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Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East): I do not propose to say a great deal. Most of what I wanted to say has already been said very well by my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and for Preston (Audrey Wise), but I think that I have something special to add to the debate.

I was one of the councillors who voted to give money to the Child Migrants Trust back in the mid-80s, but I have to be honest and say that most of the credit for what happened is not mine. It belongs to Margaret Humphreys, the social worker involved, and the then chair of social services, Joan Taylor. We were strapped for money and things were tight, but she persuaded the leader of the council and other councillors that we should be doing something about this matter. We said, "It's not our responsibility, but if it isn't ours, whose is it?" That is the message that I want the Government to take on board.

Someone has to take responsibility for what has happened and take account of this tragedy. I remember my utter disbelief back in the 80s when we heard about the case. We could not believe how recently it had happened and we could not believe the stories, but they were true. At first, it was difficult to grasp what had happened and to think about how some of it could beput right. I congratulate the Committee on making recommendations that will help to put things right. We cannot ever put them right completely, but we can try to help some of the people who have suffered.

Hon. Members have talked about how the issue was shrouded in secrecy. It happened not only because the organisations involved wanted to keep it secret, but because the child migrants themselves wanted to keep it secret because they felt stigmatised. John Hennessey described himself as one of the devil's children, and we could see how their self-esteem had been destroyed bythe system, by the Government, by the voluntary organisations and by the way that they had been treated. If nothing else, they deserve to have their self-esteem back.

I make a plea to the Government. I share the concerns of my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield and for Preston that the £1 million limit may not be sufficient. If it proves to be insufficient and more people apply to the travel fund than there is money for, will the fund be bolstered in the future if that becomes necessary? I am not asking for a guarantee of extra money, just that the matter will be reconsidered if there are problems in the future.

10.20 am

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): I should like to add my congratulations to the Select Committee on Health on its report and the way it went about its inquiry. Having spoken to some members of the Committee, I know that they were drained and exhausted and found the many tales harrowing.

I have also spoken to some former child migrants who gave evidence to the Health Committee, and they were pleased with its handling of the issue, its sensitivity and understanding, and the fact that it gave them time. The Committee was determined to go to Australia and New Zealand so that as many as possible of the people who had been treated appallingly could have their say. However, it was symbolic that the former child migrants came to the House of Commons, because the state was ultimately

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responsible for shipping those children abroad. It was important for them to come back to make their case and to tell their story in the House of Commons.

I should also like to congratulate and acknowledge the work of the Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe). He has, for many years, been the driving force in the House of Commons on this issue. As he rightly said, he would not have done anything had it not been for the work of Margaret Humphreys and the Child Migrants Trust.

The report tells what happened to those British children at the hands of their abusers, and leaves nothing to the imagination. Many of those abusers purported to represent God. We should never hold back our condemnation ofthe treatment of those British children. Part of the responsibility must lay with the state--with the House of Commons.

I am one of three or four former social workers in the Chamber--there are no corduroys--and, like my colleagues, I have had to remove children from their parents. That was carried out with the approval of the courts and partnerships agencies, and for the right reason: to protect children. It is not a pure science. As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) said, we can get it wrong, and that has been proved. But we had authorisation, records and files were kept, and there were hurdles to overcome. Removing a baby from his mother at birth, for whatever reason, is the hardest thing I have ever done. Deciding that a child should not be brought up by his parents and removing him from his mother is the ultimate state intervention. Hurdles must be overcome before that intervention can be made, and that is absolutely right. That is the best we can do, and we must continue to review the process and ensure that we are getting it right.

When the children that I took from their parents grow up they will be able to understand the reasons for that decision. They may not agree with them, but they will be able to read the files and the court records and understand why the decisions were made. We have been following such procedures for a long time--they have improved over the years--including the time when British children were shipped to Australia. People may say that it was different back then, but that is not so. What was afforded to children in Britain did not apply to children who were subject to forced deportation without the permission of their parents, and without birth certificates and passports. Children as young as four were condemned for years to an existence of abuse and fear.

I should like to draw on some remarks made to me by one of the former migrants who came here, Mr. Norman Johnston. As I am the secretary of the parliamentary group, I had the privilege of meeting some of the former migrants and giving them support when they were giving evidence. Like so many others, Mr. Johnston suffered at the hands of the Christian Brothers. One of the brothers attempted to drown him. I asked him why they tried to drown him, and he said that they did not need a reason, because they had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. There would not have been an inquiry if he had died. The beatings were harsh and frequent. He also told me that if he witnessed a child being beaten or whipped--or whatever form of abuse we care to imagine--there was a sense of relief, because at least it was not happening to him and he was out of the frame for a little while.

