Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
WEDNESDAY 11 JUNE 1998
SINGLETON, CBE, CHRISTOPHER
ABRAHAMS and MAJOR
280 So you would not share the objections that Mr Haynes has clearly
got? Obviously we are speculating in a sense but we have to consider
what is the way out of what is a mess, and we all accept it is
a mess and we all want to do something about the situation in
the here and now and the future. So would you share his view that
that would not work with the Child Migrants' Trust or do you feel
that it could work?
(Mr Singleton) I think it could work with the Child
Migrants' Trust. What I am concerned to preserve, because I think
it would be an improvement for people who were migrated, is the
principle of choice. I would be unhappy about a situation in which
we clubbed together to say to the child migrants: "Look,
that is the only route that you can have to get your records."281
I do not think I am suggesting that. What I am trying to get to
the bottom of is why it is there is this apparent objection to
the Child Migrants' Trust's role. I picked up the point that Mr
Haynes made in quoting that letter and clearly as well presumably
there is some resentment that the Child Migrants' Trust did not
join in your collective group. I understand that that may well
be because they feel the need to be totally independent of all
(Mr Haynes) I think we are prepositioning slightly.
You are saying I am objecting to it. I am saying what is the best
solution. I am suggesting to you there is an alternative, which
is a Government co-ordination body with all the authorities I
have tried to advocate in the discussion to date. Yes, of course,
there is a fallback position. If it is a compromise that is required,
is it the most efficient? I think the question here is money and
that is the one that needs to be addressed, because none of it
is going to work without the resource, and I totally back what
my colleague from Barnardo's says, that this is fundamental, but
whichever way you go resource is going to be a problem.
Chairman, I do not think money is important. We must tease this
out, because if what we are hearing, that the Child Migrants'
Trust has been set up as a co-ordinating body and does liaise
with the other agencies, then one of the recommendations we could
make clearly would be better resources for the Child Migrants'
Trust, but you are saying that you would have none of that and,
therefore, the whole principle of a central database instantly
falls apart. For the reasons that Mr Hinchliffe has already said,
a Government agency probably is not going to be appropriate. We
need some agency at arm's length from the Government. Any recommendations
that we make about resources are quite separate from where we
recommend those resources ought to go. If we were to make a recommendation,
for example, that the Child Migrants' Trust should be given a
significant grant each year to carry out their work and you are
saying, "No way, we are not touching it with a bargepole,"that
is what I am hearing from some of you at leasttherefore
I can seriously see water. I really put it to you because we really
must get to this because I do not think we can get much further
until we have sorted this point out?
(Canon Fisher) I would certainly like to see any
database held by a totally independent, non-counselling agency.
In terms of funding, if there is funding about we would all want
some to support this service because it is a very essential service
which we are trying to support out of current income.283 Except
that we know that some child migrants will not come back to their
agencies. We have already been told that, so that will not do.
Funding agencies will not solve the problem.
(Canon Fisher) In response to that, 90 per cent.
come back to us. Ten per cent. do not.284 That you know about?
(Canon Fisher) That we know about, and 10 per cent.
go to another agency. I can only speak for the people who have
made any enquiries whatsoever.
Dr Stoate: Nobody can tell us the size of the child migrant
population that does not go to anybody because their organisation
is so bad?
Can I bring in Ms Abrahams?
(Ms Abrahams) We would certainly support the development
of an independent database. We would be pleased to work with any
agency that ran it. I do not think that it should be a tremendously
huge or complex task, frankly. We will be able to contribute our
record. We do not see why anyone else should not do so as well.286
So you have no objection to the Child Migrants' Trust doing this?
(Ms Abrahams) No. I think in principle we do not
and I would hope that that would be in the context of there being
closer links between the sending agencies and the Child Migrants'
Trust, without in any sense jeopardising their independence, which
is quite crucial to what they do, but they have developed enormous
expertise in this area. I think they have skills and experience
that we do not pretend to have.287 But they have also got up the
noses of one or two of the placing agencies quite clearly?
(Ms Abrahams) Yes, maybe that is the case and I
would not deny that. At the same time we also have some skills
because of our broader social work perspective, and I think really
at this stage of the game what is required is for all that to
be pulled together in the best interests of the former child migrants.
Ann Keen: You have answered my question, because I wanted
to know if any of the agencies did not have an objection to the
Child Migrants' Trust and you have answered that.
