Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)

WEDNESDAY 11 JUNE 1998

MR ROGER SINGLETON, CBE, CHRISTOPHER FISHER, MR DAVID LOVELL, MR NIGEL HAYNES, MRS PATRICIA MCGROGAN, MS CAROLINE ABRAHAMS and MAJOR RAY OAKLEY.

Chairman
260 You are talking about a database within your own organisation?
(Canon Fisher) Yes.261 I think what the question was about was, what about a common database involving all the agencies? Would that not make sense and why has that not been addressed? You are obviously meeting, as you said earlier on.
(Canon Fisher) In terms of future development of this input, we would like to see a one-stop referral centre, not an agency but a referral centre.262 May I assume then that all of you would agree that a common database makes sense?
(Mr Haynes) On provision that it was not run by a voluntary agency.263 So that raises questions that you obviously do not want it to be in the hands of the Child Migrants' Trust? Why?
(Mr Haynes) I do not think with the experience we have had from the Fairbridge feedback from former migrants that they (CMT) have their full confidence.264 Could you expand on that?
(Mr Haynes) There are a number of evidence cases that could be presented to the Committee if they want it subsequently. At this stage I would not like to disclose them, but there have been cases where there has been reluctance to go to them. Indeed, Margaret Humphreys herself has visited Fairbridge Associations in Australia with a view to trying to get them to go to the Child Migrants' Trust, which they have not wanted to do. I think most important, above all of things, is being seen to be independent and getting back to this business of recognition. If you have not got an identity, if you have not got a passport, you want to go to an agency that you know will give you it.

Ann Keen
265 I am sorry, I do not understand what you mean by that?
(Mr Haynes) There are still some people, child migrants, who have not got passports in Australia, and, therefore, a voluntary agency has not got the right to intercede. You have to be able to deal multi-agencies in the approaches and databases. I think you need all the sending agencies' support; you need all the support that Barnardo's can give, which you have heard about; you need all the agencies' records, but you need a centralised government clearing-house, if you like, that enables the process to work.