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Mr. Johnston also said that living in such a climate of fear took away all emotional feelings, which made the children perfect recruits for Nazi officers. They became bereft of all feelings of human suffering. It was a matter of survival. He was taken from the institution to a farm in South Australia, and the passing comment from the person in charge of the institution was, "Next time I see you boy, you'll be in Fremantle jail." As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Audrey Wise) said, we have not heard evidence from many of the former migrants who have had a life of alcohol problems and have been led into crime. They did not fit into society.

Mr. Johnston said that there should be an inquiry into the well-being of people who were in those former institutions. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider that? Perhaps a note could be sent to the Australian Government asking them to hold an inquiry. Mr. Johnston spent two and a half years on a farm working 14 hours a day, seven days a week but earning less than he would if he were unemployed. That was slave labour, as myhon. Friend the Member for Preston said. He even contemplated cutting off his finger to get off the farm. He shared his bathroom with farm animals. He served three tours in Vietnam with the Australian army. The irony was that he was serving the country in which he lived but of which he was not a citizen because he had no birth certificate and no passport.

These people are remarkable because their main preoccupation is not to obtain compensation--and goodness knows they have an overwhelming case--but to allow those who were taken from this country to be reunited with their families, to have some peace and to understand the circumstances in which they left Britain to go to a world of abuse. Without the completion of the picture, many of them have a void in their lives. For the reasons given by all hon. Members who have spoken, we must do everything we can to fill that void.

For many child migrants time is running out. Every day that goes by is another lost opportunity. There are people in Australia who can trace their parents, but it requires a great deal of work, which must be done by the Child Migrants Trust.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, I hope that this is just the Government's first response. While I welcome their response to the Committee's inquiry, we need to take further steps. We must look at the travel arrangements, and ensure that the trust is adequately funded. A simple apology is not enough; to apologise properly, we must fund the trust properly.

10.30 am

Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead): I shall be brief, because I know that the chairman of the all-party group wants to speak. I am grateful to the group for bringing this matter to our attention. I also echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford(Mr. Shaw) said about Margaret Humphreys and Joan Taylor, without whom we would not be having this debate.

I must admit that when the Chairman of the Select Committee first suggested that we should conduct an inquiry, I was a little sceptical. I wondered why the matter should be so high on our agenda, given the number of pertinent issues of the day; but the Chairman persuaded the Committee.

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Our visit was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. The Committee contains some very hard cases--former social workers, general practitioners and people who have been in politics and local government for a long time. They are not short of experiences of human misery. However, no one who reads the evidence presented to us--evidence of years of wholesale, systematic, institutionalised abuse--could fail to be deeply moved and shocked by what was done in our name. This House of Commons is responsible for what happened, and has a duty to those British children. As the Committee Chairman said, these are members of our generation.

When I arrived in New Zealand, a man came up to me and asked, "Are you the Member of Parliament for Erith?" I was surprised that anyone in New Zealand had heard of Erith. He said, "You are my mother's MP." For 50 years, that man had thought that he was an orphan; then, having discovered that he had a mother in her eighties living in England, he was reunited with her after all those years. We must provide the Child Migrants Trust with the resources to enable further such reunions to take place. I hope that if the demands on the trust and the travel fund are such that they cannot be satisfied, my hon. Friend the Minister will be prepared to review the position.

This is on-going: it is here and now. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) and I spent some time conversing with a young woman who was not a child migrant herself, but who had been placed for adoption in Australia and was the daughter of a child migrant. She wanted to know why her mother had been taken from her own mother, and whether that had influenced her mother's inability to continue to care for her. There was a void in her life, and there were questions that needed answers.

I am pleased that the British Government have issued an apology. Some of the child migrants did not want an apology, but for others it was all-important, as was the fact of the Select Committee's visit. It was the first time that these people had been listened to and that their horror stories had been believed.

All this happened after our Parliament had passed extensive legislation in the 1940s and 1950s, and after we had signed conventions on human rights protecting children. We denied these children those human rights. Let us leave aside the question of sexual and physical abuse; we took away their human rights by removing them from their families.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) spoke of the lies and deceit, the falsified names and falsified birth certificates. All that makes the trust's job of tracing people and their families that much more difficult. An apology for the deceit is needed, not only from the Government but from the voluntary organisations that were involved. Why will Barnado's not issue an apology? Have its solicitors and insurers told it not to? Why will Fairbridge not own up to its responsibilities? Has it changed the terms of reference in its constitution, and is it now looking after a different group of children?

The state and the voluntary organisations ought to own up. We in the House of Commons have a responsibility to provide the Child Migrants Trust and other organisations with the resources to enable them to ensure that families can be reunited and supported. As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Audrey Wise) said, for many time is running out.

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10.35 am

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