I just want somebody to fill me in through your group who has
studied their cases. The reason which the Child Migrants' Trust
gave us last week was a piece of evidence which I thought was
very striking, and I quote from Mrs Humphreys from last week's
verbatim report, where she quotes a case: "Where the migrating
agency has contacted the motherand very recently a mother
still alive, in her eightiesa letter from the migrating
agency has gone back to Western Australia and the message was
to tell this ladthis lad is now in his fifties of coursethat
his mother is 82 and he should go away, she does not want to know.
Mr Gunnell, we visit those mothers when we are asked to afterwards.
It is a very different story." Now this person was told by
a migrating agency that the mother did not want to know her son
and that proved to be untrue and I think where that sort of thing
is happening you have to say you have to use an agency and agencies
have to be absolutely honest with people and that information
that was passed back was clearly false. Understandably, people
will not go to an agency if they think that even then they will
not get the accurate information. That story I found very disturbing
and it was that story above all which told me that a one-stop
shop was hardly workable unless people had complete trust in one
another. That was one of two horrendous stories she told us. The
second one was one which was a case of a person simply getting
a letter come on to their mat which told them about the past in
a way. They talked of: "A lady we worked with from a very
early stage in Australia...suddenly had landing on her doormat
in Sydney, with no assistance and help at all, the whole of her
file and all the details of her formal adoption, her abuse by
the adopters, her return to the adoptive agency, the change of
her name back to her original name without regard to the court
orders or the status which she then enjoyed and then the details
of the reasons why she was then sent to Australia. That lady had
hitherto been brought up to believe that she had been rescued
from the bombs in the streets of London and found wandering. Suddenly
to have that on the mat without any assistance gives you some
indication of the concerns which we"the Child Migrants'
Trust"immediately had about this sort of stark reaction
to an area of criticism." Those are two examples of things
which obviously have happened which have caused the Child Migrants'
Trust grave concerns in terms of their relationship with other
agencies, and I think, when listening to their evidence, we need
to understand exactly why they took the view they took.
(Major Oakley) We were asked earlier why is it
we are here now and really we owe a great debt of gratitude to
the Child Migrants' Trust. We would not be here today if it were
not for them. They have become the voice, the advocate, for them.
In becoming that and getting the whole issue raised to this level,
they have obviously had to ªtread on one or two toes ªand
that creates some difficulties. I have had very little to do with
them because I have had no enquiries about our activities and,
therefore ,this may seem odd, but I think the concern reflects
a number of things: firstly, in their exclusivity. They are wanting
to become the sole advocate, not the advocate but the sole means
of tracing them. I think it has to be realised and dealt with
by some kind of co-ordinated action. Secondly, some of us only
know by reading books like Orphans of the Empire, where it is
interviews with child migrants themselves and some of those have
expressed concerns about the way the child migrants have dealt
with the reconciliation. It is all secondhand and it is to do
with some arguments that we do not know what way to put it, but
we are a bit concerned about the detail. Certainly from our point
of view there would be no problem. In fact, we have already prepared
a database ourselves with our Family Tracing, but we have not
had sufficient enquiries about our own involvement. We have had
many from others and we have just put them in our normal database,
but I, on behalf of the Salvation Army and the Social Services,
have no real problem about the Child Migrants' Trust operating
that but I do think it is how that is handled further on, and
choice is so important, that people who have often got low self-esteem
and have had taken away the power we talked about that agencies
have over people. I think what we do not want to do is create
another agency now which is the sole agency which has power as
to how to handle these people's concerns. It is a good starting-point
but it should have other options within the system.
(Mrs McGrogan) Could I raise a point. It concerns
me that the cases are being reported on and understandably so,
and I suppose my understanding is that the agencies when we were
putting in our submissions did not use examples like that. There
are difficulties certainly with the Child Migrants' Trust over
cases. I certainly have had difficulties. I would not like the
matter to rest there. I think the sending agencies recognise with
each other that there are practices in ordinary everyday issues
about how each of us can work better, and in fact the main aim
of having all the agencies working is that we do not get into
this: "You're doing it right and we're doing it wrong"
business. It is how we can learn and support one another and learn
more about the facts and figures that have been bandied around
today. None of us is able to quantify them and I think it is very
important that we have some better factual basis on which we decide
how to move forward. I am very concerned that we are making decisions
on very limited information, albeit very emotional stories.
