Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 302)

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.

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 the agencies.
(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.

Dr Stoate
282 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 least—therefore 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?

Chairman
285 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.

Mr Gunnell
288 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 mother—and very recently a mother still alive, in her eighties—a letter from the migrating agency has gone back to Western Australia and the message was to tell this lad—this lad is now in his fifties of course—that 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 Austin
289 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.

Mr Walter
291 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 there—this was in 1992—asking 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.

Chairman
292 That was a collective approach from the agencies?
(Canon Fisher) It was our first collective approach.

Mr Walter
293 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.

Chairman
295 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.

Mr Syms
296 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.

Mr Gunnell
297 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 information—names—and 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.

Mr Austin
298 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.

Audrey Wise
300 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 evidence—and I would like your comments on this—about 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 information.
(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 mind-boggling.
(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.


 
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