked unpaid when the funding of the Trust was low. These comments apply to former people who have worked for the Trust and current ones as well. It has been a struggle and it has been at cost to individuals and families.

 (Mr Dalton) A clarification on Mr Gunnell's question to the Trust on why the child migrants go to the Trust after they have been to the other bodies. The simple reason is that they have had 51 years to do what they were supposed to do in the first place and we as child migrants feel the Trust in its confidentiality is the body we can go to with complete trust and no information is given to anyone but the person who has approached the Trust. No-one is forced to go to the Trust, I might add. The reason why there are dribs and drabs coming into the Trust is the word from fellows like ourselves who go out and tell them how confidential the Trust is. We could not do that with the migrating bodies. As soon as you go to them with a request, it is around the place and everyone knows you have been there. I cannot say that about the Trust. Complete confidentiality is the thing.Chairman: May I on behalf of the Committee sincerely thank you all for your evidence this morning, for your written evidence and particularly for your oral evidence. I think my colleagues would wish me in particular to thank Mrs Ireland and the three former migrants. We do appreciate that it has taken great courage personally to express yourselves to the Committee in the way you have done today. We genuinely appreciate the way you have been able to put across your feelings and background and experiences to us today. I am sure that will be very relevant to the outcome of this inquiry. Thank you very much.


1   See p.114.

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