Chairman: I think we are making no decisions. We are asking
questions and there are a lot more questions to ask, certainly
in Australia and New Zealand. We have a lot to ask today and I
am conscious that we have kept you here a long time but we would
like to ask a few more questions. I apologise that we have taken
so long. You appreciate that we have got on to some very important
issues in the last few minutes and I am sure you understand why
we are exploring these issues.
Mr Luce of the Department of Health told us about a number of
child migrants who returned to the United Kingdom, some of them
while they were relatively young, and the NCH in its evidence,
with commendable frankness, has accepted that it reneged on a
commitment to give support to unhappy children in Australia to
return home. Could I ask how common it was for children to return
to the United Kingdom and what action NCH actually had made to
find and contact those concerned with a view to providing help
and assistance? Did any of the other agencies betray a promise
to return unhappy children?
(Ms Abrahams) The figures I have related to the
90 children that were sent in 1950-51 and my understanding is
that five of them returned to the United Kingdom but an additional
four asked to do so as well, because what happened was that in
the letters that were sent out to parents or guardians to ask
children whether they would like to go to Australia, there was
a very strong suggestion in the letter that if things did not
work out or if parents changed their mind or if children wanted
to come home, then that would be fine and we would manage that,
and then when it came to it, we said: "Oh well, you will
have to pay the passage," and, of course, the cost was way
beyond the means of people in those days. So that is effectively
what happened. You also asked about what extra support we then
offered. At the time I think it was notable that the two sisters
went and stayed there and tried to make a difference to the conditions
they found, but I would be the first to say that that does not
absolve us of the responsibility for why, having discovered that
things were not as good as we hoped they would be, we then did
not take more action.290 Was this common among other agencies?
(Mr Singleton) I have not been able to research
the post-war. I will need notice of the question. We have spotted
a study that took place on Canadian placements from 1929 to 1934,
over which period 48 children were returned to the United Kingdom,
three of whom were returned to families in the United Kingdom.
Unhappiness is not included amongst the list of reasons.
Most of the agencies in their evidence have claimed that you lacked
resources in terms of carrying out your work. I wondered if any
of you had ever requested any financial assistance from the Department
of Health or any other Government agency, and if not, why not?
(Canon Fisher) Many years ago we approached the
Department of Health with all the other agencies present here.
We spoke to Rupert Hughes at the Department and other officers
therethis was in 1992asking specifically if we could
have some assistance and what assistance was available went totally
to the Child Migrants' Trust and the sending agencies were left
out of the debate.
That was a collective approach from the agencies?
(Canon Fisher) It was our first collective approach.
That was in 1992?
(Canon Fisher) I think it was 1992.294 Because
the evidence we had from the Department of Health is that they
have no record of any request for money.
(Canon Fisher) There was a meeting called by the
Department of Health to discuss it.
Mr Walter: We will pursue that.
Maybe they misunderstood you were asking for money.
(Canon Fisher) My date is from memory, so it could
be 1993, but certainly we pursued the possibility of databases
even at that time.
Just to move on a bit more from Robert's question, on the assumption
that one does get some Government contribution, would you see
it as appropriate that your agencies should also make a contribution
towards providing a service for former child migrants?
(Canon Fisher) Certainly the service that we are
providing is being funded by ourselves and running into many tens
of thousands of pounds over the years. Our application as a foundation,
the Catholic Child Welfare Council, its only funds are about £30,000
from member agencies. We cannot do an awful lot of work on that.
We did have some core funding from the Department of Health, for
which we re-applied this year, and one of the mainstays in our
application was to support the work on former child migrants,
and not only did we not receive it but our grant has been stopped
entirely. So it is not that we have not asked, it is that we are
being left out.
(Mr Singleton) We are spending approximately £170,000
per annum on our child migrant work. If the Department or Government
has any money then our hope would be that that would in part at
least go towards the funding of fares and the opportunity of return
visits, particularly for child migrants who have never been able
to afford that themselves. That is the one thing that we cannot
do. We can trace the relatives, we can set up the reunions, we
can pick up the pieces, but we cannot actually meet the costs
of the air fares and accommodation. That I think would have an
enormous beneficial impact for people who were migrated.
(Major Oakley) I certainly would support that.
The Salvation Army Family Tracing includes all kinds of tracing,
including the child migrants. It has cost £400,000 from charity
funds every year but we are talking about a large number of people.
We certainly will continue to do that, plus any expansion that
is needed for child migrants. We would obviously welcome any contribution.