Chairman
266 So what you are saying is that if any common database were established, this should be at the behest of the Government?
(Mr Haynes) I think each agency should retain their own.267 But over and above that you would accept a common database is a necessity?
(Mr Haynes) Yes, there needs to be an access to commonality.268 May I put to you that, just as there are migrants who do not wish to come back to the placing agencies—for reasons that you have all accepted and fully understand and appreciate—there are others, I am sure, who would not particularly want to go back to the British Government because they believe they were abandoned by the British Government. Therefore, it leaves us with a dilemma. You are saying that on the Child Migrants' Trust, who appear, from our point of view, to be doing a reasonably good job—certainly the evidence that we have had from many of the migrants has been very positive towards the Child Migrants' Trust—there may be negative views. It leaves us with a dilemma if we were to suggest some kind of common database that, whatever the options are, there are objections from key people?
(Mr Haynes) Mr Hinchliffe, I do not want to get involved in the Child Migrants' Trust aspect. You asked me for an opinion and I have given you one. In reply to your question about not trusting the Government, that is absolutely right. Therefore, surely the answer is to build a choice machine where somebody comes in and can have access, either to their parent agency or, if there is a problem with that, into a centralised government agency or a combination of both. You need a network that enables somebody to be referred between agencies effectively, quickly, to answer their problems. Dr Stoate, you missed my introduction. I am sorry if I am being protective, or appear to be protective, but Fairbridge has moved from 1982 into a completely different field, therefore what we are doing is standing back, if you like, from this and doing the research into it, which may answer some of your queries as to why I am desperately trying to look to the future to make it work.269 I am conscious that this is a very important area in terms of the future. Could I go back to Canon Fisher. One of the witnesses we had last week told a very harrowing story about attempting to find out who he was and where he came from and he was from a Catholic agency originally. He was, as I recall and my memory may be wrong, placed as a baby in a Catholic children's home in London and was subsequently transferred at the age of two to South Wales, to Swansea, I believe, where he remained until he was about five. He did not know about this until he was in his fifties, as I recall. The dilemma he had was that he could not obtain any information about this process and his mother had enquired. I am not sure whether his mother was still alive. She certainly enquired of the children's home. The children's home said that he had been lost in the evacuation during the Second World War, yet he had been transferred from that home to Swansea and Swansea had all the records. Presumably your database should be able to overcome this kind of problem and I wonder why that database has not addressed the particular problems of this migrant?
(Canon Fisher) I cannot answer that.270 It is unfair to give an example and I appreciate that, but as far as you are concerned, that should not happen. You have a record there that should establish exactly where that person came from?
(Canon Fisher) I have got the answer. That was an old enquiry which historically now is answerable now that we have the database.271 So that problem should be overcome by the database?
(Canon Fisher) That problem has been overcome.272 Could I pursue this issue, the exchange I had with Mr Haynes, because this is a very fundamental question in terms of what we as a Committee may consider doing, and I think you have left us with a dilemma. If the other agencies agree with the central point that Mr Haynes has made, that the Child Migrants' Trust would not be the appropriate agency to handle this database, you suggested, Mr Haynes, the Government should do this. We know for a fact there are many migrants who will not touch the Government because of their views on how they were treated. What do we do? I would be interested, MrLovell, if you want to come in on what the options may be?
(Mr Lovell) Chairman, the starting-point is that I do not think there is any disagreement about the fact that at the moment people are having to trawl round a whole number of agencies, wasting a lot of time trying to discover where their particular information is.273 So what do we do?
(Mr Lovell) That is why I think all of us agree probably that there should be a central database of information. I think the crunch issue is, what do we all think is going to go on to that database, because one view is that what ought to be on that database is simply names and information that would lead the enquirer to the relevant agency which holds the information. So I think there needs to be some discussion and clarification about what we all mean by a database and what its purpose is because I think the issue about the Child Migrants' Trust is very much connected with the purpose of that database and what is on it.274 Let us take this a bit further on. I understand fully the point you are making. If there were a basic record that a former migrant could access and find out that he had been placed by your organisation or one of the organisations here, then with assistance, some independent social work counselling support, pursued the records with the agency in more detail, with support, for the reasons that all of you understand, would that work, and if it would work, why not the Child Migrants' Trust, because we appear to be having to re-invent the wheel, and I would like some more specific reasons why not the Child Migrants' Trust?
(Canon Fisher) I have to be very careful, as everyone has been. We do not share the confidence that your Committee appears to have in the Child Migrants' Trust.275 Can I say it is not a matter of our Committee because we have expressed no opinions. What I am saying is that clearly a lot of migrants have confidence in the Child Migrants' Trust.
(Mr Haynes) Can we define "a lot of migrants"?276 I think probably that is the wrong term to use, I would accept that, but certainly a substantial number of migrants have made representations to us that indicate a great deal of faith in the Child Migrants' Trust and I think if we are going to move this forward we need some very frank answers to a straightforward question: what is wrong with the Child Migrants' Trust, from your point of view?
(Mr Lovell) I think the issue that needs to be clarified is whether or not the purpose of anyone managing that database is simply to act as a clearing-house to refer people on to other agencies, or whether or not the purpose of that database is going to be far more extensive than just names and is part of a wider service than a counselling service. What is the purpose and function of that database?277 On the ones that I suggested, which was that it would be fairly basic information which would refer the enquirer to the agencies, where you have the files and, in Canon Fisher's case, his own database that would establish where the person came from. If we had that system with some independent counselling, what is wrong with using the Child Migrants' Trust? What I want to establish is why you would have objections, or some of you would have objections, to using an agency that is currently doing this work, because we need to know what these objections are if we are to consider what proposals we would make at the end of the inquiry?
(Mr Haynes) The Child Migrants' Trust has sent out a paper which they make people sign, in which it says: "I have not and do not intend to engage any other agency or persons on my behalf." Basically it is an exclusivity sign-off document. I thought we had come to some sort of agreement here that, if we are going to progress, then it is a multi-agency approach and it is partnership working effectively, not exclusively, for any reason, be it money or whatever it might be. So there is one concrete piece of concern in the set-up. I am not saying that we could not progress on from that point but I suppose attitudes need to change on all sides.278 So you object to them saying—-
(Mr Haynes) Exclusivity.279 "You are coming with us, you stick with us," basically?
(Mr Haynes) I think actually you ought to ask that question to Old Fairbridgians when you go to Australia, not to me, because, as I say, I am removed.
(Mr Singleton) Barnardo's will support any initiative which maximises the possibility of people who were emigrated by our organisation having access and being happier basically, feeling better about what has happened to them. If there were a central database—and we have some evidence that people do not know which agency migrated them because they have come mistakenly to us, so there certainly seems to be a need for that—we would readily co-operate with that. As far as the Child Migrants' Trust is concerned, I am not up-to-date with their work. We have worked with them on three cases and I have no reason to suppose those have not been satisfactorily achieved.


 
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