Clearly the practical issue we are left with is how best we set
up some system whereby child migrants can actually get the information
they require. You obviously have some people in the agencies who
will co-operate in one sense with an organisation of this sort
and you have others that will not, and I think the difficulty
is how you fix it so that the person who requires it does have
some choice, so that the database is at least something which
is held in one place, preferably not by creating a new agency
because that in itself would be expensive, but you also have to
consider the question of the level of counselling which would
be available and, as you say, what help can be given towards visits
where visits are seen as extremely important in terms of the person
concerned. I think the difficulty that we have is how to set this
up. It is clear that the Child Migrants' Trust have to play a
major role but it is also clear to us that we cannot simply allow
them to hold the key to the organisation if there are other organisations
who will then withdraw. The question that I really want is, can
you give us some light on how you feel such a facility could be
created which would be available to help the child migrants, because
we do know that many of them still want help and obviously we
would have to be sure that the information they got through it
was actually accurate, and that is, as I say, one of the concerns
I have from last week?
(Mr Lovell) Clearly we have to behave in a spirit
of co-operation. The tension between the sending agencies and
the child migrants is something we have to get through. The thing
about information is, it seems to me there are two levels in relation
to the database, and the role that you are suggesting for the
Child Migrants' Trust I think suggests that there are two levels.
The first is, is it being proposed that the first level is to
have a central database with one organisation managing that, that
contains basic informationnamesand that the role
of that function is to channel enquirers to the sending agency
or the agency which holds the records? I think the issue for us,
many of us, is the issue of choice, that we as sending agencies
recognise and accept that there will be some child migrants who
do not want to have anything to do with us. Okay, we accept that,
but equally we want to strongly argue that there will be some
child migrants who do want to come back to us and have it out
with us and that is part of their way of dealing with it. We want
to play that role and are prepared to play that role and even
put some of our own money into playing that role. Our concern
is that that agency holding the database is in some way not neutral
in terms of our wish to play that kind of role in this, and I
think if that stumbling-block can be thrashed out and addressed,
then we might be able to move forward.
Could I come back on the question of information, because we have
heard from Mr Singleton that since 1995 individuals have had the
right, that you have brought about, to see their own original
records but there is no legal obligation on you to do so. This
is a voluntary act at Barnardo's?
(Mr Singleton) Yes.299 I am not saying that the
agencies withhold the information but it is possible that the
child migrant could go to any organisation and there would be
no obligation on them to reveal their original records. So do
any of you believe that there is some necessity for a legal requirement
for people to have rights of access to the original documentation?
(Canon Fisher) I think we need some publicity,
some positive publicity, as to the consensus here of the high
interest we have in providing services. We seem always to get
negative publicity which I think keeps turning the clock backwards
instead of forwards. I think the expectations of former migrants
also need to be addressed, in so far as when people talk about
their records, people are expecting something like this when,
in fact, it might be one line in an admissions register at a children's
home. So I think that the language that we use needs to be better
publicised as well.
I have been cogitating since we were dealing with the information
question. I have just checked back in our records from our Canadian
witnesses and they are talking of the Lorente Trust and the Ellen
Foundation. For instance, Mr Willoughby of the Ellen Foundation,
said: "Our encounters with placing agencies have been less
than helpful." This is not historic; this is the evidence
they gave on 20 May and they say they are still having difficulty,
and I would like to ask you to perhaps not give an answer now
but to guarantee to check up on these things, because we are going
to be in great difficulty if our evidence is directly contradictory.
There is something wrong somewhere and we were given evidenceand
I would like your comments on thisabout registers and ledgers
with a closed thing, so that it has to be 65 years after the last
entry before it can be opened, this kind of approach. We are getting
evidence like that from people who are doing work on the ground
and going to enormous trouble, and mostly at their own expense.
There is something wrong somewhere. So can you comment on any
of your liaison with Canadian enquiries specifically, or will
you least go back and check on it and if you can send us anything
helpful on these questions, then do so?
(Mrs McGrogan) I acknowledge that people will be
saying that responses are less than helpful and our agency is
dealing day in day out with up to 13,000 adoption records and
the issues are around being able to get the information and satisfy
people, and I think that is a constant battle. There is a commitment
to doing what one can and very often you need archivists, you
need all sorts of resources to back up getting the information
over and above what is simply a ledger record. I support Canon
Fisher's view, that there needs to be a lot of work done on what
we mean, what information, where we can get it, how we can get
it and I think it is an art. It is not just a case of yes or no.
In answer to your question, I think that needs to be explored
and there needs to be a lot of care taken and hence the sending
agencies are actually trying to work with each other to look at
better ways of getting the information.
(Mr Lovell) I am not sure about legislation, but
if there is going to be a common database I think one of the things
that will need to be addressed is the issue about the principles
that underpin the use of that. I am conscious that different agencies
have different records and I know in my agency there is a policy
about access to records and I think those will be slightly different
across the agencies. I think that will be a major issue that will
need to be addressed, which may then be an opportunity to pick
up issues about expectations, about what people are expecting.
I am not aware of any closed section in our file about only after
65 years but I hear what you are saying, but that does prompt
me to say it may be that we need a general, commonly agreed set
of standards, principles, around the whole issue of access to
(Mr Haynes) Would a solution be that the sending
agencies formed a working party to come out with the resolutions
that you are looking for as a contribution to it to move forward
quickly? Certainly as far as we are concerned, we have no record
of any cut-off lines but I am delighted to go back and research
through Liverpool and various agencies whether that is the case,
but as far as the rules governing it are concerned, yes, I think
we do have different procedures but that does not mean that we
could not get common ground and move forward.
(Canon Fisher) One response is maybe that we certainly
sent a lot of children to Canada but in fact our organisation
had not heard of the Ellen Foundation until this inquiry, so in
terms of liaison perhaps we have been left out that liaison. In
terms of records, records, as Ms Abrahams said, are very difficult
to come by, often held by public libraries and so forth, who have
their own access rules, and some of them are covered by Poor Law
regulations and so forth. So I think the legislative framework
of records at that time needs to be looked at.301 There is another
point which has not come out in the questioning which is important,
which is the fact that we are looking at this country here, who
will hold everything. The Canadian witnesses were very anxious
that facilities be available there and it was noticeable to me
that there were different perspectives. We have to make a leap
to think about the needs of the people who are there and in the
case of Canada it is a question of the offspring and the wider
family. So whoever is looking at setting up an information system
is really going to have to look at it on an international scale.
That organisation is looking at passenger lists and going to all
sorts of trouble. I think that we have to be conscious of the
international dimension of this, by definition.
(Ms Abrahams) We have had contact from two former
migrants from Canada and 23 relatives of former migrants from
Canada over the last five years and certainly we want to co-operate
with any agency, including the Child Migrants' Trust, if they
are acting for them, but we have not had contact, as far as I
am aware, with either of the agencies that you referred to. The
other point I was going to make is that I think we are now in
an age where international communications are far better than
even ten years ago, now that we have the Internet and e-mail and
all the rest of it, and I do not see why it should not be possible
to use that to facilitate much more sharing of understanding as
well as information across Canada, Australia and Great Britain.
(Mr Haynes) I think that also reinforces the point
why some Government involvement in this to give it the authority
it requires is so important because you are crossing international
boundaries and you are most probably going into different legislation
fields. If you have not got the ability to do that, whoever you
are, the Child Migrants' Trust or Fairbridge, it does not work
as easily.302 The complexity was shown by one of those witnesses
who instanced children separated at the docks, siblings, two sent
to Australia, two sent to Canada and there have been two who remained
in Britain, so the power being exercised and the complexity is
(Mr Singleton) I am very pleased Audrey Wise raised
this point because it is very much international. Families were
split and the connections are across the globe. I personally feel
that the database need may be as much a need in Australia as far
as prevailing migrants are concerned as in this country. But in
relation, finally from me, I hope, to the future point, I believe
that the issue is maybe not one-stop or whether it involves the
Child Migrants' Trust or whether it does not but does it offer
something better for child migrants than we have at present, with
a key element of choice in that, and those, I think, are the important
things. Those will be the yardsticks by which we shall measure
whether in fact your proposals enhance what is currently on offer.
(Canon Fisher) Mine was a possible practical solution
to the Canadian end of this, that I am aware that one of the major
genealogical societies would be prepared to work on the database,
given some funding, either the Society of Genealogists or the
Federation of Family History Societies, but it is family history
now rather than counselling from sending agencies that people
are interested in.
Chairman: Does anyone have any further points? If not,
may I ask any of our witness whether you have any brief final
points on issues which you felt we may have covered and have not
or points you wish to clarify? If not, may I thank you for your
co-operation. I appreciate it is not an easy issue. We understand
that and we are grateful to you for, as I said earlier, your written
evidence and for being willing to come today. Thank you very much.